5 years ago

These are the Alabama House and Senate races to watch in 2014

Alabama State Capitol
Alabama State Capitol

Yellowhammer has already given you the big picture lay of the land for this year’s legislative races, now let’s take a look at some of the most hotly contested House and Senate districts to watch in 2014.

Remember, with Alabama having become a bright red state in 2010, it is fairly rare for there to be a general election fight between Republicans and Democrats. The battle is almost exclusively in the Republican primary, with a few notable exceptions.

That means that traditionally Democrat-aligned powerhouses like the Alabama Education Association (AEA) are planning to spend millions of dollars in Republican primaries this year, so hang on to your hats.

Here’s our take on what to look out for:

Republican primary fight in Senate District 30

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville
Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville

When Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, announced in late October of last year that he would not seek re-election in 2014, candidates quickly began lining up for this safe GOP seat.

Suzelle Josey of Deatsville, a former spokesperson for Chief Justice Roy Moore, had already announced plans to challenge Taylor, and Millbrook’s Harris Garner, owner of Garner Electric Company, wasn’t far behind her. They have since been joined in the Republican primary by insurance agent Bill Harris and Prattville City Councilman Clyde Chambliss, Jr.

As with any open seat, this one’s going to be hotly contested, and a prime opportunity for the AEA to infiltrate the Republican primary. AEA-aligned operatives are running Harris Garner’s campaign, which should be a huge red flag to any Republican primary voters.

Chambliss is the early favorite. He has already been endorsed by The American Council of Engineering Companies and The Homebuilders’ Association of Alabama. Early polling shows he has strong positive name ID, and he’s a strong fundraiser. Expect AEA to dump a ton of money in this race, either through direct candidate contributions to Garner or through ads running under the name “Alabama Values Education” — or both.

Key potential pickups for Republicans in the Senate

Yellowhammer has focused a lot on the battle between Republicans trying to maintain their supermajority in the Senate and the AEA trying to chip away at it, either in the general election or Republican primary, but there are also a few opportunities for Republicans to take out some sitting Democrats.

Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, announced last week that she’s not seeking re-election. That makes Senate District 1 a likely pickup for the GOP. Three Republicans have already qualified for the seat, including small businessman Jonathan Berryhill, Dr. Tim Melson, and early favorite Chris Seibert, an Athens City Councilman and former Univ. of Alabama football player.

Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, qualified for re-election at the last minute in his south Alabama senate district, but rumor has it that he may just be a placeholder while Democrats search for a candidate to take his place. Since the senate districts were redrawn after the 2010 elections, Keahey’s district has become significantly more Republican-leaning. Five Republicans are vying for the seat.

Melinda McClendon, R-Dothan
Melinda McClendon, R-Dothan

Independent Sen. Harri Ann Smith of Dothan might as well have a “D” beside her name, as she sides with the Democratic minority on most tough votes. The former Republican, who was denied ballot access by Republicans after she endorsed a Democrat for Congress, has done a masterful job over the years of portraying herself as the victim. She was the victim of Gov. Bob Riley and the anti-gambling crowd; she was the victim after former Rep. Jay Love bested her when she ran for Congress; and she was the victim when the Republican Party disowned her. She’s going to have a much harder time playing the victim when her opponent is another woman, Houston County Commissioner Melinda McClendon. Republicans are excited about McClendon’s candidacy, and will spend heavily to pick up this seat. But the AEA won’t make it easy. Expect them to pump big bucks into protecting one of their biggest allies in the senate.

House District 91

Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise
Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise
Another wiregrass-area race to watch is House District 91. Yellowhammer named incumbent Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, the most conservative member of the legislature last year, but an impeccable voting record (e.g. only legislator to vote “no” on extending unemployment benefits) doesn’t matter when AEA-aligned political operatives find a young, politically ambitious challenger they can co-opt.

Enterprise attorney Josh Pipkin has already gone hard negative against Moore. This will likely end up being one of the nastiest Republican primaries in the House.

General election battle in Senate District 10

Yellowhammer last year named incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden, one of the “Top 7 most conservative Alabama legislators.” But he represents one of the few legislative districts in the state that could actually have a competitive general election race. Williams is being challenged by former Democratic Senator Larry Means, who represented the 10th District from 1998 until 2010. Means was arrested on corruption charges only about a month before the 2010 general elections, but was ultimately acquitted and is now trying to return to the Senate at the age of 66.

The 10th District will be one of the Alabama Education Association’s (AEA) top targets. There is a pretty sizable union population in the district, a constituency that tends to favor Democrats. But Williams is well liked among conservatives, who appreciate his no-nonsense approach. His early polling numbers are strong as well. This race is shaping up to be a real battle.

AEA taking aim at Republican leadership

The word around Montgomery is that the AEA will spend $500k against each of the top Republicans in the Alabama legislature — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn.

Rainy Day Patriots Tea Party member Steven Guede is challenging Marsh, who has come under fire from some grassroots conservatives for his support of Common Core. Fred “Sandy” Toomer, founder Toomers Coffee Roasters Company, is challenging Hubbard.

These races are extremely personal for AEA Head Henry Mabry, who plans to spend big bucks in these races, whether it makes tactical sense or not.

Senate District 8

Sen. Shad McGill opted not to run for re-election, opening up a two-man race for the Republican nomination in this safe GOP district.

State Rep. Todd Greeson, R-Ider, is running for the seat and starts with a name-ID advantage after being in the legislature for over 15 years. His campaign has already received tens of thousands of dollars from the AEA.

Businessman Steve Livingston is the other Republican in the race. He is the owner and manager of Dicus Oil Company, has served as president of Jackson-Scottsboro Chamber of Commerce, Scottsboro Rotary and is a founding member of Leadership Jackson County.

Senate District 17

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale
Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale
It didn’t take long for Republicans to start coming out of the woodwork to run in this safe GOP district after Tea Party favorite Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, announced he would not seek re-election.

Here’s the list of candidates who qualified for the Republican primary in SD11:

Shay Shelnutt
Jim Murphree
Gayle H. Gear
Brett King
Adam Ritch
Joe Cochran
Jim Roberts

Murphree and Gear are the two candidates with AEA ties, but this race is so crowded it’s tough to say who should be the early favorite to survive the free for all.

Senate District 11

Democrat-turned Republican Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, was hoping to avoid a primary challenger after he switched parties in 2012. But State Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, decided in June of last year that he was going to jump in the primary against Fielding, who is still serving in his first term in the senate.

There are three big keys to look at in this race. First of all, the new district lines make St. Clair County the majority of the district. That is a huge advantage for McClendon. Secondly, McClendon holds a fairly substantial fundraising advantage over Fielding at this point. But finally, the real albatross around Fielding’s neck may be his vote against an anti-ObamaCare bill in 2012. It is tough to justify that in any Republican primary at this point.

That said, Fielding has been an extremely reliable vote for Republicans since he switched parties. We’ll see if that proves to be enough.

Independent candidates still have time to qualify

Although major party qualifying closed Feb. 7, Independent candidates have until June 3 to round up enough signatures to get on the ballot.

In order to gain ballot access, an Independent candidate must get the signatures of 3% of the total votes cast in the 2010 gubernatorial race in the district in which they want to run. For example, if 30,000 votes were cast in your district during the 2010 general election for governor, you would have to get 1,000 signatures in order to get your name on the ballot. An influx of Independent candidates could put a strain on the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, which is charged with verifying signatures. With limited manpower, that could be a daunting task.

Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison
Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Madison

Two races that could potentially end up with Independent candidates are Senate District 27, where former Democratic Sen. Ted Little may try to challenge incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Senate District 2, where former Republican Sen. Tom Butler may challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Holtzclaw, R-Huntsville.

The AEA’s candidate recruitment efforts were somewhat of a flop in the GOP primaries, but with almost four months until June 3, there is a good chance they will round up some Independents to jump in and shake things up.


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

54 mins ago

Marsh bill to repeal Common Core approved by Senate committee

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama was given a unanimous favorable recommendation by the Senate’s Education Policy Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, SB 119, is now set to be debated and considered on the Senate floor Thursday.

Marsh spoke about this bill during Yellowhammer Multimedia’s “News Shaper” event in Montgomery Tuesday evening after he filed the bill earlier that day.

He acknowledged that he has been a proponent of letting the state school board set education curriculum and standards policy in the past and even stopped an effort to repeal Common Core a few years ago. However, in Marsh’s view, Common Core has been given a chance now and it is time for the legislature to step in.

“It’s not working. I think we have to have some radical change with education policy in this state. And y’all know me, I’ve pushed a lot of things –  public charter schools, the Accountability Act. We’ve got to address this issue and it’s critical for this state,” Marsh said.

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He said eliminating Common Core would “clear the field” so the state could then move forward to better education outcomes.

Alabama would come up with its own high standards, premised on local control, under Marsh’s proposal.

He said his bill is cosponsored by all 27 of his Republican Senate colleagues and he expects SB 119 to pass the chamber and then receive similarly strong support in the House.

“I am committed to moving to a different standard that’s right for Alabama and moves us forward,” Marsh emphasized.

He also advised that there is a high level of politics involved in education decisions in the state but that sound policy must come first.

“[T]he education community, who I’ve asked to get this fixed, who have not addressed this, quite honestly I don’t think has put us in shape to move forward to address the problem at present. But I’m going to do all I can to see that it happens,” Marsh added.

Democrats on the Senate Education Policy Committee spoke in favor of keeping Common Core on Wednesday.

A career public school teacher from Lee County spoke in favor of eliminating Common Core at the hearing, while representatives from the state school superintendents association and the school boards association had concerns about the implementation of new standards.

Marsh said his bill will be amended before a vote by the full Senate to allow another national standard to be used if found to be best for Alabama, as the current language in his bill would ban any national standard from being adopted by the state school board.

Update, 11:35 a.m.:

State Sen. Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) released a statement in support of Marsh’s bill.

“I strongly support Senator Marsh’s bill,” Givhan said. “The Common Core standards just haven’t worked for Alabama’s students, and the proof is evident in the data. In 2017, Alabama’s 8th grade math scores ranked 49th among the 50 states, and math scores for 4th grade students were 45th in the nation, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Common Core’s curriculum standards and guidelines have been in place for nine years, and they have failed Alabama’s students. It’s clear we need to look at alternative educational methods, with an emphasis on returning as much control as possible back to the local school districts.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Marsh, McCutcheon talk lottery, ethics clarifications at Yellowhammer ‘News Shaper’ event

MONTGOMERY — Speaking Tuesday evening at Yellowhammer Multimedia’s first “News Shaper” event of 2019, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) provided their insight on some of the hot-button topics expected to be debated during the legislature’s ongoing regular session.

Yellowhammer owner and editor Tim Howe, who moderated the discussion, outlined uncertainty in the state’s ethics laws brought on by recent court and ethics commission decisions. Howe then asked the two leaders how they think the legislature can provide certainty and codified clarification moving forward, especially when it comes to defining a “principal.”

“There is no doubt that there’s a lot of uncertainty in the ethics legislation,” Marsh said. “The [Alabama Code of Ethics Clarification and Reform Commission] was set up to look over this, but in addition to that, both the Senate and the House – in the Senate you have Greg Albritton and in the House [you have] Mike Jones – working throughout the entire break on how we address this.”

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“And remember,” Marsh continued, “it’s not about 140 legislators, there are 50,000 people in the state of Alabama affected by the ethics law. I’m going to make a plea to my colleagues, some of whom are in this room tonight: If it’s going to be fixed, we’ve got to fix it.”

He emphasized, “[I]t’s not going to get any easier. You’ve got to face the issues. You’ve got to address it and realize this is about much [more] than the legislature. So, I’m hopeful.

Marsh also noted that the uncertainty in the ethics law has “affected economic development.”

“There’s a section there where the economic developers are having problems keeping the [confidentiality] in the process of recruiting industries. We’ve got to address this,” he advised. “And I’m hopeful that we will address it this year.”

Marsh added, “I know that both Senator Albritton and Representative Jones have been in conversation with the attorney general and the ethics commission, as well. So we’re going down a path to try and get everybody on the same page. But we have got to -trust me, ladies and gentleman – we have best fix this. It’s got to be done.”

Howe then asked Marsh to articulate why certainty in the ethics law for economic development professionals is important not just for them, but for the entire state and each of its residents.

“[I]t’s important for the state, because we’re competing with all of the other states,” Marsh said.

He used the example of a piece of legislation passed out of committee that very day largely dealing with Polaris vehicles built in north Alabama and explained that the site selection process requires confidentiality, with most economic development recruitment projects being given code names.

“Because we’re competing against other states. And if we’re not able to keep that degree of secrecy at that stage of the game, we’re at a disadvantage to our neighbors,” Marsh explained.

He concluded, “So this is something that we have got to address. But I’m going to say this: that’s [only] a piece of it. And there’s going to be an attempt by the business community and economic developers to pass the piece. But I think it’s [incumbent] upon us to pass the big picture, solve all the problems, because you want as many people with you, supporting you, to make the changes. Every time you carve off a little piece, you lose some support. So, as I said, I want to help everybody, but I’m committed to the big picture.”

Lottery

Howe later asked the speaker if the time has come for a lottery proposal to pass the legislature and reach a referendum of the people.

“I think so,” McCutcheon responded. “I think it’s been coming for several years. I know that the districts, House districts, that are [bordering other states], most of those districts have seen a significant shift over the last seven or eight years because they see Alabamians driving across the state line to buy lottery tickets.”

He continued, “And people are starting to talk about it, and they’re starting to make it part of their discussion around the dinner table. … At the end of the day, there’s a good push from the people.”

McCutcheon did emphasize what he viewed as key to a successful lottery discussion.

“If we’re going to put this to a vote of the people, and I think it has a good chance of passing, we need to make sure that people understand what they’re voting on,” he outlined. “That’s very, very important. We don’t want to cloud the issue with the definition of a ‘lottery’ and try to sneak something in the back door. Let’s make sure the people understand in their minds what a lottery is and we define it in such a way that they know what they’re voting on.”

“Then, I think the next big debate will be, ‘Where’s the money [lottery revenue] going to go?’ And that will be something that we’ll have to contend with,” McCutcheon concluded.

This came the same day that Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) filed a lottery proposal that was soon after called not “clean” by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who said McClendon’s legislation would legalize slot machines in a select few places in the state.

Watch the entire discussion:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

After 133 launches, Alabama built rockets boast 100% mission success

Thank you to the United Launch Alliance team and the entire workforce surrounding another successful launch.  Alabama’s Decatur based facility brings the utmost precision, passion and purpose to one of the most technically complex, critical American needs: affordable, reliable access to space.

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2 hours ago

Bipartisan bill to regulate vaping set for House committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama is currently one of only three states to not regulate vaping, but that could soon change.

HB 41, sponsored by Republican Rep. Shane Stringer and Democrat Rep. Barbara Drummond, both of Mobile County, is on the House Judiciary Committee’s agenda for Wednesday afternoon.

The bill would regulate the sale, use and advertisement of vaping – or “alternative nicotine products” – in the state.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, both Drummond and Stringer emphasized that their bill is intended to protect the health and wellbeing of Alabama minors.

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“The motivation is simple,” Drummond emphasized. “We are trying to safeguard the teens in the state of Alabama.”

She outlined, “Vape shops, as it stands right now, are not regulated at all… And the bill came about because our drug education council locally brought it to our attention, but [Stringer and I] have both seen ourselves, as well as throughout the whole state, the rise of vape shops. They’re popping up everywhere in the state of Alabama.”

While it is too early to tell what vaping is directly doing to users’ health, Stringer and Drummond emphasized there is an objective gateway effect from vaping use and to smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Right now, there is no data that says what is the [direct] effect that these products are having on our young people. What we are seeing, and this is a national trend, is that you’re seeing smoking not going down, but increasing, among young people,” Drummond explained.

Stringer, a career law enforcement officer with stints as chief of multiple local police departments, said educators from every corner of Mobile County have voiced their concerns with the lack of state oversight on vape products and retailers “saying this is an epidemic and a problem what we need to address.”

“The products haven’t been out long enough to know the problems we could face in five, ten, 15 years from now,” he said. “It’s pretty similar to when smoking came out. There was basically no risk at that time, according to everyone. Now, look at all the data that we have to go with smoking… this is a new product we’re learning every day about.”

Stringer said statistics they were shown from the drug education council show an approximately 34 percent increase in children under 19-years-old that tried smoking after vaping.

“In Alabama, we don’t want to wake up one day and see the effects, negative effects on our kids,” Drummond added. “Right now, we’re trying to be responsible legislators to make sure that we look out for the welfare of our children.”

The two lawmakers also stressed that not only do vape shop operators have no restrictions on them, but the state has no way to even keep track of them currently.

Their bill would make it illegal to sell or give vape products to anyone under 19-years-old. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would regulate retail sales of the products, just as they do tobacco products. Retailers would have to obtain an annual permit, which includes an application fee of $300. Retailers would also have to comply with relevant FDA regulations and post signage warning of the dangers of nicotine usage.

Using vape products in certain places, including schools and child care facilities, would be prohibited.

‘This is something that is nonpartisan, it’s not anything that is about Republican or Democrat. This is something about our young people,” Drummond said. “Because if you look at the amount of nicotine that is showing up in these products, when they first hit the market, the nicotine levels were very low – like five percent. Now, it’s gone up to about ten percent. They’ve got other chemicals in there, like formaldehyde. What is the effect of that upon the brains of our kids? So, this is more of a public wellbeing bill for us.”

Stringer advised that he foresees widespread support in the legislature for the bill.

“Everyone agrees that there has to be some checks and balances [oversight] in place,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

House Majority Leader Ledbetter predicts Alabama to ‘move to number one’ nationally in automotive production after Port of Mobile expansion

Tuesday on Huntsville’s WVNN radio, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) said he did not think it would be very long before Alabamians started to see tangible benefits of the Rebuild Alabama Act.

The legislation that was recently signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey after she called a special session will raise the gasoline tax six cents in September, then add an additional two cents in 2020 and 2021.

According to the DeKalb County Republican, road projects could start as early as the summer given the bill will allow for counties to bond half of the revenue the additional tax will generate that is distributed to the counties.

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“I really think it will be this summer,” Ledbetter said. “I think we’ll see it immediately, and the reason I say that is inside that bill there is a mechanism that the counties can use half of their money to bond with. So, I know there’s mine – I talked to the president of my county commission, and we’re looking at bonding half of that money. So if that happens, you’re going to see a lot of paving going down, and I think it will be significant, especially on those roads we can’t get buses across, or you know, the transportation has been limited due to the fact of the road conditions.”

Ledbetter also predicted one of the aspects of the law, which is to expand the Port of Mobile, will generate a positive impact statewide, especially with regards to the automotive industry.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” he said. “The thing I think we’ll see – Alabama rank third as far as automotive manufacturing in the country. I think we’ll move to number one. I really do. I think this is that big of a game changer. I think aerospace engineering, and some of those jobs going to the port, building airplanes and building the ships – we’re going to move up the ladder because we got availability in the port to bring the ships in and out, the post-Panamax ships we hadn’t seen.”

“You know, the sad part about it is we build all these automobiles in Alabama – a lot of those were being shipped out of Savannah because we can’t get them out of our port,” Ledbetter added. “I think once this happens, we’ll see the roll off-roll on where we’ll be carrying cars to Mobile from Huntsville, from Lincoln, from here in Montgomery to see them delivered, or shipped out from Mobile.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.