11 Mar 2014
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation hosted a candidate’s forum in preparation for the coming Republican Primary.
Perhaps the most interesting race is the heavily contested Alabama Senate District 17 race where seven candidates are competing for the open seat currently held by incumbent Sen. Scott Beason (R) from Gardendale.
The popular Senator Beason is leaving his conservative senate district to run for Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District where Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia is retiring after 11 terms in the U.S. Congress.
The District 17 Republican field includes: Joe Cochran, a member of the Pinson City Council; Jim Roberts, a Gardendale attorney; Jim Murphree, an Oneonta businessman who ran against Beason in the 2010 GOP primary; Shay Shelnutt, a Trussville businessman; Brett King, an attorney from Locust Fork; Gayle H. Gear, an attorney from Gardendale; and Adam Ritch.
Joe Cochran told the St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation that he was running in District 17. Cochrain has served on the Pinson City Council for 10 years and he said that he is ready to take the next step. If elected he promised that he would be easily accessible. “I like to meet people.” Cochrain pledged, “I will vote the right way for ALFA.”
I would appreciate anyone’s consideration.
Gayle Gear said, “I know so many people here. I am Gayle Gear. I am not a politician. Now I must be a politician.” Gear said that everyone needs to be concerned about the direction of our country and the direction of our state. “I don’t intend to stay longer than four years.”
Gear said I have been a teacher, a university professor, and went back to school to become an attorney.
Gear said that I was one of the lawyers that talked Jefferson County into not putting prison on the site of what eventually became the Turkey Creek Wildlife refuge.
Gear said that she is married with two children and one grand child. Both her father and grandfather were farmers. They raised beef cows, dairy cows, and chickens for their own consumption and fopr sale and hunted for squirrel, rabbit and deer.
“This country was built by farmers.”
Brett King said, “I am from Locust fork.” “It is good to be among you. I am a farmer. I grew up a farmer.” King said that he also practiced law in Locust Fork where he lives on a 67 acre farm. King said that he also owns 40 acres of timberland in St. Clair County, where until recently he did not get current use. “You can’t make a living off of timberland without current use. I will remember that when I go to Montgomery.”
King said that he knows how to get 75 square bales in the back of an 87 toyota long bed. He went to Jeff State, worked hard, attended Auburn, and eventually got his law degree. “It takes guts to hang a shingle in Locust Fork.”
King said that he has looked for an opportunity to serve.
Adam Ritch said I travel a lot on my job and sees much of the state. “I am running because we are at a tipping point.” The country is faced with an ever expanding bureaucracy in Washington and Montgomery.
Ritch said that he is experienced on the battlefield. There service is the most important thing. “I don’t have a lot of experience in farming.” “I was a Special Forces intelligence specialist in Afghanistan. My brothers in arms would not have returned if I made mistakes.”
Ritch said that ee and my wife Charlene had a baby, he took a job in the steel mills, and then got married.
Ritch said that Barack Obama is a problem for the whole nation, but “We have some big state government spenders as well.”
Ritch said that he is a volunteer fire fighter in Dora.
Jim Roberts said that in the 1970s he served in the Air Force. He studied engineering in West Point then served in the Army where he was deployed multiple times in different parts of the world. Then Roberts went to law school and began practicing law in Gardendale.
Roberts became mayor of Gardendale in a troubling time where the city faced a number of law suits. As Mayor he managed to resolve all the law suits and served for 8 years. As Mayor he improved the ball parks and had a good relationship with the farmers and the Cattlemen’s Association.
Roberts said that the F4 bill (which allows farmers who have trucks they use just a few times a year not to have to get a commercial license plate like heavy trucks that haul commercially 8-10 hours a day) should have come out of committee and passed by now.
He said that as the State Senator for District 17 he would focus on bringing more jobs not only in the city but also in rural areas.
The state needs to work towards the elimination of Obamacare. If ever small business in America added just one employee the jobless situation would disappear but we are stuck in this morass caused by Obamacare and overregulation.
Roberts vowed that if elected he will get something done in Montgomery.
Shay Shelnutt said that he is new to the political arena. I am not a farmer but I grew up in Palmerdale Alabama with cows, pigs, and a garden. Like King, I have 36 acres in St Clair County.
“I have been married for 16 years to Paige Hartwell.” They have a 13 year old and a 9 year old.
Shelnutt studied at the University of Montevallo where he got a degree in business finance.
He worked in the Financial services industry for a couple of years.
Shelnutt spent 10 years working as a teacher and coach in Jefferson and Blount county.
He has spent the last 8 years in real estate.
Shelnutt said that he has conservative Christian values. He is for low taxes and limited government.
Jim Murphree was not present. He is an Oneonta businessman and insurance agent who has served a term in the Alabama House of Representatives previously.
The Primary is June 3rd.
The St. Clair County Farmer’s Federation meets monthly in Ashville at the ALFA building.
11 Mar 2014
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
During the administration of Ronald Reagan (R) the United States Navy had a force of over 600 ships. Decades of budget cuts to defense capabilities due to the growth in entitlements has shrunk that force to less than 300 ships. Last week Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) announced that even today’s much smaller Navy is about to get smaller if the administration has its way. Among the many cuts announced by Sec. Hagel is a reduction in the number of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to be ordered by the Navy.
On Thursday, March 6, 2014, U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R) questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the proposed cuts in a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense.”
Secretary Hagel said that although he had ordered a reduction in the order of LCS ships, the vessel could be modified in such a way that would meet capability and lethality requirements to allow it to continue beyond the order of 32 ships.
Secretary Hagel admitted that the Commander of the Pacific fleet, the Secretary of the Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations had all expressed support for the ship. The U.S. Navy’s proponents for the ship said that there was no need to spend billions of dollars redesigning a ship when there are existing systems like the LCS we can use.
Rep. Byrne said: “I appreciate the testimony of Secretary Hagel before the House Armed Services Committee today. Clearly, the LCS can be retained in a modified form and continue beyond the original order of 32 ships. This testimony will strongly support our case as we continue fighting to preserve the LCS program.”
Sec. Hagel announced that DOD was poised to cut the LCS order by 20 ships from its original order of 52. This ship is manufactured in part by Austal USA from its facility in the Port of Mobile, employing roughly 4,000 residents of South Alabama.
Congressman Byrne said: “I am committed to using every avenue possible to fight for these jobs represented by the Navy contracts at Austal in Mobile. As the Secretary of the Navy himself stated, this ship has the potential to become ‘the backbone of the future fleet’ with its varied capabilities, relative low cost to manufacture, and low cost to operate
Representative Byrne said, “We cannot allow the livelihoods of thousands of South Alabama families and the future of the United States Navy to hang in the balance over an arbitrary decision from the Administration. The President and Secretary of Defense need to understand the deep ramifications their actions could have, placing the Navy’s procurement program a decade behind schedule and causing families across shipbuilding regions like South Alabama to lose their jobs.”
The Independence-class LCS has a top speed of 44 knots, carries a crew of just 40 sailors, and can be specially configured for mine sweeping, sub hunting, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, operating helicopters, and can support Marine or Special forces operations. The cost is $704 million each, although the original navy estimate was that the LCS would cost just $220 million each. The smaller lighter LCS can operate in shallower waters closer to shore, the “littoral combat zone,”
The U.S. Navy plans had called for building 55 LCSs with the first twenty being ten each of the Independence-class and Freedom-class.
11 Mar 2014
By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
Troy University's Johnson Center for Political Economy recently released a study examining the legitimacy of two previous analyses done by UAB and Alabama considering the economic impact of Medicaid expansion in the Yellowhammer State. The Troy study's conclusions fly in the face of those of the earlier studies, which forecast revenue for the State of up to one billion dollars in the first three years of expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
“We just relax a few of the assumptions made in their studies,” said Professor Scott Beaulier, Johnson Center Director and coauthor of Troy's new study.
Governor Robert Bentley, who has promised not to expand Medicaid, called the earlier research pointing to positive impact “bogus.”
Instead of the one billion dollar tax boon predicted by UAB and UA, the Johnson Center study says Alabama stands to lose – not gain – $450 million during the same period.
The study cites what it claims are faulty premises in the earlier work, such as including indirect as well as direct spending into tax revenue projections, unforeseen costs, and a shortage in health care supply – what Professor Beaulier referred to as “labor market rigidities.”
Beaulier recently appeared on APTV's Capitol Journal to defend the Johnson Center study.
“You can argue for greater health care,” he said, “but it will cost us something.”
A professor that participated in producing the UAB/UA studies has already commented, saying:
“The study conducted by researchers from Troy University used a different set of assumptions. Most notably, the authors assumed that the federally funded direct health care spending in Alabama would not generate any new tax revenues. Although the health care services are exempt from sales taxes, this health spending does generate taxable income.”
The debate – at least from Beaulier – hasn't been completely in the academic arena, though. Political motivations have also been called into question as well, with Mr.Beaulier pointing to the UAB and UA studies having been commissioned by the Alabama Hospitals' Association, which favor medicaid expansion.
"UAB supporting study to benefit UAB hospitals is not surprising," he noted.
The Alabama Political Reporter would note, however, that the AHA is not necessarily known for supporting liberal or Democratic candidates or a liberal agenda. For example, the only money they donated last month was $5,000 to Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Over the two months prior, they donated to several more Republicans than Democrats, including Republican Senator Greg Reed and Republican Representative April Weaver.
When asked by Capitol Journal's Don Dailey about claims that the Troy study was politically motivated, Beaulier denied, but said that people can always “follow the money” and draw their own conclusions. The Alabama Political Reporter indeed followed the money, and found quite a lot there worth following.
To start, Troy's Johnson Center for Political Economy founding was financially backed by a gift of $3.6 million dollars to the university from the Charles Koch Foundation and the BB&T Foundation. Charles Koch, one of the famed Koch brothers, has donated hundreds of millions of dollars of the last decade to right-wing conservative, Tea Party causes. Koch Industries, the corporation the brothers own, is the second largest private company in the United States.
In fact, Manuel Johnson, the Center's namesake – who also donated to the founding – was once a conservative Federal Reserve board member, and was from 1977 to 1994 the Koch Chair at George Mason University, also the school from which Professor Beaulier received his Ph. D. in 2004.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that all these players – the Koch Brothers, BB&T, and others – have been in press headlines.
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Times reported on serious allegations about Koch's influence at another publicly funded university, Florida State. According to the article, titled “Billionaire's Role in Hiring Decisions at FSU Raises Questions,” after donating $1.5 million to the college's economics department for the hiring of new staff, Koch was entitled not only to influence over hiring and firing staff – but ultimate veto power.
“Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they've funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom,” the Times article read.
“Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.”
In fact, Koch ended up vetoing 60% of the new staff hired for a one year period at FSU, according to the reporting, which also noted that Yale University once returned a $20 million donation because the donor tried to assert a veto power over staff decision, something Yale said was “unheard of.”
Given all this, the question ultimately becomes: if $1.5 million gives you ultimate veto power over staff, can more than double that get you an anti-Obamacare medicaid study? This question was brought even closer to the forefront when APR confirmed last week that the medicaid study was sent out to the press not by Troy University's usual public relations desk, but by a Koch-affiliated PR group.
In addition, Professor Beaulier of Troy makes no effort to conceal the fact that he frequents – and is sometimes featured at – Alabama Policy Institute events. API is a right-wing think tank that is virulently opposed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The following appearances are listed on Beaulier's curriculum vitae:
“The Supreme Court Decision: Behind the Scenes” panelist, Republican
Governors Association Healthcare Summit, Phoenix, AZ (June 2012)
“The Foundations of Liberty and Society,” Liberty Fund/Charles Koch
Foundation discussion leader, Arlington, VA (May 2012)
“Federalism,” presented at Alabama Policy Institute breakfast, Birmingham, AL
Caught in the middle of all these conflicting “studies” are nearly half a million uninsured Alabamians financially unable to access proper primary or emergency health care and many of which would be covered under an expansion of Alabama's current Medicaid system.
11 Mar 2014
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Military forces of the Russian Federation have occupied the Crimea, a Republic in the Ukraine. Russia has announced that the Crimea will be voting soon on secession from the Ukraine presumably to be incorporated into Russia. All of this is in defiance of post-Cold War treaties, at least one of which guarantees Ukraine’s borders with American force.
U.S. Representative Roby (R) from Montgomery wrote over the weekend, “What Russia has done is outrageous and should not be allowed to stand. We need to bring all of our diplomatic and economic tools to bear, provide leadership in the world and make it clear that Putin’s actions have consequences.”
Congresswoman Roby said, “This week, the House is expected to vote on a resolution that would encourage the Obama administration to bring economic sanctions against the Russian government. The House has also passed legislation designed to assist Ukraine with temporary loan guarantees in their time of need.”
The Conservative Alabama Congresswoman concluded, “This is a time for America to speak with one voice – and to rally our allies to speak up too. We also need to be looking two steps ahead. Russia has shown every intention of interrupting our efforts to keep Iran in check. We need to demonstrate our willingness to stand up to Putin now before the consequences get even greater down the road.”
President Barack H. Obama has dispatched F-15s to Poland and a destroyer to the Black Sea and has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his forces from the Crimea. Meanwhile Russian television has been reporting on the mistreatment of ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine, sparking fears that the Russians may further extend their sphere of influence inside Ukraine and perhaps sparking an actual shooting war.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose said in a statement last week, “The President of the United States is the Commander in Chief of our armed forces. I call on him to take decisive action. So far, the President has projected weakness and timidity by dithering away while Russia asserts its control on the ground. The President must demonstrate strong leadership by rescinding the announcement this week that he will weaken our National defense. We should show our strength as a nation by appropriately investing in our military based on the strategic needs of our combatant commanders and military leaders in the field.”
Ukraine has two major ethnicities: Ukrainian and Russian that speak different languages. The Ukrainian government had applied to enter into the European Union. The ethnic Russian minority opposed this move and won recent elections that gave them control of the government. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich promptly ended plans to join the EU and instead proposed that the government of Ukraine strengthen its ties to the Russian Federation.
Ethnic Ukrainians objected to this change in policy and took to the streets in the capital city of Kiev in November to demand the ouster of Yanukovich. Those protests became increasingly violent. After dozens of people were killed and his chief of staff, Andriy Klyuyev, was wounded by gunfire in an ambush, Yanukovich fled the country for Russia on February 22nd.
A thousand years ago, Kiev (now the capital of Ukraine) was the capital of feudal Russia. In the thirteenth century the whole area was conquered by the Mongols. The Russian principality of Moscow eventually got autonomy and then independence from Mongol domination and began growing. Since then the Ukraine has changed hands between the Russian Empire, the Mongols/Tartars, and the Islamic Ottoman Empire with periods of Ukrainian independence or autonomy. Eventually the area was absorbed into the Russian Empire.
When the Communist Bolsheviks overthrew the Russian Empire during World War I, Ukraine was forced to become a Republic in the Russian dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). When Karl Marx’s failed economic and government theories proved hopelessly inadequate for the real world, the USSR collapsed and Ukraine suddenly became a separate country in the 1990s.
The cash starved Ukrainian government surrendered a vast nuclear arsenal it inherited from the USSR in exchange for promises that the U.S. and Great Britain would protect its borders. The Ukraine has since radically downsized its military. Ukraine has an estimated 135,000 troops but they are underpaid, poorly equipped, and poorly trained. It is not known how many Ukrainian troops are actually loyal to the Ukrainian state and will they fight if called to.
Russia claims that deposed President Yanukovich (who is in Russian custody) asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to his country to restore order. The Ukrainian Government insists that it has lawfully removed Yanukovich by a vote of Parliament and he no longer represents Ukraine, but Russia insists that he is still the President and that they are acting to protect the human rights of the Russian minority…..a charge that the acting Ukrainian Government strongly denies.
Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.
11 Mar 2014
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 3, the Alabama House of Representatives approved the Alabama Senate’s version of the “Alabama Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights II,” sponsored by State Representative Paul DeMarco (R) from Homewood.
The Alabama Taxpayer Bill of Rights II sets up an independent tribunal to hear taxpayers’ appeals of both state and local tax assessments and ensures fairness throughout. The bill was included in the Alabama House Republican Caucus’ “Commonsense Conservative Agenda” which was announced prior to the start of the session.
State Representative Paul DeMarco said before the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday. March 3 that the Alabama Senate had passed a substitute bill for the version of HB 105 which had passed House earlier.
The biggest change made by the Senate is that the Senate version creates a tax tribunal appointed by the Governor. Originally the tribunal was appointed by a nominating committee. Rep. DeMarco said that the Senate also made a number of changes to some of the additions outside of the tribunal. The Senate reduced the failure to pay penalty, does not extend the statute of limitations to 3 years, and other changes.
Rep. John Knight (D) from Montgomery asked, “Is it still a taxpayer bill of rights?”
Rep. DeMarco said, “Yes, it still has a tribunal. It is still a taxpayer’s bill of rights, but it does not have all the changes I would like to see.” “We have done this four years in a row. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” “I am satisfied that this gets us where we need to be.”
Rep. Knight asked, “What is the rationale of changing the appointing authority?”
Rep. DeMarco said, “I like the nominating committee. You had someone from the cities, the counties, and the Alabama department of revenue...I like the idea of a nominating committee. The Senate decided to let the governor make the appointments. I am willing to agree to that to get it passed.”
Rep. DeMarco said that other states have used the lack of an independent appeals process against Alabama in recruiting businesses and industries.
The House voted to concur with the Senate’s changes.
Rep. DeMarco said in a written statement, “This bill will ensure that businesses and individual taxpayers choosing to appeal tax assessments are given a level playing field and referees who will remain neutral from the beginning of the process to the end. This bill can be summed up in two words that are at the core of its intent – simple fairness.”
Under the provisions of Rep. DeMarco’s legislation, the appeals process for tax assessments will be streamlined and made independent of the government authorities that are doing the taxing since those authorities all have a vested interest in denying any such appeals.
The Act would create an independent Alabama Tax Appeals Commission which would be tasked with hearing disputes over assessments involving income, privilege, sales, use, rental and lodging taxes issued by the State Department of Revenue, by cities or counties, or by private auditing firms employed by those agencies.
State Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville said, “Today when you appeal your issue the hearing is held by an employee of the department of revenue we are trying to get that moved out.”
To avoid costly duplication, the bill also abolishes the Administrative Law Division of the Department of Revenue and transfers its budget, personnel, equipment and functions to the newly-formed Tax Appeals Commission. This would bring Alabama into conformity with the vast majority of states that have created an independent tax appeals process for both businesses and individuals.
This bill was endorsed by both the American Bar Association and the American Institute of CPAs.
This legislation would save both administrative costs and legal fees for Alabama taxpayers pursuing an appeal of their tax bill. Decisions made by the Commission could still be appealed to the circuit courts, as current law allows.
The Alabama House Republican Caucus says that the bill also makes several other pro-taxpayer changes including increasing protections for “innocent spouses” and lengthening the appeal time for taxpayers from 30 days to 60 days.
DeMarco’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights II Act is part of a set of bills prioritized in the House Republican Caucus’ Commonsense Conservative Agenda. According to the Alabama House Republican Caucus their agenda, “...includes pro-business, economic development, and tax relief measures, as well as other bills addressing important social issues like protecting unborn life and preserving personal religious and moral freedoms from federal mandates.”
The bill now moves to the governor for his consideration.
This will be the last year that Representative Paul DeMarco serves in the Alabama House. The Homewood state representative is running for the Sixth District Congressional District where longtime incumbent Spencer Bachus is retiring at the end of the year.