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Q&A | Countryman speaks about new directions for Democrats in 2019

Brandon Moseley

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Democratic 2018 gubernatorial primary candidate Chris Countryman recently agreed to a lengthy interview in writing with the Alabama Political Reporter about where progressives went wrong in Alabama in the 2018 election and how they can build in 2019 and beyond.

Alabama Political Reporter: You were the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who refused to support Mayor Maddox as the nominee and instead ran as a write-in. Why was that?

Countryman: “Well to be honest I felt that it was the right thing to do. After Judge Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct the people of Alabama started seeking out leaders of integrity and character. Because of this the phrase ‘People Before Party’ literally became a motto for many of those in the Alabama Democratic Party. As time went on I discovered a deep web of corruption under Walt Maddox’s boy next door facade. Due to Walt Maddox’s ties to Former Governor Robert Bentley and Sally Albright I was deeply concerned. This is due to Sally Albright’s heavy involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election scandals through her use of fake social media accounts used to unethically influence public opinion and that she worked on Robert Bentley’s gubernatorial campaign shortly before going to work for the Alabama Democratic Party as a field agent. Then when I factored in Maddox’s unethical campaign strategies that he used as part of his campaign in order to suppress key opponents during the primaries I knew there was no way I could back Maddox because I would be turning my back on the people who demanded leaders who had integrity and character. I just couldn’t do that. It went against my values and I refused to compromise those values and the values of my party in order to back a candidate who I felt didn’t have the people’s best interest at heart and didn’t uphold the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party.”

APR asked: Maddox ran as a pro-life pro-gun Democrat who would never tell a lie. Why did that tack not work with Alabama voters?

Countryman: “For years the vast majority of Democrats have supported a woman’s right to choose, and have supported common sense gun laws that aim to protect the citizens while trying not to infringe on a citizens 2nd amendment rights. Because of this, I believe, many voters were turned off by Maddox when he openly embraced his feelings on the subject matter in a television commercial just weeks before the election. To many voters, some who were on the fence as to who to vote for, saw Maddox’s commercial as an attempt to pick up swing votes from the Republican base. Because of this many Democrats, as well as Republicans, felt that they were possibly lied to or that Maddox wasn’t being true to the people or his party, so they voted against him.”

APR: Nancy Worley, Joe Reed, and the Alabama Democratic Party banked hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of using it to get out the vote or support candidates. Was that a mistake?

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Countryman: “You bet your bottom dollar it was a mistake. Simply putting up a sign that says ‘Vote Democrat’ isn’t helping in the least bit. The people don’t want to see another sign with just a candidate’s name on it, or worst yet a sign with vague wording that loosely instructs them to vote for a political party. The people want to know about the candidates, hear how the candidates plan to address the issues and how the candidate can improve the people’s quality of life. A good leader would use that money responsibly to educate the people about the candidates and the issues through a series of commercials and targeted ad campaigns along with other cost effective ways to inform the voters about the candidates.”

APR: Mallory Hagan has been very critical of Reed and Worley’s leadership. Is she right or as Joe Reed has said the candidates were just too weak?

Countryman: “I stand with Mallory Hagan on this one 100 percent. We would be here for days talking if I were to pinpoint every instance of corruption that our party heads had been involved with, and that goes for the heads of the Republican Party as well. On top of that a good leader understands that at times resourcefulness is key. There were countless ways that Nancy Worley and Joe Reed could have supported the candidates, provided assistance and offered resources that could have helped tremendously in this election. Many of them not costing the party hardly anything.”

“It all boils down to showing the candidates that you appreciate them, that you care if they succeed, and that you’re willing to take an honest interest in building upon the leadership skills they already have to ensure they become stronger more successful leaders within our government.” Countryman continued, “Our party leadership was willing to pay Sally Albright, to come work for the Alabama Democratic Party shortly after she had worked in Robert Bentley’s gubernatorial campaign; but they still can’t come up with any resourceful ideas of how to help our candidates or even cough up a couple of hundred dollars for some more informative commercials or literature. That’s wrong on so many levels, and it’s a great example of the monumental failure of leadership. Joe Reed has had his good moments, but those are gone in the past. He doesn’t represent the majority of Democrats in the party, he doesn’t put all the people’s needs before his own and he’s just not who we need heading our party right now.”

APR: Is Alabama just a conservative state and liberals and progressives are just doomed to forever be a minority which the rest of the state scorns and no true progressive candidate will ever win here?

Countryman: “I don’t believe that the state is locked into a conservative electorate any more than I believe that it’s locked in a liberal electorate. However, I do believe that our state is very much made up of citizens who believe that ‘People Come Before Party.’ The corruption, budget shortfalls and suffering of the people has to end and the people are speaking out. This is where Alabama is right now, and this is when you will see progressives start winning and moving our state forward. It should always be about putting the people first, and doing what’s best for all the people in Alabama.”

“Also an interesting point is that if you look at a poll done by the ‘Pew Research Institute,’ who’s known for their extremely high poll numbers that favor the conservative political base, you’ll find that last year 41 percent of Alabama’s citizens supported same-sex marriage and 51 percent opposed it with 8 percent having no preference,” Countryman continued. “That’s a huge difference from the 2010 poll that reported only 32 percent who supported same-sex marriage. So after looking at that poll and taking into account that ‘The Pew Research Institute’ usually only polls specific demographics that favor conservative political parties, the high poll numbers within those demographics, and the poll numbers among Democrats and other groups that support progressive policies I would say there is high probability that we’ll see a Progressive Democrat win statewide office in the next statewide election. That’s to say if we don’t see the emergence of a progressive third party, that can actually give the Alabama GOP and Democratic Party a run for their money.”

APR: It seemed like Terry Lathan and the Alabama GOP out thought, out fought, and out worked Alabama Democrats. What are Republicans doing so right that seems beyond the ability of Alabama Democrats?

Countryman: “The Republicans have not been afraid to tackle the tough issues during debates and forums, by challenging their opponents, and demanding answers. The people want to know what the candidate believes, what issues are important to them, and how the candidate can improve the voters quality of life. The Republicans, for the most part, do this very well. However, a lot of Democrats have become more passive, and choose not to engage their opposition. Plus you have to take into account the money that is backing the Alabama GOP. The huge sums of money that the Alabama GOP brings in does allow for more targeted campaign strategies, more commercials, and more effective GOTV campaigns. So the bottom line is that more money usually means better results. The only way to combat the money machine of the Alabama GOP is by out smarting them and utilizing every available resource you can.”

APR: Black candidates like Dr. Will Boyd, Miranda Joseph, and Kara McClure struggled to raise any money at all for their campaigns. James Fields similarly struggled to raise money in the Democratic primary. White male candidates Walt Maddox and Judge Robert Vance on the other hand easily raised over a $million each for their campaigns. Is there a racism problem with Alabama Democratic donors and the Alabama Democratic Party even though Blacks were over three quarters of the Democrats voters on election day?

Countryman: “I don’t believe that there is as much of a racism problem as some might think. You have to take into account the vast majority of donations that Walt Maddox brought in came from special interest groups and PAC’S, that many of the candidates that you mentioned, who struggled with fundraising, made the choice not to receive donations from PACs or special interest groups that they felt went against the voters best interest.”

APR: Your new campaign is called “Rethink Alabama”. Is there really anything to rethink. Voters liked the path 60:40 up and down the ballot in November?

Countryman: “I am glad you asked that Brandon. The Rethink Alabama Movement is more than just political ideologies. It is a citizen led advocacy group that does what Alabama’s two leading political parties have failed to do for a long time now. It puts the people first, challenges our government to always strive to do better, holds our elected officials accountable and strives to come up with new ways that we can bridge the gap between the citizens and their government. So by rethinking one can say we’re constantly reviewing the way we’re doing things in Alabama, the way we did things in the past and deciding if those ways are working to benefit all the people of Alabama. If they aren’t, then we start finding new ways to do things within our government so that we can better serve all the people in our state and not just a select few.”

APR: What should the GOP dominated legislature focus its priorities on when it comes back in March?

Countryman: “Healthcare, Jobs and Education. All Alabama citizens should have access to healthcare, its as simple as that. Studies show that utilizing preventive medicine and having early detection screenings saves lives as well as money by being a more cost-effective healthcare option and has many other advantages as well beyond that of just providing healthcare to Alabama citizens.”

APR: Is it inevitable that Donald Trump will carry Alabama in a landslide like he did in 2016?

Countryman: “I believe at this point no. With so many accusations against him, the mounting evidence that his campaign had conspired with Russian operatives attempting to influence the US elections, and growing evidence that shows the multiple ethics violations and corruption charges I believe Trump will either be impeached or resign before the next presidential election.”

APR: Rural communities that had voted Democrats for 140 years have completely switched to the Republican Party (outside of the Black Belt) why did the Alabama Democratic Party lose rural people and the small towns? is there anything Democrats can do to get back rural voters?

Countryman: “I think that a lot of people within the rural communities have felt that the Democratic Party has let them down. In the past the Democratic Party has been known for their commitment to human and civil rights, as well as social and economic justice. However recently some within the Democratic Party have forgotten the foundational principals which have come to define our party’s commitment to the people, and because of this they have struggled to secure votes within our state government due to the voters being forced to choose what many may view as having to choose ‘the lesser of two evils.’ Simply put when a voter looks at the candidates, they need to have a reason to vote for the Democratic candidate or else they will vote for someone whom they are already familiar with. To them it’s like the old saying goes “better the liar you know than the con-artist you don’t.”

“What the Democrats in Alabama need to do is to look at the foundational principals of the Democratic Party, and start putting the people first again, and they need to let it show big time,” Countryman continued. “The Democrats need to dive in head first as hard as they can on a local level and tackle the issues that matter most to the citizens. But more than all that we need real citizens running for office within the Democratic Party and not the smooth talking politicians who are just looking for a career at the expense of the citizens. The Democratic Party needs to start finding candidates to run for office who legitimately care about the people of Alabama. Once they start doing that, we will start seeing the voters returning to the polls to proudly cast their votes for Democratic candidates.”

APR: What advice would you give to Governor Ivey?

Countryman: “The biggest piece of advice I would give to Kay Ivey can be summed up with four simple commitments, many of our elected officials, from both parties have failed to live up to these commitments after being elected to office. These commitments are; Always put the people first whenever considering policies or legislation, always be transparent and honest with the voters while maintaining the highest ethical standards and character, fight corruption at every turn even when it means bucking your own party sometimes and always remember that those elected to public office don’t work for themselves but rather work for the people of Alabama.”

Elections

Gadsden voters choose an elected school board in local referendum

Brandon Moseley

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Gadsden voters voted Tuesday in favor of an elected school board.

The next Gadsden school board will be an elected board. Currently Gadsden has an appointed school board, where the City Council picks the members of the board school board.

Former state Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) sponsored legislation to allow the voters to decide on whether or not they want an elected board. Butler formerly served on the Etowah County School board which is elected. The Attalla School Board is also an elected board.

“I am very pleased that the elected school board referendum in Gadsden passed tonight by a better than 2 to 1 margin,” Butler said on social media. “I was confident in its passing because I know all parents want to be invested in their children’s education, and this allows every parent a voice. Next step is for talent from all walks of life to step up and run for a seat on the City of Gadsden Board of Education.”

1,244 voters voted in favor of an elected school board, while only 562 voted in favor of keeping an appointed board. The result were 68.9 percent in favor of the elected board to just 31.1 percent opposed.

Alabama has a mixture of school board arrangements. St. Clair County for example has an elected school board and an elected school superintendent. Leeds has an appointed school board and an appointed superintendent. Birmingham has an elected school board, which appointed the school superintendent. In St. Clair County the school board members and the superintendent run in partisan political races where most candidates go through the Republican or Democratic party primaries. In Birmingham, the school board candidates like the council candidates run in municipal elections and do not have to align with a political party.

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Original reporting by the Gadsden Times contributed to this report.

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Elections

Leeds voters resoundingly reject property tax increase

Brandon Moseley

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Leeds voters went to the polls Tuesday and overwhelmingly voted to reject a property tax increase.

This was a very highly controversial proposal from the beginning and ultimately voters decided that they were taxed enough already.

Leeds Mayor David Miller had said that the money would have been used for a new athletics complex at the high school, a new football stadium at Leeds High School, a new library, a senior center, city hall, and other improvements.

City officials claimed that two-thirds of the money would have gone to the city school system and one third to the city government.

The voters defeated the proposal 1506 to just 971. 60.8 percent of Leeds voters were opposed, while only 39.2 percent voted in favor of the proposal despite a well-funded effort to sway voters.  The vote No effort, however, was extremely active on social media.

The proposal would have raised property taxes by 9 mills. The owners of a $100,000 home would have to pay $90 more a year in annual property taxes. The owners of a $300,000 home would have been forced to pay an additional $270 a year.

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Mayor Miller promised before the referendum, “If the referendum passes, we will build what we have guaranteed to build. If not, we will build what we can as we can.”

When Leeds built a new high school four miles away from their old high school, which became a middle school they did not build a new football stadium. The Leeds Green Wave sports teams still play at the old fields, that date to the 1950s behind the middle school. After the failure of the referendum, they will continue to play at the old field for the foreseeable future.

Leeds is located east of Birmingham on Interstate 20. Approximately sixty percent of Leeds is in Jefferson County, almost thirty percent is in St. Clair County, and about ten percent in Shelby County. Leeds has a Bass Pro Shoppe store, the Grand River outlet mall, and has been the home of Lehigh Cement for over a hundred years.

While state legislators keep bringing bills authorizing tax increases, voters increasingly reject them. Tuesday’s failure of the Leeds property tax increase; follows recent rejections of tax increases by St. Clair County voters, Muscle Shoals voters, Baldwin County voters, and others.

State legislators are mulling an increase in fuel taxes to pay for more road projects.

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Elections

Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis officially announces run for Montgomery mayor

Chip Brownlee

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Former U.S. Congressman Artur Davis has officially announced a run for Montgomery mayor.

He announced his decision in a video posted on Twitter Monday.

Davis has tried for the position before. He finished second in a five-candidate field in the 2015 mayoral race.

He said he will emphasize his own roots in Montgomery public education and his commitment to reviving the local school system, which includes 12 failing schools and has been the subject of an emergency state intervention.

“I know what the Montgomery school system used to be capable of achieving,” Davis said. “I used an education at traditional schools like Jeff Davis High and Dannelly as a springboard to win awards at Harvard and become a congressman by age 35. As Mayor, I will have one major mission: to build a community-wide coalition of our new school board, teachers, parents and businesses that will return Montgomery public schools to being a foundation to succeed anywhere in America.”

Opinion | What the next mayor needs

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Davis addressed the issue in an op-ed he authored in December 2018.

“The next mayor must join forces with the new school board to extricate the schools from the state takeover, a mismanaged event that creates the kind of uncertain chain of command that makes it impossible to attract a national caliber superintendent,” Davis wrote.

Davis was born and raised in Montgomery.

“I do agree that this city is on the edge of making history,” Artur wrote in 2018. “But the test for candidates is not how well we represent one community or satisfy that community’s insiders and gatekeepers. It is whether any of us has what it takes to make Montgomery a trendsetter in repairing failing schools and blighted neighborhoods and in forging a more prosperous, more equitable future.”

He spent 35 years of his life in the city, where he started his career as a federal prosecutor in Alabama’s Middle District.

He said his experience fighting crime will guide his approach to making Montgomery safer.

“I learned as a prosecutor that there are two kinds of criminal offenders,” Davis said. “First, the ones devoted to wrecking their own communities and who have no respect for their own neighbors. To take them on, we need to commit to a larger police force and an aggressive plan to confront gang violence and the rise in gun and property crimes. But there are also people in the criminal justice system whose lives can be turned around. I want Montgomery to become known as a model for finding work and dignity for ex-offenders who want rehabilitation.”

Davis served four terms as a congressman in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

Since 2015, he has also served as the executive director of the state’s civil legal aid program and as a policy consultant on issues including barriers to occupational licensing and criminal justice reform.

His wife is Tara Johnson Davis, who is a nonprofit executive running two homeless shelters in Montgomery.

The election will be held Aug. 27, 2019.

Montgomery County Commission President Eltron Dean and 25-year-old political newcomer Marcus McNeal have all announced plans to run. Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven read is also reportedly considering the option.

 

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Elections

Leeds votes Tuesday on a tax increase referendum

Brandon Moseley

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Leeds voters are going to the polls Tuesday to vote on whether or not to raise property taxes in order to finance a number of improvements to the city: including a new football stadium, new library, new city hall, senior center and other improvements.

This has been a highly controversial proposal with very vocal people on both sides.

“No one is trying to force the citizenry to impose an Ad Valorem increase not wanted by the majority. However, numerous requests for a new library, better senior facilities with added services, a meeting facility large enough to accommodate big events, suitable space for our police department, easily accessible downtown city hall and utility company offices and competitive sports facilities at our High School, have led to this offer to the citizens of Leeds of an opportunity to vote as to whether these items are of sufficient importance to a majority of voters to warrant a modest Ad Valorem increase,” Leeds Mayor David Miller said on social media.

“The City was in good financial shape when this administration took office and is in even better shape now,” Miller said. “The City has a large cash reserve for emergencies and revenue more than sufficient to make all bond payments, payroll etc., without this tax. This referendum is needed for new facilities, not day-to-day expenses. Our financial strength was recently certified by Standard and Poors of New York and our bond rating reconfirmed as “AA” (Double A), up from an A+ rating during the previous administration.”

“The City has stated long and often what the money would be spent for. In response to this claim, the City, however, not only listed the uses of the money in writing, but passed a resolution guaranteeing that the money would, as a minimum, be spent on a new City Complex located downtown on the block owned by the City across from Windstream,” Miller continued. “Only one Council member voted against providing this guarantee to the citizens. The facilities to be included in the complex were specified in the resolution and included a new library, senior center, gym, court/council space, large meeting space, convenient administrative offices for the BOE and Water Works and of course, City Hall administrative space. This will allow the Police Department to have much needed additional space when the City Hall admin. moves out of its present location. Likewise, the BOE also provided a specific, detailed listing of the sports facilities and programs to be provided. An additional beneficiary of the move will be the Leeds Outreach program, so vital to so many in our community. The additional space created by the departure of the senior center, court/council and workout equipment from the Civic Center will allow the Outreach to have much needed additional room. The City is also investigating repairs to the Civic Center to allow its use well into the future.”

“This administration is committed to building a new library as part of the Municipal Complex, if funded,” Miller stated. “Each citizen should vote his or her conscience, but base their decision on facts, not false allegations. If the referendum passes, we will build what we have guaranteed to build. If not, we will build what we can as we can.”

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The tax increase will be 9 mills. The owners of a $100,000 home can expect to pay $90 more in annual property taxes than they pay already. The owners of a $300,000 home can expect to pay an additional $270 a year.

City School Superintendent John Moore told WBRC Fox 6 TV that two thirds of the money will go to the city school system and that one third will go to the city government.

Opponents have questioned the need for a new football stadium, city hall, and many specifics in the plan. Others simply say that they are taxed enough and don’t want to pay any more.

Polls open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 7:00 p.m. Remember to bring a valid photo ID to the polls.

Leeds is located east of Birmingham on Interstate 20. Approximately sixty percent of

Leeds is in Jefferson County, almost thirty percent is in St. Clair County, and about ten percent in Shelby County. Leeds has a Bass Pro Shoppe store, the Grand River outlet mall, and has been the home of Lehigh Cement for over a hundred years.

Tax votes, even tax votes for schools, have not done well in Alabama in recent years. Many spectators in Montgomery are watching how this tax increase effort, which has been well financed and well led, performs with the voters.

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Q&A | Countryman speaks about new directions for Democrats in 2019

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 12 min
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