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Last updateWed, 20 Aug 2014 6am

Division in the House: AL Democrats Hold Tense Reorganizational Meeting (W/Video)


By  Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY – The State Democratic Executive Committee, the governing body of the Alabama Democratic Party, met last Saturday at the Crump Center in Montgomery. With this being the party's quadrennial reorganizational meeting, many thought change was sure to surface. Not much did, and a vocal minority of the committee's members had no problem pointing that out.

Beginning at eleven and lasting several hours, the SDEC meeting had what previously-interim party chair Nancy Worley said was the longest agenda since her involvement in the party began. On it: the filling of 56 committee seats left vacant after the Democratic primary on June 3, the election of executive board members, including Chair of the Party, and resolving unfilled candidacies for public office.

Before those items were addressed, though, officer reports were made by executive board members.

ADP Treasurer Ed Gentle reported that since the beginning of 2014, the party has been able to raise $219,000, with expenses at only about $16,000 a month, a feat nearly miraculous given recent historical precedent. In addition, ADP has been able to pay off its debt to one of its more significant creditors.

Dr. Joe Reed, Chair of the Minority Caucus, gave the longest report, speaking at times to different audiences about the direction, vision, and future of the Alabama Democratic Party, but doing so in no uncertain terms.

“We have some Democrats that are anxious and willing to work. and we've got to give them every chance to work, whether they are black or white, young or old – we've got to give them every chance to work,” Reed began.

“I don't care whether you're an over the mountain Democrat or a down in the valley Democrat. It's irrelevant if you don't have some vision, courage, and commitment to build this party. I'm going to pledge to you – all of you – that we're going to work together to build this party.”

Dr. Reed continued, and his message became even more frank:

“You can have the numbers – and I'm talking to the blacks now – you can have the numbers, but if we don't have the vision, the work, and the commitment, we have nothing. We have nothing. Like I said this morning [in the minority caucus session] when we elect folks to the executive board, we've got to be sure, we've got to be certain that whites have their fair share in this party and at the executive level. This is what we've got to be doing to build this party.” Video of Reed's comments can be viewed here.

After this speech, Dr. Reed suggested that he would later move to – and ask for support in – filling only a few, pre-screened committee seats, and carrying over the election of the rest of the 56 vacancies, a move a minority in the room viewed as undemocratic and an effective power grab. This motion was later voted on and approved by a vast majority of the SDEC – a nearly five to one margin.

Much of the most tense moments of the meeting surrounded this vote to delay the nomination of any new committee members, something which typically happens without delay at every organizational meeting.

“I object vociferously, Madame Chair!” One SDEC member shouted at the suggestion of a delayed election.

After a voice vote and a call of “division in the house,” a standing vote was taken and the motion clearly gained passage, delaying committee member elections until at least the SDEC's next meeting. When the ruling was made, one SDEC member stormed out of the room; another noted verbally, “This meeting continues under protest.” Watch the video of the vote, the walk out, and the call out here.

Some candidates for various public offices across the State addressed the meeting, as well. Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General Joe Hubbard, for example, told the crowd he would do more than just think of ways to sue President Obama every day, referring to comments made by current AG Luther Strange. He also told the story of a woman who approached him in the grocery store to tell him “Big” Luther's leg's are long so “he can get away from the law.” “No one is above the law,” Hubbard told his fellow Democrats.

Video of Hubbard's speech can be seen here.


Hunter Explains Her Support of Massive Raise for Bice


By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Alabama teachers did not get a pay increase this year. No one who has seen the projections for the 2015/2016 fiscal year budget is optimistic that a pay raise is likely in that coming year.  In fact, Alabama teachers have seen just one raise during this decade (the 2013/2014 school year).  Their take home pay has actually declined since the Great Recession ended due to teachers now shouldering a larger share of the burden for their future retirement costs.  Despite the austerity that has gripped most Alabama public schools, the Alabama School Board shocked observers by voting to give Alabama State School Superintendent Tommy Bice an extra $1000 per week of spending money.

On Monday, Board Member Mary Scott Hunter (R) explained her decision to support the massive pay increase in her email newsletter.  Hunter wrote,

“Dr. Bice received his own good news at Wednesday's State board meeting when the board voted to approve a two-year contract extension and provide a salary increase.  By way of background, I advocated in subcommittee for a smaller increase which was tied to incentives and exceeded the highest paid local Alabama Superintendent.  The Committee did not accept that recommendation and chose to recommend salary parity with the Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System - a recommendation I ultimately voted for in the general meeting.  I am pleased that educators and students will continue to benefit from the steady leadership of Dr. Bice and am certainly hopeful that salary increases for educators may be achieved soon.  This past year the budget was stretched to cover increased PEEHIP costs related to Obamacare which were not passed on to educators.  Thankfully, the budget absorbed that extra cost to educators but disallowed increases to salaries.  Rainy Day repayments and a slow or negative economy also mightily stressed the 2014/2015 budget.  Although not present, the governor communicated his endorsement to board members and the motion was approved 6-2.”

While these may be boom times for Superintendent Tommie Bice, they have not been so good for Alabama’s teachers and education employees.

The Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) spokeswoman Amy Marlow told the Alabama Political Reporter that over the last two years, Alabama has led the entire nation in cuts to education.  Marlowe cited a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  According to a report by Michael Leachman and Chris Mai, since 2008 Alabama education spending per student has plummeted by 20.1 percent.  Only Oklahoma has seen a steeper inflation adjusted decline.

Marlowe said that teachers and education support persons received no raise in the budget that goes into effect this year.  They did receive a modest 2 percent raise in the 2013/2014 school year; but received nothing in the 2012/2013 school year and absorbed a 2.5 percent reduction in net pay in 2011/2012 as the legislature made the teachers contribute more towards their own retirements.  This followed the recession years of 2010/2011, 2009/2010, and 2008/2009 where educator wages were frozen at 2007/2008 school year levels, in which a seven percent pay raise was given.

Marlowe said, that for many educators their take home pay is down from the levels received seven years ago.

Average annual inflation has been 1.75 percent over that time period meaning that a teacher making $40,000 in 2008 would need to be making $44,382.68 today just to have the same purchasing power that she or he had in 2008.

Teachers and willing parents have made up the slack for State cuts in school supplies over that period.  According to Ms. Marlowe, each classroom received $725 in pupil supply money from the state of Alabama.  Today, that number has fallen to just $310, and that is up from some recent years where State pupil supply money had fallen to $0.

Additionally, teacher and education support jobs have been cut and whole teaching units have been eliminated.  Some systems have been forced to close and consolidate whole schools.

Despite the dire financial straits that many school systems are still in, the State School Board felt it was a prudent use of limited State funds to increase the superintendent’s pay by a whopping 26 percent.

The $52,000 pay raise given to Tommy Bice is $10,426 more than the median household income in the State of Alabama and is more than what most Alabama education employees.  The State’s meager median income of $41,574 (in 2012) has actually dropped 4.08 percent over the last three years for which we have data.  The raise increased Supt. Bice’s pay from $198,000 to $250,000 a year, over seven times what the average Alabama worker makes at his or her job.

Not everyone on the Board thought that this pay increase was justified.

Board Members Stephanie Bell (R) and Betty Peters voted no on the controversial contract.  Bell said on Facebook that the contract included a 26% pay raise, two-year contract extension, a $21,000-a-year housing allowance, $5,000 annually for professional development, and a car.

Space Launch System Engineers Facility Opens in Huntsville


By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, August 13, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center held a ribbon cutting event for Marshall’s newest building.  U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R) from Huntsville and U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R) from Alabama were there for the ribbon cutting ceremony at NASA's Facility for the Space Launch System Program Office.

Rep. Mo Brooks and Senator Jeff Sessions were joined by Marshall Space Flight Center Director Patrick Scheuermann and NASA Deputy Director Teresa Vanhooser at the grand opening for NASA’s latest facility, which will house the Space Launch System (SLS) Program Office in Huntsville, AL.  Building 4220 is the new five story home for 400 engineers who are developing NASA’s successor to the space shuttle.  The SLS will give NASA unsurpassed heavy-lift capability and unrivaled payload volume.  This capability will allow NASA to take heavier loads into higher earth orbits than the space shuttle could ever go and is essential to human missions to explore asteroids and makes possible future human missions to Mars.

Sen. Sessions said, “It’s sort of, in my mind, confirmation of the Space Launch System program that is going to lead us into exploration of the solar system.”

Director Scheuermann said, “The Space Launch System is going to be an incredible capability for the United States, it will get our astronauts farther than we’ve ever been, ever.”

Rep. Brooks said, “The heavy-lift capability that we will potentially have once this is up and rolling is just a tremendous advantage for our country, vis-à-vis, all of our international competitors.  And remarkably, for any kind of Federal government program, SLS is five months ahead of schedule, on budget, and recently passed the Critical Design Review—all unprecedented feats for a program of this size, so thank you for what you are doing.  And on the building side, to have put together a building that is going to decrease maintenance and operations costs by 65%, decrease utility costs by 35percent, on the budget constraints we face in Washington, DC, right now, that is very, very impressive.”

Rep. Brooks continued, “I will give you my pledge that as long as I am able, I will do everything I can to help ensure that this building is always fully staffed, that SLS is always fully funded, and we can do the things that need to be done to make sure that America is forever number one in space because it is that American exceptionalism that helps set us apart from everybody else.  And I’m so proud of what you do here at Marshall, the capabilities you have shown in the past, and the capabilities that you are going to show in the future.  So thank you for allowing me to be a part of Building 4220 ribbon cutting.”

According to a written statement by Rep. Brooks’ office, the new facility is a replacement for Building 4202, which is over 50 years old, and will soon be demolished.  The new building was built for roughly half the cost of refurbishing the old building, and it is Marshall’s seventh building to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, cutting operation costs by 65% and utility costs by 35%.  Following the retirement of Building 4202, furniture from that building was donated to local schools in need.

After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Brooks and Sessions toured NASA’s Propulsion Research and Development Laboratory (PRDL).  Marshall’s PRDL houses state-of-the-art systems integration and thrust vector control test labs.  This facility is being used by rocket propulsion designers as they run real-time launch vehicle simulations of SLS and other vehicles.  PRDL has over 108,000 square feet of space and hosts 26 labs.

 

Perry Indicted for Interfering with Investigation


By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Friday, August 15, popular Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted by an Austin Grand Jury on Felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

The rumored Republican Presidential candidate could receive a maximum punishment on the first charge of five to 99 years in prison, and two to 10 years on the second.  Perry contends that this indictment is partisan and political.  The indictment comes toward the end of Perry’s final term in office. Perry has been in office since 2000 when he followed then Texas Governor George W. Bush.  Perry is already the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry isn't seeking re-election in November, but Perry only two weeks ago created a Political Action Committee, RickPAC. This month, Gov. Perry is scheduled to travel to key states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Many political observers saw this as a sign that Gov. Perry was going to run for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

In June, the liberal nonprofit group, Texans for Public Justice (TPJ), alleged that Gov. Perry allegedly committed several criminal offenses related to his recent threat to use his discretionary power to withhold money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office, unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg (D) resigned.

TPJ Director Craig McDonald said,

“Governor Perry has no legal authority to remove the Travis Country District Attorney from her job. Threatening to take an official action against her office unless she voluntarily resigns is likely illegal...The governor overstepped his authority by sticking his nose in Travis County’s business. A legal process is currently underway. That process alone should determine the fate of the District Attorney...Governor Perry’s official threats attempt to obtain two things that he can’t achieve through legal democratic means. First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointed Republican DA. Second, to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, which is currently investigating corruption in at least one of the governor’s signature corporate subsidy programs.”

According to original reporting by the "Daily Caller’s" Olivia Nuzzi, the indictments that were handed down on Friday night involves a Democrat District Attorney who refused to resign from her position as District Attorney, where she controlled the State of Texas’s Public Integrity Unit, an entity which investigates ethics violations of elected officials.

DA Rosemary Lehmberg, was pulled over in a traffic stop  on April 13, 2013, with an open bottle of vodka in her Lexuas.  A drunken Lehmberg acted so belligerently that officers felt the need to strap her into a restraining chair once she arrived to jail.  Lehmberg was videotaped screaming and kicking at officers and sticking out her tongue.  At one point, she even threatened the officers, "Y'all are gonna be in jail, not me," Lehmberg said.   Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunk driving and received 45 days in jail though she actually only spent a couple of days in jail.  Lehmberg ignored public demands that she resign.

Gov. Perry responded in June of 2013, by announcing plans to effectively dismantle the Public Integrity Unit by devastating budget cuts unless Lehmberg stepped down.  Texas Democrats believed that if Lehmberg was resigned, Perry would appoint a Republican to takeover the job and the ongoing investigation of GOP finances, specifically an allegation that State Cancer Grant money went to Perry donors.  When Lehmberg refused to leave, carried out his threat and vetoed all of its funding ($8 million) for two years.

Perry’s general counsel, Mary Anne Wiley, claims the charges are flimsy at best: “The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Gov. Perry told Fox News Sunday that he would make the same decision again.  Perry said, “The highest-ranking prosecutor in Travis County was stopped for driving while drunk almost three times over the legal limit,” the Republican governor said. “She was abusing law officials. She had to be restrained.”  Perry called the indictment a farce.  “That’s not the way we settle political differences in this country,” Perry said. “We settle (them) at the ballot box.”

Supporters of the indictment acknowledge that Perry had the authority to use his line-item veto power, guaranteed by the Texas Constitution, to eliminate the $7.5 million in two-year State funding for the public integrity unit.  They also acknowledge that Perry, under the First Amendment, has the right to call for the resignation of Lehmberg.  However Democrats claim that using his power over the integrity unit’s funding to demand that Lehmberg resign crossed the line into an abuse of power.

Gov. Perry said on Saturday, “The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in, and I did exactly what I said I was going to do."

Texas Republican have long despised the Democrat controlled Public Integrity Unit.  That Unit was responsible for the prosecution and conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R) from Texas.  Those convictions ended DeLay’s political career but were later acquitted on appeal.  Republicans would prefer that public corruption investigations be more to the Republican controlled Attorney General’s office.

Lehmberg and other Travis County officials recused themselves from the Perry case and are not prosecuting it.  Instead a Republican judge from Bexar County, Bert Richardson, appointed a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, to handle the prosecution.  McCrum is a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio and a former Dallas police officer who began his career as a federal prosecutor during the George H.W. Bush administration.

Gov. Perry still says, “I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto, and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor."

Perry is the first sitting Texas Governor to be indicted since 1917, and the fifth governor to be indicted in the 21st Century (the last was Illinois’ Rod Blagojevich, in 2008).


Alabama House Majority Leader Being Sued by Regions Bank


By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

DECATUR – At a time when Alabama's top Republican in the GOP Supermajority-led House of Representatives is under investigation by a Grand Jury for public corruption, the chamber's second-in-command is being sued.

Alabama House Majority Leader Mickey Hammond, R-Decatur, is being sued by Regions bank for allegedly failing to make payments on hundreds of thousand of dollars in personal loans.

Regions is seeking nearly half a million dollars from the legislator for failure to adequately pay a home equity loan which had already resulted in one court award against the lawmaker in 2012. Both suits stem from a 2006 loan Hammond received using a Florida condominium as equity.

Regions says the new lawsuit comes only after Rep. Hammond failed to pay the required settlement ordered in the 2012 complaint he lost, paying only $20,000 through April of 2013.

The original 2006 home equity line Hammond took out totaled only $305,000, but with court and attorney fees from both legal cases in tow, the Decatur Republican may be forced to fork over $410,388 if he loses in court.

Rep. Hammond says that he has always paid his bills on time, and plans to let the issue be dealt with by the court.

 

 

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