MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s top news stories of the year included the 2018 elections, the resignation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a major economic development announcement and the opening of a memorial to lynching victims.
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones was sworn into office in January after becoming the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in a quarter-century. However Democrats’ hopes for additional gains in the state were dashed in the 2018 elections as Republicans swept all statewide and contested congressional offices. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey won her first full term after ascending to the governor’s office last year.
The state won a coveted economic prize when Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda announced plans to build a $1.6 billion joint-venture plant in Huntsville that will eventually employ about 4,000 people. The opening of a lynching memorial drew thousands to Montgomery.
The shooting of an African-American man by a police officer at a crowded shopping mall drew nightly protests in Hoover.
Other top stories included public corruption cases; a tornado that ravaged the campus of Jacksonville State University; litigation over a Broadway adaption of “To Kill a Mockingbird”; ongoing debate and lawsuits surrounding the death penalty; and more success for the University of Alabama football team.
The Associated Press looks back at the year’s biggest stories:
Alabama Republicans dashed Democrats’ hopes of a resurgence to build on last year’s election of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones. Republicans swept all statewide office including that of governor. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey won her first full term after ascending to the office last year when then-Gov. Robert Bentley resigned amid a scandal. The GOP success reignited calls for change at the Alabama Democratic Party.
Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda in January announced plans to build a mammoth $1.6 billion joint-venture plant in Huntsville that will eventually employ about 4,000 people. Several states had competed for the coveted project. Alabama and local governments offered a hefty incentive package to win the auto plant prize. The state alone offered $379 million in tax abatements, investment rebates and the construction of a worker training facility, while the Huntsville City Council approved a package worth about $320 million.
The nation’s first memorial to lynching victims opened to thousands of visitors in Montgomery in April. Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative which created the exhibit and museum, said he wanted to create a space for people to confront and “deal honestly” with the nation’s history of racially motivated violence. The exhibit features 800 hanging coffin-sized rectangular slabs, inscribed with the names of more than 4,000 souls who lost their lives in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.
In February, Alabama called off the lethal injection of Doyle Lee Hamm after being unable to connect an intravenous line to the inmate who had battled lymphoma and hepatitis. Hamm’s lawyer announced later that the state would not make a second attempt to execute him. The aborted execution preceded other debate about how the death penalty is carried out. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments over whether it would be unconstitutional to execute an inmate who lawyers say has dementia. Lawmakers also approved nitrogen gas as an execution method.
The Thanksgiving night shooting of an African-American man by a Hoover police officer inside a mall sparked daily protests in the city. Twenty-one-year-old Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. was killed when a police officer mistook him for the shooter after gunfire erupted in a crowded mall during the start of Black Friday shopping. The city apologized to Bradford’s family for public statements that initially described him as the gunman in the mall shooting.
Jeff Sessions was forced out in November as the nation’s attorney general after a year of blistering criticism from President Donald Trump. The former U.S. senator from Alabama had been an early backer of Trump’s presidential campaign. The relationship soured after Sessions stepped aside from the Russia investigation. In his resignation letter to Trump, Session noted that he was stepping down “at your request.”
A March tornado devastated the northeast Alabama city of Jacksonville , including the campus of Jacksonville State University. The university said the storm damaged more than two-thirds of the buildings on campus and caused more than $70 million in damage. Two buildings on the campus were completely destroyed. The tornado was classified as an EF3 tornado.
Jones takes office
U.S. Sen. Doug Jones was sworn into office in January after narrowly defeating Republican Roy Moore in the 2017 election to fill Jeff Sessions’ former Senate seat. Jones won the special election rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore. Jones is the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in a quarter-century. One of the women who accused Moore of molesting her when she was 14 filed a defamation lawsuit against him this year. Moore filed a countersuit against her and some of his other accusers.
Harper Lee lawsuits
Lawsuits were filed and settled over a Broadway production of Harper Lee’s beloved “To Kill a Mockingbird” novel. Lee’s estate sued saying the script wrongly alters Atticus Finch, a noble attorney, and other book characters. The production company countersued in New York. A settlement was jointly announced in May The play features actor Jeff Daniels in the lead role as Finch.
Former state Rep. Oliver Robinson was sentenced to 33 months in prison after acknowledging taking bribes to oppose Superfund cleanup efforts in Birmingham. A prominent attorney and a coal company executive were convicted after Robinson testified. Former Environmental Protection Agency official Trey Glenn was indicted on ethics charges. Two legislators, a lobbyist and a business owner were also indicted in a separate case prosecutors described as a Statehouse scheme to pressure the state’s largest insurer to cover a diabetes treatment.
The University of Alabama football team began the year by defeating the University of Georgia for the national championship and ended it in search of yet another crown. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came off the bench to replace starter Jalen Hurts and lead the Crimson Tide to a 26-23 overtime victory in January. The tables were turned in December, when Hurts replaced Tagovailoa in the Southeastern Conference championship game to power ‘Bama to a 35-28, come-from-behind win over Georgia . That victory secured Alabama’s spot in the playoff hunt for another national title. Saturday they beat Oklahoma to advance to the national championship against Clemson.