The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

2 weeks ago

2020 races around the corner

(D. Jones, K. Harris, C. Booker, B. Sanders, E. Warren/Facebook)

Folks, don’t look now, but the 2020 presidential election is upon us. Indeed, as many as 21 Democratic aspirants are already announced and campaigning.

They are quite a liberal group as you might expect. Leading the pack of Democrats trying to take Donald Trump out of the White House is an avowed, true socialist, Bernie Sanders. Behind ole Bernie are a host of ultra-liberal U.S. Senators who are socialists wannabes. They hail from either the left coasts of California or New England. Included in the pack of CNN/MSNBC/Stephen Colbert watchers are Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren of Massachusetts. She makes Teddy Kennedy look like a conservative. You also have Kamala Harris of California, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and losing Texas Senate candidate, Beto O’Rourke, in the race.

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Our own anomaly Democratic Senator Doug Jones really should run for president next year. He would have a much better chance of winning the Democratic nomination for president than winning a seat in the U.S. Senate from the Heart of Dixie.

He has been a liberal Democrat in Alabama his entire adult political life. He has been the soul of the liberal Alabama Democratic Party for decades. He has campaigned and voted for George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Teddy Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

Since he has been in Washington for the past year, he has organized with and voted with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Therefore, he is just as liberal with a much lengthier liberal pedigree than all of the aforementioned liberal Democratic Senators in the race; plus he has a proven Civil Rights record.

The scenario that occurred in last year’s special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat was a perfect storm that will never occur again. First of all, it was the only show in the country and the first opportunity for liberals all over the country to show their distaste for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Having Judge Roy Moore as an additional lightning rod just added fuel to the fire. It attracted over $20 million of liberal, left-wing money to Doug Jones. He was able to outspend Moore 21 to 3. That is almost impossible to overcome, plus, with it being a special election it became a referendum on Doug Jones versus Roy Moore and the Republican vs Democratic delineation became obscured.

During this race, Doug Jones built a national liberal fund-raising base from left-wing America, much like Beto O’Rourke did in Texas. They both have become national stars as Democrats in Red States. Although O’Rourke probably has an edge on Jones in looks and youth. However, recently, Jones appeared on the left-leaning Democratic “Stephen Colbert Show.” Jones may very well be eyeing national politics.

Doug Jones, as a lifelong stalwart Democrat, has worked diligently for the State and National Democratic party for most of his adult life. In recent months, he has tried to wrestle some control away from longtime Democratic dictator Joe Reed. It is practically impossible to understand what is going on in the State Democratic Party. Eventually, there may be a new vote on the party chairmanship. The National Democratic Party has mandated a new election due to the clandestine way that Nancy Worley was elected. The state hierarchy has ignored the National Party.

There is no doubt that Joe Reed is still in control of the Alabama Democratic Party. You can bet your bottom dollar that he calls all the shots. My guess is that he has his horse picked out of the 21 Democratic presidential candidates. He asked California Senator, Kamala Harris, to be the keynote speaker at his Alabama Democratic Conference June annual event. Therefore, Senator Harris might be a good horse to bet on to win next year’s March third Alabama Democratic Presidential Primary.

The Democratic Party in Alabama continues to be a big mess. The bottom line is that on the state level the party is essentially irrelevant. The odds of a Democratic candidate for President carrying Alabama or a Democratic nominee winning any statewide race in the Heart of Dixie is slim to none.

2 weeks ago

Flowers: Legislative session for most part successful, especially for Governor Kay Ivey

(Governor Kay Ivey/Flickr)

The 2019 legislative session was one of the most controversial yet productive sessions in memory.

Governor Kay Ivey’s first Session of the Quadrennial was a roaring success. It’s hard to remember a governor getting everything they wanted since the George Wallace heydays.

Wallace in his prime simply controlled the legislature. It was more like an appendage of the governor’s office. Kay Ivey has apparently taken a page from the old Wallace playbook. By the way, that is probably apropos as Kay cut her teeth in Alabama politics working for and learning from the Wallaces.

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Governor Ivey started out the session by passing a gas tax increase which will fund major transportation/highway needs in the state. She ended the last week of the session by garnering legislation to give the governor control of the Pardons and Parole Board and then topping that off with legislation that will allow a vote next March on Alabama having an appointed state school board rather than an elected one. If this controversial amendment is approved by voters, then the governor will make most of the initial appointments.

One would have to say that Kay Ivey has pretty much got a lot of influence with this legislature. Kay’s years of experience and probably more importantly her relationships with legislators is paying dividends for Alabama’s female Republican governor.

Any legislative session could be considered a success if both budgets pass. It is, by the way, the only constitutional mandate for a regular annual session.

The Education Budget is record-breaking. It is a $7.1-billion-dollar budget with a $500 million dollar increase over last year’s budget. This largest in history budget gives teachers and education employees a four percent cost of living raise. It will also increase funding to the state’s heralded pre-kindergarten program. Alabama Community Colleges will get a significant increase. Legislators seem to realize the importance of technical training in the state in attracting manufacturing jobs. State Senator, Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Representative Bill Poole (R- Tuscaloosa), the Chairmen of the Education Budget Committees in the Senate and House did an excellent job of shepherding the school budget through the legislative labyrinth.

The General Fund Budget which generally lags behind the Education Budget was also passed on a positive note. The budget calls for spending $2.2 billion dollars. It includes a two percent cost of living increase for state employees as well as an eight percent increase for the state’s understaffed prison system. Representative Steve Clouse (R–Ozark) is the veteran chairman of the House General Fund Committee.

One of the downsides of the Session was the Legislature’s inability to pass a Constitutional Amendment to allow Alabamians to vote to have a lottery like 45 other states, including all of our neighboring states.

It would pass overwhelmingly if put to a vote. Alabamians are simply tired of seeing their money going into the state coffers of Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida.

State Senator Jim McLendon (R-St. Clair) offered the best opportunity and most modern and profitable lottery proposal. However, his Bill was ignored in deference to the Indian Casinos legislation which was overtly written to continue to give these Indian Casinos a monopoly on electronic gaming in the state. The Indian casinos arrogantly flaunted their influence in the legislature by offering a watered-down, archaic, paper only lottery that would be obsolete within five years.

McLendon’s Bill would have generated $250 million. The Indian Casino’s Lottery would have given the state a paltry $100 million at best for a few years. The House Democrats boldly and wisely killed the Bill with the hopes that if you are going to approve a lottery, that it would be one that would benefit the state and not the Indian gambling syndicate.

In essence, the Choctaw Indian Casino’s in Mississippi killed the lottery 20 years ago with last-minute money before balloting. The Poarch Creek Casinos beat it this time before it could get out of the gate. The power that the Poarch Creek Indian casinos are building in the Alabama Legislature is dangerous.

CBS 42 in Birmingham took a poll the last week of the session asking how their viewers rated the legislature and legislative session. It was 86 percent negative. However, this is nothing new. Alabamian’s have always rated the legislature negatively. However, if you ask them about their own legislators they will either not know who they are or they like them.

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.

4 weeks ago

Flowers: One vote can make a difference

(S. Flower/Twitter, ARMY/Contributed))

Some of us who were former legislators, who served our counties in the legislature a long time, were considered by many to always be their legislator. A good many of my former constituents still call me with questions or problems. Some ask me how to get in touch with their congressman or senator about a certain issue so that they can express their opinion. They invariably ask will their letter or email make a difference.

My response is, “Yes, it will.”

All legislators or congressmen want to know what their constituents are thinking. They generally want to vote their district’s feelings and needs. When I was a legislator, I would cherish this input and actually solicit it.

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One year, I received a nice note from one of my favorite retired teachers. I loved her. She had not only taught me but also taught my mom and dad. She was as fine a lady as I have ever known. Her note simply asked me to vote for some issue. I was not even cognizant of the issue until she made me aware of it. She even referred to it by a bill number. It did not pertain to education and I did not perceive it to have much opposition or controversy. I do not even remember now what the issue was. However, I revered this lady and she was asking me to vote yes on a matter I had no position on anyway. So I called her and told her that due to her interest I would vote for the measure. I kept her note on my desk with the bill number referenced. Lo and behold, about halfway through the legislative session, I saw the bill on the special order calendar for the day. I got primed for the vote. I voted for the bill simply because that lady had asked me to. To my amazement, I looked up at the large electronic vote tally machine and the bill passed by one vote.

One vote can make a difference.

Having told you that story reminds me of my first year in the legislature. I was a young 30-year old representative representing Pike and Barbour counties. Like today, Wallace was passing a gas tax for roads and bridges. This was a common occurrence and expected during the Wallace era. He knew the people of Alabama didn’t even notice that their gasoline tax had been raised. However, they knew that Wallace had built them a four-lane highway in their county. He knew Alabama politics better than anybody in state history.

Another political legend, Big Jim Folsom, left an indelible legacy as governor with his legendary and necessary Farm-to-Market road program. Recently while making a speech in Dothan, I told the group this Big Jim story about their region. Big Jim was a native of the Wiregrass. As a young man, Big Jim was making a futile run for Congress in the Wiregrass. One day he was campaigning down a dirt country road in Geneva County. He met and befriended an old farmer and his wife at the end of the road. The couple gave Big Jim cold buttermilk to drink. Big Jim bonded with those folks on their front porch as he drank a gallon or two of buttermilk. As he was leaving the old farmer shouted out to his new friend, Big Jim, “Boy if you get elected to anything will you pave my road?” Big Jim smiled and said, “Sure I will.” Ten years later Big Jim got elected governor and guess which county road in the state got paved first? You are right, it was that road in Geneva County. They named it Buttermilk Road.

For folks in the Wiregrass, guess who built the Ross Clark Circle around Dothan? You got it, Big Jim Folsom.

For any of you legislators that are reading, my advice to you is that your average constituent isn’t going to know whether or not you voted for the state tax on gasoline. But, they are going to remember that highway or bridge you brought home to your county. If you play your cards right, you might even get it named after you.

Speaking of legislators, legendary Black Belt legislator Rick Manley passed away in January. He represented Marengo County and the Black Belt for over 25 years in the House and Senate. He was one of the most able and effective legislative leaders in state history. He served as chairman of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. He was also speaker pro tem of the House.

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.

2 months ago

Flowers: Infrastructure package passage will be hallmark of success for Governor Kay Ivey and the legislature

(Governor's Office/Hal Yeager)

The five-day special legislative session that addressed the increase in the gas tax to fund an Infrastructure Rebuilding Program for the state was a remarkable success. I still marvel at the adroitness, efficiency and expediency in which the governor accomplished this monumental initiative. She called for a special session on the night of her State of the State address and within one week it was signed, sealed and delivered.

I have seen some successful special sessions in my lifetime of watching Alabama politics. However, I have never seen anything like this. George Wallace used special sessions continuously and regularly during his 20-year reign as king of Alabama politics. He got things accomplished this way. It is the way to go to crystallize the importance of an issue.

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Kay Ivey’s success made Wallace’s hardball ploys look minor league. She got her mission accomplished in the minimum five days. It was an amazing success story that will be told in political circles for years.

She did her homework. She dug in and made it clear that infrastructure improvement was a must for Alabama. She had a plan, she worked it and she won and the people of Alabama won.

She was not doing it for self-serving reasons nor was she doing it to secure her place in history. However, I am here to tell you as an Alabama political historian, she earned a place in my book. She has earned her spurs and earned the name “Governor.” She showed her leadership and the title Gov. Kay Ivey.

Gov. Ivey was astute to address the issue in a special session within the regular session for several reasons. In a special session, legislators have to address only the issue the governor calls them in for. By calling for the concentrated special session within the regular session, it did not cost taxpayers anymore. It also got them around the 3/5 vote needed to bring a bill up before the budgets which is required in the regular session.

Her ability to reach across the aisle and garner Democratic support for passage of the program was noteworthy. She brought in all of the Democratic legislative leaders. She sat down with them and diligently worked to explain how important this agenda was to not only their constituents, but to the entire state.

Her reaching out to them was not only important for passage of this package, but it built the foundation for a successful and harmonious working relationship with all the members of the Legislature which has been missing for over a decade.

The relationships Kay developed with state senators as presiding officer of the Senate for six years paid off with not only the Republican leadership but also with Democratic leaders like Bobby Singleton.

She forged new friendships with both Republican and Democratic legislators in the House. She worked hard and developed a close working relationship with House Democratic leader, Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville), who is a bright young star. This friendship will be good going forward for Ivey and the state.

Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) was the leader in the House that worked closely with Gov. Kay Ivey to align the stars for passage. Poole drafted the bill, helped devise the strategy and fought for passage. He is probably the only House sponsor who could pull it off. Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) did a brilliant job in the Senate. Both Poole and Chambliss are young with bright paths ahead in Alabama politics.

Expanding access to broadband internet in rural Alabama has been one of the cornerstone issues for Gov. Ivey and the legislature the last few years. This access to broadband today is as important as getting electricity was 60-75 years ago.

This initiative has moved to the forefront for passage as the session evolves. The magic formula for success is engrossed in House Bill 400. This legislation would logically and effectively allow electric utilities to use their existing infrastructure to run broadband to areas that do not have service today.

Opposition has arisen from big cable companies for obvious self-serving reasons. To allow these large out-of-state companies to thwart the passage of this important piece of legislation would be bad for the state. The need to run new fiber optic lines at great expense would make the initiative almost cost prohibitive.

Regardless, the cable companies and AT&T are working to kill this logical plan to extend broadband internet service to all Alabamians. They are also using some unsavory tactics in their attempt to kill Gov. Ivey’s initiative. Hopefully, their transparent efforts to derail this important legislation will be ignored by legislators who want what is best for Alabama.

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.

1 year ago

Judicial races in Alabama highlighted

(YHN/Pixabay)

This is not just a gubernatorial year in the Heart of Dixie.

We have every constitutional office up for election which includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Agriculture Commissioner.

We also have a good many of the State Judicial races on the ballot. We have nine seats on our State Supreme Court. We have five judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, as well as five seats on the Court of Civil Appeals. All of these judicial posts are held by Republicans.

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Therefore, it is more than likely safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary will be elected to a six-year term and can be fitted for their robe, at least by July 17. In fact, Democrats usually do not even field candidates in state judicial races.

Over the past two decades, a prevailing theme has been that women have become favored in state judicial races. In fact, it was safe to say that if you put two candidates on the ballot for a state judicial position, one named John Doe and the other Jane Doe, and neither campaigned or spent any money, Jane Doe would defeat John Doe.

However, for some inexplicable reason, this prevalence reversed itself on June 5 in the Republican primary. In the much-anticipated race for the extremely important Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, position two of the sitting members of the Supreme Court were pitted against each other.

Justice Lyn Stuart, who is the longest serving member on the State Supreme Court, had moved into the Chief Justice role after the departure of Judge Roy Moore. She was running for Chief Justice for the full six-year term. Justice Tom Parker was Roy Moore’s closest ally and is now the most socially conservative activist on the court. Parker and Moore dip from the same well.

Parker chose to challenge Stuart for Chief Justice. The Lyn Stuart vs Tom Parker contest was billed as one of the Titanic battles of the Primary season. Stuart was the darling of the business community. Parker openly was carrying the banner of the social conservatives. Parker bested Stuart 52 percent to 48 percent. Most of Parker’s financial backing came from plaintiff trial lawyers. Parker does have Democratic opposition from Birmingham attorney, Robert Vance, Jr.

However, he should win election in November.

Judge Brad Mendheim was facing two prominent female Circuit judges, Debra Jones of Anniston and Sarah Hicks Stewart of Mobile, for Place 1 on the State Supreme Court.

Mendheim has been a longtime popular Circuit Judge in Dothan. He was appointed to this Supreme Court seat by Governor Kay Ivey earlier this year. Mendheim decisively outdistanced his female opponents by garnering 43 percent of the vote. He is expected to win election to a full six-year term on the high tribunal on July 17.

Another example of the male uprising in the court contests occurred in the race for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals. Judge Terri Willingham Thomas, who has been on this court since 2006 and has served with distinction, was shockingly defeated by her unknown male opponent, Chad Hanson.

Pickens County Prosecutor Chris McCool forged to the front in the race for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. He led 43 to 35 over Rich Anderson from the Montgomery/River Region.

In the other court races, the candidate who raised the most money and was able to buy some TV time prevailed.

In the State Supreme Court race in Place 4, two Birmingham attorneys, John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, were pitted against each other. Mitchell significantly outspent Bahaked and won 73 to 27.

Christy Edwards of Montgomery and Michelle Thomason of Baldwin County are headed for a runoff for a seat on the Court of Civil Appeals.

Richard Minor defeated Riggs Walker overwhelmingly 66 to 34 for a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. In the seat for Place 3 on the Court of Criminal Appeals there was yet another display of male dominance in the court races. Bill Cole bested Donna Beaulieu 60 to 40.

On Saturday before the Primary, legendary Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Clement Clay “Bo” Torbert, passed away at 88 in his beloved City of Opelika. His funeral was on Election Day. Judge Torbert served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for 12 years, 1976 to 1988. He had previously served two terms in the State Senate prior to his election as Chief Justice.

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.

1 year ago

Secondary statewide races on ballot this year

(W.Miller/YHN)

Folks, we are less than three weeks away from our June 5th primary. Besides the governor’s race, all of our secondary constitutional races are on the ballot.

As we head into the home stretch, there appears to be very little interest in the primary elections.

People seem disinterested and disillusioned. There have been a good many scandals and ethics convictions over the past quadrennium, which has put a damper on the enthusiasm generally associated with a gubernatorial election year. Even fundraising has been down considerably.

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This voting ambivalence will result in a lower than normal turnout. This accrues to the advantage of incumbents and those with name identification.

The governor’s race has not been that interesting. However, the Democrats have fielded quality candidates in that race. The winner of the June GOP Primary will have to mount a campaign in the fall against either Walt Maddox or Sue Bell Cobb.

The secondary races are being lost in the shuffle of the avalanche of races on the ballot. The best race, as was expected, has been the Attorney General contest.

Former Governor, Robert Bentley, during his last days as governor, appointed an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall, as the acting Attorney General. As expected Marshall did the bidding of Bentley and allowed him leniency in any further prosecution. Marshall has used every tool of incumbency to strong arm campaign contributions for his race for a full term.

However, polling indicates that his efforts will be to no avail.

With so little interest in the secondary statewide races, former Attorney General Troy King, is perceived as the incumbent and enjoys a comfortable lead in this race due to his name identification. As we head to “Amen” corner, my guess is that King leads the race and former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin is in a runoff with Troy King.

Birmingham attorney, Chess Bedsole, could be a late surprise if he spends a significant amount of his own money. He is not a political novice. He was an integral part of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

The winner will probably face off against Joseph Siegelman, a handsome, progressive, young heir to an iconic Alabama Democratic name.

The Lt. Governor race has changed very little since the beginning of the campaign season four months ago. Public Service Commission President, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, holds a commanding lead in all polls. She knows how to run statewide and has headed the state Republican Party. Even though her polling lead is daunting, her results in three weeks may even exceed her formidable lead in the polls. She has built a statewide grassroots campaign organization over the years, which her two challengers lack.

The last polls reveal that Twinkle Cavanaugh leads Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth. Polls reveal that Glover will get a good friends and neighbors vote from his home Mobile region. This may hold him in good stead in a race for Congress in two years, if Mobile-Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne runs for the U.S. Senate
in 2020.

Will Ainsworth has made a significant television buy in the lieutenant governor’s race, which should propel him into second place in that contest.

Secretary of State John Merrill will waltz to a second term as Secretary of State. He is the best retail politician on the Alabama political scene. Even though he has token opposition, he has probably outworked every candidate on the ballot. When his office counts all the ballots on June 6, Merrill will probably be the top vote getter in all statewide races.

Right behind Merrill winning in a landslide, will be Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, who will have an overwhelming victory as State Treasurer.

Rick Pate has gotten a lot of traction in the Agriculture Commissioner race. He has garnered most of the major endorsements, including ALFA and BCA.

Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker should coast to reelection victories as members of the Public Service Commission for another four years.

Beeker, Oden and Twinkle Cavanaugh should benefit from their recent vote to save Alabama Power customers $337 million over the next two years, a cut made possible by the Trump administration and Republican Congress’ passage of federal tax reform.

Folks, that is a big win for Alabama’s economy. It is sure to put a smile on the faces of families and small business owners across the state. Cavanaugh, Beeker, and Oden deserve credit for making it happen.

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.

1 year ago

Court of appeals races on Alabama ballot this year

(YHN/Pixabay)

Last week we made you aware that five of the nine seats on our State Supreme Court are up for election this year. In addition, our Court of Civil Appeals and Criminal Appeals have several members up for election.

The folks who sit on these courts essentially have zero name identification. Even when polling is done soon after Alabamians have voted for them, Alabama voters still cannot identify them.

These courts do just what their name implies. They hear appeals from civil and criminal cases from around the state and are a barrier or gatekeeper between the circuit or trial courts around the state. They deflect a lot of cases from getting to the Supreme Court. Most states have these appellate courts. They are similar and derived from the federal appellate courts.

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Alabama is in the minority of states that elect our judges. All of our judges in Alabama are elected, not only the Supreme and Appellate Court jurists, but also our local Circuit and District Judges. Judges in most states are appointed – usually by the governor. The crafters of our 1901 Constitution gave the people the right to vote on judges, which was one of the deference’s from having a powerful governor.

There are nine seats on the State Supreme Court and five seats each on the Court of Civil and Criminal Appeals. All 19 of our state court seats are held by Republicans, which is reflective of our state’s political leanings.

As would be suspected with all Republicans, they tend to be conservative. Our Court of Civil Appeals leans pro-business, and our Court of Criminal Appeals tends to favor prosecutors over defendants. However, our current Court of Criminal Appeals has a very glaring exception due to the obvious inexplicable length in their handing down an opinion on the conviction of former
Speaker, Mike Hubbard.

In almost all cases heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals, they render an opinion upholding a conviction by a local jury. The only exception is when there is an egregious overt error in jury instructions or overt documented prejudice by a Circuit Judge.

Folks, I watched and followed the Mike Hubbard case. Judge Walker, a highly respected and veteran experienced Lee County Circuit Judge did a meticulous job in that trial. A 12 person jury convicted Mike Hubbard of Ethics Law violations. There was no error in protocol or one shred of evidence that was not presented. It was a lengthy trial. Hubbard had his day in court.

A jury of his Lee County peers found him guilty. Judge Walker, in order to avoid error, read the instructions to the jury to assure that proper language was unmistakable.

As I travel the state on Speaking engagements and Talk shows, invariably the first question asked by Rotarians or callers is, “Why hasn’t Mike Hubbard gone to jail?”. They ask a pertinent question. They suspect foul play or political deference may be at play. It would appear that that might be the case.

Hubbard was convicted almost two years ago. The Court of Criminal Appeals usually rules on an intricate murder trial in less than a year. Yet, Hubbard remains free on Appeal. The average Alabamian is perplexed by the delay. I suspect politics is at play in this case. It may revolve around campaign contributions to judicial candidates.

The members of the State Court of Criminal Appeals are Liles Burke, Mary Windom, Beth Kellum, Sam Welch and Mike Joiner. There are several newcomers in the June Primary. The list includes running for three open seats; Richard Minor, Donna Beaulieu, Bill Cole, Rich Anderson and veteran Fayette County District Attorney, Chris McCool.

We also have some races on the Court of Civil Appeals next month. The business community is obviously more interested in this Civil Appeals Court than Criminal. In place 1, Baldwin County Circuit Judge Michelle Thomasson may have an edge over Pat Thetford of Birmingham and Christy Edwards of Montgomery. Incumbent Judge Terri Willingham Thomas is being
challenged by Chad Hanson for Place 2.

There are a lot of judicial races on our June 5 ballot on both the state and local level.

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.

1 year ago

A look at the Alabama Supreme Court races on ballot this year

(Wikicommons)

Among the plethora of races on the ballot this year are the important seats on the Alabama Supreme Court. We have an unprecedented five out of nine seats up for election.

Our Alabama Supreme Court as well as our Courts of Criminal Appeals are extremely conservative, pro-business and all Republican.

This conservatism dates back to the 1980’s and 1990’s. During that two-decade run, the plaintiff lawyers controlled and dominated our State Supreme Court. We were known throughout the country as a Plaintiff’s paradise. It was like a fairytale jackpot justice system. It was not uncommon for ludicrous multimillion dollar verdicts to be upheld daily for all types of cases. We were called Tort Hell by “Time Magazine.”

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Tort reform became the dominant issue in the Halls of the Legislature.

When you have unbridled monetary verdicts coming out of Alabama that gives a plaintiff millions of dollars for having a wreck in a General Motors vehicle, it affects the entire country. General Motors does business in all 50 states.

Well the business community throughout the country and in Alabama decided enough was enough. They decided to close down tort hell. They put their money where their mouth was and replaced an all Democratic plaintiff trial lawyer Supreme Court with an all Republican pro-business court. The pendulum has swung completely from left to right. If yesterday’s court was extremely liberal, today’s Alabama Supreme Court is extremely conservative.

These five open seats will be held by conservative Republicans when the dust settles at the end of the year and they begin their six-year terms. It is just a matter of which Republican presides and decides the major cases that affect Alabamians.

Will Sellers, a very well respected Montgomery attorney, was appointed by Governor Kay Ivey last year to Place 3 on the high court. Justice Sellers is running without opposition and will have a full six-year term.

Popular Justice, Tommy Bryan, also has no opposition and will return for another six-years on the high tribunal.

Justice Jim Main who has had a distinguished career as a private lawyer, finance director and Supreme Court Justice, cannot run for reelection due to an antiquated law that disallows judges to run for reelection after they turn 70.

Main’s Place 2 is being sought by Jefferson County’s John Bahakel and Jay Mitchell, also of Birmingham.

Circuit Judge, Debra Jones of Calhoun County has been a judge for a decade and has run a get acquainted race for the court. She will be formidable.

This place was held by Justice Glen Murdock who is originally from the Wiregrass. Murdock retired a few months ago and Governor Kay Ivey did a good day’s work when she appointed another Wiregrass native, Brad Mendheim to replace him. Mendheim has served a decade as a Circuit Judge in Dothan. He is very well respected in his hometown. He is seeking a full term. Sarah Stewart of Mobile is also in the race and should benefit from being from the vote rich Mobile-Baldwin area.

The battle royale will be for the Chief Justice post. The Chief Justice not only presides over the nine member Supreme Court but also oversees the entire Court System.

Justice Lyn Stuart currently presides as Chief Justice. She is running for a full 6-year reign.

When the business community orchestrated the takeover of the Court, they brought in the vaunted Karl Rove to mastermind the plan. When he departed, victoriously, he left with this admonition, “The best candidate that you can put forward is a female Republican who has some experience as a Circuit Judge.”

Alabamians prefer females on the Bench. If you have a race for Judge in Alabama and you have two names on the ballot, one Sue Smith and one Sam Smith and neither spends any money on campaigns and neither is known, Sue Smith will win.

Lyn Stuart epitomizes this scenario perfectly. She became a respected Circuit Judge in Baldwin County at a very young age. She was elected to the Supreme Court over a decade ago and is the longest serving member of the Court.

She will be pitted against another sitting member of the Court, Justice Tom Parker. He has excellent polling numbers. He was Roy Moore’s closest ally on the Court. Stuart is the sweetheart of the Business Council. Parker is the darling of the social conservatives.

The race for Chief Justice will be one of the premier contests this year.

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. She may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

1 year ago

It will be a fun year because every constitutional statewide office is up for election

(W. Miller/YHN)

Every constitutional statewide office is up for election this year. Just like the governor’s office you can serve two consecutive four-year terms and then you are through.

Kay Ivey would have been term limited as Lt. Governor. She could not have run again for that post even though she ascended to governor last year. Young Boozer has served his two four-year term limit as Treasurer. Young has chosen to not run again for anything. John McMillan has exhausted his eight-years as Agriculture Commissioner. He is running for State Treasurer and is favored to win that post. John Merrill can run for another four-year term as Secretary of State, which is what he is doing. The same is true for State Auditor, Jim Zeigler.

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The Attorney General’s office was vacated by Luther Strange when then Governor, Robert Bentley, appointed him to Jeff Sessions’ Senate Seat. With the vacancy in the Attorney General’s office, Bentley plucked an obscure former District Attorney named Steve Marshall to serve the remainder of Luther Strange’s term. Marshall is seeking election to a full term. However, he is not expected to fare well in a very competitive race for this coveted post. Marshall’s only claim to fame is that he was appointed to the post by Robert Bentley and that is not a very good calling card. A Republican is favored 60-to-40 in this Attorney General contest.

Former Attorney General, Troy King, is the favorite to win the GOP Primary and ultimately a four-year term. Name identification is a precious commodity in these secondary statewide offices. King’s name ID surpasses the rest of the field.

Alice Martin could give Troy King a run for his money. She is a veteran well qualified prosecutor who was the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama for the better part of a decade. Being from North Alabama gives her some invaluable name identification in her hometown of Florence, but more importantly in Birmingham.

Chess Bedsole, who is a Birmingham attorney, has roots in Mobile and was an integral part of the Trump campaign, could be a player. He will have to spend a good bit of personal money to get into the mix.

The winner of the GOP Primary will be favored. However, they will probably be met by a well-known Democratic name in November. Joseph Siegelman is running for AG as a Democrat. Young Siegelman, who is only 30, will be favored to win the Democratic nomination over another Birmingham Attorney, Chris Christie.

The office of Lt. Governor is currently vacant. This post does very little except wait for the Governor to die or be removed from office. Therefore, we have not been devastated by the vacancy.

If the Attorney General’s race is dependent upon name identification, the Lt. Governor’s post is doubly reliant on this precious commodity. There are three good people seeking the GOP mantle.

PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, Mobile State Senator Rusty Glover, and Sand Mountain State Representative Will Ainsworth.

Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh is the prohibitive favorite in this race. She is sitting in the catbird’s seat and could win without a runoff. She has run and been elected several times statewide. She has also been head of the State Republican Party and has built a statewide organization. Her statewide name identification dwarfs her two opponents.

Will Ainsworth is said to have personal money that he is willing to invest. If he does, he could challenge Twinkle. Ainsworth has received the Farm Bureau endorsement, which is a coup.

Anyone who has ever met State Senator Rusty Glover likes him. If he could meet every voter in the state, most would vote for him. However, that would be hard for him to do.

The race for Agriculture Commissioner will be a quiet contest. Veteran State Senator Gerald Dial, who has represented East Alabama well for four decades is the favorite. He is facing Lowndesboro Mayor and lifetime farmer, Rick Pate, who garnered the Farm Bureau endorsement. Tracey Crane is a former FBI agent from Jefferson County. He may benefit from being first on the ballot, which is an advantage in down ballot races where none of the candidates are known.

John Merrill will easily win reelection as Secretary of State. He is probably the best retail politician in the state and maybe the most popular.

Jim Ziegler is running for a second four-year term as State Auditor. He makes it interesting around the Capitol.

It will be a fun year.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reaches at www.steveflowers.us.

 

1 year ago

A quick look at all of the races in Alabama this election cycle

(W. Miller/YHN)

Well, folks, the 2018 political year has begun and all of the horses are in the chute. It is going to be a good year for horse races.

Perennially, the year of the governor’s race has been the best year for Alabama politics. Historically, most Alabamians have been more interested in who they elect as governor than who is president.

However, we have really been more interested in who is sheriff than president. If the old adage that “All politics is local” applies in Tip O’Neil’s Massachusetts, it applies doubly in the Heart of Dixie.

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Our forefathers, who wrote our now antiquated 1901 Constitution, must have perceived that our politics was localized because all of our races are on the ballot in gubernatorial years. This year we will not only elect a Governor, we will vote for a new Lt. Governor, new Attorney General, new Treasurer, new Agriculture Commissioner. Five seats on the State Supreme Court are on the ballot as well as three seats on the Court of Civil Appeals, and three places on the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Along with these State Court races, we have a good many of the Circuit Judges in the state running. All 68 Probate Judges are on the ballot. Lest some of you correct me that we only have 67 counties rather than 68, imperial Jefferson has two Probate Judges. That is not all folks, all 67 Sheriffs in the state are up for their four-year terms. Both political parties select their members to their local and state executive committees.  Part of the state school board runs this year.

Last, but certainly not least, all of our legislative seats are up for election. Our constitution anoints the Legislature with a good amount of power. Probably more than the Executive and Judicial branches of state government.

Our Constitution was written and dictated by powerful agricultural Black Belt farming and Birmingham industrial interests. They wanted the power vested in the Legislative Branch. They orchestrated malapportioned representative bodies, and gave inordinate power to the Black Belt region.

The Legislature controls the purse strings of the state. Thus, the adage that “those that have the gold set the rules.” The most powerful organization then and still now is the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA). They will disburse a token amount to the governor’s race, but they will concentrate their interest and resources on legislative races. Most of the other special interests and organizations will follow suit and do the same.

Therefore, you will see most of the special interest money focused on the 35 state senate seats and 105 House of Representative places up this year. Incumbents are usually hard to beat. Indeed, most of the most entrenched incumbent State Senators and Representatives are unopposed or have taken opposition.

There are 10 Senate Seats and 22 House seats where the incumbent is not running. These races will be interesting to watch and expensive and you will have one or two incumbents get benched. One that will probably go down is first term State Senator Larry Stutts in the Northwestern corner of the state.

Speaking of incumbents, very few sitting members of Congress ever lose.  No matter if they are Democratic or Republican. However, one of our seven congressional seats is seriously in play. Incumbent Republican Martha Roby will have her hands full holding on to her congressional seat for a fourth term. She has been considered very vulnerable since her race two-years ago. She is being challenged by four significant Republicans and two Democrats.

Bobby Bright, who held the seat for two-years as a Democrat, lost the seat to Roby in 2010 only because he insisted on running as a Democrat. He has seen the light and is running for his old seat as a Republican. He is a former mayor of Montgomery for 10-years along with his two years in Congress.  He is a stellar campaigner, who has roots in the Wiregrass.

Also in the race will be Rich Hobson, who will be the heir apparent to the Roy Moore organization. Enterprise/Coffee County State Representative Barry Moore will do well in his home Wiregrass area. Newcomer Tommy Amason will get some votes in the River Region. The race for the 2nd District should be interesting.

The other members of our Congressional delegation are Republicans Bradley Byrne, Mike Rogers, Robert Aderholt, Gary Palmer, and Mo Brooks, who all have free rides or token opposition.  Our only Democratic Congressperson is Terri Sewell, who has no opposition.

We will handicap the governor’s race next week.

@SteveFlowersAL is a syndicated political columnist in Alabama.