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Government, business leaders meet on the Gulf Coast to discuss growth

Brandon Moseley

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The 2019 Gulf Coast Real Estate EXPO brought together realtors, investors, and government leaders to discuss growth in one of the hottest economies in Alabama at the Baldwin County Economic Development Forum. The event was held at the Orange Beach Event Center at The Wharf.

Notable attendees included Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, Alabama State Senator Chris Elliot, R-Daphne, Mayor of Orange Beach Tony Kennon, economic developer Nicole Jones, members of the Baldwin County Commission, and numerous attendees in real estate and related fields. EXP Realty professionals Angelo and April DePaola moderated the forum.

South Baldwin County has been booming and the state hopes to capitalize on that explosive growth. The state recently spent $150 million improving Gulf State Park and building the massive new Gulf State Park Lodge, managed by Hilton Hotels. The Alabama Department of Transportation is also exploring building a new bridge to Orange Beach.

The state has also gotten favorable concessions from federal fisheries regulators on the amount of Red Snapper that anglers may keep on their trips to the Gulf Coast.

Congressman Byrne credited a 2017 visit by Chris Oliver with increasing the Red Snapper quotas. Byrne said that Chris Oliver’s visit will hopefully provide future allowances for amberjack and other types of fish.

Chris Oliver is the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, which oversees the management and conservation of recreational and commercial fisheries including aspects of marine aquaculture, the preservation and maintenance of safe sources of seafood, and the protection of marine mammals, marine protected species, and coastal fisheries habitat within the U.S. exclusive economic zone.

“So much revenue is generated in the area,” Sen. Chris Elliott said. “We (as a state) must invest in south Alabama – Baldwin County.”

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Congressman Bradley Byrne said, “Mobile will be the fourth largest producer of navy ships in the world by 2023. An I-10 bridge is needed [to accommodate the growth.] When built, this will be the third tallest bridge in the nation.”

“This time next year, we should be breaking ground on a new I-10 Bridge across Mobile Bay, and it will be one of the largest bridges in the nation,” Rep. Byrne said. “Alabama is growing at an amazing clip, and with this economic growth must come infrastructure to support it.”

“Our brand is family values,” Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon said. “We will keep that brand, which will separate Orange Beach from the rest of the coast.”

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Mayor Kennon also stated that he wanted to keep existing Orange Beach residents satisfied with their current neighborhoods and the City will therefore create future mixed-use/higher density zoning rather than change existing zoning.”

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “The Baldwin County Economic Forum provided an opportunity to discuss federal, state, and local initiatives and how the public and private sector can work together in one of the fastest growing areas of our state.”

“Topics covered included roads, bridges, funding, zoning, beach re-nourishment, fisheries, emergency medical assistance, tourism, housing, growth, advanced manufacturing, and branding of the area,” Nicole Jones continued. “Business owners and elected officials agreed that state and federal funding for infrastructure will be a key to the area’s economic growth.”

Nicole Jones added, “Alabama has the largest artificial reef program in the United States. Fishing for red snapper is part of the culture on the Gulf Coast.

Congressman Byrne, Senator Elliot, and Mayor Kennon echoed one another in their remarks and stated that the area is thriving because businesses are not hindered by interference from the government.

“The government needs to stay out of the way of small businesses and listen to local business members,” Sen. Elliott said. “We build the Navy’s best ships. Our kids build them. We are more than just a tourist destination.”

The event included seminars on building wealth through real estate and growing your business. The speakers at the event included: Tom Ferry’s Jeff Mays; Angel Tucker; Wealth Without Wall Street’s Joey Mure; Dirk Stephens with Inspector Pro services; Tim Lower with Home Boss; Mike Carey with ACOPIA home Loans; Tobi Libbra; and Angelo Depaola with EXP.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.

 

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter

Josh Moon

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Edgar McGraw speaking at a Tommy Tuberville event.

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.

McGraw smiles.

But real life ain’t like the movies.

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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.’

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“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.”

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Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

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.

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Airbus celebrates five years of passenger jet manufacturing in Alabama

Brandon Moseley

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(VIA AIRBUS)

The Airbus manufacturing facility in Alabama has now been manufacturing aircraft for five years in the state of Alabama. The first Airbus passenger jet manufactured in Alabama was an A321 christened “BluesMobile” on Sept. 14, 2015. It went to Jet Blue.

Since then, 180 A320 family aircraft have been built in Alabama for eight airline customers. The Alabama-made passenger jets have flown 60 million passengers 500 million miles, according to Airbus.

“When we announced our intent to build A320 family aircraft in the United States, and to locate that facility in Mobile, Alabama, we also stated our intent to be a good neighbor, to create jobs and opportunities, and to help strengthen the U.S. aerospace industry,” said president and CEO of Airbus Americas C. Jeffrey Knittel.

The Airbus facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley directly employs more than 1,000 people. Earlier this year, Airbus opened a second assembly line at the complex that produces A220 aircraft. The operation represents an investment of around $1 billion.

“The achievements of the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing team over these past five years are just the beginning,” Knittel said. “We are proud to call Mobile our American aircraft manufacturing home, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with the community, our customers and suppliers.”

“Airbus has announced a series of expansions over the past few years that have placed Alabama on the map as a leader in the aerospace industry. Business analysts predict that by 2023, Alabama will be number 4 or 5 in the world for the production of commercial aircraft,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “This is a testament to teamwork and strategic partnerships between the public and private sector as well as the quality, dedicated, and skilled workforce Alabamians provide and companies need. Alabama has a history of leadership in aerospace and aviation, and Airbus is an international pioneer in the industry. We are thankful to Airbus team for their continued commitment to our state, nation, and the world.”

This has been an extremely difficult year for the airline industry due to far less business travel, decreased tourist travel and many nations imposing travel restrictions for people from other countries due to the threat of the coronavirus. Many airlines are asking Congress to provide more stimulus dollars.

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Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey took a tour of the damage from Hurricane Sally on the gulf coast Friday September 18, 2020. (Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”

Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.

“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”

Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.

“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”

“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”

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“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”

“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”

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