MONTGOMERY, Ala. — During a closed-door meeting with Republican lawmakers on Monday, Gov. Robert Bentley told the assembled crowd he would take infrastructure and community development funding away from of Districts whose legislators do not back his impending tax hike proposal, according to eight interviews Yellowhammer conducted with individuals who attended the meeting.
The legislators, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that their comments would further harm their Districts, each individually corroborated the statements of the others.
“I could not believe what I was hearing, I don’t think any of us could,” said one veteran legislator. “We got threatened by a Republican governor that if we don’t raise taxes he’ll hurt the Districts of fellow Republicans. I’ve been here a long time and thought I’d seen just about everything, but this beats it all.”
“It’s Siegelman tactics,” said another legislator, referring to former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman, who is now serving time in prison after being convicted on corruption charges. “I don’t mean he’s doing something illegal, what I mean is that it’s the kind of stuff we’d get from a Democratic governor when there were too few of us (Republicans) to really stand up to him. It honestly doesn’t surprise me though because Siegelman confidants are now Bentley confidants.”
One former Siegelman ally, then-Democratic Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, is now Bentley’s chief of staff. Several legislators recounted a story Bentley told Monday in an effort to convince the legislature to support his push for tax increases.
“I asked Seth (Hammett) if he’d ever heard of a legislator losing his seat because he raised taxes,” the legislators each recalled Bentley saying. “He told me, ‘No, but I know of a lot of legislators who lost because they didn’t bring money back to their Districts.'”
One lawmaker elected in the Republican wave of 2010 told Yellowhammer he left the meeting feeling like the governor was asking him to conduct himself like the Democratic incumbent he unseated.
“That’s straight out of the Democratic playbook that got them booted out of here in 2010,” he said. “They thought they could act one way in Montgomery, then turn around and make it alright in their districts by bringing home the bacon. It’s that kind of stuff that got us in this position in the first place and I don’t see how going back to that is going to get us out of this budget mess.”
The most contentious moment of the meeting occurred when one legislator audibly sighed in response to the governor’s pitch.
“Don’t yawn,” the governor is said to have snapped. “You’re going to need money for projects in your District, too.”
Several legislators said the individual the governor called out responded by essentially saying, “I can do without.”
After the luncheon concluded, the lawmakers moved to another meeting with a pollster.
“He basically told us we’d be committing political suicide to go along with a tax increase,” one legislator said. “He showed us the data and let me just tell you, Alabamians are not going to be convinced that the government needs more of their money. (Governor) Bentley doesn’t have to run for re-election, which is apparently why he’s suddenly decided to pull this stunt. But all of us do have to run again, you know? He wants us to raise taxes when he wouldn’t do it himself until after he’d already been re-elected. I find it more than a little hypocritical.”
Yellowhammer on Monday evening emailed a spokesperson for the governor’s office asking if the administration disputed the legislators’ characterization of the meeting. As of noon Tuesday, we had not received a reply. If that changes, this story will immediately be updated.
MORE ON BENTLEY’S TAX HIKE:
1. Gov. Bentley: ‘For the next four years we are going to raise taxes’
2. Awkward: Bentley pushes tax hikes while campaign site still promises ‘No New Taxes’
3. Comparing Bentley’s change of heart on taxes to politics’ most famous flip-flops
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— Cliff Sims (@Cliff_Sims) December 3, 2014