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Republican firebrand Rep. Mo Brooks is running for Senate in Alabama.

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Republican firebrand Rep. Mo Brooks is running for Senate in Alabama.
Republican firebrand Rep. Mo Brooks is running for Senate in Alabama.

Republican firebrand Rep. Mo Brooks is running for Senate in Alabama.

 

Rep. Mo Brooks, a conservative firebrand and ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump who has been chastised for comments he made prior to the attack on the US Capitol, entered the Alabama GOP primary field on Monday to succeed Sen. Richard Shelby.

At an event with former Trump advisor Stephen Miller, the north Alabama Republican declared his candidacy. In a Republican primary field that is expected to draw a variety of other candidates, he joins former Trump ambassador Lynda Blanchard.

Brooks portrayed himself as a soldier at his campaign kick-off, taking aim at both Democrats and “squishy” Republicans.

Brooks told an audience of several hundred people packed into a meeting hall of the Bullet and Barrel gun range in the northern city of Huntsville, “America can literally not tolerate senators who cower in their foxholes while the political battles are being fought.”

“I am a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, not the Republican surrender caucus. I don’t cut and run, as President Trump can attest. When things get tough, I stay strong,” Brooks said.

Miller was a driving force behind Trump’s attempts to limit immigration. He was widely regarded as the driving force behind the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policies, having orchestrated the former president’s Muslim travel ban.

“Over the last four years, no one has had President Trump’s back more than Mo Brooks. Now I need you to protect him. As he endorsed Brooks, Miller said, “Your vote for Mo Brooks will allow him to carry on the America First agenda.”

Despite the fact that Miller’s involvement was clearly intended to connect Brooks to Trump, the former president has yet to comment on the election. Trump has been stingy with his endorsements so far, but he has made it clear that he plans to use his clout in the upcoming midterm elections. He officially endorsed a challenger to the Republican secretary of state, who declined to help reverse the November election results, on Monday.

Brooks, 66, has been chastised for saying at a rally before the Capitol riot that it was time to “start tearing down names and kicking asses.” Brooks explained that the slogan was meant to energise the audience for the next electoral cycle, but it was misinterpreted as condoning the violence that followed.

Outside the rally, more than two dozen people gathered to protest Miller’s presence and argue that Brooks does not represent Alabama. Some held signs that read, “Traitor Mo must go” and “Mo Brooks’ words incited abuse.”

“I believe he was attempting to incite a riot. “What happened was a riot,” said Catherine Hereford, 42, who added that Brooks was not solely to blame for the incident, but that his words added fuel to the flames.

Shelby revealed earlier this year that he will not seek reelection in 2022, igniting what is supposed to be a tumultuous GOP primary at a time when the national GOP is still trying to figure out where it wants to go after Trump’s exit.

Brooks was a five-term member of the House of Representatives, where he was a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus. He sits on two main committees for his north Alabama district: the Armed Services Committee and Science, Space, and Technology.

Cassandra Voutchas of Huntsville said she liked Brooks’ opposition to President Joe Biden’s win being certified and his views on the frontier. According to the daughter of a Greek refugee, immigration to the country should be conducted “properly.”

“He was the first to question the President’s vote, and as a result, he’s getting a lot of flak. Because of this, there are demonstrators out tonight. Brooks, however, is a “very good Christian man who loves this country and loves Alabama,” she said.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and Shelby’s former chief of staff, Katie Boyd Britt, who now runs a powerful business lobby, have also been named as possible candidates.

In a state where Trump got 62 percent of the vote, Republican candidates are supposed to try to reassure primary voters that they are the legitimate flag bearers for Trump’s agenda. Former Alabama Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne predicted that the winner of the GOP primary would be whoever can persuade voters that they are the best successor to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda.

“They’re going to be very cautious. They’ll be the most real and efficient bearers of the Trump/MAGA flame, according to Byrne.

Someone paid for a sign outside the announcement noting that Brooks had opposed Trump before his 2016 victory, which is a possible indicator of how much Trump loyalty would factor into the campaign. Brooks served as the state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s bid for re-election.

Support for Trump is “the table stakes” for Republicans seeking office in Alabama, according to David Mowery, a political strategist based in Alabama. Mowery, on the other hand, believes there is apprehension among establishment Republicans.

So far, no Democratic candidate has declared for the election.

Shelby voted well to the right, but he never adopted the bombastic, nationalist style that has driven Republicans like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

“I think people are afraid that you’ll get someone who is more concerned with throwing bombs and getting their name in the paper than with doing what Shelby does, which is carry home the bacon and making sure Alabama is taken care of with any spending bill,” Mowery said.

Brooks and Miller, according to Wade Perry, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, are “evil for our country and our democracy,” according to a statement released Monday night.

“When there is no proof, good Americans don’t lie to their fellow citizens about made-up fantasies of election fraud. Good citizens and good Americans should not incite sedition or violence against our nation’s capital. “They should both be ashamed of themselves,” Perry said.

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Douglas County School Board to vote on mask mandate in schools

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Douglas County School Board to vote on mask mandate in schools

The new school board overseeing the Douglas County School District will meet Tuesday to decide whether to end the mask requirements inside schools.

The resolution that the Board of Education will consider states that the district will not mandate masks in schools unless they are required by federal, state or local laws or public health orders. The school board will also not set a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students or district staff, according to the resolution.

“The (b)oard recommends, regardless of vaccination status, personal and parent choice with respect to whether or not children should wear face coverings while at school, while also allowing for appropriate and necessary accommodation of students with disabilities…,” reads the resolution.

The school board meeting starts at 5 p.m. and at least two hours of public comment scheduled. The board is not expected to vote on no-masks until around 8:10 p.m., according to the agenda.

The meeting comes a month after four new conservative members — all against mask mandates — were elected to the school board last month. They hold the majority on the seven-member board.

However, a federal judge blocked a mask exemption from Douglas County’s new health department in October, saying it violated the rights of students with disabilities, so it’s unclear what effect a vote in favor of ending the mandate will immediately have.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking inside school buildings for students and staff. The agency discovered that counties without face-covering requirements saw larger increases in COVID-19 cases in children after the start of school during the 2021-22 year, according to a Sept. 24 study.

Colorado saw a rise in COVID-19 cases among students after school returned in the fall, most notably among those — ages 5 to 11 years old — who were not eligible for a vaccine until November. Infections among children recently declined, but public health officials have warned that they could increase again as the holidays approach.

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DeVante Parker’s return can add another dimension to Dolphins’ offense

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DeVante Parker’s return can add another dimension to Dolphins’ offense

Before Sunday’s 20-9 victory over the New York Giants, Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker had only played in one game over the previous two months with hamstring and shoulder issues.

He was away for a key stretch during Miami’s seven-game losing streak that included losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons, and then he missed the first four of the Dolphins’ five-game winning streak going into the bye week.

Now, after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the offense found somewhat of a groove without him, his reinsertion into the lineup can bring an added dimension to the Dolphins.

Playing 71 percent of offensive snaps against the Giants, Parker caught all five passes thrown his way in his return for 62 yards. He made acrobatic sideline catches for first downs on both the touchdown drive at the end of the first half and a key fourth-quarter drive in sealing the win.

“It feels good being back on the field with my teammates,” Parker said in a web conference on Monday. “I’m just glad I was able to be a part of the win. I just wanted to help us get a W, and that’s what I did.”

Having Parker and his ability to make contested, possession-type catches against cornerbacks on the outside gives Tagovailoa that option, expanding on what he’s been able to do with Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, Mack Hollins and others.

“It creates a lot of defensive issues outside,” said co-offensive coordinator George Godsey on Tuesday. “He does a great job blocking in the run game. He’s got a lot of experience to help out the guys in the meeting room. … Having his experience and productivity out there is definitely a helpful thing for the whole unit.”

Tagovailoa enjoyed being able to throw it up to Parker when in single coverage to allow him to go up and get the ball.

“DeVante adds another vertical stretch for us offensively,” Tagovailoa said after Sunday’s win, “and he makes tough catches when you need him to, so really glad to have him back.”

Tagovailoa and Parker have established chemistry on back-shoulder throws on the sideline in their season-plus together that has been interrupted multiple times by injuries to each.

“You just throw it to the guy and let him catch it because he’s done that and he’s proven that in his career,” Godsey said. “There’s a lot of evidence on tape of guys that have his ability to just get up there and catch the ball, whether it’s behind them, in front of them, a jump ball. As many times as we can get the ball in his vicinity, we like it.”

Added Parker: “Any time you see any of us receivers out there pressed against someone, you assume they’ll want to go to you. It’s a one-on-one matchup. You just want to go to that.”

His presence, while it means targets getting further split, can also free up other Dolphins pass catchers.

“When he’s going, everybody is feeding off of him, everybody is feeding off his energy and it drives everyone else to play better, as well,” said fellow receiver Isaiah Ford. “He’s a special player. He has extremely good body control, ball skills and everything like that.”

And Parker is also coming back to a renewed Tagovailoa.

“He has a lot more confidence, and you see it in his throws,” Parker said. “The one-on-one coverage, he goes to it. That’s what we like to see. Just the confidence in him. That’s good for the team.”

Baker nominated

Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker was named the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player for outstanding community service activities off the field, as well as excellence on the field.

One of the first recurring events Baker established after he was drafted by the Dolphins in 2018 was a Christmas event for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade. Born on Christmas Day himself, he hosts the event for children as a birthday gift and even made sure the event could be held virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic.

When a residential building collapsed in Surfside in June, Baker partnered with a minority-owned small business food truck to provide meals to first responders aiding in the recovery efforts. After an earthquake hit Haiti in August, Baker helped transport donation items to Haiti and supported a call for action for the public to deliver goods needed by the country.

When he was drafted in 2018, Baker established the Expand the Land Foundation to inspire youth and provide mentorship and programming in his hometown of Cleveland.

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins’ defense deserves praise for helping turn season around

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Omar Kelly: Dolphins’ defense deserves praise for helping turn season around

There is often an opportunity that discomfort creates if it is welcomed.

It’s called growth, and that is what we’ve been witnessing from the Miami Dolphins defense the past five weeks, where that unit’s development, and tightening of the screws has helped the Dolphins (6-7) transform from an NFL laughingstock due to their seven straight losses into a franchise deserving some respect.

Tua Tagovailoa’s accuracy, anticipation and pocket presence have allowed the offense become respectable during Miami’s five-game winning streak. But it’s the defense that is doing the heavy lifting once again.

If there’s one thing the 2021 season has taught us is that expecting things to carryover from one season to the next in the NFL is shortsighted.

The slightest alteration of your roster — like a swap from safety from Bobby McCain to Jevon Holland, a change at outside linebacker from Kyle Van Noy to Jaelan Phillips, the absence of an edge setter Shaq Lawson — could drastically alter your team’s chemistry, shift the unit’s strengths and weaknesses, and impact the team’s style of play.

Defensive coordinator Josh Boyer got a crash course on this earlier this season when he tried to run the same scheme that produced one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses in 2020 with different personnel.

While the defensive play-calls might have been similar — if not the same — the execution wasn’t, and the product on the field left plenty to be desired considering the Dolphins sat at the bottom of many important NFL statistical rankings before the wins started piling up.

Then comfort set in, roles were adapted, and the screws tightened. During this five-game winning streak Miami’s defense allowed just four touchdowns, a stretch where Miami’s opponents averaged 11 points per game.

“I feel like we’re back to that level,” Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard said, referring to the sack-producing, turnover-creating unit the Dolphins possessed last season. “I feel like everybody is confident, everybody is having fun.”

But the road back to respectable wasn’t easy, and featured some growing pains.

For instance, Miami’s run defense tightened once nose tackle Raekwon Davis returned from the knee injury he suffered in the season opener. In the nine games Davis has played since his return only three teams have rushed for 100 or more yards against Miami.

As a result, the Dolphins rank ninth against the run now, allowing 103.8 rushing yards per game, heading into this weekend’s bye.

Clamping down against the run set the table for everything else, but Miami had to overcome some injuries, and be patient with its young players’ development to get here.

Howard and Byron Jones, Miami’s two upper-echelon cornerbacks, the talents whose skill-set this defense is built around, were each nursing a groin injury at the same time earlier in the season. Their injuries impacted their performance, and the schemes Miami could run for nearly a month.

It also took Holland, the Dolphins’ 2021 second-round pick, half a season to become comfortable in Miami’s defense. Now the former Oregon standout is one of the team’s top playmakers, and a leader the secondary leans on.

He’s proof that sometimes teams have to wait for young players to blossom.

That seemed to be the case with not just Holland, but Phillips, whom the Dolphins selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2021 draft. The former University of Miami standout struggled to quickly learn everything that came with being a linebacker in Miami’s scheme.

The Dolphins eventually scrapped (or tabled) the outside linebacker role, and began to use Phillips exclusively as a pass rusher. Last Sunday Phillips set a Dolphins rookie record by reaching 8.5 sacks on the season, and seven of them have come in the past five games.

To simplify things for Phillips, Jerome Baker became an edge player, returning to the outside linebacker role he held in his rookie season. That opened the door for Duke Riley to get more playing time at inside linebacker.

Miami’s defense evolved into what it is today through trial and error and ultimately found a formula that works for this unit — not last year’s defense.

Last year the Dolphins defense allowed a touchdown 57.4 percent of the time teams reached the red zone, which ranked Miami seventh in that statistical category.

This year Miami is allowing 50 percent of red-zone opportunities to turn into touchdowns, which ties Miami with Buffalo for fourth in the NFL.

Only Baltimore, New England and New Orleans are better, and that’s good company to keep.

“It’s about trusting the process. Believing in what you’re doing. Believing in the scheme, and believing in the players,” Boyer said. “From the players, from the coaches, even when things haven’t been good. We all understand that we’re approaching things the right way. We’re working the right way. We haven’t always gotten the results we wanted. Just because you work hard, prepare the right way, coaching it the right way, it really comes down to execution on Sundays.”

The evolution will continue as Holland, Phillips and Baker become more comfortable in their new roles.

The hope is that the growth we’ve seen this past month will carry on throughout the final four games of the regular season, and maybe next year’s defense will start out the 2022 season with less discomfort.

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