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Poarch Band of Creek Indians face uncertainty

Bill Britt

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The Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) has two serious problems which they hope to eliminate through relationships with current lawmakers both in Washington and Montgomery, but those prospects are dwindling.

The tribe’s current worries have been exacerbated, given President Donald J. Trump’s hostility toward Indian gaming.

The Poarch Creek Indians were noticeably absent in the 2018 election cycle. There’s a good reason why.

The tribe did not energetically participate in recent elections, but they are planning a major push in the U.S. Senate race in 2020, when the seat currently held by Alabama’s Democrat Senator Doug Jones is on the ballot.

The first of the two problems PCI faces has to do with the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). The second arises from the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar.

Under IGRA, the tribe can only operate games like electronic bingo that are illegal elsewhere in the state.

PCI casinos in Alabama operate Class II which IGRA defines, “as the game of chance commonly known as bingo (whether or not electronic, computer, or other technological aids are used in connection).” It further states that tribes may only offer games that are legal within the state. “Tribes retain their authority to conduct, license, and regulate Class II gaming so long as the state in which the Tribe is located permits such gaming for any purpose, and the Tribal government adopts a gaming ordinance approved by the IGRA.”

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But if the games are illegal in the state, the federal statute forbids the tribes from operating those games.

In 2017, then-U.S. Attorney for the Middle District George Beck asked Gov. Robert Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange about the state’s inconsistency on the legality of bingo machines. In a letter, Beck asked for clarification on how devices used at VictoryLand and Greenetrack are slot machines and the ones played at facilities owned by PCI not be slots. Or even more simply put, how can one be illegal and the other not?

The state continues to ignore the question of how can PCI operate the same machines as others outlets with one being legal and the other not?

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The second challenge to PCI’s billion-dollar gaming operation stems from Carcieri v. Salazar, which holds that only tribes that were recognized in 1934 could benefit from the federal land restoration efforts. It is this recognition that allows PCI to offer electronic gaming and enjoy other federal benefits and protections.

Since 2009, PCI and other tribes recognized after 1934, have lobbied Congress for a “Carcieri fix,” to guarantee the tribes are safe from losing federal recognition.

U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne in January 2018, successfully sponsored the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Land Reaffirmation Act, which passed the U.S. House on a voice vote. However, the bill died in the U.S. Senate after Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby made it clear he would not support a “Carcieri fix” for the tribe.

For months after Shelby killed PCI’s “Carcieri fix,” Tribal Council Vice President Robbie McGhee assured his fellow council members that, if re-elected, Gov. Kay Ivey would write a letter to Sen. Shelby asking him to support passage of a Land Reaffirmation Act to protect the tribe’s vast gambling empire.

Indian council member says Gov. Ivey is ace-in-the-hole — but not so fast

Both Gov. Ivey and Senator Shelby have stated they would not support such an act. In May, both offices confirmed to APR that they have no intention of supporting any legislation to protect tribal lands now or in the future.

“Senator Shelby does not support the bill and has no plans to do so in the future,” wrote Shelby’s communications director, Blair Taylor, in May. Likewise, Gov. Ivey’s spokesperson, Daniel Sparkman, told APR, “Governor Ivey has no plans to write such a letter,” encouraging Senator Shelby to support a Land Reaffirmation Act.

During the recent election cycle, McGhee offered a campaign contribution to Gov. Ivey which she promptly returned.

In May, McGhee also informed PCI’s tribal council that he had secured the backing of State’s Attorney General Steve Marshall. McGhee reportedly funneled hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions to Marshall through the Business Council of Alabama’s political action committee. McGhee had counted on an alliance between PCI and BCA’s president and CEO Billy Canary to serve as a means to garner support from Marshall and other lawmakers. However, Canary’s ouster torpedoed those plans, and to make matters worse, Sen. Shelby’s chief of staff, Katie Britt, is poised to head BCA.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh in 2015, offered proposed legislation to allow competition for gaming revenues between the Birmingham Racecourse, VictoryLand, Greenetrack and locations owned by PCI. Marsh’s bill was scuttled by then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was relying on PCI to help finance his defense. Hubbard was convicted on a dozen felony counts of public corruption.

Political, Personal Interests Will Likely Decide Gaming Fate (But Should It?)

Despite McGhee’s many failed alliances, he remains the face and chief strategist for the tribe.

With Sen. Shelby and Gov. Ivey firmly against a “Carcieri fix,” and Britt’s ascendancy at BCA, the tribe finds itself with a dwindling number of allies in Montgomery and D.C.

There are talks of a gaming bill emerging during the upcoming legislative session. In the past, PCI has been unwilling to sit with stakeholders at Greenetrack and VictoryLand to reach a mutually beneficial compromise. Time may be running out for the tribe as the current political winds are not blowing in their favor.

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Elections

Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting

The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.

They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud. 

“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

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The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions. 

“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”

The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.

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Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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Health

At least 248 COVID deaths reported in Alabama in October

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

We’re a little more than halfway through the month of October and the Alabama Department of Public Health has already reported at least 248 deaths from COVID-19.

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

At least 378 deaths were reported in the month of September, a rate of 12.6 deaths per day over the month. In the first 17 days of October, the rate has been 14.6 deaths per day, a 15.9 percent increase from September.

Deaths were higher in July and August. The cumulative death toll increased by 582 in August and 630 in July, the worst month of the pandemic for the state.

On Saturday, ADPH reported that 1,288 more people in the state were confirmed positive with the coronavirus, and on Sunday the count increased by 964. The number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen to 172,626.

There have been 17,925 new cases Alabama in October alone. The state is averaging almost 996 cases per day in October, which is up from September.

The state had 28,643 new coronavirus cases in September, 38,335 cases new cases in August, and 49,678 cases in July. Public health officials credit Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order on July 15 with slowing the spread of the virus in the state, but the virus has not gone away.

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ADPH reported 823 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on October 17, the most recent day for which we have data. While hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down from the peaks in early August in Alabama have risen from Oct. 1 when 748 Alabamians were hospitalized, a 10 percent increase from the first of the month.

The state of Alabama is continuing to struggle to protect its most vulnerable citizens. At least 6,497 residents of long term care facilities in Alabama have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, 247 of them in October.

There have also been 3,362 cases among long term care workers in Alabama, including 197 in the month of October. Some 9,819 Alabama health care workers have also contracted the coronavirus.

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Most people who test positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are asymptomatic or have only minor symptoms, but in about one out of five cases it can become much more severe.

For older people or people with underlying medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes or HIV, COVID-19 can turn deadly. COVID-19 is the abbreviated name for the medical condition caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Some 1,115,600 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 worldwide, including 224,284 Americans. There are 8,972,704 known active cases in the world today.

Public health officials warn citizens that coronavirus remains a present danger in our community. Social distancing is the best way to avoid spreading the virus. Avoid venues with large groups. Don’t shake hands or hug persons not living in your household.

Avoid leaving your home as much as possible and wear a mask or cloth face covering when you do go out. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands with soap frequently. Hand sanitizer is recommended.

A coronavirus vaccine may be available in the coming months, but we don’t yet know when or how effective it will be.

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National

Today is the last day to register to vote for the November 3 general election

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The secretary of state’s office on Sunday announced that its employees will be available until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, to assist with voter registration.

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Eligible Alabamians can register to vote online at AlabamaVotes.gov, through the mobile app “Vote for Alabama,” or by visiting their county board of registrars office.

To submit an application to register to vote, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must live in the State of Alabama.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on or before election day.
  • You must not be barred from voting by reason of a disqualifying felony conviction.
  • You must not have been judged “mentally incompetent” in a court of law.

Online registrations will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. and in-person registrations will be accepted until the close of business Monday, Oct. 19.

The office of the secretary of state will be available by phone to assist with any questions or concerns until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 19 and can be reached at 334-242-7200 and the elections division can be reached at 334-242-7210.

Secretary of State John Merrill said, “I want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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You can still register after the deadline, but you won’t be able to vote in this general election. Voters must have a valid photo ID. If you do not have a valid photo ID you can get a free voter ID from your local board of registrars or from the secretary of state’s office.

Every voter must vote at the polling place that they are assigned. It is not too late to apply for an absentee ballot. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is five days before the election. A record number of people are expected to vote absentee.

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Elections

Tuberville, Sessions campaign together

The two former Republican primary opponents participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Sen. Jeff Sessions, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate campaign released a social media video Thursday featuring Tuberville alongside former U.S. Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The two former Republican primary opponents had participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Tuberville and Sessions on Wednesday met with representatives of Huntsville’s defense and technology sectors, participated in an event sponsored by the Republican Women of Huntsville and headlined multiple campaign fundraising events.

Sessions said, “Tommy, I support you 100 percent. Alabama must send you to represent us in the Senate. We cannot allow a Chuck Schumer acolyte – Doug Jones – to represent Alabama in the Senate.”

“You see it on his vote on the judges and Kavanaugh and the way he’s behaved about the new nominee, so I think … it would be shocking that Alabama would reelect a Doug Jones,” Sessions continued. “I know you’re going to win. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that you’re traveling the state hard and that you’re here in this important community.”

The night after Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff election, Sessions committed to doing his part to help defeat Jones and reclaim the Senate seat for the ALGOP.

“After we won the runoff, Jeff Sessions called and told me, ‘Coach, I’m all in,’ and today’s joint events certainly demonstrate that he is a man of his word,” Tuberville said following the video shoot. “Jeff Sessions understands that it’s time we once again had a U.S. senator whose votes reflect our conservative Alabama values, not the ultra-liberal Hollywood and New York values of Doug Jones’s high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”

Tuberville faces a determined Jones, who is flooding the airwaves with ads. Democrats are desperate to hold on to Jones’ seat, believing that his seat could tip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

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Democrats hope to hold onto their control the U.S. House of Representatives and a recent poll by Rasmussen shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a five point lead over incumbent Donald Trump.

Sessions left the U.S. Senate to accept an appointment as Trump’s first attorney general.

Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the seat in the special election.

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Sessions was fired by Trump in 2018 and announced his candidacy for Senate the day before qualifying ended. Tuberville had already spent ten months on the campaign trail at that point.

Tuberville defeated Sessions, Moore, Congressman Bradley Byrne, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair in the crowded Republican primary. Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. He also coached Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Ole Miss. Tuberville won a national championship as the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. Tuberville lives in Auburn.

The general election is Nov. 3.

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