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.

24 hours ago

Flowers: Mike Hubbard conviction finally upheld

(Alabama News Network/Facebook, YHN)

Over the past four years during my travels and speaking events over the state, the most asked question posed to me has been, “Why in the world is Mike Hubbard not in jail?”

It was four years ago in June 2016 that the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, was convicted by a jury of his peers in Lee County of a dozen counts of violating the State Ethics Laws.

The most inquiring and astonished groups have been Republican laden clubs like Rotarians. They have been very indignant, vocally, about the imbalance of the criminal justice system towards white-collar political criminals, as opposed to those who are general thieves and assailants.

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These comments were generally laced with indignation and skepticism that Hubbard would never serve a day in jail.

Well, it looks like his day of reckoning may be coming near. He will eventually serve four years in an Alabama jail. Folks, that is not quite the ride that serving four years in a federal “country club” prison would be.

In April, the Alabama Supreme Court finally gave a clarified verdict on the 2016 Hubbard conviction. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld six of the 12 verdicts handed down in Lee County. It reversed five others and remanded the case back to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which had previously reversed one of the convictions.

Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote in the majority opinion, “We must interpret and apply the law. And, every person accused of breaking the law – even one who had a hand in creating that law – is entitled to the same rules of legal interpretation. When charged with a crime, public officials must be treated no better – and no worse – than other citizens in this State where all are guaranteed equal justice under the law.” Hubbard may find further routes of delay; however, he will go to jail.

This ends an era of corruption inherent during the Bob Riley era as governor. Hubbard and Riley were well known to be best friends. There were numerous taped conversations between Riley and Hubbard used by prosecutors during the trial. During that reign, it appeared that it was open season on lobbyists in pay to play scenarios. Part of the team was the BCA backroom power player, Bill Canary.

This Hubbard/Riley/Canary triumvirate is forever gone from Goat Hill. There is still a lingering perception that Bob Riley is still calling shots from the sidelines of today’s political campaigns and world. Folks, that is a misnomer. As a lobbyist, Riley is able to get some campaign money for certain candidates from his friends and benefactors, the Indian gambling interests. However, his influence in state politics is insignificant. He is not the power behind the throne that is sometimes perceived. There were whispers that he had influence and even control over the State Supreme Court. This Hubbard decision dispels that myth.

As unsavory as Bill Canary had become, the breath of fresh air brought to the Business Council of Alabama by Katie Britt is significant, to say the least, if not monumental. Katie Britt, the young, vibrant CEO of the Business Council exudes not only energy but vast integrity and openness. She is twice as smart as most people on the block and ten times more honest and upfront with folks. She projects an image that makes business folks in Alabama proud to be a part of government in our state.

Katie revealed brilliant leadership, recently, when she initiated and orchestrated a BCA telethon on Alabama Public Television. They had volunteer lawyers, accountants and other experts on the phone answering questions about how to apply for federal programs in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The governor, lt. governor and Attorney General appeared as guests on the show with Katie. Also appearing was the legendary leader of the National Federation of Small Businesses in the state, Rosemary Elebash, who has been a brilliant, hard-working leader for Alabama’s small business owners for decades.

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 week ago

Speaker Sam Rayburn and Congressman Bob Jones

(Wikicommons, Encyclopedia of Alabama/U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Life Cycle Management Command/Redstone Arsenal, YHN)

The legendary Speaker of the U.S. House Sam Rayburn coined a famous phrase he used often and imparted to young congressmen when they would arrive on Capitol Hill full of vim and vigor. He would sit down with them and invite them to have a bourbon and branch water with him. The old gentleman, who had spent nearly half a century in Congress, after hearing their ambitions of how they were going to change the world, would look them in the eye and say, “You know here in Congress there are 435 prima donnas and they all can’t be lead horses.” Then, the speaker in his Texas drawl would say, “If you want to get along, you have to go along.”

Mr. Sam Rayburn ruled as speaker during the Franklin Delano Roosevelt post-Depression and World War II era. The Democrats dominated Congress. Mr. Sam could count on the big city congressmen from Tammany Hall in New York and the Chicago machine politicians following the Democratic leadership because they had gotten there by going along with the Democratic bosses who controlled the wards that made up their urban districts. But the country was still rural at that time and Mr. Sam would have to invite a backsliding rural member to his Board of Education meeting in a private den in the basement of the Capitol and occasionally explain his adage again to them – in order to get along, you have to go along.

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One of Mr. Sam Rayburn’s young pupils was a freshly minted congressman from Alabama’s Tennessee Valley. Bob Jones from Scottsboro was elected to Congress in 1946 when John Sparkman ascended to the U.S. Senate.

Speaker Rayburn saw a lot of promise in freshman congressman Bob Jones. The ole Texan invited Jones to visit his Board of Education meeting early in his first year. He calmly advised Jones to sit on the right side of the House chamber in what Mr. Sam called his pews. He admonished the young congressman to sit quietly for at least four years and not say a word or make a speech and to always vote with the Speaker. In other words, if you go along you will get along.

Bob Jones followed the sage advice of Speaker Rayburn and he got along very well. Congressman Bob Jones served close to 30 years in the Congress from Scottsboro and the Tennessee Valley. He and John Sparkman were instrumental in transforming the Tennessee Valley into Alabama’s most dynamic, progressive and prosperous region of the state. They spearheaded the location and development of Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. Bob Jones was one of Alabama’s greatest congressmen.

At the time of Bob Jones’ arrival in Congress in 1946, we had nine congressional seats. By the time he left in the 1960s, we had dropped to eight. We now have seven. Folks, I hate to inform you of this, but population growth estimates reveal that we are going to lose a seat after this year’s count.

Our current seven-person delegation consists of six Republicans and one Democrat. This sole Democratic seat is reserved for an African-American. The Justice Department and Courts will not allow you to abolish that seat. Reapportionment will dictate that you begin with that premise.

The growth and geographic location of the Mobile/Baldwin district cannot be altered, nor can the urban Tennessee Valley 5th District, nor the Jefferson/Shelby 6th District. They are unalterable and will reveal growth in population. Our senior and most powerful Congressman Robert Aderholt’s 4th District has normal growth and you do not want to disrupt his tenure path.

The old Bob Jones-Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area is where the real growth in the state is happening. The census numbers will reveal that this area of the state is booming economically and population-wise. Therefore, you may see two seats spawned from this Huntsville-Madison, Limestone-Decatur-Morgan and Florence-Muscle Shoals-Tuscumbia area. The loser in the new reapportionment plan after the census will probably be the current 2nd District.

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 month ago

Flowers: Alabama leaders under 45 who affect the political arena

(BCA/Contributed, Wes Britt/Facebook, UA/Contributed, Alabama Power/Contributed, PowerSouth/Contributed, Liz Dowe Fillmore/Twitter, William Fillmore/Facebook, Leah Garner/Twitter, Gina Maiola/Twitter, Sean Ross/Facebook, Jeff Poor/Twitter, Jack Royer/Twitter, YHN)

Last week, I discussed Alabama’s outstanding leaders in the political arena. This week, allow me to share with you some of the state’s leaders under 45 who are shaping and molding our state from outside the actual pit of the political arena.

The most prominent political power in the under 45 category, who is not in an elected position, is Katie Boyd Britt, who heads the Business Council of Alabama. Katie was born to be an Alabama leader 37 years ago in Enterprise. She was a high school leader and was governor of Girls State. Then she went on to the University of Alabama and excelled academically and was president of the Student Government Association. After college at Alabama, she continued on and graduated from law school at the university.

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She practiced law a couple of years, then went to work for our senior senator, Richard Shelby. She was his chief of staff before becoming chairman of the Business Council of Alabama. Katie is married to a popular young leader in the state, Wesley Britt, who played football at Alabama and went on to play pro-ball for the New England Patriots. They have two beautiful children.

Katie has a younger sorority sister, who is also a Wiregrass girl – Mary Margaret Carroll from Ozark. She was also an SGA president at the University of Alabama and is one of Alabama’s brightest young lobbyists.

Clay Ryan heads governmental affairs for the University of Alabama System. He is smart and savvy. He worked on Supreme Court races when Karl Rove was brought in by the business community during the Tort Reform wars. He was directing governmental affairs for a prominent Birmingham law firm when he moved to the University of Alabama System. The 42-year-old leads the governmental directions of the state’s largest employer.

Alabama Power will remain the most powerful governmental entity in the state for the next generation with the likes of Houston Smith (40) and R.B. Walker (33) who are prolific governmental affairs specialists.

Houston is the son of a prominent power company couple. Both his mother and dad were top officers in the company. Houston is steeped in knowledge of utilities and Alabama government. R.B. grew up in Montgomery and was president of the Student Government Association at the University of Alabama. He understands politics.

Speaking of utility companies, Power South has a superstar lobbyist arising in 35-year-old Montgomery native Taylor Williams.

Governor Kay Ivey has some young superstars on her staff. She has a husband and wife team that are outstanding in Bill and Liz Filmore. Liz has been with Kay Ivey going back to her campaign for lieutenant governor. She commands the governor’s respect because of her unwavering loyalty and keen political senses.

Her husband, Bill Filmore, is the governor’s legislative director. He has the respect of both parties and leaders of both chambers. He is very knowledgeable and a straight shooter. Bill comes from a political family. His daddy is a Wiregrass judge and Bill was SGA president at Troy University.

Leah Garner, who is the governor’s communications director is very bright and sees the big picture of Alabama politics. Gina Maiola does an outstanding job as the governor’s press secretary. She is an extremely talented wordsmith. She shoots straight with the press and they appreciate her honesty and accessibility.

Speaking of the media, you have some outstanding under 45 superstars covering the political world in Alabama. Sean Ross (26) joined Yellowhammer News in 2018 and quickly became editor. He is doing a super job of putting this online media news network on top. He understands Alabama politics amazingly for his age. He is a graduate of the University of Alabama and was involved in student politics.

Jeff Poor has taken over talk radio in Huntsville. He is very knowledgeable and conservative in an erudite way. Talk radio is very popular in that part of the state. He brings a less strident and quality voice to that medium, especially in that market.

Young Jack Royer, at the ripe age of 24, has become the television anchor rock star in the state. He anchors the CBS 42 nightly news with Sherri Jackson. The Birmingham media market dominates the state. Jack who only graduated from the University of Alabama two years ago, was born to be a television reporter and anchor. His dad, Mike Royer, was a renowned and very highly respected TV anchor in Birmingham for decades.

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 month ago

Flowers: Alabama has some outstanding political leaders under 45

(B. Poole, W. Ainsworth, C. Scofield, C. Elliott/Contributed, Andrew Jones, Garlan Gudger Jr., Alabama Democratic Party, Anthony Daniels, Kyle South For Alabama State House District 16, Elect Judge Wes Allen to the AL House of Representatives, Mayor Steven Reed, Mayor Randall Woodfin/Facebook, YHN)

Many of you have lamented to me that it appears that all or most of our state political leaders are older folks. On first glance, that appears to be true. However, on a deeper observation, we have some extremely talented younger stars on the horizon. In fact, they are already in the ring and making a difference.

There are a few names that are worth watching. Allow me to share with you a select group of Alabama’s under 45 outstanding leaders. There are two superstars already on the scene and leading the state: State Representative Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa and Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth.

Rep. Bill Poole is a true leader, not a politician. He quietly and effectively gets things done. In close to six decades of observing the legislature, I have never seen anyone rise to the level of diplomacy and effectiveness as Poole while at the same time be universally liked and respected by the entire legislature on both sides of the aisle. He has been in the legislature for only 10 years. However, after only four years he was made chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee. This is one of, if not the most powerful positions in the legislature.

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Poole may make a statewide move in 2022. However, from a power standpoint, there are very few statewide positions that would equal being chairman of the Ways and Means Education Budget Committee. Governor or U.S. Senator are the only two that would be comparable.

Speaking of governor, our young 39-year-old Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth has an unabashed eye on the governor’s office in 2022. If Kay Ivey does not run for a second term as most experts think will be the case, Ainsworth will be the frontrunner. He has set his sights on the brass ring and will be tough to beat. He has a very attractive young family and is a very good campaigner. He is very conservative and hails from vote-rich North Alabama.

Another fellow that is Ainsworth’s neighbor from Sand Mountain, State Senator Clay Scofield, is the brightest young star under 45 in the Alabama State Senate. Scofield is a folksy farmer, who you cannot help but like. He comes from a long line of prominent farmers. He is in his third term and is only 39 years old and is already in a leadership position in the Senate.

Another senator to watch is 40-year-old freshman Chris Elliott from Baldwin County. He has previously served on the Baldwin County Commission and knows how to get things done. He is going to be an effective voice for the Gulf Coast region of the state.

Young 36-year-old Senator Andrew Jones is going to be a strong advocate for his Cherokee/Etowah County constituents. He works hard at home staying in touch with folks in his district.

The name that appears on most lists as the freshman Senator to watch is Cullman County’s Garlan Gudger. He is very sincere and exudes integrity. He is a businessman, non-lawyer which is more of the profile in the Republican laden State Senate.

The House of Representatives has at least four young under 45 superstars. State Representative, Chris England, 43, is atop the list. He is the son of prominent Tuscaloosa Judge John England. Chris, like his dad, is a lawyer by profession. He is in his third term in the House and is also chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

Representative Anthony Daniels of Huntsville is a superstar. He is serving his second term from the Rocket City and it is apropos that he is a high-tech businessman. This 36-year-old gentleman is handsome, articulate and chairs the Democratic Caucus in the House.

Representative Kyle South, who represents Fayette and Tuscaloosa Counties, is on a fast track in the House and understands politics.

Representative Wes Allen of Troy has a bright future. He is 44 and has already served 10 years as Probate Judge of Pike County.

You may have noticed that I have listed nine legislators, four from the Senate and five from the House. Three of the nine are from the Tuscaloosa metro area – Bill Poole, Chris England and Kyle South – not a bad sign for the Druid City.

Newly-elected Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed makes the list of the brightest young leaders in the state at 45. The mayor of Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, Randall Woodfin, is only 38. Therefore, the mayors of two of Alabama’s largest cities are 45 and under.

This concludes the 45 and under superstars that are actually in the political arena. Stay tuned next week, we will give you a list of those that affect the arena.

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: Some 2020 observations

(Hal Yeager/Governor's Office, Will Ainsworth/YouTube, Pixabay, YHN)

Allow me to share some observations from the year thus far. First of all, I have never seen anything like the coronavirus shutdown of the country. Hopefully, it is a once in a lifetime disaster.

Governor Kay Ivey remains popular. Even though some people consider the defeat of Amendment One a personal rejection, it was not. Alabamians just like to vote to elect their political and, in this case, educational leaders.

As you recall, Amendment One was asking Alabamians to give up their right to vote on the state school board and to allow the governor to appoint them instead. When I was queried on whether Amendment One would pass, I quickly told them it would lose 60 to 40. I was wrong, it took more of a shellacking than that. It lost 75 to 25. Folks, that sends a message. You may not know who serves on the state school board, but Alabamians surely want to vote for them.

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Governor Ivey’s people do a good job of looking after her and protecting her time. She is all business and is very scheduled. She and her staff treat the office with a dignity I have not seen in decades. She is focused on the job at hand and an audience with her must be for a purpose, even with legislators. Her staff gets her in-and-out and protects her time and health. She has been especially isolated since the coronavirus epidemic. She will more than likely not run for a second term in 2022.

Waiting in the wings to run is Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth. He just turned 39 and will be in the race for the brass ring in 2022. If being an outstanding family man is a prerequisite, he will be a contender. He has a genuinely sweet and pretty wife named Kendall. They have fraternal twin boys, Hunter and Hays, who are 10 and a little 8-year-old girl named Addie. I met the boys the night of the State of the State Address. Will brought them over to where I was standing and wanted us to meet. The little boys were the most polished 10-year-olds I have ever met. They very politely, yet confidently looked me in the eye and shook my hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you Mr. Flowers.” They exuded manners.

Kay Ivey only attends the most important events and she does not lollygag around conversing afterward. Therefore, it was apparent when she came to Birmingham earlier this year to the grand opening of Dr. Swaid Swaid’s, state-of-the-art medical facility, that Swaid was special.

Dr. Swaid has been a friend and supporter of almost every governor, going back to George Wallace. Governor Wallace came to UAB to see Swaid and would not only want the famed physician to treat him for his numerous afflictions and ailments, but also enjoyed visiting with the jovial Galilean doctor. Swaid has many great stories from his and the governor’s visits and friendship.

Swaid’s best friend is State Senator Jabo Waggoner. They are really like brothers rather than just best friends. Jabo is the longest-serving member in the history of the state legislature. He chairs the State Senate Rules Committee.

Jabo and Swaid and their families spend almost every weekend together, either at their homes in Vestavia or Smith Lake. However, they make it to their church, Homewood Church of Christ, almost every Sunday. Jabo and his beautiful wife, Marilyn, have attended the church for 45 years. Swaid has attended for 40 years. Jabo and Swaid are leaders in this megachurch.

Recently, Jabo and Marilyn and Swaid and his lovely wife, Christy, invited me to join them for their church service and lunch afterward. It was an enjoyable visit. The most rewarding part was meeting Swaid and Christy’s two sons, Christian and Cason. They are absolutely the politest and quality young men I have met. They are being raised right by an obviously good Christian father and mother.

Swaid built his state-of-the-art surgery hospital on well-traveled, easily accessible Highway 31 in Vestavia. He chose the location because he knew from his work over the years, that people from all over the state, especially rural areas, come to Birmingham for major surgery. Most of these patients are older and not familiar with Birmingham traffic, especially with maneuvering the labyrinth around UAB. It will make it much easier to see the world-renowned doctors in Swaid’s group.

If Swaid’s boys are an example of the next generation, our state may be in better hands than we think.

Steve 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.

3 months ago

Flowers: Chancellor Finis St. John and the University of Alabama System

(UAH/Contributed, YHN)

Our 1901 Alabama Constitution has been rightfully criticized as being archaic. However, it was simply a reflection of the times. The authors and crafters of our document were well-educated gentry. Therefore, they appreciated and realized the importance of having a prized capstone university.

The University of Alabama was founded in 1831 and had become one of the premier southern universities by the time of the Civil War. It was not by coincidence that one of the primary missions of the northern Union invasion of the South was to burn and raze the University of Alabama campus. They knew the importance of a state having an exemplary institution of higher learning.

Therefore, when the authors of our Constitution crafted their document, they chose to place the University of Alabama above politics and keep the institution in the auspices of high-minded individuals who would be above reproach and petty politics.

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The Constitution created a self-appointing, perpetual board of trustees to guide and govern the university. This concept has played out magnificently throughout the years. The board of trustees has been made up of men and women over the past two centuries who have been leaders of our state. These board members have not only been the most distinguished, erudite people in Alabama, but also those known for their integrity and humility.

Thus it was a unique and yet brilliant decision to choose someone from the board of trustees to head the University of Alabama System. In July 2018, Finis E. St. John IV, who had served 17 years on the University System Board was named chancellor.

He became the chief executive officer of what would be comparable to a Fortune 500 company. The University of Alabama System is not only Alabama’s largest higher education enterprise, it is Alabama’s largest employer with over 45,000 employees and an economic impact of over $10 billion per year.

The Alabama System is comprised of three dynamic institutions: The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama at Huntsville and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which comprises our world-renowned UAB Health System. UAB alone is by far Jefferson County’s largest employer and economic engine, it is indeed the State of Alabama’s number one employer and economic ingredient.

It would have been an easy choice for the board to choose to bring in an academician from an Ivy League school to head this prestigious institution. The choice of Finis St. John reflects the collective wisdom of this austere body. Why not select someone who has been an integral part of the governing and spearheading of the unparalleled growth of our state’s crown jewel and most significant financial and educational and research institution.

Finis St. John IV, better known by colleagues and older acquaintances as Fess, is widely respected. He knows Alabama, its history, and its attributes. His family settled in Alabama in 1838 and have been leaders in our state throughout the state’s history.

Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John was the most outstanding leader on campus during his four years at the University of Alabama in the 1970s. He graduated magna cum laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and ODK and graduated with honors.

After his undergraduate process at the Capstone, he was accepted and proceeded to the prestigious University of Virginia School of Law. He graduated at the top of his law school class in 1982 and clerked for a federal judge for a while before coming home to Cullman to join his family law firm.

The St. John law firm in Cullman, that Fess joined 36 years ago, is one of Alabama’s oldest law firms. The St. John family has a long and distinguished history of service. His father, grandfather and great grandfather served in the Alabama legislature. His mother was the first female attorney in Cullman and his great great grandfather, who arrived in Cullman in 1838 and was soon elected to the Alabama General Assembly, was instrumental in creating our state’s public education system.

Chancellor St. John understands and knows the history and potential of our state in a very unique way. This, coupled with his brilliant intellect, makes him ideal. If anyone was ever born to lead the current University of Alabama System, it is Finis “Fess” St. John, IV.

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 months ago

Flowers: Legislative session begins – Priority will be resolving prison problems

(Gov. Bentley/Flickr, Wikicommons, YHN)

The 2020 legislative session, which began last week, will be the second session of Governor Kay Ivey’s administration. For the second straight year, she and the legislature will be facing a major obstacle.

The prison problem is the paramount issue for the year. The state must address and resolve this dilemma or the federal authorities will take over our prisons.

The U.S. Justice Department has decreed that the constitutional rights of inmates are being violated because they are in overcrowded conditions which can lead to extreme violence. The federal justice officials say overcrowding and excess violence is caused by a shortage of staff and beds for inmates.

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Our men’s prisons are at 170 percent of the system’s capacity. In the past few weeks it has gone from bad to worse with a forced transfer of more than 600 inmates from Holman Prison. Our Holman correctional facility is generally where our most hardened criminals are housed.

Gov. Ivey and this legislature did not cause this problem. It has been building up and festering for years. The chickens have just come home to roost under her watch but she is attempting to handle the problem adroitly.

The Governor and her administration have worked openly and pragmatically with the Justice Department in clearly defined negotiations. It might be added that the Justice Department has worked congruently and candidly with the Ivey administration and given them clear guidelines in order to avoid federal intervention.

Gov. Ivey and the Justice Department are taking a harmonious approach, which is a far cry from the Gov. George Wallace versus Judge Frank Johnson demagogic rhubarb of past years. In that case, the state lost and we lost in a big way. When the federal courts take over a state’s prison system, they dictate and enforce their edicts and simply give the state the bill. It is a pretty large, unpredictable price tag. The feds always win.

Gov. Ivey will take information from a study group she appointed, led by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Champ Lyons as well as negotiate with the Justice Department and offer proposals they need from the legislature along with administrative decisions to remedy the prison problem.

Leading the legislative efforts will be State Senator Cam Ward who has been the lead dog in the prison reform efforts. The problem hopefully will be resolved during this session.

Gov. Ivey will not use the approach she did last year with rebuild Alabama when she adjourned the regular session and placed the legislature in special session to address the issue on a solo stand-alone platform. It will be tackled within the confines of the regular session. If the solution is to build three new, modern men’s prisons the state will be faced with some heavy lifting because the big question becomes, how do we pay for them?

The answer may be in a lottery. For the umpteenth year, a proposal to let Alabamians vote to keep the money from lottery tickets in our state coffers. We are one of only four states in America who derive no money from lottery proceeds. We are surrounded on all four sides of our state by sister southern states that reap the benefits of our citizens’ purchase of lottery tickets. This could be the year that the legislature votes to allow their constituents the right to vote yes or no to keep our own money.

You can bet your bottom dollar that if it gets on the ballot, it will pass. Alabamians, both Democratic and Republican, will vote for passage. Even if they do not have any interest in purchasing a lottery ticket. They are tired of seeing their money go to Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi or Florida. Those that like to buy them are tired of driving to our neighboring states to give them money for their school children and roads.

It also may have a better chance of getting to the voters this year because the sponsor, Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) is a respected veteran and chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee. His proposal is also a very simple paper lottery.

However, for the first time, Gov. Ivey addressed the issue in her State of the State Address. She is calling for a study commission on the subject which could further delay our having a lottery.

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 months ago

Legislative session begins this week; Legislator abolishes his own county

(Steve Flowers/Twitter)

The 2020 legislative session begins this week. It will be an interesting three and a half months. There are a myriad of important issues that legislators have to address this year, as always. However, standing in the way of substantive state issues each year is the necessity to address local bills.

Our 1901 constitution is archaic in many aspects. One of which is that those men who drafted the act were reluctant to give home rule to local counties for various reasons. Therefore, county governments and county commissions must come with hat in hand to their legislator to even take care of mundane matters.

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Many of you have asked with dismay, after journeying to the legislature for a view of the House and Senate in action, what is happening? They are astounded and oftentimes outraged at the scene on the floor. It appears that one legislator is at the microphone and nobody is paying attention to him. The other 100 legislators are milling around visiting with each other laughing, eating, talking on cell phones, doing everything under the sun but paying attention to the pertinent issue being introduced. In the other chamber, they may see or hear a clerk reading a bill aloud and no senator is even present on the floor. This display of disorganization, disarray and lack of decorum is difficult to explain to school children who come to the Capitol for the day.

The reason is that the issue up front for debate and passage is whether Fayette County can buy a tractor or Walker County wants to change the number of seats on a local water board. The bill does not affect but one county and the local legislative delegation is the only one that needs to vote on it.

This brings me to a pertinent point – the legislature is not a good steppingstone to higher elective office. First, legislators get no statewide name identification. Second, legislators have a very extensive record of casting hundreds of votes. These votes can be scrutinized and distorted.

If a legislator takes the position that they choose to abstain from voting on the other counties’ local bills, then they are recorded as not voting on over 100 votes in a session. An opponent can run an ad accusing them of going to Montgomery and not even showing up to vote. On the other hand, a good number of these local bills are not as benign as just buying a tractor. A county commission may be asking for local legislation to raise the local fuel tax to buy a fleet of tractors. Therefore, if you vote a complimentary yes as a courtesy to your legislative colleague, you are recorded as voting for millions of dollars in taxes. Then you have to run on that record.

There has been a lot of trickery over the years with local legislation. Therefore, legislators need to be aware of what may be hidden in these innocuous local acts their fellow legislators ask then to vote for. A legendary, masterful act of deceit played on a legislator by a fellow legislator still reverberates almost 60 years later. It occurred during the second Big Jim Folsom administration during the late 1950s. Legislators Emmett Oden of Franklin County and Jack Huddleston of Colbert County despised each other. These two counties adjoin each other in Northwest Alabama. These two men were constantly at odds.

Oden introduced a local bill for Franklin County that repealed another local bill passed in December of 1869. His brief explanation to the House of Representatives when the measure came up for a vote was that it was simply a housekeeping bill, “It corrects an error when the original bill was passed.”

Through the custom of local courtesy, the local bill passed unanimously. Even Representative Jack Huddleston voted for the bill. After passage of the measure, Representative Oden told the press what his local bill actually did.

The 1869 law, which he was repealing, was the law that had created Colbert County out of Franklin County. Representative Huddleston had just voted to abolish his own county. That one vote ended Huddleston’s political career. His constituents in Colbert County could not forgive that he had voted to abolish his own county.

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 months ago

Flowers: Great three-man race to replace Byrne; Senate race in full gear

(Jerry Carl for Congress, Pringle for Congress, Bill Hightower for Alabama/Facebook, YHN)

The first district Congressional race is probably the best race in the state in this year’s March 3 primary. The winner of the March 31 GOP primary runoff will go to Congress. The famous first district is a Republican congressional seat and has been since Jack Edwards won the seat in the Southern Goldwater landslide in 1964.

The bulk of the district population is in the two-county gulf coast counties of Baldwin and Mobile. It being the only gulf coast district in the state, they do have some local issues like red snapper fishing, and their infamous Bay 10 bridge and Bayway project. However, for the most part, the candidates are focusing on national issues like international affairs, gun control, health care, the environment, immigration and abortion. As is apropos for Republican Congressional candidates, they are all trying to tie themselves to Donald Trump.

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There are three clear frontrunners, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl, State Representative Chris Pringle and former State Senator Bill Hightower, all from Mobile. Commissioner Carl has been a Mobile County Commissioner since 2012. Pringle is a state legislator from Mobile. Bill Hightower served one term in the Alabama State Senate, then made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018. The three seem to be knotted in a close three-man race. It will be interesting to see which of the three make the two-man March 31 primary.

The seat is open because Bradley Bryne is running for the U.S. Senate. Byrne had to choose to either continue in his seat or go for the brass ring. Bryne is a very viable candidate in the Senate race. However former Senator Jeff Sessions is favored to lead the March 3 Primary and runoff, and then take back his U.S. Senate seat in the November general election.

Sessions will settle in for a six-year term. Probably his final. He is 73 years old and will be 74 when he takes office next January. Therefore, he will be a 74-year-old freshman senator. That is not the optimum age to become a U.S. Senator again.

Seniority is everything in Washington. Seniority still prevails dominantly. It is absolutely king. Sessions does not portray the national image and stature that our Senior Senator Richard Shelby enjoys, much less the power, prestige and ability to bring home the bacon to the Heart of Dixie. Indeed, during their 20 years of service together as our tandem in the Senate, Shelby has overshadowed Sessions not only in seniority but in power and accomplishments.

Actually, Sessions does not mind playing second fiddle to Shelby. He prefers it. During his 20 years in the Senate, he enjoyed playing the role of being the ultimate conservative ideologue. He was and will once again become one of the most conservative members of the Senate and will spend his time on social issues like immigration, abortion or other rightwing noneconomic issues. Sessions will be the darling of Fox News and will ask for his seat back on the Judiciary Committee, which does absolutely nothing for Alabama. Sessions does not really want to be effective. He is the ultimate ideologue.

Even though Sessions will be 74 in January of 2021, his chief rivals for the GOP nomination, Tommy Tuberville and Bradley Byrne will be 66 and 65, respectively – not exactly spring chickens. Those are not the perfect ages to enter the U.S. Senate. By the same token, if by some remarkable miracle upset Doug Jones wins this year’s race, he would not be the perfect effective senator for Alabama as a 65-year-old Democrat.

Thank goodness for the Heart of Dixie we have Richard Shelby as our senior U.S. Senator. When you have the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, you really do not need a second senator. Seniority is everything in Washington.

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 months ago

Steve Flowers: Methodists have dominated high offices in Alabama history

(YHN)

Even though there are more Baptists than Methodists in Alabama, historically Methodists have held more of the prominent political posts in the Heart of Dixie. If you look closely at these leaders’ lives, a good many of our leaders have been sons of Methodist ministers.

The most famous Methodist minister in the state over the past 50 years has been the Rev. John Ed Mathison of Montgomery. He has been the confidant and counselor to a great many of Alabama’s leaders, as well as being the greatest inspirational and dynamic speaker of our time. John Ed founded and pastored the Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery. He shepherded his flock in the capital for 36 years.

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His younger brother is a remarkable man, very similar to John Ed. The Rev. George Mathison served numerous churches in Alabama. However, he is best known for being the minister of the First Methodist Church of Auburn, where he was their beloved pastor for 26 years. His flock referred to him as Brother George.

John Ed and George were born to be Methodist ministers. Their father was a renowned Methodist minister. They were both athletes in college. John Ed and George are both outstanding tennis players.

The First Methodist Church of Dothan is where many of the leaders of the Wiregrass have attended over the years. Dr. Mike Watson has been a leader in the Methodist Church throughout his illustrious career. He recently retired as a Bishop of the Methodist Church. He and his wife, Margaret, grew up in the First Methodist Church of Dothan. Two Alabama Attorney Generals, Bill Baxley and Richmond Flowers, came from First Methodist in Dothan. Congressional candidate and businessman Jeff Coleman is also an active member of this church.

Our legendary United States Senator and Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Howell Heflin was the son of a Methodist minister. Heflin was a master storyteller and having grown up in the Methodist Church was an active layman in the church. He loved to eat. He would say, “The sacred bird of the Methodist was fried chicken.” The Methodist practice of moving their preachers around caused Heflin to be born out of Alabama. Heflin would say, “My father was over in Georgia doing missionary work among the heathen.”

Alabama’s most prominent and prolific political icon, George Wallace, was a Methodist. Our legendary United States Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman were both Methodists.

State Rep. Steve Clouse has been a member of First Methodist in Ozark his entire life. State Rep. Bill Poole and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox are members of the First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is a Methodist and his grandfather was a Methodist minister.

Former Senator Jeff Sessions is a lifelong, devout Methodist. He even went to the Montgomery Methodist founded college, Huntington. BCA President Katie Britt and her husband Wesley attend the First Methodist Church of Montgomery. Current Chief Justice Tom Parker and his wife Dottie attend Frazer United Methodist of Montgomery, the church made famous by John Ed Mathison.

Congressman Robert Aderholt and his wife, Caroline, met at the Methodist college of Birmingham-Southern College and were married in the Methodist church, but are now Anglicans.

The Baptists have been taking their rightful place at the head of the table in recent years. Our Governor Kay Ivey is a Baptist. She attends First Baptist Church of Montgomery. The legendary pastor there, Jay Wolfe, has been the confidant and pastor to a good many of our recent state leaders. PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and her husband, Jeff, are also active members of First Baptist Church of Montgomery. Twinkle teaches Sunday School and Jeff is a deacon.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is a Baptist and has been a youth leader in his church. Secretary of State John Merrill is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. State Senator Greg Reed of Jasper is a Baptist. Greg has been a lifelong member of First Baptist Jasper. Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell is a deacon of his church, Hillcrest Baptist of Maplesville, where his family has attended for generations.

We have a couple of state leaders who are Presbyterians. The two most prominent are our Senior United States Senator, Richard Shelby and state Treasurer John McMillan.

We have two token Episcopalians, Mobile/Baldwin Congressman Bradley Bryne and the congressman who preceded him, Jo Bonner, who is currently Governor Ivey’s Chief of Staff.

In bygone days if you wanted to be elected to anything in North Alabama, you had to be a member of the Church of Christ. Not so much today. The only member of that church today, who is a prominent state political leader, is State Senator Jabo Waggoner, Jr., who represents an over the mountain, Birmingham silk-stocking district.

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.

5 months ago

Steve Flowers: Remembering some Alabama legends we lost in 2019

(Wikicommons, Auburn University College of Agriculture/Contributed, Alyce Spurell/Twitter, Alabama House Republican Caucus/Facebook, Dimitri Polizos/Contributed, Mayor Randall Woodfin/Facebook, WVUA 23/Facebook, WKRG/Twitter, YHN)

As is my tradition, as the old year comes to a close, I like to pay homage to legendary Alabama leaders who have passed away. We lost some legends in 2019.

Although he was a nonpolitical leader, Bart Starr passed away this year at 85. Starr was best known for being the quarterback of the great Green Bay Packers teams that won the NFL Championship perennially. Starr was the leader of Coach Vince Lombardi’s dynasty teams.

Starr died during Memorial Day weekend in Birmingham. He left an indelible legacy that was vast and greater than just being a pro-quarterback. Starr was a Packer and Alabama Football legend. However, Starr’s grace, humility and love for his wife Cherry is what made him a great man. Starr grew up in Montgomery. He was a successful businessman after his NFL career.

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Legendary State Representative Pete Turnham of Auburn died in his beloved city in September. He was three months away from being 100. He served 40 years in the Alabama House of Representatives and during that tenure he made sure that Auburn University was taken care of in the state budget. Mr. Pete was one of my best friends. We sat together in the House for 16 years.

A lion and giant of the Alabama House of Representatives, Rick Manley, passed away in January at 86. Rick served the people of Demopolis and West Alabama in the Legislature more than 25 years. He was one of the most astute parliamentarians to ever serve in the legislature. Rick Manley served as chairman of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. He was also an outstanding attorney and served in a leadership role within the Alabama Law Institute. Manley served a term as Speaker Pro Tem of the Alabama House.

Representative Jimmy Martin of Clanton died in May of cancer on the last day of the 2019 Regular Legislative Session. He was 80. He knew almost everyone in Chilton County. He and his brother ran their family funeral home.

State Representative Dimitri Polizos of Montgomery passed away in March at 68. He was a longtime Montgomery restaurant owner. He was very well liked and respected in the Capitol City. Dimitri was typical of many of today’s Republican legislators. He was a small business owner and a conservative. Dimitri was not only a successful restaurateur, he also was very active in and an integral part of the Greek community and the Greek Orthodox Church. Polizos served six years in the Legislature; prior to that he served six years on the Montgomery County Commission.

Chris McNair passed away in May at 93 in Birmingham. Mr. McNair was a former Jefferson County Commissioner. Chris McNair was a first-class gentleman. We served together in the legislature. We became good friends. He loved photography. He was always taking pictures, in fact it was his business/profession. His daughter Denise was one of the four little girls who were killed by a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham in the 1960s. The girls were attending Sunday school. Chris served 15 years on the Jefferson County Commission. He loved his family and his community.

Legendary former Tuscaloosa mayor, Al Dupont, passed away in July at age 94. He served as mayor of the Druid City for 25 years, retiring in 2005. He was colorful and beloved by many. He was a decorated veteran of World War II and won two Purple Hearts. He was among the first wave of troops who stormed Normandy on D-Day. He epitomized the greatest generation.

Former 1st District Congressman, Jack Edwards, passed away in September at 91. Edwards was one of the first Republican congressmen elected from Alabama in 1964 since Reconstruction. Congressman Edwards served his Mobile/Baldwin County District for exactly 20 years from 1965-1985. Edwards was a stalwart advocate for a strong military. He was a ranking member of the Defense Appropriations Committee.

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.

5 months ago

Pete Turnham epitomized the Greatest Generation

(Auburn University College of Agriculture/Contributed)

Famous former television news anchor, Tom Brokaw, wrote an iconic book entitled “The Greatest Generation.” The 1998 book chronicles the unique character of a generation of Americans. Brokaw attempted to capture the unselfish contribution of our World War II Americans who built our marvelous country.

As Brokaw says, “They will have their place in the ledgers of history, but no block of marble or elaborate edifice can equal their lives of sacrifice and achievement, duty and honor as monuments to their time.”

Pete Turnham of Auburn passed away on September 30, 2019. Mr. Pete epitomized the best of the Greatest Generation. He was three months shy of 100 when he transitioned to be with his maker and his beloved wife, Kay, who preceded him in death in 2016. While on Earth, he lived every day to the fullest. He truly made a difference during the century he was here.

Mr. Pete represented Auburn and Lee County in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1958 to 1998. This is the longest tenure in state history. Due to his longevity and tenure in the legislature, Mr. Pete became known as the “Dean of the House.”

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Like many of the Greatest Generation, Pete served in World War II. Pete shipped off to Europe during the war earning distinction in battle as a Bronze Star Medal and Valor award winner under the command of the famed General George Patton in the Third Army. His assignment at the end of the war was as a company commander of troops guarding the priceless art stolen and stored by the Nazis at Neuschwanstein Castle. This story was the subject of a famous movie entitled, “The Monuments Men.” You might say that George Clooney played the part of Pete.

Pete came home, raised his family and built a legacy in his beloved Auburn. Like many ambitious men of the Greatest Generation, Pete became successful in business. However, Mr. Pete is best known for his 40 years of service in the Alabama legislature. Most of that time he was on the Ways and Means Committee, which appropriates the state education dollars. He made sure that Auburn University got their fair share of these dollars. He retired as the dean of the House in 1998.

It was one of the greatest privileges and experiences of my life to sit beside Mr. Pete in the legislature for 16 years. We became best friends for life. When I arrived as a freshman, 30-year-old legislator in 1982, Pete had already been a representative for 24 years. He had known me as a youngster when I spent my summers paging in the House. When I arrived, Pete took me under his wing and told me I was going to sit by him. Therefore, I immediately left the other freshmen on the back row and went to a prime seat near the front of the chamber next to the Dean of the House.

You get to know someone well over 16 years. Pete Turnham was the consummate gentleman. I never heard him say a harsh word about anyone or use any profanity.

He loved his wife, Kay, his children, his Baptist Church in Auburn and Auburn University. He also loved his vegetable garden. True to his agricultural roots, he grew his own produce in his six acres behind his house. Pete’s favorite place was in his vegetable garden where for 65 years he personally attended the planting and harvesting. He had quite a green thumb. His garden was famous and he shared the bounty with friends and neighbors.

Like many great men of that generation, he genuinely loved and cared about people and helping his fellow man. He helped and cared for his folks in Lee County on a daily basis, especially assisting students at Auburn University.

I closely watched Pete helping aspiring students and his constituents. He helped a lot of folks in Lee County and he did it without fanfare, whether it was giving someone down on their luck vegetables from his garden or getting their road fixed. Everything he did was with humility, helpfulness, peace-making efforts and a positive attitude. Pete Turnham was a true Christian gentleman.

Pete Turnham served under nine different governors and nine different House speakers. He was the only legislator to serve during all the Wallace administrations. Passing at nearly 100 years old in the year of Alabama’s Bicentennial 200th Anniversary, Mr. Pete lived half of Alabama’s history and participated in making much of it.

Pete Turnham was one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation.

Next week we will commemorate the other Alabama political legends who passed away this year.

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.

6 months ago

Flowers: Players are in place for next year’s election

(Tommy Battle, Cam Ward, Matt Fridy, Phillip Bahakel, Richard Minor, Beth Kellum, Bill Thompson/Facebook)

Qualifying has ended and the players are in place for next year’s elections. It is a presidential year. It is up in the air as to who will be the Democratic presidential standard-bearer. President Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.

It is a foregone conclusion that Trump will carry Alabama next November. In fact, it would be safe to say that all statewide Republican candidates on the ballot will win next year. When it comes to national and statewide contests in the Heart of Dixie, we are a one-state party. If you want to win a state or U.S. Senate race in Alabama, you have to run as a Republican.

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Therefore, winning next year’s March 3 primary is tantamount to election in the state. That means the election is less than four months away. There will be a little holiday lull between now and the first of the year. However, when January and the new year begin campaigns will begin going full steam ahead.

The premier contest will be for the U.S. Senate and two open congressional seats. I will address those federal races in a separate column next week.

The most important positions, along with the federal races, will be for posts on our state Supreme Court and our Courts of Civil and Criminal Appeals. There are two seats on each of these three tribunals on the ballot. Most of the judges up for election are incumbents and either have no opposition or only token opponents.

Former Houston County Circuit Judge, Brad Mendheim, will win election to a full six-year term on the State Supreme Court without opposition. The very popular presiding judge for the Court of Civil Appeals, Bill Thompson, will be anointed without opposition for another six-year stint. Bill has done an outstanding job on this court for decades. He even looks like a judge.

Judge Beth Kellum has done an exemplary job in her post on the State Court of Criminal Appeals. She probably will be reelected to another term. She has two opponents – Jill Ganus and Will Smith. It does not hurt that she was born and raised in Tuscaloosa.

The Druid City seems to have an inordinate number of statewide officeholders. Tuscaloosa has a lot of voters, but it seems to be more than that. It is as though the Black Warrior River spawns them.

Judge Mary Windom of Mobile will more than likely win another six-year term on the Court of Criminal Appeals. She has an opponent Melvin Hasting.

There will be a contested race for a place on the State Court of Civil Appeals. The very popular Scott Donaldson is retiring. By the way, Scott is from Tuscaloosa and served on the bench there before being elected to the State Court. There will be a spirited race for his seat between Shelby County State Representative Matt Fridy and Birmingham Lawyer Phillip Bahakel.

The most hotly contested race on the March 3 primary ballot will be between State Senator Cam Ward and incumbent Greg Shaw for Shaw’s seat on the State Supreme Court. Shaw has done a good job on the High Tribunal and is considered a solid conservative, pro-business judge. Ward has been on a fast and successful track in the state legislature. He hails from Shelby County and has been a high-profile State Senator for several terms. He is 48 and a very gregarious and tenacious campaigner.

It is doubtful that the business groups that primarily fund these State Supreme Court races will abandon the solid but quiet Shaw. However, these same groups may be reluctant to not cover their bets with Ward. In addition, the plaintiff trial lawyers have found a way to funnel money quietly to these races.

Popular PSC President, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, will be reelected. Twinkle is known and respected as one of Alabama’s most conservative leaders. She has a token opponent who is part of a left-wing California-like liberal group.

Huntsville’s outstanding mayor, Tommy Battle, will be up for reelection in that city’s August 2020 mayoral race. Battle will be a prohibitive favorite to win reelection to a third term.

Battle ran a respectable second to Kay Ivey in the 2018 governor’s race. During that contest, I asked him why in the world would he trade being mayor of Huntsville for being governor of Alabama. Huntsville is poised to be the fastest growing and most prosperous metropolitan area, not only in Alabama and the South, but in the nation during the next decade.

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.

6 months ago

Flowers: John McMillan – A good man as state treasurer

(John McMillan/Contributed)

Alabama is in good hands with John McMillan. A good man is in the job of state treasurer of Alabama for the third straight quadrennium.

Young Boozer served two successive four-year terms from 2010-2018. Mr. Boozer did an excellent job as treasurer. He was perfect for the job. He had been a successful banker. He ran for and did the job for the right reason, not for political gain or prestige, but to do a good job as Alabama’s treasurer. Some folks thought Young Boozer would make a good choice for higher statewide office. However, he and his wife, Sally, opted to enjoy a relaxed life.

John McMillan is now doing the job of state treasurer for the very same reason. He, too, could go to the house and enjoy his life but he wants to serve the state he loves.

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Before being elected state treasurer, John served two consecutive successful four-year terms as commissioner of agriculture and industries for Alabama from 2010 to 2018. The jobs of agriculture commissioner and treasurer, like all state constitutional offices, are term-limited for two four-year terms.

John McMillan and his wife Kathryn will eventually return to Baldwin County. McMillian’s family roots grow deep in Baldwin County soil. His family were some of the original settlers of the area before the Civil War. They have been in the timber business around Bay Minette for close to a century.

Interestingly, Congressman Bradley Byrne, who currently represents Baldwin County in Congress has deep roots in Baldwin County. His folks settled on the Eastern Shore around Fairhope before Alabama was a State in 1819. In fact, John McMillan and Bradley Byrne are cousins.

John McMillan grew up in the rural community of Stockton near Bay Minette in Baldwin. He grew up in the county when it was primarily agricultural and was known as Alabama’s potato growing county. He graduated from Baldwin County High School. He must have been a pretty good student because after high school he attended and graduated from the prestigious Rhodes College in Memphis where he earned a BA in Economics.

McMillan was appointed to the Baldwin County Commission by Governor Albert Brewer. After serving on the County Commission, McMillan was elected to the state legislature. He served two terms in the House of Representatives.

After the legislature, he was chosen to head the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. During his time as commissioner of Conservation, McMillan was instrumental in the creation of the Alabama Trust Fund which preserves revenue from offshore oil and gas leases.

He then spent 20 successful years as executive vice president of the Alabama Forestry Association. He was elected agriculture commissioner in 2010 and reelected in 2014. As ag commissioner, he oversaw one of the largest departments of state government. He served as president of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture and also on the National Board of Agriculture departments.

As is fitting for a former conservation director, McMillan loves hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities. However, he mostly loves his family. He and Kathryn have two sons, William and Murphy. They also have two grandchildren.

His most famous relative is his twin brother, Steve McMillan. Representative Steve McMillan took his twin’s seat in the House from Baldwin County in 1980 when John was appointed conservation director. Steve McMillan has served with distinction in that Baldwin County House seat for over 38 years. He has been elected to nine four-year terms. Steve is only superseded in Alabama history for legislative longevity by Pete Turnham, Alvin Holmes, Ron Johnson and James Buskey.

You can bet your bottom dollar that your money will be safe with John McMillan as treasurer. However, that has not always been the case with treasurers in Alabama history. In March of 1887, Alabama State Treasurer Issac “Honest Ike” Vincent absconded with more than $225,000 in State funds and fled the state. This was quite a sum of money in 1887.

Our fugitive state treasurer was arrested on a train in Big Sandy, Texas, and returned to Alabama for trial. Vincent was tried and convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 15 years in the state penitentiary.

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.

7 months ago

A look at the good work of Rick Pate, Will Ainsworth, Jack Hawkins

(R. Pate/Facebook, Alabama Forestry Association/Twitter, Troy University/Contributed)

We have two men who were elected to statewide constitutional offices last year who seem to be doing a good job. They are both working quietly and diligently in their new posts.

Rick Pate was sworn in as the state’s Agriculture Commissioner in January. He followed John McMillan, who served eight years as Agriculture Commissioner. McMillan took a nonpolitical, hardworking, business-like approach. Pate seems to have taken a page from his friend McMillan and appears to have the same non-flamboyant, business-like approach to the job.

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Rick Pate is a lifetime farmer who seems to have been perfectly scripted for the role of agriculture commissioner of Alabama. My observation of Alabama politics is that Alabamians have a way of ascertaining who the real farmer is in the Ag Commission race. Even urban voters tend to select the man who is an agri-business man.

Rick Pate fits that bill as an agri-business man. He wants to do a good job as commissioner of agriculture and not appear to have his eye on a higher office or in other words, use the job as a stepping stone. He will more than likely serve two four-year terms managing this large and important department and retire to the farm.

Rick Pate was born 62 years ago, and grew up working on his family’s cattle and poultry operations in Lowndes County. With his roots in agriculture, it was a natural choice for him to attend Auburn University. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Ag and Horticulture from Auburn in 1978.

Pate started and ran a successful landscape company in Montgomery for 36 years. However, he never left his beloved home in Lowndes County. In addition to landscaping, he has a purebred Charolais cattle operation. Rick was mayor of Lowndesboro for 14 years before being elected Agriculture Commissioner. He was on the Town Council for eight years prior to becoming mayor. He has been active in the state Republican Party for decades.

Having grown up on a farm, running a business and serving as mayor of a small town, has given Pate a unique perspective to the office of Agriculture Commissioner. He has a genuine concern for the future of agriculture and the people of Alabama.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth is a man with a different mission. Unlike Pate, he wants to and will seek higher office. In fact, if Kay Ivey does not run for reelection in 2022, young Will Ainsworth will be a candidate for governor of Alabama, and my suggestion would be do not bet against him being elected governor.

Ainsworth is young. At 38 years old, he is one of the youngest lieutenant governors in state history. He was born and raised in Albertville in picturesque Marshall County, to parents who were self-made financially successful folks. He attended Marshall County public schools and then went on to Auburn University. He graduated from Auburn with a degree in marketing. He owns and operates the Tennessee Valley Hunting and Fishing Expo which draws more than 20,000 attendees each year.

Prior to entering public service, he worked as a youth pastor at Albertville’s Grace Baptist Church and was a co-founder of Dream Ranch, one of the premier hunting and fishing lodges in the United States. At age 33, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives where he served for one term from 2014 to 2018, prior to his election as lieutenant governor in November 2018.

After a close Republican primary victory, he won overwhelmingly in the general election. He actually received the most votes of any candidate for constitutional office on the general election ballot.

Ainsworth has won the respect and admiration of many of the veteran state senators for his quick grasp of the intricate senate rules. He presides effectively and fairly. State Senator Jabo Waggoner, (R-Vestavia), who has been observing lieutenant governors for over three decades, recently said, “Will Ainsworth has learned the rules and presided better than any lieutenant governor I can remember.” These same sentiments were echoed by other veteran state senators.

Will Ainsworth has a bright future in Alabama politics. It also does not hurt that he hails from the vote-rich and growth centered Tennessee Valley Huntsville metro area of the state.

Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins, Jr. has recently celebrated 30 years as presiding officer of the Troy University System. He has done a yeoman’s job over those three decades. He has left an indelible legacy in Alabama higher education history. He is the longest-serving chancellor of a major university in not only Alabama but the entire nation.

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.

8 months ago

Flowers: Congressman Jack Edwards – An Alabama legend passes away

(Wikicommons, YHN)

One of the most outstanding congressmen and leaders in Alabama history is Congressman Jack Edwards. He passed away three weeks ago at age 91.

He was born with the full name of William Jackson Edwards, III. However, he was always known as Jack. Although he was renowned as a Mobile/Baldwin County congressman, he was born and raised in Jefferson County. He received his early education in public schools and graduated high school in Homewood.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1946. He continued his military service from 1946 through 1951 and served during the Korean War.

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Following his military service, he attended the University of Alabama where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1952 and law degree two years later. While at the university, he was elected president of the Student Government Association. He was also a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. After law school, he taught business law at the university and married Jolane Vander Sys. They were married for 66 years and have two children.

In 1956, he moved to Point Clear in Mobile and began the practice of law in Mobile County. Eight years later he was elected congressman from the famous first district which is primarily comprised of Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Edwards went to Congress in what is referred to as the Southern Goldwater Landslide. The South voted overwhelmingly for the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater. In fact, the South pulled the straight Republican lever that day and has never looked back. Alabama and five other Deep South states changed parties in November of 1964.

A Republican presidential candidate had not carried Alabama in over 70 years, and we had also had no Republican congressmen in those 70-plus years. Prior to that fateful November 1964 day, we had eight congressmen. All eight were Democrats. Five of the eight were wiped out by Republicans that day. Those new GOP Congressmen went on to distinguished careers. Along with Jack Edwards, Bill Dickinson was elected from Montgomery, Jim Martin from Gadsden, and John Buchanan from Birmingham.

Edwards and Dickinson had been friends since college. They both had been railroad lawyers when they were approached to run for Congress in 1964. They both may have been surprised to have been elected. However, they went on to do great work together in Congress. Both were experts on national defense and supported the defense industry. Edwards served on the Defense Appropriations Committee. Dickinson rose to be the ranking Republican on Armed Services.

Jack Edwards served in Congress exactly 20 years, from 1965 to 1985, with distinction. He was never seriously challenged politically during those 20 years. He decided to leave Congress at the fairly young age of 54. Edwards then wrote the book on how to contribute and have an effect on the progress of the state after life in Congress.

He again began a law practice in Mobile. He joined the prestigious Hand Arendall law firm. Edwards began the Governmental Affairs arm of the firm. This began a practice followed by other well-known firms in Birmingham. Edwards had developed a close friendship and working relationship with President Reagan. He had strongly supported President Reagan’s military buildup as the ranking Republican on the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations.

He served a stint as chairman of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. Like many other Mobilians, he and his wife settled in Fairhope near Point Clear. Edwards served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System from 1988 to 1999, and was president pro tem of the board before retirement. Additionally, he served on the corporate boards of the Southern Company as well as Northrup Grumman Corporation.

Through his board memberships and Washington connections, he was instrumental in Airbus choosing to locate in Mobile.

When he left Congress in 1984 he essentially handpicked his successor, State Senator Sonny Callahan. Mr. Callahan served in Congress for 18 years, from 1984 to 2002. Callahan then endorsed his successor, Josiah “Jo” Bonner. Congressman Bonner served the district for 10 years with honor and distinction. Bonner is now Governor Ivey’s Chief of Staff and basically her right arm.

The First District has had a history of outstanding congressmen. The greatest may be the Honorable Jack Edwards.

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.

8 months ago

Flowers: Prison issue to be addressed in special session in February rather than October

(YHN)

The second year of the reign of Governor Kay Ivey may give her a second major accomplishment in the first two years of her term as governor.

In her first year, she spearheaded the measure to increase the state’s gasoline tax in order to allow Alabama to proceed with a much-needed massive infrastructure program labeled Rebuild Alabama.

It is my belief that she and the legislature will resolve the state’s looming prison problems. It was first thought and actually assumed that a Special Session would be called in late October. However, it now appears that the scenario used by the governor and Chief of Staff Jo Bonner last year was so successful that they will replicate the road program plan. They will call a special session within next year’s Regular Session.

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The regular session will begin on February 4, and immediately they will adjourn the regular session and call for a special session to deal with the imminent prison overcrowding problem.

A special session is the way to go to get a major initiative completed. The legislature must concentrate solely on the issue at hand. Secondly, addressing the proposals offered by the governor gives her the advantage of requiring the proposals to be addressed exclusively. Thus, the governor and legislature avoid the criticism regarding the cost of a special session, because, with it being held within the confines of a regular session, it does not cost taxpayers any more money.

Legislators and Gov. Ivey acknowledge that there is a crisis and it must be addressed. Governor Ivey nor this legislature caused this prison overcrowding problem. It has been building up for decades. The chickens just came home to roost under her and this legislative watch.

Primarily, these problems are caused by overcrowding. The Federal Courts have ordered the state to add more correctional officers and to make other significant improvements as part of the remedy to a federal judge’s findings that mental health care is “horrifically inadequate.”

The leader of the prison reform movement has been State Senator Cam Ward. He agreed with the governor in that delaying the session by three months would be wise. He further stated, “Let’s get it done right. Let’s get all of the data, talk with the Department of Justice and pass something that really works.”

The governor and Senator Ward are wise to wait. There is a tried and true adage, “clear facts make for clear decisions.”

The Legislature has already begun actions to increase funding for prisons. This year’s budget funded an increase in pay for correctional officers in an effort to hire and retain more officers. The courts say that the state only has about one-third of the officers needed.

The Ivey administration has tipped their hand on how a solution to the primary problem will be resolved from her end. Ultimately, the problem boils down to the fact that the state has to have more male inmate beds, which will require three major new men’s prisons. These prisons would hold approximately 10,000 inmates. She plans to go with the privatization of prisons approach, which has had mixed results in other states.

The initial estimate for the cost of construction for the prisons is about $900 million. The private firm selected would bear the cost upfront. The state would lease the new prisons. This is going to make the passage of new prisons a possible tougher row to hoe than the gas tax and the Infrastructure package.

Legislators are not going to lay down their guns easily when it comes to closing prisons in their districts. These prisons are major employers in their areas, and in some cases the largest employer.

Alabama is not the only state that is facing this prison overcrowding problem. In some cases, the federal courts have taken over the prison systems and implemented the solution from the federal bench. We have been down that road before during the George Wallace versus Judge Frank Johnson era. That is a very costly way to go.

The Department of Justice, federal judges and U.S. attorneys in Alabama deserve accolades for openly working with the state and Gov. Ivey in giving preliminary guidelines and a blueprint for the state to follow to avoid federal intervention. Gov. Ivey should be given credit for listening, adhering to and discussing the solutions to the state’s overcrowded prison problem with the federal officials.

Like I said, her administration did not cause the problem. However, the Ivey administration may be the one to resolve this imminent problem that has been kicked down the road for over a decade.

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.

8 months ago

Flowers: The political graveyard is full of congressmen who have tried to run for the Senate

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

The field is probably formulated for our 2020 Senate race. A Republican will be heavily favored to capture the seat currently held by our Democratic Senator, Doug Jones. Alabama is one of if not the most Republican states in the nation. It is quite an anomaly that a liberal Democrat has sat in that seat for over a year.

Recently I got a very nice letter from a lady who reads my column regularly. She kindly told me that she has read my column religiously for over a decade and that she trusts my analysis of Alabama politics.

She, however, said, “Mr. Flowers, I notice how you are always sounding the opinion that Doug Jones will most surely be defeated in 2020. You also take that position regarding all Democrats on your television interviews. You may well be right in predicting that since the state is so blindly in love with Trump. However, it strikes me that you could on occasion lend your voice to positives about Doug Jones and others and perhaps give more balanced information. No need to stoke the fires of it’s all over before it is, might even cause some voters to think about the alternative to Roy Moores and Gary Palmers of the world.”

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My response to her was: “Thanks for your nice note and thanks for reading the column. I have strived over the years to be objective, nonpartisan, nonjudgmental, nor to express my personal opinion of candidates or issues. I simply attempt to analyze and formulate analysis and explain to my readers, listeners, and viewers what is happening and why it happened to my fellow Alabamians. I personally like Doug Jones and although he is more liberal than most Alabamians, he is a good man. However, from an objective viewpoint as an Alabama political columnist and commentator, Alabama is a very red Republican state. The results of last year’s gubernatorial race confirmed that for me. Walt Maddox was the perfect moderate candidate. He got 40 percent of the vote in the general election. That appears to be the maximum threshold for a Democrat in a statewide race in the Heart of Dixie. Jones will be hard-pressed to hit that 40 in a presidential year.”

Having shared that dialogue and my opinion with you brings us to this question: Which Republican will take Jones place next year? I first posed this question in April. It was before the horses were lined up and we speculated that there may be some of our Republican congressmen that might take the plunge. Congressman Robert Aderholt opted out early. With over 20 years of seniority in the House and in line to be chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, he has wisely chosen to stay where he is and stay the course in Congress.

My suggestion was that Congressman Mo Brooks would be a strong candidate. He has a true conservative pedigree and is loved by the Washington right-wing groups. He is also from the vote-rich Huntsville-Tennessee Valley area.

Brooks quickly informed me that he did not want to risk his safe House seat to gamble on the Senate race and lose his seat. When he ran in 2017, it was a Special Election and he had a free shot and didn’t risk his congressional seat. This same reasoning has given pause to a good many Congressmen over the years who would love to be a United States senator.

I told Mo Brooks I did not blame him for his reluctance to gamble. I shared this story with him. When I was a young boy, I cut my teeth politically campaigning and working for my congressman, Bill Dickinson. He was a great congressman and served the old second district for 28 years. He was a stalwart advocate and savior for the military bases in Montgomery and the Wiregrass. One day when we were riding down the road together, I remember I was driving him to Opp to speak to the Rotary Club, I asked him why he didn’t run for the Senate. He shared an old adage he had heard in the congressional cloakroom. He said, “Steverino, the political graveyard is full of congressmen who have tried to run for the senate.”

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.

9 months ago

Omission of citizenship question on 2020 Census all but assures loss of Alabama congressional seat

(U.S. Census Bureu/Facebook, YHN)

The upcoming 2020 census is extremely critical in Alabama and the rest of the states in the nation, as well. The census affects the number of seats a state has in the U.S. Congress and ultimately the number of Electoral College Votes you have for president. Also, very importantly, the amount of federal funds the state receives.

Alabama is growing incrementally, but not as fast as other states. Especially our neighboring states of Georgia and Florida and certainly not as much as California and Texas. Therefore, the bottom line is we are projected to lose a Congressional District to one of the aforementioned states.

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We currently have seven seats in Congress. We will more than likely go to six. The census will be in 2020. We will lose our seat in the 2022 elections.

Our U.S. Constitution outlines that the Census be taken every 10 years. The language calling for the census states, “People are to be counted.” Therefore, the question becomes are just U.S. citizens counted or are citizens and illegal aliens both counted.

Obviously, for political reasons, Republicans and more importantly the Republican Trump administration are vehemently in favor of counting only U.S. Citizens. Liberals in California want illegals counted.

The Trump administration through his Commerce Department Secretary, William Ross, asked the Census Bureau to include the citizenship question on the census form. This question of inclusion has been on the table since 2018. It has been pending in the Supreme Court. In June the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-to-4 decision ruled that the question should not be asked.

This SCOTUS decision is bad for Alabama and other Republican states. The ruling to not include the citizenship question pretty much assures that Alabama will lose a congressional seat. We may have anyway, however, this hammers the final nail in the coffin. Illegal immigrants in California will be counted and our seat will be ceded to them.

Even though the official U.S. Census is taken every decade, the U.S. Census Bureau operates daily and gives preliminary updates on census trends. That is how, as early as four years ago, they were projecting the loss of a seat in Alabama. The loss of the citizenship question is just the coup de gras.

The Census Bureau has recently also released new city population estimates that cover the period of July 2017 through July 2018. In Alabama, the city estimates show that Huntsville continues on a fast track towards becoming Alabama’s largest city, while Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile continue to drift lower. The two major college towns, Tuscaloosa and Auburn, are growing rapidly as are several cities in Baldwin County.

The once Magic City of Birmingham is losing population. However, the metropolitan Jefferson-Shelby County areas are steady. The migration of Jefferson Countians to the suburbs of Shelby is a trend that is not new, and will likely continue.

The same trend is prevalent in the Mobile-Baldwin metro area. The population of Mobile is simply transferring to Baldwin County.

Montgomery continues to steadily lose people. In the last few decades the population has moved to Autauga and Elmore counties. Indications are that some of Montgomery’s flight may be to Auburn.

Tuscaloosa’s growth is significant, primarily due to the growth of the University of Alabama. Tuscaloosa has added 11,000 people since 2010 and Auburn has added 13,900.

When you include the entire Madison-Huntsville-Limestone metropolitan area in the equation, the growth of the Huntsville metropolitan area is amazing. When you add the entire Tennessee Valley and Marshall-Guntersville Lake area into the parameters, the growth is tremendous. The growth in the Huntsville area is real. Whereas the metro areas of Birmingham and Mobile are simply shifting their populations to Shelby and Baldwin counties.

If you think the Huntsville-Limestone-Tennessee Valley has grown in the past 10 years, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It will grow exponentially over the next decade. Given the myriad of major economic development and manufacturing announcements already announced, it will be one of the hottest and most prosperous areas in the nation in the next decade.

In addition, Senator Richard Shelby will probably continue to be chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee for three more years, which will allow the Redstone Arsenal and high technology federal advancements to prosper. He has recently announced that the largest FBI headquarters in America will be placed in Huntsville.

Folks, it is obvious that the future growth and prosperity in Alabama will be in Huntsville and North 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.

9 months ago

Two open congressional seats in the Heart of Dixie in 2020

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

Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles. The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director.

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019 and Gov. Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director. She appointed longtime political figure, former Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick.

Ivey also supported a measure that would make the state school board appointed rather than elected. This proposal will have to be approved by Alabama voters in next year’s election. This one may have tougher sledding. Alabamians are reluctant to give up their rights to vote for their public officials.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate is continuing a great summer political tradition in Montgomery. Pate, who is Alabama’s 27th Commissioner of Agriculture, hosted the 9th Annual Tomato Sandwich luncheon. The menu included homegrown Wiregrass tomatoes and corn on the cob. It also includes lots of politics. Some of those in attendance were former Agriculture Commissioner and now State Treasurer John McMillan, Secretary of State John Merrill, State Auditor Jim Ziegler and State Senators Will Barfoot and Tom Whatley.

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Second District Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) made a surprise announcement in late July that she was not going to seek reelection to a sixth two-year term next year. Roby was considered safe in the seat after withstanding a challenging election year in 2018. She drew significant opposition in the GOP Primary after her 2016 announcement that she was not supporting Donald Trump. Even though she received less votes than most of the other Republican members of the Alabama House delegation, she did survive and would have had smooth sailing and a long tenure in the House. She was on good committees and was one of only 13 female Republican congresswomen in the U.S. House. Therefore, she was a darling in the eyes of the House leadership and had a bright future in Congress.

My guess is that she simply burned out on the demanding life of Congress where you are constantly campaigning and raising money, flying back and forth to Washington and actually doing the job of voting your district’s wishes and handling constituents’ work. She also has two young children and a husband who has a successful law career.

She made the right decision for herself. She will have a much more enjoyable and rewarding life, and if, she practices law or lobbies, a much more lucrative lifestyle.

This leaves two open Republican seats. This second district seat, which encompasses all of the Wiregrass, parts of Montgomery and the burgeoning counties of Elmore and Autauga, will be a wide-open and very contested and interesting race. It is a Republican district.

The early favorite to win the seat is Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. He has been very involved civic wise in the Wiregrass and statewide for years. He will also have unlimited personal funds and will spend them.

Whoever wins the second district seat will be subject to an alteration in the district. We are expected to lose a seat after the 2020 census. Most observers expect this second district to merge into a portion of the third congressional district. It will more than likely pick up the Auburn-Opelika-Lee County area.

In addition to the second district open seat, the first congressional district is a battle royale. Bradley Byrne has vacated this congressional seat to make a race for the U.S. Senate. A trio of stellar candidates are vying to be the congressman from the Mobile-Baldwin area. It will definitely remain a Republican seat. Vying for the GOP nomination are State Representative Chris Pringle, former State Senator Bill Hightower, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl. This one will probably be more interesting than the second district.

2020 is shaping up to be a good political year in the Heart of Dixie. The primaries are early on March 3, 2020.

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.

9 months ago

Flowers: Hot political summer in the City of Montgomery

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

It has been a long hot summer in Montgomery, and I do not mean at the Capitol or Statehouse, but in the City of Montgomery itself.

There is a heated and pivotal mayor’s race. It has been considered a foregone conclusion that Montgomery will elect their first African American mayor this year. It is probably about eight years later than expected. Montgomery has been a majority minority city for a decade. It is well over 60% today.

A good many Montgomery citizens have moved to suburban enclaves, like Prattville, Wetumpka, Millbrook and now Pike Road. Most of the young families with school-age children have fled for a school system. However, there are still a significant number of older people living in the capital city. It is a tried and true fact that older folks vote. These older Montgomerians probably will not vote for a black person for anything, much less for the mayor of their beloved city.

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Essentially, a very weak school system is the main ingredient for the death of a city. It is the driving force for real estate values. Montgomery home values have dropped in the last decade as much as any city its size in America.

The racial division in Montgomery is also more pronounced than other cities in Alabama because of the decades-long feud between former Mayor Emory Folmar and longtime African-American leader, former head of AEA/ADC and former City Councilman Joe Reed.

The demise of the school system has been enhanced by the abysmally low local property tax. They do not have the funds to have a decent school system if they even wanted one. Therefore, Montgomery is slowly dying.

The mayoral candidates will all talk about the education and crime problems in the city, however, the problems are probably too pronounced to resolve.

All of the candidates are well-qualified. They are all male. This is surprising since the largest group of voters in the city are black females.

Artur Davis, the former congressman, is making his second run for mayor. He ran against current mayor, Todd Strange, four years ago.

Veteran Montgomery County Commissioner, Elton Dean, is offering to move from Chairman of County Commission to Mayor. However, his campaign seems lackadaisical and he may be ambivalent about making an almost lateral move.

J.C. Love is a young Montgomery attorney who is running a sophisticated modern-day social media campaign. He is attracting millennials. Unfortunately, young people do not vote.

Retired General, Ed Crowell, is a distinguished erudite gentleman that the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce crowd would like to see lead Montgomery. They believe, and rightfully so, that Crowell would project a good image for Montgomery.

The aforementioned Joe Reed’s son, Steven Reed, is the current Probate Judge of Montgomery County. He is quieter and more deliberative than his father. Most political observers point to young Steven Reed as the front runner in the race.

Montgomery Businessman and television station owner, David Woods, is a white candidate who is giving the race his full commitment. He is spending a good amount of his personal money and as I said earlier, the older folks vote. This probably assures him a place in the runoff.

My guess is that when the votes are counted on August 27, David Woods and Steven Reed will be pitted against each other in an October 8 runoff.

Ironically, on the day of the August 27 Montgomery mayoral primary, there will be a runoff vote for the state legislative seat in Montgomery held by the late Dimitri Polizos. House seat 74 in the City of Montgomery has been vacant since the death of the popular restaurateur, Polizos.

Former school board member, Charlotte Meadows, and Montgomery attorney, Michael Fritz, are headed for a runoff on that same day. Charlotte Meadows led the six-person field in the first primary garnering 44 percent of the vote to Fritz’s 24 percent. She is expected to waltz to victory.

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.

11 months 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.

11 months 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.

11 months 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.