Monday, U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) held a town hall event at the historic A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham.
“It was because of the incredible work that you did that I am here representing as the first Democratic Senator to represent Alabama in 25 years,” Sen. Jones said.
“The first thing I did was co-sponsor a bill to re-authorize the CHIP (Child Health Insurance Program) program.” Jones said that CHIP’s renewal, “Was definitely related to what we did on December 12.”
“We are losing healthcare in our rural areas left and right,” Sen. Jones said. “I talk about the need for Alabama to expand Medicaid. The two things I have done is to introduce a bill to call a lot of folks hands on this Medicaid issue.” Jones said that his bill would require them to give a study every year on all the good things Medicaid expansion has done in other states as well as all of the dollars being lost in states that did not expand Medicaid. “I have introduced another bill with Senator Warner to roll back to where we would have been with the original Affordable Healthcare Act.”
Sen. Jones said that President Donald J. Trump’s (R) Administration has done a lot to “sabotage” the Affordable Care Act. “They are doing everything in their power to, as the President said, to just let it blow up. There is only so much we can do with a slim minority. Elections have consequences.”
Jones said that Texas is suing to overturn the provision of the Affordable Care Act outlawing pre-existing conditions and the state of Alabama has joined the lawsuit. “The Department of Justice under Attorney General Sessions is no longer protecting the ACA.”
Jones said that Trump’s tariffs, “Were ill advised.”
“NAFTA really hurt Alabama, when it first passed.” Jones said. “Textiles moved overseas or shut down.” Trump instituted a tariff on automobiles, but also on automatic parts. “Mercedes changed the trajectory of Alabama’s economy. Alabama is the third highest producer of automobiles behind Michigan and South Carolina. The trade war that he is escalating with China is really hurting. I have been very outspoken about this.”
“Soybean prices have gone down and pork prices have gone down,” Jones said.
Jones said that he has cosponsored legislation with Senator Alexander from Tennessee to make the administration prove that tariffs are needed for national security.
“Those BMWs and Mercedes are not a national security threat,” Jones stated.
“I have co-sponsored about 90 bills, 80 of them are bipartisan,” Jones said. “There is more bipartisanship in Congress than you see on CSPAN. We passed an opioid bill unanimously out of committee that I hope will get to the floor of the Senate.”
“It is very important that EPA takes another look at that North Birmingham site,” Sen. Jones said. “Mayor Woodfin did the right thing,” when he asked the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider adding the 35th Avenue Superfund site to the National Prioritization List.
Jones said that both he and U.S. Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma) have both sent letters the EPA asking them to reconsider the decision not to place the 35th Avenue site on the SuperFund prioritization list.
“The EPAs decision not to place the site on the NPL was understandable given the level of opposition,” Jones said. We now know however that that decision was undermined by an illegal misinformation campaign.
“Residents deserve better from their federal state and local government,” Jones said.
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “The people of North Birmingham are suffering and nobody has talked to us. Nobody has called a meeting with the citizens in the affected areas. I filed the original complaint in 1989, again in 2005 and again in 2009.”
Jones asked the crowd if they wanted to hear Mary speak on, “Or do you want to have a town hall?”
“I was not a U.S. Senator when all of that was going on,” Sen. Jones said.
Jones did acknowledge when asked that he was the attorney for disgraced state Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) early on in that case. Jones said that there was a point in that process where Robinson went from defending to cooperating with the investigation to expose wider corruption; but that he could not go into details.
On Saturday, Doug Jones nominated Alvin “Peck” Fox to be Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. The Alabama State Democratic Executive Committee rejected Jones’s nominee and instead re-elected incumbent Nancy Worley to another term.
“We have got to have a party that exercises leadership and we don’t have that now,” Jones told the people at the town hall. The state party needs to be sending field operatives out to the candidates to ask them what they need and needs to be active on social media. “We don’t have that. Our party is sitting on $850,000 and they have not done anything with that. There are only two people down there (at Democratic Party Headquarters in Montgomery).”
“Our party is fielding the best set of candidates it has fielded in 20 years,” Jones said. “This is not going to be a giant blue wave.” It is a gradual process. “We have not played a longball game. It starts with the efforts of the candidates. I have believed for many years, that we as a state can only progress if we have a viable two party system.”
An audience member asked if we were on the verge of a third world war.
“I don’t think we have been on the verge of a Third World War, but what has been happening with Russian interference in our election is putting this Democracy in great peril,” Jones said.
Jones said that the Russians had been working “To sow discord, to make sure that they promoted one part of society against another one. The ability of the Russian government to influence this coming election if frightening.”
“One of the problems is that the President is conflating the terms collusion with interference,” Jones said. “We do have some sanctions going on, but whatever we are doing is not enough.”
“They are also looking at interfering with the power grid,” Jones added.
Jones was critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin and added, “When you see the President cozying up to him at Helsinki you should be concerned.”
Jones also addressed the North Korea situation.
“I was disappointed that the President cut out those military exercises in South Korea before seeing Kim Jung-un did what he said he was going to do and we are now seeing information that he is not doing what he sees he is doing,” Jones said.
Senator Jones also discussed the Robert Mueller investigation.
“The president calls this a hoax and that is dangerous,” Jones said. “The Russian interference is not a hoax and Robert Mueller need to finish his job no matter where the chips may fall.”
A constituent asked if he would vote to impeach Rod Rosenstein,
“That would be a constitutional crisis,” Jones said. “That is not going to happen. I have seen absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Rod Rosenstein has done anything to impeach him over.”
Jones also discussed the Farm Bill and the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation.
Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter
It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.
This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.
McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.
One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.
And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.
But real life ain’t like the movies.
And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.
That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.
“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’
“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”
I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.
I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.
Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.
It never made it.
Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.
Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.
Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.
McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.
When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.
He has to hate him, right?
Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.
He did neither.
Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.
“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.
“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”
As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.
He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.
“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”
And maybe that’s for the best.
2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.
“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”
Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.
“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.
“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.
“In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.
“Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”
Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.
SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally
Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.
Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.
“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”
Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.
Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.
The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.
More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.
Unemployment assistance available to workers in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties
Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington announced Thursday that workers who became unemployed as a direct result of Hurricane Sally in Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties may qualify for unemployment assistance.
People who live in or worked in these counties and became unemployed due to Hurricane Sally during the period of Sept. 14, 2020, may be eligible for assistance under the Disaster Unemployment Assistance program, which was triggered when President Donald Trump designated the area as a disaster area on Sept. 20, 2020.
“Generally, those who are eligible for state unemployment benefits are not eligible for DUA, but a claimant may qualify if state unemployment compensation benefits are exhausted,” said Washington. “If you believe you are entitled to these benefits, I urge you to file a claim to see if you are eligible.”
People who may be eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance include the following:
- Individuals who no longer have a job, are unable to reach the place of employment, or were scheduled to start work in the major disaster area and the job no longer exists
- Those who became the breadwinner or major support of the family because the head of household died, or those who cannot work because of an injury incurred during the major disaster
All the previously described circumstances must be as a direct result of the hurricane. Self-employed individuals must provide a copy of their 2019 tax return, business license or Form 1099 within 21 days after applying for DUA benefits.
Claims can be filed through ADOL’s website at labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.
The deadline to file a DUA claim is Oct. 28, 2020, for Baldwin, Escambia and Mobile Counties.