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Sewell attends congressional field hearing in Birmingham

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, poses with Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, at a voting rights field hearing. (via U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell's office)

A congressional hearing was held in Birmingham Monday investigating reports of voter suppression. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Selma, joined members of the House Administrative Subcommittee on Elections at an official meeting in Birmingham’s City Council Chambers as they heard from voting rights activists.

Two members of the House of Representatives joined Sewell for a field hearing in Birmingham after a series of stops in North Dakota, Brownsville, Texas and other places.

“This is a very important issue,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin to the committee. “I thank you for taking on this issue.”

The hearing was chaired by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, the chair of the House Elections Committee. Fudge said that six years after the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder, several states, including Alabama, have made it harder to vote.

“Alabama has been slow to restore the voting rights of felons,” Fudge said.

She was also critical of Alabama’s photo ID law.

“This is not a political rally,” said Congressman George Kenneth “G.K” Butterfield, D-North Carolina. “This is an official congressional hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives.”

“The 1965 Voting Rights Act — it was a very powerful piece of legislation,” Butterfield said. “It eliminated the literacy test and gave minority groups a right to bring suit. Section five, the preclearance section was limited to several Southern states. Alabama was one of those.”

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“Southern elected officials have resisted Section 5 for generations, but we always prevailed until Shelby versus Holder,” Butterfield said. “That is why we are here today, to gather evidence.”

Justice Roberts ruled that the formula for Section 5 was outdated. We are going to decide how to build Section 5. He said this is not just a feel good exercise; they are building evidence.

“We are under siege in this country,” Fudge said.

“We need federal oversight in the state of Alabama,” Sewell said in her closing statement. “You learned today that Alabama has a more restrictive voter ID law now than it did before the Shelby v. Holder case. You learned today that the problem disproportionately affects minorities, rural communities, the elderly and the disabled. … The cost of freedom, we know, is never free. It is paid by those who have fought for this right that we have and for us to sit where we sit in Congress to do the right thing.”

Former Congressman Earl Hilliard Sr., D-Birmingham, was there. He was the first African-American to serve in Congress from Alabama since the Reconstruction era. Federal Judge Hugh Clemons also attended the event.

“What we have seen with the Shelby decision is a rolling back of voting rights,” Fudge said. “People have a right to know what happened across this country due to Shelby v. Holder.”

“It seem innocuous that you have to show a photo ID to vote, but the disabled used to be able to show a social security card.” Fudge said. “It is unfortunate that we are making it harder to vote in Alabama.”

Calera City Councilmember Earnest Montgomery addressed the committee.

Montgomery was at the center of a battle between Calera and later Shelby County with former President Barack Obama administration’s Justice Department Civil Rights Division. Calera said they could not draw a majority-minority council district.  The DOJ disputed that and cited the city for annexations of majority white, new subdivisions. The challenge of the preclearance section went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court leading to a Shelby County win in the landmark Shelby County v. Eric Holder ruling.

“Our government must commit to assuring that every citizen be included, every barrier destroyed, every election, from our local schools all the way to our federal elections, be fair,” Montgomery said. “I hope our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. can come up with some solution to protect every person’s right to vote by some formula or preclearance. For we all know, it has been said that one ounce of prevention is more valuable than a pound of cure.”

“I was elected in 2010,” Montgomery said. “Like many of my friends and associates, I knew very little about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I learned about the states and jurisdictions that were covered and why. I could clearly understand how after Reconstruction had ended and how it disenfranchised African-Americans.”

Montgomery said he has had not problems in Shelby County since Shelby v. Holder, but it has been a little more challenging in other places. He said the light has shined on Shelby County and the city of Calera.

“I have been litigating voting rates issues for years,” said Voting rights attorney James Blackshear.

“Blacks constitute 26 percent of the population,” Blackshear said. “Latinos are 4 percent of the population. … Alabama’s motto has been, ‘We dare defend our rights. Throughout history, Alabama has used its states rights to defend white supremacism.”

“Immediately after Shelby County v. Holder was handed down, Alabama proceeded to implement and enact new racially discriminatory restrictions on the ability of its citizens to register and vote, including a photo ID law, closure of driver license offices in the Black Belt and a request for authorization to require proof of citizenship in the federal voter registration form,” Blackshear said. “At least 66 polling places have been closed, and the city of Evergreen in Conecuh County has been bailed in under Section 3c of the VRA following litigation challenging a number of discriminatory voting practices.”

“What still remains is what I call the architecture of white supremacism,” Blackshear said. “That is embedded in the 1901 Constitution.”

“The purpose of the convention was to establish white supremacy in the state,” Blackshear testified. “The state of Alabama has taken as much advantage of Shelby County v. Holder to reclaim as much of that architecture as possible.”

Jenny Carroll is the chair of the Alabama State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

“The days of a sheriff standing in the doorway of the polling place may be a thing of the past, but current voting regulations may produce the same effect on minority and poor populations in our state,” Carroll said. “The method may be softer, more subtle, but the results are exactly the same.”

“From voter identification laws to curtailed polling places to limited polling hours to lack of early voting to no-excuse absentee balloting, Alabama election laws disproportionately affect the voters in our state even as they claim to improve election integrity,” Carroll continued. “Such laws create barriers to voting in their reliance on either a one-size-fits-all notion of Alabama voters in which every citizen interested in casting a ballot has access to the required identification and documentation, transportation and the resources necessary to realize the right to vote, or they rely on the noting that small impediments to voting are tolerable.”

“I don’t understand why they purge an inactive voter,” Butterfield said. “An inactive voter has as much right not to vote as they do to vote.”

“How much would it cost to sue if your voting place was moved?” Butterfield asked.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Blackshear answered.

“I have got four cases going on right now,” Blackshear said. “Those cases are brought with the aid of the ACLU and the SEIU. Those organizations are needed to bring the resources forward just to get a case started.”

“The greatest democracy in the world must not regress,” Fudge said. “We must recognize our faults and continue to move forward; we must progress.”

“When the SCOTUS handed down its decision in 2013 in the Shelby v. Holder case, Alabama legislators worked extremely hard to ensure that it is more difficult to vote and register to vote,” said Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton. “First and foremost, Alabama implemented the photo ID law. That ID law prohibited lots of individuals from being able to vote. It is estimated that at that particular time, there were approximately 118,000 people who were immediately disenfranchised because they didn’t have the photo ID required.”

Nancy Abudu is the deputy legal director for voting rights at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“We see that as a result of this voter ID law, people continue to be disparately impacted, and those individuals, by coincidence, happen to be voters of color and low-income individuals, which results in depressing voter participation in the state,” Abudu told the committee.

Scott Douglas is the executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries.

“Money is obviously a burden, by definition, for low-income people,” Douglas said. “Even obtaining the ‘free’ state-issued photo ID requires people to draw on scarce funds to compile the underlying documents. The list of accepted documents required to obtain a voter ID card is limited and includes, for example, a birth certificate, hospital record, census record, military record, Medicare or Medicaid document, social security document, certificate of citizenship or official school record or transcript. Many of these must be requested from a government agency and may include a fee. … Alabama’s photo ID law is the new poll tax, but the reason for its existence is the same as the old one.”

Isabel Rubio is the executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama.

“The legislation that we have seen, the attitudes and the environment here is explicitly geared at continuing to oppress, marginalize and further alienate people who want to be included in our community and who make really important contributions every day,” Rubio said.

Rubio mentioned HB56, the state’s anti-illegal immigration bill that was designed to encourage undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”

Sewell has introduced legislation earlier this year to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by developing a modern-day formula to determine which states must preclear election changes with the Department of Justice.

To see a video of Sewell speaking to the subcommittee:

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Courts

Alabama Parole and Probation Officers supervising nearly 9,000 violent criminals

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles released a report Thursday that was shared with state legislators and the media this week that shows Alabama’s 300 parole and probation officers are tasked with supervising 8,993 people convicted of violent crimes.

The officers are tasked with supervising Alabama offenders as well as more than 3,600 offenders from other states who chose to move to Alabama following their incarceration in other states. Those are just the active cases.

There are an additional 22,947 inactive offenders for a total caseload of 50,055.

“The supervision of all these offenders that our officers provide daily is crucial to the safety of Alabamians and we are thankful for the selfless and dedicated work of these law enforcement officers,” said Bureau Director Charlie Graddick in a statement.

Graddick said that the Bureau put nine new officers into the field last week to begin supervising parolees and probationers and hopes to hire up to 138 more officers over the next three years — if the budget allows.

In the session that recently ended, the Legislature cut the bureau’s budget nearly in half.

“We are in need of more officers as we work to reduce caseloads,” Graddick said.

The report shows that 79 percent of the Alabama clients the bureau supervises were granted probation by judges throughout the state.

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Sixteen percent of the Alabama offenders are parolees who were granted release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Of the 6,078 Alabama parolees being supervised, 58 percent are violent offenders, some requiring much more intensive supervision.

Alabama has historically underfunded and understaffed the aging prison facilities managed by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles is tasked with attempting to safely reintegrate parolees into society as well as to rehabilitate offenders sentenced to probation so that they do not re-offend and have to join the state’s prison population again.

A recent Department of Justice report found that Alabama’s prisons are among the most dangerous in the country and conditions in the prisons are unconstitutional.

The state has a critical need to reduce prison overcrowding.

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Economy

Sewell, Rogers vote for bipartisan bills to improve Paycheck Protection Program

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Reps. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, and Mike Rogers, R-Saks, voted in favor of a bipartisan bill aimed at improving the Paycheck Protection Program, dubbed the Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act.

“The Paycheck Protection Program has been a lifeline for tens of thousands of Alabama businesses, but there are still too many small businesses that have been unable to access necessary resources because of the program’s strict stipulations,” Sewell said.

Sewell said many small businesses have not applied despite their urgent need because they do not believe they can meet current standards, and many are afraid to use the money because of the program’s strict requirements.

“The bills the House passed today would both make the PPP program more flexible so it can reach more small businesses in need, and also increase the program’s transparency to ensure funding is going to main street businesses that need support the most,” Sewell said.

Rogers said he was pleased the act passed the House.

“The bill will add more flexibility to these loans to help small businesses even more,” he said. “It will extend the loan forgiveness period, allow businesses that receive forgiveness to also receive payroll tax deferment and will allow businesses to spend different amounts on payroll costs and mortgage, rent, and other expenses. I hope these modifications will further help our small businesses that are the heartbeat of our local economies.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 60,000 Paycheck Protection Program loans have been issued to small businesses in Alabama with each recipient receiving an average PPP loan of about $100,000.

According to Sewell’s office, the new bill would provide needed flexibility to the Paycheck Protection Program — originally created by Congress in the CARES Act in April — in order to make this key program functional for the small businesses that need it the most.

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Sewell’s office provided a lengthy explanation of what the legislation does:

Under the current Paycheck Protection Program, the PPP loan converts to a grant as long as the small business uses the loan within eight weeks of the CARES Act enactment – that is, by June 30 – and uses at least 75 percent of the loan proceeds on payroll and the rest for such necessary expenses as rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. Many small businesses, particularly very small businesses, have reported that, with these restrictions, the loans do not meet their needs.

The bill makes the PPP program more flexible in the following key ways, in order to make it more accessible and usable for the vulnerable small businesses that need it the most:

Allowing loan forgiveness for expenses beyond the 8-week covered period to 24 weeks and extending the rehiring deadline. Back in March, the PPP program was established as an eight-week program, ending on June 30. However, it is clear that the economic effects of the pandemic will impact small businesses long past June 30. The current eight-week timeline does not work for local businesses that could only very recently have customers and those that are only allowed to open with very heavy restrictions. Small businesses need the flexibility to spread the loan proceeds over the full course of the crisis, until demand returns.

Increasing the current limitation on the use of loan proceeds for nonpayroll expenses from 25 percent to 40 percent. Currently, under regulations issued by the Trump Administration, the PPP loans require that no more than 25 percent of loan proceeds can be spent on non-payroll expenses such as rent, mortgage interest, and utilities. This limitation has prevented many small businesses, such as independent restaurants, from applying to the program because their rent is significantly more than 25 percent of their monthly expenses. The 40 percent limitation in this bill is much more realistic.

Extending the program from June 30 to December 31. By ensuring the PPP program will operate for 24 weeks, rather than only eight, this bill will ensure that many more truly small businesses will be able to take advantage of the program.

Extending loan terms from two years to five years. According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, full recovery for that industry following both the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the 2008 recession took more than two full years. This was also true for many other industries. If the past is any indication of the future, it will take many businesses more than two years to achieve sufficient revenues to pay back the loan.

Ensuring full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans. The purpose of PPP and the payroll tax deferment was to provide businesses with liquidity to weather the crisis. Receiving both should not be considered double-dipping. Businesses need access to both sources of cash flow to survive.

The Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act passed on a 417 to 1 vote. Alabama Congressmembers Bradley Byrne, Mo Brooks, Robert Aderholt, Martha Roby, and Gary Palmer also voted for the legislation. It now heads to the Senate for their consideration.

Rogers represents Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District. Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

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Congress

Brooks, Palmer join lawsuit against House’s proxy voting rule change

Brandon Moseley

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Both Congressmen Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) and Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) have joined constituents and members of the House Republican Conference as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of H.Res. 965, a recently passed resolution that allows representatives to cast votes for themselves and others on the House floor. This rule change was instigated by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and her Democratic colleagues on a party line vote.

“This rule change is not a mere procedure change, but a direct assault on the Constitution and over 200 years of precedent,” Rep. Palmer said. “The Constitution requires that Congress assembles. There is no emergency so great that Congress cannot meet to do its job of representing the people.”

“Pelosi’s proxy voting scheme is not only unprecedented and antithetical to the job of a House member, it is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Rep. Brooks. “Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution requires that a ‘a Majority of each (House of Congress) shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and (each House) may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.’ The Constitution requires that the House assemble a majority of its Members to conduct business, and there is no more serious House business than voting.”

“It is in situations like this that Congress must respond to the call, not cower in the corner,” Palmer continued. “Our history is littered with wars, pandemics, and attacks on American soil, but none of that has ever prevented Congress from meeting to do the people’s business. The current public health crisis should not change that precedent. Precautions can be taken, but Congress must show up to work like everyone else.”

“In its 231 year history, the U.S. House of Representatives has never permitted a member to vote by proxy,” Brooks stated. “Never before have Members shirked their duty so blatantly. Whether it was the Spanish Flu of 1918, the Yellow Fever of 1793, the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars I or II, or terrorist attacks on 9/11, Congress had the courage, fortitude and duty to assemble to meet America’s challenges. Unfortunately, it appears those traits are not sufficiently present in today’s House of Representatives.”

“For Speaker Pelosi, this isn’t about safety during the pandemic, but about power,” Palmer continued. “This week, more than 75 Democrats claimed to be unable to attend the votes in Washington, yet we know at least two of them skipped votes not for safety reasons, but to attend the space shuttle launch. This rule change does not reflect representative government, but it does reflect corrupt governing. One member should not be allowed to cast 5 votes on the same legislative matter, but that’s effectively what happened on the House floor this week. You cannot represent your constituents on the House floor when you’re not present to vote on their behalf. This process is an insult to those constituents and to frontline workers who have been working around the clock lately to help our country through the current crisis. Congress must come to work like everyone else, and the American people should demand it just like the Constitution does. That’s why I’m joining my colleagues and concerned citizens in filing this lawsuit in federal court to overturn the resolution that undermines representative government. We cannot let this unconstitutional power grab go unchallenged.”

“The Socialist Democrats’ proxy voting scheme is a blatant attempt to use the pandemic to centralize power in one individual, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by overturning centuries of tradition and well-founded precedent.” Brooks charged. “America’s Founding Fathers feared centralized power; and there is nothing scarier than Congressmen delegating to others the duty to represent those citizens who elected them to this high office. Each House member vote is the representative vote of the 700,000+ citizens who elected him. A member has no right to give his constituency’s vote away to another person whom that citizenry did not elect. Quite frankly, a Member of Congress who voluntarily refuses to do his most important duty, voting on the House floor, should, at a minimum, decline to accept pay for work not done and, at a maximum, should resign from office so that someone more able can serve and properly perform the voting duties required of a U.S. Congressman. I signed on as a plaintiff in this important lawsuit because I take seriously my oath of office to defend the Constitution. I call on the U.S. Supreme Court to take up this case quickly before Pelosi and her Socialist Democrat Comrades can do more irreparable harm to America’s Constitution.”

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) is the leader of the proxy vote lawsuit. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) is already one of the plaintiffs.

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Byrne sues Speaker Pelosi to stop House rule changes

“The Constitution is clear that a majority must be present for the House to conduct business,” Rep. Byrne said. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to allow Democrats to cast multiple ‘proxy’ votes for their colleagues is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Under rules adopted last week, as few as 22 Democrats could claim a quorum and win a vote against all 197 Republicans. This scheme gives Pelosi and her lieutenants complete and dangerous unconstitutional powers. If Democrats won’t show up to vote, they should turn the speaker’s gavel over to Leader McCarthy and the Republicans who are actually willing to show up and work for the people they represent.”

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow Members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” Leader McCarthy said. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis. Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed. That is why, along with other members of the House and our constituents, I have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab.”
The Republican plaintiffs point out that in the last 231 years, the House of Representatives has never permitted a member to vote by proxy from the floor of the chamber. This includes during: the Yellow Fever of 1793, the Civil War, the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812, the Spanish Flu of 1918, and 9/11.

The GOP plaintiffs claim that voting by proxy is flatly prohibited by the Constitution.

Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 states: “The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall . . . .” o Article I, Section 5, Clause 1 states: “Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections . . . and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; . . . and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members.” o Article I, Section 6, Clause 1 states: “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall . . . be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses” • The constitution clearly contemplates the physical gathering together of representatives as a deliberative body. As the Supreme Court has held, to constitute a “quorum” necessary to “do business,” the Constitution requires “the presence of a majority, and when that majority are present the power of the house arises.” United States v. Ballin, 144 U.S. 1, 6 (1892)

The plaintiffs have filed a constitutional challenge in the D.C federal district court seeking to enjoin the use of proxy voting in the United States House of Representatives.

Congressman Mo Brooks represents Alabama’s Fifth Congressional District. Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District. Alabama Democrats were unable to find candidates willing to challenge either of the two popular incumbents. Brooks did defeat a Republican challenger in March.

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Elections

Carl, Hightower raising money for July GOP primary runoff

Brandon Moseley

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Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former State Senator Bill Hightower are running in the Republican Party primary runoff on July 14.

Both campaigns are preparing for the final push. Their Federal Elections Commission reports on their fundraising efforts are through the end of March.

Carl reported total receipts of $1,513,462.10. $709,525.10 of Carl’s money comes contributions. $670,169.60 of that is contributions from individuals; while $37,700 are contributions from other committees. Carl has contributed $1,655.50 to his own campaign. Carl’s congressional campaign also reports personally loaning his campaign $758,900.

Carl has already spent $1,307,240.85. $1,114,940.85 was for campaign operating expenses, $400 was for contribution refunds and $191,900 were loan repayments. Carl entered the month with $206,221.25 in cash on hand and debts of $567,000.

R.E. Myles of Grand Bay, AL donated $8400 to Carl’s campaign. Myles is the President of the law firm McDowell, Knight, Roedder, & Sledge. There are two entries for Mr. Myles of Grand Bay. The second is for $5,600. Carl’s other top contributors include: Rachel Burton is a Mobile housewife $5,800. Philip Burton of Mobile contributed $5,600. Burton works for the Burton Property Group. Clarence Burke Jr. of Foley works for Wolf Creek Industries $5,600. Nancy Myles of Grand Bay is retired, $5,600. Morgan Myles is a Mobile engineer with Core Industries, $5600. White-Spunner & Associates is a real estate firm, $5,400. Warren Nicholson of Mobile, who works for NFINA Technology, $5,400. Kathy Nichols of Mobile is retired, $5,400. Matt Metcalfe is a Mobile realtor, $5,400. Jerry Lathan is a contractor from Theodore, $5,400.

Former State Senator Bill Hightower reported total contributions of $1,071,355.21. $1,032,155.21 were individual contributions; while $39,200 were contributions from other committees. Hightower has no outstanding loans.

Hightower has already spent $858,340.60. $848,860.60 were operating expenses. $5,600 were refund contributions to individuals. $3,880 were other disbursements. The Hightower campaign had $213,023.40 in cash on hand.

Club for Growth PAC is supporting Hightower and they have donated $19.600 to his campaign. Major contributors include: Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, Illinois is the CEO/owner of Uline, $11,200. Roy Drinkard of Cullman is the owner of Drinkard Construction, $2,800. Lamar Harrison of Wilmer, AL is the President of Gulf Construction and Hauling, $2,800.00. Rhonda Scott is an Opelika homemaker, $2,800.00. Allen Harris of Opelika is the owner of Bailey-Harris Construction Company $2,800. Donna Williams is a Mobile homemaker $2,800. George Montgomery is the president of his own company $2,800. Sherri Trick is a Tuscaloosa homemaker $2,800. Carrie Montgomery of Mobile is the treasurer at Gulf Fastener. $2,800. Kreis William of Birmingham is a vice president at JohsonKreis Construction $2,800.

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The winner of the Republican primary runoff will face the winner of the Democratic Party primary runoff between James Averhart and Kiani Gardner

The First Congressional District is an open seat, because incumbent Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, is not seeking re-election.

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