3 weeks ago

Getting to know Alabama State Sen. Bill Hightower — GOP gubernatorial hopeful talks education, infrastructure, social conservatism

MOBILE — As this year’s legislative session winds down, Alabama gubernatorial hopeful State Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) finds himself juggling the duties of running a statewide campaign and the responsibilities of being an Alabama state senator with the legislature in a rush to adjourn for 2018.

With the June Republican primary around the corner, the father of three and grandfather of three insists he is running as an outsider despite having served as the senator for Alabama State Senate District 35 since 2013.

From a side room at the Whole Foods Market on Airport Boulevard adjacent to his campaign headquarters, Hightower explained to Yellowhammer News his motivations for running, his governing philosophy and how he would change the status quo to make the state of Alabama better.

YHN: Why are you running for governor?

HIGHTOWER: Well, I’ve been a senator for five years – a state senator. And I’ve always been a student of public policy, but when I saw up there the lack of leadership that is occurring in the executive office. And since I work for businesses – I’ve been a businessman, I know when a company that doesn’t have a properly functioning CEO what happens in those companies, and I think that’s the issue that we’ve had. We’ve not had an executive to lead the state. So, I thought I could make a difference in that regard.

YHN: One of the problems with candidates from Mobile is getting the statewide recognition. You’ve always had that with a Huntsville candidate and a Mobile candidate. What are you going to do differently to broaden your presence in the state?

HIGHTOWER: Well, geographic location might be a factor that you look at. You try to correlate on the probabilities. To be honest, there is no magic city in the state, but I am the only southern candidate. So, I’m not fighting – there’s nobody competing for the people down here.

I’ve got a fairly good platform already politically. My dad was a medical doctor here and in Birmingham. And I have a son that lives in Birmingham.

What I like to say that is different is the message that I have. I’m not just talking about what I’m trying to accomplish in the Senate, but what I plan to do as an executive. I have a 12-point plan that I’m calling “Alabama First.” It is on my website at BillHightower.com.

The ideas, the challenge of reform, and also just having a governor that we can point to and say, “That’s a governor,” somebody like a Nikki Haley, or like a Scott Walker. We haven’t had that, and I think we need that in order to recruit businesses and also deal with some of the fundamental issues that we have in Montgomery.

YHN: When it comes to economic development and recruiting of businesses, what ideas do you have that are different that hasn’t been tried yet, or aren’t already in place?

HIGHTOWER: I want to be strategic about our business recruitment. Georgia is not trying to recruit automotive companies because they know the future of the automotive industry is going to be very, very different.

I think we’ve gotten a good automotive base, but with that comes technology now, and we need to focus on that technology. Artificial intelligence is coming at us at a rapid pace. And we have clusters of competence in Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and you know here in Mobile, other cities. And I want to leverage that.

The business recruitment – I feel like we’ve done pretty good, but we’ve had a dermatologist doing our business recruitment. He doesn’t know much about big business. We’ve had a lawyer before that. What could we do if we had a business guy?

My background is working for Fortune 500 companies, globally. I’ve lived overseas. I’ve lived throughout the United States. Those companies taught me the fundamentals of business – about supply chain, contract negotiation, personnel, leadership, leadership development, organizational development.

These companies have budgets the size of the state of Alabama. They have as many employees as Alabama has. So, big organization and leadership is something I am familiar with, and I know how to go in and turn situations around.

That is competency we haven’t had in Montgomery, and that’s one I want to lend to the state.

So, my familiarity with that whole business development-recruitment process comes from two sides. One side is I’ve been in the big business making decisions about where we’re going to put a plant or where we’re going to move a production line to. I’ve dealt with the international companies.

But the other is I’ve been inside the government and know how it is we incentivize those companies to come. So, I will be the one that protects the Alabama investment from those companies that just want to take everything they can get.

I have asked for the Secretary of Commerce to do a third-party review of their recruitment model to make sure that we are getting a positive return on investment. Sen. Trip Pittman and myself required that a couple of years ago. It is an issue that is close to me because I’ve seen both sides of the issue.

That would be what I would do different. We can recruit any company we want if we give them everything they want. The question is you don’t want to give them everything they want. They’ll take all you have. So, I want to try and do it differently.

Also, we’ve got a new age coming at us. Before we didn’t have jobs and we had people. Now we have jobs, and we don’t have people. I want to focus on certification programs in high schools throughout the state — stop assuming that every student is going to go to college. The certification programs goes beyond shop. It goes into cosmetology and bookkeeping certification, or nurse certification.

We’ve let community college – they used to be trade school. Now they are college prep. And with dual enrollment in high schools, that is college prep. And we don’t really it. There is kind of a redundancy there. I want to cause the junior college system – some are very well run, but when the assets are not well utilized, I want to pull that in and focus it on high school so that when a student graduates, they’ll have a certification that enables them to go get a $35,000-$45,000-a-year job.

That’s going to affect juvenile hall. That’s going to affect truancy. That’s going to affect Medicaid. That’s going to affect prisons. It’s enormous.

In New Mexico, they calculated if they can decrease the dropout rate by 2,500 students in high school, they would save $700 million in their budget. There’s an enormous connectivity in the cost of operating state services when people don’t graduate.

But I think the vocational thing will boost that graduation rate. Some cities are doing it already. But I want to get the visibility throughout the state and try to push it much more.

YHN: When you go to the rural counties around the state, the one complaint they sometimes have is the attention tends to be given to Huntsville and Mobile with economic growth, and they feel left out of the mix. This goes back a little to the skills part of the last question, but how do you make these other places around the state a more viable option for business looking to locate in Alabama?

HIGHTOWER: Infrastructure, and what I mean by that is roads, bridges, waterways and Internet connectivity, and improving that because I have a business that I know of in Alabama right now that wants to locate in a rural county that does not have Internet connectivity, and therefore cannot. I want to do that.

Go back to education – right now at Murphy High School, a midtown school here, the students are taking live University of Alabama courses and interacting with a professor there in Tuscaloosa. That’s incredible because we can take that broadband connectivity and we can take our best teachers and run them in schools in rural areas and change the cost model and availability of coursework.

I think the Columbia [Southern University] over in Baldwin County, it is one of the largest Internet schools in the states. You can take Harvard and Yale courses online right now. Why can’t we do high schools?

You can be remote. Outside of Birmingham, there’s a school system that has a virtual school platform, and they’re making money. A public school is making money by enabling students who can’t access the school, whether they’re handicapped or unable or special needs. They can take high school courses at home online.

So, with that Internet connectivity, you can change the education model in the rural areas. If you change the education model, I think you can have a workforce that is more prepared.

You know, I’m not talking about a three-month program here. I think one of the biggest things that we’ve done is we’ve talked in terms of a year or two. But I’m going to try to put the building blocks in place for the next 40 years. I don’t want to just think about a decade. I want to take it by the century.

That’s where artificial intelligence and, I think the expansion of STEM programs in high schools is so critical. The automotive industry, as for instance – driverless cars, fractional ownership, lighter cars, battery-powered cars.

I mean, I think in some places, I would be selling my dealership right now if I were a car dealer owner because it’s going to shift radically.

That’s some of what I would do, but I also want to leverage the strengths of each of the regions because we need to pick a few, not everything – pick a few industries that are very conducive to certain regions in the state, and then we can focus on those industries.

If everything is your priority, then nothing is your priority. So, we’re going to have to pick.

YHN: When you talk about infrastructure, people of think of roads and bridges. Do you have a punch list of projects in mind?

HIGHTOWER: Well, what I want to do is right now, the governor politicizes roadbuilding and shifts the spin around to get legislators’ votes. I want to develop a road, bridge and waterway commission. Might even make it broadband.

See, we’re thinking about roads and bridges. That is what everybody is thinking. But tomorrow is broadband.

And we have the fourth-most navigable waters in the nation. So, waterway maintenance is huge.

What I want to do is put a commission together like Tennessee, like Georgia – that not only develops a 10-year plan, but sticks to it, and therefore take the politicization of the roadbuilding process out.

So then I do two things – I get a long-term view instead of a short-term view. I think everybody agrees to the benefit of that. But I also benefit my road and bridge builders, and waterway maintenance and broadband because they’ll be able to maintain a workforce, and not be jerked off-and-on, left-and-right and north-and-south, and have more of a steady volume. I want to maintain our road and bridge building capacity here in Alabama. We’ve lost maybe 10 bridge builders since 2008.

I don’t want to rely on bridge builders outside the state. I want to have that capability inside the state.

[…]

YHN: Tell us about how you would fund infrastructure.

HIGHTOWER: I think also you know, one of the things I wanted to initiate and that is the sell-lease back.

We own a lot of real estate, a lot of buildings in this state. If we don’t have a five-year purpose for that – if we can’t identify a purpose within five years, we have to sell that land. I pushed some legislation this session that said if you didn’t have a strategic purpose, you had to sell it. That money would then come into a central depository. I want to use that in order to build infrastructure projects and leverage for specific capital purchase projects.

That involves privatizing the DOT. Texas has a budget 10 times our size, Alabama’s size — yet they only have 50 percent more people to execute that budget.

So, I want to outsource as much government where it makes sense.

YHN: Privatizing the DOT – that would probably raise a lot of eyebrows. How would you do that?

HIGHTOWER: I know it can be done. Look at the Texas numbers. We can outsource more of the planning. And when you talk to county commissions, they feel like the Alabama DOT raises their costs by making them over-engineer projects.

But we have a lot of lands and buildings we can sell off if we don’t have a specific purpose for. That would definitely be one of the focus areas. We’ll take that savings and redeploy it in our infrastructure projects. That’s the whole idea. […]

YHN: When you talk about waterways – that seems to be sort of an antiquated means of transit. Talk a little about that as a priority.

HIGHTOWER: We’re moving into a new era with the expansion of the Panama Canal. Now we have post-Panamax vessels, and they have deeper drafts and wider berths. And I’ve gone to the Panama Canal and have seen these ships. They’re amazing.

So that brings a whole other realm of cargo and capability into the state, and our waterways go up through the state. So this isn’t just a coastal issue. This is an Alabama-wide issue. We ship automobile steel. We ship copper. We ship coal. We ship scrap – just enormous amounts through our waterways.

It’s not just for tourism that we have waterways. But it is a tremendous industrial boon to our state as well, and it does reach all the way to Huntsville. It is not just a coastal phenomenon, but it is one that FEMA is increasingly unable to fund.

I think one of the things I want to bring to the state is a focus on making the easy-to business and always have continuous improvement in mind. I am from manufacturing. We have the phrase “continuous improvement, best in class.” And I’m always looking for those to implement.

So, making it easy – but also, the element of tax reform. Thirty states around the nation have revised their taxes, and that’s why for three years, I have tried to implement the flat tax in Montgomery.

My first rendition would take the 5 percent tax rate down to 2.6 percent. It would be revenue-neutral and eliminate the need to file the Alabama state return. I think it would unleash a tremendous amount of economic upside for the state.

But what I’ve found is the Montgomery interests put it down. They won’t let change come.

I’ve also focused on trying to eliminate waste and fraud, and also improve educational funding by addressing the fact that we have the most earmarked budget in the nation at 93 percent. We go every year over the decision to spend 7 percent of the state’s budget, and no state is looking at us as a poster child on how to do it.

So, I introduced a bill that would from here on out if ever you earmark something, or you get a credit exemption or deduction, after seven years it would have to fall off. It wasn’t in perpetuity.

The difficult aspect of how earmarking is that it was done in 1940 and our priorities have changed significantly. We can’t change anything. So, I’ve tried to implement budget reform so that we could have … more dollars in education.

Now I think, part of that … immovability of the Montgomery scene has something to do with term limits. And that’s why I introduced and carried to the Senate floor a term limit that would limit everyone’s service to three consecutive terms or 12 years.

Now what was amazing about that is that a month ago, the Senate and the House passed a joint resolution calling on Congress to introduce term limits in Washington, D.C., part of the Article 5 convention.

So I said if they want term limits in D.C., they ought to have them in Montgomery. So, I submitted a bill to do it, and they killed it. I had nine colleagues stand with me on this.

That was an effort to try to change the landscape. If I did that, then I could get people that hadn’t been there, part of the system – going out to dinner every night with the lobbyists and looking to the lobbyists for the funding and everything – I could change that mentality somewhat, not radically.

Once more about the term limit thing, you know it is a constitutional amendment, so people have to vote on it. Our polling shows 84 percent of the public want term limits – just the fact, they won’t even let it come up for a vote for the public.

YHN: The stranglehold in Montgomery – what else besides term limits would change that culture? It seems like every decade or so, you have some big political shift, and they say, “We’re going to clean up the corruption in Montgomery.” But they have been saying that for a hundred years.

HIGHTOWER: We’ve had some bumps for sure, and I’m not proud of it. I am tired of people outside of Alabama laughing at us. We’ve got a horrible reputation outside of Alabama in some circles.

But we know how Alabama is. We like it here. It’s a great place to live. We got some incredible businesses and incredible people here. I think businesspeople running is a big help. And, I think you’re not going to get any change in Montgomery with people that have worked there for 20 and 30 years are in office. You’re not going to get the reforms that people want.

And that’s what I want — that’s part of my message is I don’t want to maintain. I want to reform. My reforms will be focused on – this may be simple to say, but children. If my focus is on children, I’ll focus on education. I’ll focus on business. And I’ll focus on the future if that is the core issue.

We’ve gotten alternative education possibilities for students now, which I think has helped the low-income tremendously.

Having somebody that has business acumen talk about where you’re going to develop a strategy – when I went to the Senate, I asked the Senate leadership, “What’s the three-year plan here?” They said, “We don’t have a plan for next week. What do you mean a three-year plan?”

So, I want to have a longer-range plan, and I want to work with the legislature on trying to execute that plan. Governor Bentley never came over to the legislature and said, “Guys, let’s pull together, we need to get this done.”

It’s my understanding Bob Riley did. Bentley never did it, and I think that was not the way to operate. You’ve got to lead by example, and you have got to try to serve people.

YHN: The current governor now – what would you do differently from what she has done during her first year or so in office?

HIGHTOWER: I think she took over at a difficult time. And many people are grateful for it. I know Kay Ivey. And I was in the race four months before she ever was. And I determined when she announced after I had been in it four months that Alabama still needs somebody that is a businessperson in order to bring kind of a new level of professionalism and visibility to the state.

I hope it is me, but if it is not me, we need to have a governor that we can be proud of, somebody that can run the right start for four years to really make the changes that we need in Montgomery.

YHN: Social issues – talk about your positions on marriage, abortion, your view of the separation of church and state.

HIGHTOWER: Everybody else can talk about their position on it, but I’m the only one you can actually go and see my record.

Look up my bills. You know, I passed a bill to make it illegal to sell baby body parts. I’ve supported every piece of pro-life legislation, not because it is fashionable. My wife and I have worked in the pro-life movement ever since we were married.

I also want to make adoption easy and at a lower cost for people. We have got to do it right. We have got to make it easy because we have more and more, quote, unquote “orphans” in our society. And the state government can’t take care of that. The community has to help us.

YHN: We’ll wrap it up on this – give me a closing sale’s pitch if you were standing before voters on election eve.

HIGHTOWER: There are four things that I like to point out – my business background. There’s no other candidate – these companies I’ve worked for, they have budgets the size of Alabama. And I’ve had corporate leadership in that. That’s important because they’ve taught me how to turn tough situations around. That is what I want to do in Montgomery.

Two is I am an outsider. People say, “Well wait a minute. You’re a senator.” I am, but when I ran for the Senate, Montgomery spent a million dollars to defeat me. The other candidate was a long-termer, and I spent $100,000, and I beat him. And Montgomery was shocked when somebody they didn’t pick won.

And I’ve remained outside the bubble. I’ve voted against every tax increase that has been proposed – primarily because I want reform before I want revenue. Until we fix our budgetary problem, why add money? It just perpetuates the same problem.

Montgomery has a history of transferring money out of education to other programs. So, we’re already taking from education when education needs more dollars. They need more resources, not less.

[…]

The third is I am conservative. I am not a conservative because it is stylish. I’ve been that way ever since college. I read von Mises, and Hayek, and Friedman – conservative economics. I like that stuff.

But we also know it works. Rudy Giuliani implemented a conservative agenda in New York. He turned New York around. Rick Perry – Texas has been amazing economically.

I’ve been voted consistently in the top three conservatives in the Senate every year I have been there. But look, I don’t want to just be – I tell everybody first I’m a conservative, and second a Republican. I call myself a Bill Hightower Republican because I’m going to vote on what’s right. I’m going to do what’s right.

The Republican Party is something I’ve been a part of. I’m on the county executive committee. I’m on the state executive committee in the Republican Party. But I’m looking for solutions that work, and that’s what I’m going to aim at. So, that’s the conservative, but the record part – the one you can see.

The last thing I want you to walk away with is the leadership. A lot of people in the race are talking about what they have done. I’m going to talk about what I’m going to do. And I’ve got a 12-point plan that I’ve published and made public for everybody.

My biggest concern in this particular race is that people are not going to have the opportunity to vet all of the candidates properly. We need to have debates. We need to get out, all of us so that everybody in Alabama knows the vast bench strength that is being offered here. When a candidate isn’t there, there is not an appropriate vetting procedure. That’s a big concern of mine in this particular race.

YHN: I asked you early about being the “Mobile” candidate. What have you done making the rounds around the state?

HIGHTOWER: I think we put 20,000 miles in four months on the car. My wife and I have driven all throughout the state visiting everybody that will meet with me. But also strategically, people that I know have the values that I have would see me as a valuable candidate – businesspeople, a lot of businesspeople.

As I’ve worked overseas, I’ve done missions work at the same time. And that’s enabled me to be in touch with many, many faith-based organizations throughout the state. But also, I teach at a Christian camp and things like this.

So you know, those relationships have been there long before I ran for office. I’m with Outback America. Outback America does camps out in West Mobile, Tuscaloosa, Huntsville. I helped carry that camp out to Poland and to Ukraine. There’s a lot of people in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa that are working with me on that.

Now as far as penetrating it more, [Monday] my commercial hits the airwaves and in that commercial, you’ll see that I talk the whole time. I don’t have a narrator. That’s on purpose. And I touch on the points that I’ve worked on ever since I’ve been in the Senate.

You know, I didn’t bring up these issues like term limits, budget reform, tax reform just this year. I’ve been doing this ever since I’ve been up in the Senate. I certainly don’t want it to be perceived as this is just coming out in the last year. I’ve enjoyed working in the Senate, and I was about to go back into private work and bring that to a close because I never felt I wanted it to be a career. I want to serve and get out like the Founding Fathers did.

But when I looked over across the road … the casual observer – they saw it in newspapers and tweets or Yellowhammer – I saw it up close. I said this is just bad, bad leadership. And I thought I could do better. And that’s when I decided I would offer myself up for this. I don’t have a big group behind me. The incumbent is not really incumbent. She wasn’t elected in.

My fear is Alabama is going to accept something average when they can have something exceptional.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

[Editor’s note: Some changes were made for clarity. The mention of Columbia Southern University was changed for specificity. The earlier use of “post-Panama” was changed to post-Panamax due to a transcription error.

Also, an earlier version left out a key qualifier on Hightower’s position on the buying and selling of baby body parts. The initial version said I passed a bill to sell baby body parts, that should have included “to make it illegal.”]

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11 hours ago

AUDIO: ‘The University of Alabama showed great courage in its defense of open debate and free speech’ — J. Pepper Bryars

Earlier this week J. Pepper Bryars, editor of Yellowhammer News, appeared on WYDE’s “The Ford Faction” to discuss a speech that was scheduled to be given by a “race realist” this Thursday at the University of Alabama.

“The University of Alabama showed great courage in its defense of open debate and free speech through its willingness to allow this speaker on campus,” Bryars said, adding that “the only cure for hate speech is more speech.”

The details:

— An obscure student group invited self-described “race realist” (aka: a racist) Jared Taylor to deliver a lecture on campus.

— The university initially approved the event because the group had followed the required process, although administration officials made clear Taylor’s message ran contrary to the school’s values.

— Eventually, however, the student group was found to be in violation of key requirements (having a faculty advisory, etc.), and after officials gave the students time to come into alignment, the group failed so the invitation was rescinded.

“Had the group met the requirements and followed the process like any other, Alabama was prepared to allow its students to hear the racist arguments this man makes, and that’s a great thing,” Bryars said. “Because the only way our society can refute such claims is to know of their existence and how to properly dispose of them … like the garbage they are.”

LISTEN NOW:

@jpepperbryars is the editor of Yellowhammer News and the author of American Warfighter

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12 hours ago

Alabama man charged after hunters find remains of missing woman

An Alabama man has been charged with murder after hunters found the skeletal remains of a missing woman.

News outlets report that 58-year-old Kenny Darity of Montgomery is charged in the strangling death of Christina Bloss.

Darity was arrested and charged Tuesday, and bond was set at $150,000. Jail records on Wednesday did not show whether he is represented by an attorney.

Bloss was reported missing Feb. 28, 2017, in Montgomery County. Authorities now think she had been killed 10 days earlier.
A Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department captain, George Beaudry, says Darity and Bloss were acquaintances.

Hunters found her remains Thursday in Lowndes County, which is just west of Montgomery County.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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12 hours ago

Michael Knowles featured at Alabama Policy Institute’s 19th annual dinner event in Mobile

On Tuesday, the Alabama Policy Institute held its 19th annual Mobile dinner event in the airplane hangar at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.

“I cannot think of a better place to discuss freedom and liberty than at the U.S.S. Battleship Memorial Park and Aircraft Pavilion, a place that holds so many reminders of the sacrifices that thousands of Americans have paid to guarantee our freedom and liberty,” Caleb Crosby, President and CEO of API, told Yellowhammer News.

The “Evening with the Alabama Policy Institute” included keynote speaker, Michael Knowles.

Knowles is a talk show host and former managing editor of The Daily Wire, who is most well-known for his best-selling (and blank) book Reasons To Vote For Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide.

Part of a generation of young-ish conservatives that includes the Wire’s, Ben Shapiro, Knowles spends much of his time traveling to universities and rebutting their brand of “illiberal liberalism,” as Frank Bruni of the New York Times has called it.

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“I feel that here we’re in a safe space,” Knowles opened his speech last night, mirroring Crosby’s sentiment by ironically appropriating the campus buzzword.

“We’re definitely in a safe space because there are lots of guns and battleships. This is the perfect safe space for conservatives to be on tax day.”

Knowles’s speech before API and guests was as much about making the case for conservatism and for President Trump as about rebutting progressivism.

He began by reminding everyone in the room of all the good that the Trump presidency has accomplished: tax cuts, deregulation, originalist judges.

“Now you might be having déjà vu,” he said, “because I could have given that exact same [list] in 1981.”

Pointing out similarities between Reagan was Knowles’s primary way of arguing that Trump has governed as a conservative. In some ways, it also seemed to be his way of coaxing those never-Trump conservatives to embrace the president, or at least to encourage those conservatives supportive of — but still apprehensive — about him.

“Take the victories that we can get today,” Knowles said.

His chief point was that politics is about the now.

“Politics changes all the time,” he said. “There are different circumstances. There are different public policy challenges. There are different public policy prescriptions. There are timeless principles. And of course the hope, is that we conservatives can maintain the bedrock of timeless principles that we can apply to new circumstances and new challenges and make America great again, again.”

“Political victories are never permanent,” Knowles continued. “Political successes are never permanent. That’s why you always need to be making America great again. It’s because otherwise, it’s going to revert to its natural state of decay and destruction.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

13 hours ago

Why the Alabama Legislature holds the power — and a breakdown of interesting open seats

Our antiquated 1901 Constitution was designed to give inordinate power to the Legislature. During the Wallace years, the King of Alabama politics, George Wallace, usurped this power and controlled the Legislature from the Executive Branch of Government. Over the last couple of decades the Legislature has wrestled this power back and pretty much excluded the Governor from their bailiwick. Governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley were ostracized and pretty much ignored. Their proposed budgets were instantaneously tossed into the nearest trashcan.

Legislative power is derived from controlling the state’s purse strings. Thus the old adage, “Those who have the gold set the rules.” The Legislature has gotten like Congress in that incumbents are difficult to defeat. Therefore, the interest will be on the open Senate and House seats. Most of the Montgomery Special Interest money will be focused on these Legislative races.

Speaking of Montgomery, two open and most interesting Senate seats in the state will be in the Montgomery/River Region. One is currently in progress. Montgomery City Councilman, David Burkette, Representative John Knight and Councilman Fred Bell are pursuing the Democratic seat vacated by Senator Quinton Ross when he left to become President of Alabama State University. Burkette has already bested Knight and Bell in a Special Election last month. A rebound race is set for June 5.

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The Republican Senate seat in the River Region held by Senator Dick Brewbaker is up for grabs. This seat was expected to attract numerous well-known aspirants. However, when the dust settled at the qualifying deadline two relatively unknown candidates were the only ones to qualify. Will Barfoot and Ronda Walker are pitted against each other in a race that is considered a tossup.

The Etowah County/Gadsden area was considered one of the most Democratic areas of the state for generations. However, in recent years it has become one of the most Republican. State Representative, Mack Butler, should be favored as a Republican. Although, polling indicates that veteran Democratic Representative, Craig Ford, could make this a competitive race in the Fall. He is running as an Independent.  

Veteran State Senator Harri Ann Smith has represented the Wiregrass/Dothan area admirably for over two decades. She has been elected several times as an Independent. However, she has decided not to seek reelection. Her exit leaves State Representative Donnie Chesteen in the catbird seat to capture the seat.

Republican State Senator Paul Bussman, who represents Cullman and northwest Alabama, is a maverick and very independent. This independence makes him powerful. He will be reelected easily.

State Representative David Sessions is predicted to win the seat of Senator Bill Hightower who is running for Governor.

Most of the state Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed or have token opposition. Included in this list of incumbent State Senators are veteran Senate leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, Senate President, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun, Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper, veteran Senator Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee, as well as Senate leaders Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, Clay Scofield, R-Marshall, Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga, Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, Tom Whatley, R-Lee, and Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale. The Senate leadership will remain intact, as will the House leadership.

Almost all of the House leaders are unopposed or have token opposition. This prominent list includes: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison, Budget Chairmen, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, Speaker Pro-tem, Victor Gaston, R- Mobile, Rules Chairman, Mike Jones, R-Covington.

In addition, there are numerous Veteran lawmakers, who will be reelected, including Lynn Greer, Mike Ball, Jim Carnes, Howard Sanderford, Kerry Rich, and Jimmy Martin; as well as rising leaders: Nathaniel Ledbetter, Kyle South, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, April Weaver, Paul Lee, Terri Collins, Danny Garrett, Dickie Drake, Chris Pringle, Randall Shedd, Allen Farley, Becky Nordgren, Mike Holmes, David Standridge, Dimitri Polizos, Reed Ingram and Chris Sells.

Even though there are 22 open House seats and 10 open Senate Seats, the leadership of both Chambers will remain the same.

There are some competitive House seats that will be interesting. In the Pike/Dale County Seat 89, Pike Probate Judge Wes Allen is pitted against Troy City Council President Marcus Paramore. Tracy Estes is favored to replace retiring Mike Millican in Marion County. Alfa is going all out for Estes. David Wheeler is expected to capture the open House seat in Vestavia.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

13 hours ago

Alabama aging death row: Is executing old or infirm inmates cruel?

Vernon Madison has spent decades on Alabama’s death row. Now 67, Madison has suffered from strokes and dementia and his lawyers say he no longer recalls the crime that put him there: the 1985 killing of a police officer.

His speech is slurred, he suffers from confusion, and once thought he was near release and talked of moving to Florida, according to his lawyers. This fall, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to review the claims by Madison’s defense team that executing someone in his condition would violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

“Killing a fragile man suffering from dementia is unnecessary and cruel,” Madison’s attorney, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, said in January, when the justices stayed Madison’s execution the night he was to receive a lethal injection.

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The U.S. death row population is aging, and that leaves courts increasingly likely to grapple with questions of when it becomes unconstitutionally cruel to put someone to death who is mentally frail — or whose medical conditions could complicate the execution procedure.

“That is going to be an increasing issue in carrying out the American death penalty,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. “We are reaching a stage, as death row inmates age, we’ll see this more frequently.”

About 2,800 people are on death row in prisons nationwide, and about 1,200 of them over age 50, the non-profit group said. An Associated Press review of the group’s data shows the median age of an executed inmate in the U.S. rose from 34 to 46 between 1983 and 2017 — a fact observers attribute to appeals taking longer — sometimes decades.

One of the oldest, 83-year-old Walter Leroy Moody, is scheduled to be executed Thursday in Alabama for the 1989 package bomb killing of a federal judge. If the sentence is carried out, Moody would be the oldest person and the first octogenarian put to death since U.S. executions resumed in the 1970s, Dunham said.

“Many of these defendants have done terrible things. People are torn between wanting to punish severely and the belief it is beneath us as a nation to kill a frail person who is already dying. It’s a challenge to our morality and our sense of humanity,” Dunham said.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, supports steps to reduce the time between an inmate’s sentencing and execution.

“There is no constitutional issue from age alone, though dementia does, of course, become more common with age. The underlying question about what kind and degree of mental illness will prevent an execution is not new. It is ancient.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing in Madison’s case, noted the growing number of aging prisoners on death row and said, “Given this trend, we may face ever more instances of state efforts to execute prisoners suffering the diseases and infirmities of old age.”

Age by itself isn’t the issue, but rather the illnesses more common with old age.

Take Alva Campbell, 69. He died last month in an Ohio prison of natural causes after his 2017 lethal injection procedure was halted when a usable vein couldn’t be found. Alabama similarly aborted last month’s execution of Doyle Lee Hamm, 61, who has battled lymphoma. His lawyer said Hamm had at least 11 puncture wounds from attempts to find a vein.

“It was precisely Doyle’s old age and illness that raised all the problems. The state of Alabama was not prepared,” Hamm’s attorney, Bernard Harcourt, wrote in an email.

Yet 75-year-old Tommy Arthur, who had argued that his cardiovascular disease would complicate execution, was put to death without obvious incident last year in Alabama.

Madison was convicted of killing Mobile police officer Julius Schulte.

Schulte responded to a missing child report on April 18, 1985. Arriving at a home, he found the child had returned but Madison and his girlfriend were embroiled in a domestic dispute. According to court records, Schulte interacted briefly with Madison, telling him to “just to go on and let things cool down.” According to prosecutors, Madison left but then crept up behind Schulte as he sat in his police car, shooting him twice in the head.

The Supreme Court has ruled inmates must have a rational understanding of why they’re being executed, faculties which Madison’s lawyers say he doesn’t possess.

His attorneys argue strokes have left Madison frequently disoriented with no independent memory of his crime. They also say he is legally blind, cannot walk independently and has urinary incontinence from his brain damage.

The state’s lawyers counter that Madison was found competent at a 2016 hearing, hasn’t presented new evidence and is aware he received the death sentence — even if he doesn’t remember killing Schulte.

“What happened to my dad was cruel and unusual punishment,” said Schulte’s son, Michael. “He was shot twice in the head while he was trying to help somebody.”

Schulte, 59, has suffered health problems of his own, including a stroke and heart attack. Yet he said Madison’s protracted legal fight has been hard on his family and doesn’t “do my dad justice.”

Said Schulte: “Somebody needs to make a decision. Either we are going to have the death penalty or we’re not.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)