By John Hammontree | [email protected]
Who will change the course of Alabama in 2019? Reckon by AL.com presents “The Reckon List,” a selection of people to keep an eye on during the state’s bicentennial. From politics and advocacy to arts and business, from the depths of Mobile’s port to the stars and beyond, the Reckon team believes these 25 people will transform how we view Alabama’s past, present and future.
Provided by Katie Britt
Katie Boyd Britt
Katie Boyd Britt of Enterprise served as Sen. Richard Shelby’s chief of staff before being named president of the Business Council of Alabama. She takes the helm of the state’s influential pro-business lobbying outfit in January.
Britt will be the first female president of the BCA, which traditionally has guarded against legislation that would restrict businesses or raise taxes. But she’ll be taking over a BCA that is a shell of its former self. Former CEO, Billy Canary, left last year after many of the state’s biggest businesses had pulled out of the organization. He lost a high profile legislative fight over insurance coverage for some autism treatments in 2016. We’re watching to see how Britt positions the organization in the coming legislative session.
Roy S. Johnson
The new District Attorney of the state’s most populous county campaigned on compassion – pledging to change practices that punish poor and non-violent offenders with high fines and long stays behind bars. Danny Carr made history when he became the first African-American man elected as Jefferson County’s top prosecutor and the first to embrace criminal justice reform.
He even said he might consider treating marijuana possession cases like traffic citations – with fines instead of jail time. We’re watching Carr to see if he follows through on his campaign promises and takes steps to ease criminal prosecutions for minor offenses throughout Jefferson County.
Leigh Corfman, a 53-year-old customer service representative from Gadsden, changed the course of Alabama politics late in 2017 when she publicly accused Senate candidate Roy Moore of molesting her when she was 14. Her story prompted several other women to come forward about similar experiences with Moore, throwing Alabama’s special Senate election into the national spotlight. Corfman was the first and most visible accuser of Moore during the campaign. Moore denounced her as a liar and publicly questioned her character.
Corfman sued Moore for defamation a month after the election, telling AL.com that it was her effort to “do what I could not do as a 14-year-old – hold Mr. Moore and those who enable him accountable.” Moore filed a counterclaim against her in April and sued her and three other accusers in May for defamation. The various lawsuits are making their way through the courts, but Corfman remains the only accuser to take on Moore. Reckon is watching to see who wins her lawsuit. Will Corfman be able to hold Moore legally accountable?
For years, Benjamin Eaton has been advocating for better conditions for the residents of Uniontown, one of the poorest communities in Alabama. The community is plagued by constant sewage overflows, odorous industrial operations and a dilapidated downtown. As vice president of the group Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, Eaton has spoken out against a landfill that accepted 4 million tons of coal ash from a spill in Tennessee, a local cheese plant that he says creates foul odors, and a collapsing municipal sewer system that has allowed massive, continuous overflows for years.
It hasn’t been easy. In 2016, Eaton found himself as a defendant in a $30 million defamation lawsuit filed by the owners of the landfill. The suit was later withdrawn after attorneys from the ACLU took up the defendants’ case.
But in 2019 Eaton may be in a position to do something about the issues facing his community after narrowly winning election to a seat on the Perry County Commission. The county has one of the lowest average household incomes in Alabama. Some of the largest local employers are a landfill, a catfish processing plant, a cheese plant and a prison. We’ll be watching to see what happens when an outspoken community activist lands a seat at the table where decisions are made.
For years, Glasgow has dedicated his life to helping members of his Dothan community with everything from opposing police brutality to finding work. A born preacher with Brooklyn roots, Glasgow has positioned himself and his advocacy organization, The Ordinary People Society, in recent years as vocal counters to the expansion of Alabama’s prison system. In 2017, his efforts were instrumental in getting a law passed that restored the voting rights of thousands of Alabama felons.
But Glasgow’s life took a turn in March, when a passenger allegedly got out of a vehicle Glasgow was driving in Dothan and shot and killed a woman who was driving another vehicle. The alleged shooter, Jamie Townes, was charged with capital murder. Prosecutors used Alabama’s complicity law to also charge the pastor with capital murder. Now Glasgow is in the middle of the fight-of-a-lifetime as he attempts to mount a defense in a case that has earned national attention.
Gov. Kay Ivey handily thumped her primary and general election opponents in 2018, largely by pretending they didn’t exist. The governor stuck to a safe campaign of tightly controlled public appearances — mostly ribbon cuttings and short speeches — and pithy TV ads. She refused to debate her opponents, saying she was too busy running the state.
But what did Ivey consider busy? Alabama Political Reporter columnist Josh Moon filed a public information request for Ivey’s calendars. Those calendars showed that, over the three weeks of records Moon requested, Ivey had less than three hours of activity scheduled per day, and that was only if you counted the transit time to and from the capitol.
Which begs the question: Now that Ivey is governor in her own right, will she work more or less? What, if anything, will she take on in 2019?
Provided by Devyn Keith
Keith is a rising star in north Alabama. He’d tell you that becoming Huntsville City Council president at 29 wasn’t planned. He was raised on the northern side of the city— a side that often felt left out as the city continued to attract economic opportunities. But he moved away. After getting his master’s in public administration at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Keith decided to come back home and challenge the city’s first black council member and the only council member his northwest district had known since district elections began in 1988.
To understand the communities where his constituents live, Keith is staying in the city’s most economically disenfranchised neighborhoods. Reckon will be watching to see what else Huntsville’s new council president comes up with in 2019 and how he helps guide the only rapidly expanding large city in Alabama.
When it comes to ships, planes and trains, Port Authority chief Jimmy Lyons holds a lot of cards. Lyons oversees Alabama’s fast-growing port and the activity that takes place along the industrialized Mobile River. He is the main advocate for widening and deepening the port channel. He maintains that a bigger channel is needed to accommodate bigger ships, and being able to serve bigger ships is essential to maintaining the port’s growth, particularly at its container terminal. And 2019 could be the year Alabama finally secures the necessary funds.
Lyons is also a critical figure in the conversation about the future of the airport relocation from west Mobile to the Aeroplex at Brookley, near downtown. He sees restarting passenger rail service linking New Orleans to Orlando via Mobile as a “major disruption” to freight operations. Reckon will be watching to see if Lyons can he get any of these projects across the finish line.
Reps. Mac McCutcheon and Anthony Daniels
Over the last few years, Alabama’s power center swung decisively northward. The new lieutenant governor and attorney general are from Marshall County. And in 2019, the legislative leader of both parties will hail from Huntsville. The incoming speaker of the House and minority leader face different challenges.
Can Speaker McCutcheon maintain the hold on the State House that Mike Hubbard once had before he was convicted on corruption charges? Since Hubbard’s ouster, the legislature has passed little legislation of significance and now McCutcheon may be tasked with persuading a caucus full of Republicans to pass a gas tax in order to fund infrastructure improvements. Meanwhile, can Daniels be effective as minority leader, despite his party losing seats? The Republicans hold a supermajority so it will take some savvy for the Democrats to have any input in the direction of the state. But Daniels and McCutcheon will have common ground in their relationship to Huntsville. With a new job announcement happening seemingly every week, Huntsville is on its way to becoming the state’s economic powerhouse. Will the Montgomery leadership keep North Alabama growing?
Provided by Clark Morris
A. Clark Morris
Clark Morris steps into the shoes – and the imposing shadow – of Alabama’s most prolific corruption fighter, Matt Hart. She took over the Attorney General’s special prosecutions division on Hart’s departure, and Reckon waits to see if she means business, or just business as usual.
The key question: Does she have the stuff, and the desire, to go after potential wrongdoing by Alabama’s most powerful people?
Provided by Sarah Parcak
A space archaeologist, Dr. Parcak calls Birmingham home, but is known in science communities worldwide for her use of satellite imagery to find lost tombs and settlements in ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. She once described her work, during an interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, as what would result if “Indiana Jones had a love child with Google Earth.”
By day, she’s a professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Parcak won the $1 million TED Prize in 2016 and used it to found Birmingham-based GlobalExplorer, which maps ancient sites with the help of more than 80,000 users across the world. She’s been featured in national media including The New York Times, Forbes and CNN. In 2019, she’ll publish a new book targeting a mass audience. As Alabama’s archaeological superstar racks up awards and national recognition, Reckon is watching to see what she’ll do next.
Jimmy Rane is not just Alabama’s richest man anymore. He’s not just the Yella Fella. His influence is felt in the campaign money he spends, and the clout he wields with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, Attorney General Steve Marshall and many top legislators.
He’s not just in the pressure-treated wood business anymore. He’s in the pressure-treated politician business. Will Rane use his money and influence to make Alabama a better place?
Provided by Amanda Reyes
Amanda Reyes serves as the president of the Yellowhammer Fund, a non-profit that provides financial assistance for abortion care in Alabama. Before founding the Yellowhammer Fund, Reyes started the West Alabama Clinic Defenders, a volunteer organization that escorts women past protesters and into the Tuscaloosa women’s clinic.
After Amendment 2 passed in November, declaring Alabama a “pro-life” state, local doctors feared abortion care in Alabama would be at risk. There are only three places in Alabama to get an abortion and many struggle to pay the increasing associated costs. The Yellowhammer Fund has been helping women pay for abortion services since the beginning of 2018 and is a member of the National Network of Abortion Funds. Alabamians have made their position on abortion clear. How will Reyes navigate that political reality?
Let’s face it: The nation has moved on. Once a lightning rod for presidential criticism, the former U.S. Attorney General resigned under pressure less than a day after the midterms. A potential replacement has already been named.
However, here in Alabama, there’s a lot of speculation about what he might do next. Will he stay in Washington, D.C. and accept a job at a think tank? Will he return to Alabama and run for his old U.S. Senate seat, now held by a seemingly vulnerable Democrat? Sessions still has a lot of political capital in Alabama, and if he decides to get back into politics, he could wage a formidable campaign. However, criticism from President Donald Trump, who remains popular in Alabama, could cause Alabama voters to go cold on Sessions.
As the founder and executive director of Montgomery’s influential Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has overseen the development of a powerful force for change in Alabama and beyond. A renowned attorney who has argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped exonerate innocent people slated to be executed on Alabama’s death row, he has emerged in recent years as a civil rights leader and voice for the oppressed.
The coming year appears to have much in store for Stevenson and the EJI. In October, the nonprofit purchased a parking lot in downtown Montgomery. The group is considering its options for expanding on the success of National Memorial for Peace and Justice – which EJI opened in the capital in April 2018 – including building additional retail space, a restaurant and a bus shuttle site. A past recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, Stevenson authored the bestselling book “Just Mercy,” which will soon be turned into a film. What will 2019 bring?
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and all seven members of the Mobile City Council easily won re-election in 2017. But squabbling between the mayor’s office and the council became the main storyline in 2018, starting publicly with the council’s decision to vote against the mayor’s wishes on a $10 million investment over a 20-year period to support a new football stadium at the University of South Alabama.
The souring relationship intensified in December when Stimpson’s administration filed a restraining order in Mobile County Circuit Court against the council over the council’s wishes to hire its own communications professional. Stimpson has been discussed as a possible candidate for higher office someday, but he will need to focus on moving the city more toward his “One Mobile” campaign pledge by first repairing broken relationships with the city’s own council. Can Mobile heal a divided city leadership?
Provided by LaTonya Tate
LaTonya Tate has been a force when it comes to criminal justice reform. In June, she was one of 15 people awarded $87,000 to investigate the country’s prison system through the national Open Society Foundation’s Soros Justice Fellowship. Her interest in criminal justice started when her own son was jailed in 2001 in Jefferson County. Her son’s case led her to examine mass incarceration issues and the lack of resources for formerly incarcerated individuals in Alabama. She was inspired to become a probation officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. Even after she retired and returned home to Jefferson County, she advised people on how the court system works and how to advocate for their loved ones.
Tate will be using her grant to grow an organization to help formerly incarcerated individuals and their families. The new group is called the Alabama Justice Initiative. And it is part of a coalition of nonprofits who are pushing for reforms like reduced sentencing for low level drug offense or increased access to mental health services. We’ll be watching to see what she can accomplish in 2019.
Judge Myron Thompson
Judge Myron Thompson of Tuskegee is Alabama’s second African-American federal judge and a Yale graduate. His ruling in 2014 blocking Alabama’s anti-abortion law may end up being heard by the Supreme Court in 2019. With two Trump appointees on the Court, we’ll be looking to see if the Court upholds or overturns Thompson’s ruling.
Last year Thompson also ruled that psychiatric care in the Alabama prison system was so “horrendously inadequate” that it was unconstitutional. Attorneys representing inmates want Thompson to rule prisons in contempt of court in order to boost staffing in the psychiatric facilities. In December, Thompson ordered ADOC to prove why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing to meet the court’s deadlines to increase mental health staff in prisons. How will the state respond to his questions in 2019?
As a lawyer, Watkins won a pardon for the last of the Scottsboro Boys. As a Montgomery city councilman, he was a thorn in the side of the city’s white establishment. He served as a personal attorney for Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, making millions to, as he put it then, “kick white people’s ass.” And he won an acquittal for HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy on what everyone assumed were slam-dunk accounting fraud charges.
But in 2019, Watkins will be the defendant, having been charged, along with his son, with bank fraud. Don’t expect Watkins to go quietly. Watkins has already lashed out at the justice department, echoing President Trump in calling them “rogue” and “corrupt.” When Watkins goes to trial, look for his attacks to escalate into the bombastic and absurd. We’ll be watching his trial closely.
Fairhope might be the envy of Alabama cities. Quaint shops, galleries, and homegrown eateries burst with activity. But since Karin Wilson was elected mayor in August 2016, the city’s government has been anything but charming. She’s been pitted against her City Council for months in a political tug-of-war that shows little end in sight.
Wilson’s up for re-election in 2020, making 2019 a pivotal year in the tenure for one of the few female mayors representing one of Alabama’s more dynamic cities. If Wilson’s vision for the city is to come to fruition, 2019 will be a crucial year. Can she find common ground with the council and steer the state’s fastest-growing city?
Provided by Roy Wood, Jr.
Roy Wood, Jr.
Birmingham-born comedian Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, is planning to star in a new situation comedy show.
The sitcom, called “Re-Established,” will feature Wood as a parole officer who bends the rules for parolees on his watch. Alabama has seen a recent uptick as a location for feature films — the 2017 hit “Get Out,” being the most prominent example. The state has also served as the location for several reality TV series, but an ongoing sitcom would propel the state’s film office into new territory. Will Wood’s new series be shot in Birmingham? Wood has said on Twitter that he hopes so.
Nancy Worley and Joe Reed
The Alabama Democratic Party is broken. And there’s a good case to be made that Nancy Worley and Joe Reed broke it. Reed has been a powerbroker in Democratic politics so long that he helped George Wallace get elected in 1982. But Reed’s hold on Goat Hill has waned. And with Worley serving as the chair of the Party, the Democrats have squandered opportunity after opportunity over the last decade.
In a two-year span, Republicans saw a governor, a speaker and a chief justice leave office in scandal, and the Democrats haven’t managed to offer a coherent message. In a national wave election for Democrats in 2018, the state party managed to lose seats. Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones has pulled no punches in criticizing the party leaders. Plus Worley and Reed are facing lawsuits from National Democrats due to allegations of impropriety in party leadership elections. In the face of an increasingly vocal Democratic electorate, can Reed and Worley hold onto power?
Read more: Autopsy report: Alabama Democrats on what went wrong in 2018