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Jones calls for end to “partisan bickering” and passage of election security legislation

Jessa Reid Bolling

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Former special counsel for the Department of Justice Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees on Wednesday, detailing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, potential Russian links to the Trump campaign and alleged attempts by the president to obstruct the investigation. 

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, says the threat of election interference has been lost in “partisan bickering.” 

During a media call on Thursday, Jones said that people have used the hearing to “dig in their heels” to support their own perspective on the Mueller report rather than focusing on what he believes to be the main issue of the testimony, which is election security. 

“This is not just about Russia anymore,” Jones said. “Other adversaries, whether it’s China, Iran and others, are also looking at copying the Russian playbook. They have now seen that what they can do to affect the policies of the United States government and that is through the elections.”

Following Mueller’s testimony, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, vice-chair of the House Democratic Caucus, joined over 90 other members of the House of Representatives to support beginning the process to impeach President Donald Trump. 

Jones avoided any talk of impeachment, focusing more on the threat of election interference and a need to bring election security legislation to a vote in the Senate as soon as possible.

“At the end of the day, we are all Americans,” Jones said. “We’re all in this together. I think it is our patriotic duty to put our differences aside and do everything we can to preserve our democracy and the democratic processes we rely on.”

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A House-backed bill that would authorize $775 million in grants over the next two years to help states secure their voting systems and a separate trio of bills aimed at strengthening U.S. election security were blocked by Senate Republicans within 24 hours after Mueller’s testimony warning of election interference.

 

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Elections

Faith in Action Alabama calls on law enforcement to protect voters from harassment

“In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.”

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Nine clergy members from across the state have signed an open letter calling on local and state law enforcement to protect voters against intimidation and harassment at the polls.

The clergy are leaders in Faith in Action Alabama, a regional association of Christian congregations affiliated with the national group Faith in Action, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the country. It seeks to address a range of issues like gun violence, health care, immigration and voting rights.

This is their letter:

Across our country and here in Alabama, it is being seen that citizens are turning out in record numbers to vote early and by absentee ballots. It is very heartening to see so many of our fellow citizens energized and committed to exercising that most fundamental and critical duty of citizenship, the use of their franchise.  As servant leaders of an ecumenical association of nearly 2,000 faith communities across our state we are certainly encouraging our congregants to fulfill this duty either through early, absentee or day of election voting. For us this is not only part of our civic duty, but as people of faith obligation as well.

Unfortunately, it it also largely known that there are forces in our country that are actively, publicly and fervently at work to suppress the votes of some of our fellow citizens. We write to implore you to use the full authority of your office and department to ensure that those who seek to vote, especially on November 3, 2020 are not assailed or intimidated by illegal harassment in their polling places. We believe these threats are pervasive enough and real enough that proactive measures should be in place as citizens come to vote throughout that day. The strong, visible presence of uniformed legitimate law officers will hopefully prevent any attempts at confrontation or intimidation and violence.

The history of our state is marked by the efforts of tens of thousands of Alabamians who marched, protested, brought legal actions, shed their blood and some even gave their lives that every citizen of this state might have full and free access to the ballot box. In these harrowing days it is incumbent upon all of us as citizens and you and your colleagues as law enforcement professionals to do all we can to maintain this right secured by so much courage and sacrifice.

Please be assured of our prayers for you and the men and women of your department who have the awesome responsibility of providing public safety and equal protection under the law for every Alabamian. If we, the members of Faith in Action Alabama’s Clergy Leadership Team, can be of assistance please do not hesitate to call upon us.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jeremiah Chester, St. Mark Baptist Church, Huntsville

Rev. David Frazier, Sr., Revelation Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile, and Moderator, Mobile Baptist Sunlight Association

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton, Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

Bishop Russell Kendrick, Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast

Bishop Seth O. Lartey, Alabama-Florida Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

President Melvin Owens, Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention

Bishop Harry L. Seawright, Ninth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dr. A.B. Sutton, Jr., Living Stones Temple, Fultondale

Father Manuel Williams, C.R., Resurrection Catholic Missions of the South, Montgomery

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Report: Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state in economic prospects

Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(APR GRAPHIC)

It took Marquis Forge five years and 18 banks before he and his partner were able to open their company, Eleven86 Water, in Autauga County, just north of the Black Belt, and a report released Tuesday shows how Black Belt counties lag behind others in economic prospects and investments in businesses. 

Forge, a former University of Alabama football player, told reporters during a briefing Monday that he considers Autauga County, which borders the Black Belt’s Lowndes County, part of the Black Belt, and said it shouldn’t have been so difficult to access the capital needed to start a business. 

The report released Tuesday by the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center titled “Black Belt manufacturing and Economic Prospects” is the last in the center’s Black Belt 2020 series, and found that only four of the state’s 24 Black Belt counties, as defined by the center, are above the statewide average of 22.4 businesses per 1,000 residents, and just one, Montgomery County, was above the 2018 statewide average of personal income of $43,229. 

Researchers also found that just three Black Belt counties are above the state’s average in gross domestic product being produced by counties of $45,348. 

“To achieve Governor Ivey’s ambitious goal of 500,000 a million more Alabama workers with skills by 2025, all hands have to be ‘on deck.’ It will require higher labor force participation rates, particularly in the Black Belt, where the average is 20 points below the statewide average,” said Stephen Katsinas, director of the university’s Education Policy Center and one of the authors of the report. 

“Due to smaller economies of scale, our approaches to  education, workforce development, and community building will have to be different to reach Alabama’s Black Belt,” Katsinas continued. “In the longer term, we first must define the Black Belt, because you can’t measure what you can’t define. Then we must do what West Alabama Works is doing–go where the people are to bring hope by connecting them to a well-aligned lifelong learning system that makes work pay.”   

Donny Jones, COO of Chamber of Commerce West Alabama and Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks, told reporters Monday that one of the keys to helping the Black Belt will  be helping state and Congressional legislators understand the nuances of rural Alabama. 

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Jones said the state should look at how colleges are graded, and that many smaller colleges don’t get credit for putting students through programs that get them short-term certificates that lead to jobs. 

“Those are some of the things on the statewide level that we can really start to work on,” Jones said, adding that they’ve already begun teaching modern manufacturing in Black Belt high schools that gives students college credits toward an associates degree while still in high school. 

“I think that’s very important for individuals to understand the impact that we can have in our higher ed and our K-12 system, really works hand in glove to move the needle for workforce development,” Jones said. 

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Jim Purcell, State Higher Education executive officer of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, told reporters that it’s also important to look at one’s own community and identifying what is “unique and special,” and said he was recently in Autauga County, where he is from, and bought two cases of Eleven86 Water because he remembered how good the water there was. 

“I think that’s what you’ve done, is you’ve taken the gift that Autauga’s environment has and enhanced it, so that the people can benefit from it,” Purcell said to Forge. “I think that’s the key.” 

Asked what he’d tell state legislators to spur them to make changes so that other entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to struggle as hard as he did to open a business, Forge said he would ask for a clearer path for assistance. 

“Instead of digging down through a tunnel with a spoon I would have someone outline the tracks on getting funds and assistance from local, state and the national level, because there are funds out there,” Forge said. 

After going to 18 banks to get the financing he needed, he still had to liquify all his assets to make it happen, Forge said. 

“How many people are going to do that?” he asked. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”

To read all of the Education Policy Center’s reports on Alabama’s Black Belt, visit here.

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Zeta is a hurricane again

Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course it will make landfall at Southeast Louisiana or the Mississippi Coast late this afternoon and move through Alabama tonight.

Brandon Moseley

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A satellite image of Hurricane Zeta. (VIA NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE)

Zeta is continuing its path toward the Gulf Coast, and it is strengthening. Zeta is now a hurricane again and is forecast to be a category two hurricane when it comes ashore this evening.

“As expected, #Zeta is strengthening as it moves across the Gulf of Mexico,” the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency warned. “The windfield extends nearly 150 miles and we will begin to see impacts such as tropical winds, rain, rip currents and dangerous surf, as well as storm surge in Baldwin County.”

Zeta currently has sustained winds of 85 mph. On its current course, it will make landfall along southeastern Louisiana or the Mississippi coast late this afternoon. It should move through Alabama tonight.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Mississippi-Alabama state line including Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Maurepas and metropolitan New Orleans.

According to the NOAA, hurricane conditions are expected there this afternoon, with tropical storm conditions beginning later this morning.

Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. Damaging winds, especially in gusts, will spread well inland across portions of southeastern Mississippi and southern Alabama this evening and tonight.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect from the mouth of the Atchafalaya River to Navarre Florida including Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, Pensacola Bay and Mobile Bay.

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“If you live in a low-lying area you should evacuate before dark on Wednesday evening to a safer place,” warned Congressman Bradley Byrne, addressing Mobile and Baldwin County residents. “If you live on higher ground in southwest Alabama please make your plans Wednesday to be wherever you plan to spend the night by dark Wednesday evening and do not leave until daylight Thursday as we will experience tropical storm force winds and 2-4 inches of rain which could cause flash flooding, downed trees or downed live power lines. This storm should pass through our area rapidly and be gone early Thursday. Let’s all pray that this is the last storm of this hurricane season.”

ABC 33/40 television meteorologist James Spann said on social media, “We will deal with periods of rain today with temperatures in the 70s; the main wind and rain associated directly with Zeta will come tonight, and there is potential for a high impact wind event for much of the state.”

Storm surge predictions have risen since yesterday. Under current forecasts, Zeta is expected to bring a storm surge of six to nine feet for Dauphin Island. The storm surge will be four to six feet in Mobile Bay, and three to five feet for the Baldwin County shore towns of Fort Morgan, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach to the Florida line.

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Wind gusts in Mobile and Baldwin counties could be as much as 70 miles per hour. Isolated tornadoes are a possibility as this powerful storm system moves through the state of Alabama.

Because the storm is moving so fast, it should not produce as much torrential rain as a slower moving storm, reducing the flooding risk; however, that fast speed means that it won’t lose a lot of strength as it moves through the state, thus tropical storm winds could be experienced well inland.

Most of Alabama should get 1 to 3 inches of rain. The combination of heavy winds and heavy rains could weaken the root systems of trees meaning there is a possibility of losing power tonight. Citizens should check their emergency kits and make sure that they have flashlights, batteries, radios and fully charged phones in case they are needed tonight.

The Mobile County Emergency Management Agency is asking that people who live on the coast or in flood-prone areas to evacuate before tonight. Shelters have been set up in Mobile County including a medical needs shelter.

The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries has set up a shelter for livestock evacuating the area at the Alabama A&M Agribition Center in Huntsville.

Sandbags are available at the Baldwin County Commission office in Robertsdale. There is a limit of 25 bags per person while supplies last.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared a state of emergency.

Baldwin, Mobile and Escambia Counties were declared a natural disaster area after Hurricane Sally slammed into the state last month. Many areas are still in the process of cleaning up from that storm.

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Some conservatives oppose Amendment 2

An Alabama Law Institute Committee composed of legislators, judges and lawyers met in secret away from the press and public over 19 months conducting a comprehensive review of Article VI.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A number of prominent conservative voices in the state of Alabama are urging voters to vote no on Amendment 2 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Amendments 2 and 3 are a rewrite of the state constitutional reforms championed by former Chief Justice Howell Heflin in 1973.

An Alabama Law Institute Committee composed of legislators, judges and lawyers met in secret away from the press and public over 19 months, conducting a comprehensive review of Article VI since Heflin’s revisions were approved in Amendment No. 328 in 1973.

The resulting Amendment 2 is one of the most controversial constitutional amendments brought forward by the Republican-controlled Alabama Legislature since Gov. Bob Riley’s controversial Amendment 1 in 2003, which would have raised taxes by over a $1 billion. That was voted down by the voters, and conservatives are asking voters to similarly reject Amendment 2.

Alabama Eagle Forum is urging citizen to vote no on Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 is a complete rewrite of what is an already complicated portion of the Alabama Constitution, and it does many things. One of these is that it strips the power of the Legislature to impeach a judge.

Under current law, the Alabama House of Representatives can bring articles of impeachment against a sitting judge. If the House impeaches, the Senate sits in trial and decides whether the judge has acted improperly and is guilty of what the House has charged them with.

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This closely parallels the U.S. Constitution. Amendment 2 would change all of that and instead the only power in state government who can discipline judges would be the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which brings charges against judges, and the Court of the Judiciary, which determines guilt and punishments.

The Alabama Legislature has not impeached anyone in over a hundred years. Amendment 2 would take the power of impeaching members of the judiciary away from future legislatures.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore opposes Amendment 2 and explained that stripping the Legislature of the power to discipline a judge for cause takes away a powerful check on the judiciary and violates the principle of checks and balances between the three branches of government. Moore also objected to giving more power to the unelected Judicial Inquiry Commission.

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Moore, like Eagle Forum, also strongly objected to taking the chief justice’s power to appoint his own administrative director of the Alabama Court System and instead gives it to the full Supreme Court.

The chief justice is the elected head of the Alabama Court System, but under Amendment 2, he or she would not be able to hire their own administrator but would be forced to work with an administrator chosen by the Supreme Court as a whole.

The current administrative director of the Alabama Court System is Rich Hobson, who was appointed by Chief Justice Tom Parker. Hobson is in his third tenure as administrative director of the Alabama Court System. The previous two times he was appointed by Moore.

When Moore was effectively removed by the Court of the Judiciary his replacement as chief justice fired Hobson.

If Amendment 2 passes, the associate justices could overrule Chief Justice Tom Parker, fire Hobson and replace him with someone of their choosing.

This situation would also apply to Democrats. The last Democrat elected to the role of chief justice was Sue Bell Cobb in 2006. Cobb was able to appoint her own administrative director of the Alabama Court System, but under Amendment 2, the administrative director of the Alabama Court System would have been someone suitable to the Republican associate justices, who could simply outvote the chief justice.

Moore called this move a “power grab” by the associate justices.

“Amendment 2 is really an anti-democratic and anti-Tom Parker amendment,” Foundation for Moral Law staff attorney Matt Clark said. “It is anti-democratic because it removes the people’s main check on the judicial branch, which is impeachment. Instead, it provides that only the Judicial Inquiry Commission, over which the people have no control, may remove a judge from office. It is also designed to strip Chief Justice Parker of his power as the administrative head of the judicial branch to choose his right-hand man for carrying out the judicial branch’s administrative role.”

Eagle Forum also had a number of other objections to the extremely long and complicated Amendment 2, including that it takes away the power of the lieutenant governor to make JIC appointments and gives them to the governor.

The Alabama Constables Association has also come out strongly against Amendment 2, arguing that it would write the funding mechanism for their position completely out of the state constitution.

“Constables are not taxpayer-funded, they are largely voluntary Peace Officers,” said Jefferson County Constable Jonathan Barbee. “The fees they collect from their duties as Officers of the Courts allow them to support the expenses of the office such as vehicles, uniforms, and equipment. Amendment 2 also deletes the language protecting how Constables are paid by private court fees, leaving it in question for the appointed Administrator to decide.”

In Alabama, constables are elected peace officers and act in many of the same ways as do sheriff’s deputies. They’re able to make arrests, serve court papers and provide security for parades, funerals and other functions.

Amendment 2 was sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

Voters need to remember to vote on the constitutional amendments. Amendment 2 is extremely long and complicated so voters should probably read it and know how they are going to vote before going to the polls.

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