6 months ago

Exclusive — House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter discuss midterm ‘red wave’ in Alabama

Following a historic landslide election that resulted in the largest Republican supermajority ever in the Alabama House of Representatives, Yellowhammer News sat down with Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) to discuss this “red wave,” the major issues expected to be the focus of the 2019 legislative session and their respective leadership roles and styles.

In the first of this three-part series, we touch on the tremendous electoral success of the Alabama House Republican Caucus, led by McCutcheon and Ledbetter, along with the valued work of their political team.

Check Yellowhammer News in the coming days for parts two and three.

The team

McCutcheon and Ledbetter were both effusive in their praise of the team that worked for months to achieve the 77-member supermajority, which is perhaps unsurprising in itself given the humble nature of the two top Republicans in the Alabama House. However, the full rundown and analysis of their work shows that the plaudits they have received are well-warranted.

Led by political veteran Steve Raby and campaign manager Scott Stone, who together formed the nucleus of the Caucus’ team, and boosted by the exemplary work of data guru Dalton Dismukes and the up-and-coming Rob Green, Alabama House Republicans virtually swept the competition.

Raby, who is a fixture on Yellowhammer Multimedia’s annual Power and Influence List, has a broad range of inside knowledge and relationships. He helped the Caucus secure the resources that were needed and worked diligently with the campaigns to make sure that those resources were allocated efficiently.

“He has so many contacts, he knew a lot of these people [involved in legislative races and state political fundraising] from previous work he had done,” McCutcheon said of Raby, applauding his leadership of the Caucus’ fundraising and with MACC PAC, the House GOP’s political apparatus.

Then there is Stone, who developed the Caucus’ political plan with McCutcheon and Ledbetter, while overseeing the logistics on a day-to-day basis.

“After Doug Jones’ election, everyone was talking about a blue wave, so we tried to get prepared and I think we went out and hired the best that we could find – Scott Stone’s group,” Ledbetter advised. “They did an outstanding job.”

Dismukes and Green joined the team closer to the June primary elections, with McCutcheon and Ledbetter praising their contributions as rising young political operatives, as well.

“We needed groundwork to be done, we needed some organizational work to be done, and that’s where Dalton Dismukes came in,” McCutcheon explained. “He became a very active part of the campaign. He became our statistician, he became the organizer of our door-to-door. He started going into the districts and working with the candidates.”

McCutcheon said that Green was integral in their grassroots efforts, including helping Dismukes with all of the numbers involved in door-to-door and phone banking operations.

“Rob became a very important part of our team,” the speaker added.

And, as McCutcheon and Ledbetter stressed, it was not just them and their political team that got the job done. It was their candidates getting out and working hard, while speaking about the issues that voters most care about, that could not have been replaced.

“For the members that have been elected now, it was a ‘we thing.’ We approached it from a team perspective. It was not ‘big I’s’ and ‘little you’s,’ it was all of us in this together,” McCutcheon emphasized.

Ledbetter added, “We had good candidates. First and foremost, you gotta have good people, and we did.”

Plus, these candidates had consultants of their own who played irreplaceable roles in the Caucus’ electoral success.

In an email, Stone commented, “As Speaker McCutcheon said, the success House Republicans enjoyed on election night was a team effort and that also includes the campaign consultants across the state that worked with the House campaigns. They did a great job and it was a pleasure to work with them. From the very beginning, in the fall of 2017, we started meeting with the consultants to make sure that lines of communication were open. Their input was taken seriously and incorporated into our effort. The Speaker’s team saw it as our mission to support the members’ campaigns and the work that their teams were doing. I thought we worked really well together. The consultants were essential to expanding our Republican majority and should be commended as well.”

The process

While the right people were in place, the House Republican Caucus also needed the right plan, as well as a good process to go about working the plan. This is where Stone’s leadership was especially essential, helping bridge the gap between strategy and execution. The biggest theme to note here is that every decision, every action item, was backed by hard data.

The plan that McCutcheon and Ledbetter identified early on was protecting their incumbents in primary races first. This came down to 17 contested primary races that they were involved with, and the results were resounding.

“If we had written a script, we couldn’t have written this any better,” Ledbetter shared.

McCutcheon and Ledbetter both highlighted that the team won 100 percent of these seventeen primary races.

“In the primary, we had some tight races there. Tight races that took a lot of work and we raised close to $1,000,000 to put into the primaries for our 17 House races,” McCutcheon said.

This primary success gave them momentum and experience that was crucial for the general election homestretch.

Using a tested process from the primary and data collected from digital media and polling, they then came up with their plan moving towards November.

From there, McCutcheon outlined, “We just set aside the races for November and went to work.”

A big part of their collective success was not only the amount of money raised (Ledbetter explained that on top of the $1,000,000 in the primary, the Caucus raised another $2,000,000 in the general), but how it was allocated. This is really where MACC PAC came in, with the political action committee paying for polling and social media advertising coordinated by Stone, taking advantage of bulk rates and saving money in the long run.

The PAC also distributed money to campaigns in notably tight races.

McCutcheon explained, “We were providing money as they had a need.”

He clarified that the contributions were not divided up by seniority or committee positions, but on who needed the help most to win.

“We managed the money well. Through that, it turned out to be very successful and we’re very thankful,” the speaker added.

Ledbetter echoed this, saying, “It was a team effort, and the members were good about that. The members understood if they were in good shape in the polling, that we would use the money somewhere where someone needed it more. That worked out well.”

The races

Besides campaign strategy and execution, McCutcheon and Ledbetter both spoke about how the booming economy under Governor Kay Ivey’s leadership, the national political climate and economy under President Donald Trump and other major issues of the day all benefited Republicans in the November House elections.

While both men stipulated that different districts’ data showed varying levels of interest in various issues, with some localized concerns popping up here and there, some of the nation’s biggest talking points drove Alabama voters to the polls.

“The Republican brand, what we’ve stood for – low unemployment, economic growth, pro-economic legislative work that we’ve done. I feel like some of the amendments on the ballot were good, because they represented a sense of moral values to the people of Alabama,” McCutcheon said, beginning to list major factors in the races.

He continued, “The pro-life amendment, Amendment Two, that was a help, because when I would go around and speak to people across the state, I would talk about the Ten Commandments, ‘In God We Trust,’ which was not an amendment but a piece of legislation we passed this year, and the pro-life amendment. I think these were things that resonated with the people. And it just reinforced the Republican brand that we had worked on.”

Voters did have D.C. on their minds as well, McCutcheon thinks.

“At the end of the day, in some areas, I think Washington helped us a little bit,” McCutcheon outlined. “With some of the circus that was going on up there during the campaign season, I think that was a benefit.”

“But people were responding to the issues we talked about, such as budget reform, looking at people’s tax dollars and how they’re being invested, people responded to that issue very well. And then if you tie that with a candidate that’s really worked their district, they’ve been in the community, they’ve tried to do good things for their community, I think all of those things linked together just resonated with the people powerfully and they turned out to vote,” McCutcheon added, before praising the statewide Republican ticket for constitutional offices led by Ivey.

“For the state as a whole, the economy certainly was an important issue. Protecting the borders was an important issue for the people of Alabama, as well,” Ledbetter further advised.

They also believe that the general election was a “referendum” on not only economy, but the overall positive direction of the state.

Ledbetter opined that the competitive June primary season in Alabama boosted Republican turnout in November, too.

“We had candidates [in June] in every pocket of the state that were putting out the word – the Republicans are thriving in power and we have the lowest unemployment rate the state’s ever had, we’ve got the best budget for education that the state’s ever put their money in, we’re putting money in the classrooms, we’re adding teachers, it was just a lot of great things happening for our state,” Ledbetter said.

With these positive sentiments lifting Republicans to an overwhelming victory on November 6, now comes four more years of the party governing in the Alabama Statehouse. In Yellowhammer News’ second part of this interview series, we will share what pressing issues McCutcheon and Ledbetter see coming up in the 2019 legislative session.

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

50 mins ago

Tuberville backs Alabama legislator’s bill making murder of on-duty first responder a capital offense

Former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville is backing HB 59, the bill passed by the Alabama Senate on Thursday that would make killing an on-duty first responder a capital offense.

The bill as amended and passed by the Senate names the proposed law in honor of slain Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner, who was shot and killed in the line of duty on Sunday night.

Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Sells (R-Greenville), HB 59 passed the House previously. The amended version goes back to the chamber for expected concurrence next week.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Tuberville applauded the legislature for the bill, especially thanking the Senate for the amendment in Buechner’s memory, which was put onto the legislation by State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn).

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“I commend the Alabama Senate on their bill which makes the murder of an on-duty first responder a capital offense,” Tuberville said. “Murdering a first responder in Alabama should be classified as a capital offense. Not just police officers are covered in this bill all first responders are covered!”

The bill adds on-duty first responders to the list of murder victims that constitutes a capital offense. State law already makes the murder of an on-duty law enforcement officer or prison guard a capital offense.

Note the difference between a Class A felony murder charge and a capital murder charge: capital offenses in Alabama are punishable (unless the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime) by life in prison without the possibility of parole or death. Class A felonies are punishable by 10-99 years in prison, with stricter guidelines for offenders with prior criminal convictions.

Sells’ bill would also add on-duty law enforcement officers, prison guards and first responders as victims in the list of aggravating circumstances to a capital offense. This would make the death penalty more likely in the sentencing phase of this kind of capital offense.

In HB 59, first responders are defined as emergency medical services personnel licensed by the Alabama Department of Public Health and firefighters and volunteer firefighters as defined by existing state law.

Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes has said he will seek the death penalty if the man charged with Buechner’s death is convicted on a capital murder charge.

Tuberville’s vocal support for the bill came the same day as Buechner’s funeral.

“Today, as Officer William Buechner is laid to rest, we celebrate his heroic life and the ultimate sacrifice he made to protect our citizens,” Tuberville emphasized.

On Friday, Tuberville also visited Auburn Police Department Officer Webb Sistrunk, who was critically wounded in the shooting that killed Buechner.

(T. Tuberville/Facebook)

“It was such an honor for me to visit with Webb Sistrunk, one of the brave Auburn police officers who was shot earlier this week,” Tuberville shared.

Tuberville with Mark Sistrunk, the officer’s father (Contributed)

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

1 hour ago

‘Our hero’: Slain Auburn officer’s neighborhood lights up blue to honor him

Neighbors of murdered Auburn Police Department Officer William Buechner are backing the blue in a very visible way, honoring the fallen hero’s life of selfless service.

As reported by WSFA, the Opelika subdivision that Buechner and his family lived in is showing their solidarity en masse.

In a moving tribute, many of the neighborhood’s homes have replaced their regular porch lights with blue lights, shining proudly in Buechner’s memory.

Tracy McDaniel is among those neighbors paying tribute to the officer and beloved community member.

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Tracy McDaniel’s home, as contributed by her. (Sally Pitts/Facebook)

McDaniels’ home is far from the exception. One photo shows an entire street the neighborhood turned blue to honor the fallen officer.

Photo by Samantha Xaysombath Smith (WSFA/Twitter)

“William was a lot of great things. A great man, friend, husband, and father, police officer, neighbor, the list goes on,” Smith explained. “His son will grow up to learn that his daddy was a hero, and we will forever remember that he was our hero too.”

Another woman in the neighborhood, who asked to remain anonymous when speaking with WSFA, said she was aware of at least 15 homes participating in the special tribute but expected that number to increase.

“We all have rallied to find each other more lightbulbs,” the woman said, “and contact those who have been out of town or may need assistance reaching their fixtures. It’s been a true team effort.”

The lights are reportedly expected to remain on at least through Saturday, the day after Buechner’s funeral.

Buechner is survived by his wife of three years, Sara; son, Henry; and step-daughter, McKenna.

“This village we speak of, he knows we will take care of Sara and the family,” Smith added. “After all, it does take a village. We back the blue.”

There has been a GoFundMe set up for Buechner’s family.

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

2 hours ago

Palmer introduces bill to stop federal funding of anti-ICE ‘sanctuary airports’

Congressman Gary Palmer (AL-06) is taking a major stand against airports in liberal strongholds that try to subvert federal law.

Palmer’s office on Thursday announced that the Birmingham-area congressman has introduced the PLANE Act, the Prohibiting Local Airports from Neglecting Enforcement Act (H.R. 2955).

In April, an airport in Seattle, Washington, banned flights known collectively as “ICE Air,” which included flights that deported illegal immigrants or transported detainees to the appropriate detention center.

If passed, the PLANE Act would withhold federal grants from airports that violate grant agreements by attempting similar action, such as imposing unreasonable conditions or restrictions on airplanes operating under ICE or other contracted government agencies.

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“Airports that refuse to cooperate with ICE should not receive federal grants,” Palmer said in a statement.

“The rule of law must not be thwarted by so-called ‘sanctuary airports,’ especially when they potentially delay the removal of people accused of crimes like human trafficking and rape,” he added. “Political posturing cannot be permitted when an airport has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for federal funds.”

Palmer is now serving as the chair the Republican Policy Committee, which is the fifth highest ranking leadership role amongst Republicans in the United States House of Representatives.

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

3 hours ago

Rumors and Rumblings, 2nd Ed. Vol. VIII

“Rumors and Rumblings” is a regular feature on Yellowhammer News. It is a compilation of the bits and pieces of information that we glean from conversations throughout the week.

Enjoy.

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1. Hey Arnold! State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) caused a bit of a stir this week when he introduced a request to censure State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) for comments Rogers made during the chamber’s debate of the abortion bill. Numerous GOP House members were upset by the move, not so much for the substance of the request as much as for the timing — and the perceived motivation behind it.

The request came as the body was attempting to address a “ten-minute” calendar of bills. The aim of a ten-minute calendar is to quickly dispose of some of the more mundane pieces of legislation with the idea being that each member gets ten minutes to pass their bill or else the House moves on to the next item. As soon as Mooney introduced his letter of censure, the environment in the chamber became hostile, resulting in an adjournment and the end of the calendar. Dozens of members lost the opportunity, at that point at least, to pass their individual pieces of legislation, including an anti-human trafficking bill and legislation to help feed needy children in the state.

Some members wondered why Mooney waited nine days to introduce his letter. His letter was dated May 13 and not introduced until May 22. This event came on the heels of Mooney previously sending out a campaign letter to supporters questioning the ideological bearings of his fellow Republican legislators. When asked if Mooney had expressed any of these concerns to the GOP caucus at-large prior to his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, one member responded, “No. He had not.”

2. A tale of two cities. As Mooney spent the week trying to burnish the type of outsider credentials attractive to Club for Growth, another one of his colleagues spent his week in D.C. trying, presumably, to lay a similar foundation. State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was boots on the ground in the nation’s capital this week. Dismukes has let it be known that he was contemplating his own run for the U.S. Senate. He has done a fair job of keeping those cards close to the vest, although his trip to Washington would lend to the notion that he continues to have interest in a federal office.

The mathematical side effect of Dismukes’ absence nearly reached a heightened level of consequence. Consideration of any legislation prior to the passage of both budgets requires a 3/5 vote of those in the body voting. The lottery failed this week because it did not receive the required 3/5 threshold of those voting. In Dismukes’ absence from the state, someone voted his machine on his behalf as an abstention rather than simply not voting at all. He was the only legislator to vote to abstain. This still raises the threshold of required votes.

There were 90 total members that voted — which means the lottery needed 54 votes to proceed. It only received 53. Had someone not voted Dismukes’ machine and 89 members had voted, the lottery would still have needed 54 votes but by a much slimmer margin since 3/5 of 89 equals 53.4. That’s how close the lottery came to advancing to full consideration by the House.

3. Is broadband really a priority for members of the Alabama House? While the state legislature’s budget negotiations have been relatively smooth so far this session, there is one major issue that has seemingly popped up at the last minute.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) put $30 million in the Senate-passed Education Trust Fund Budget for the state’s rural broadband grant program established last year by State Senator Clay Scofield’s (R-Guntersville) landmark legislation.

As the legislature continues to work on beefing up last year’s legislation through Scofield’s SB 90 this year, the House is now seemingly set to slash the broadband funding approved by the Senate. The House Ways and Means Education Committee this week approved an education budget that cut the broadband funding by 73%, dragging the total down from $30 million to only $8 million.

Proponents of the larger number have said that there is not a better use of one-time money than to expand broadband services across the state. Will Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) and the House at-large work with the Senate and restore the important broadband funding?

4. Art of the Deal. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) once again proved his master negotiating skills this week, securing a crucial disaster relief package deal against seemingly insurmountable differences between the increasingly polarized factions in Washington, D.C.

This package will provide much-needed aid to many in the Yellowhammer State, including those in southeast Alabama devastated by Hurricane Michael.

Shelby bridged the gap between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, while even managing to get President Donald Trump to drop his demands to include non-disaster related earmarks in the package — a concession that was key to getting enough votes in the Senate and House. The legislation quickly passed the Senate 85-8 Thursday before a lone House member objected to its unanimous passage on Friday. The House can take the legislation up after Memorial Day on Tuesday, when it is expected to overwhelmingly pass that chamber and then be signed into law.

One keen observer told Yellowhammer News that this type of achievement will not make nearly the number of headlines it should back at home, but once again Shelby has delivered for his state as he continues to cement his legacy as “Alabama’s greatest statesman.”

3 hours ago

Alabama legislature passes bill to ensure accuracy in meat labeling

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday took steps to ensure that the definition of “meat” when applied to food labeling should only apply to products sourced from livestock on farms and ranches and harvested through processing; the bill clarifies that laboratory-grown products may not be labeled as meat, protecting Yellowhammer State consumers from potentially misleading packaging.

In a unanimous vote, the Senators passed HB 518, sponsored by State Rep. Danny Crawford (R-Athens) and State Sen. David Sessions (R-Grand Bay). The bill was previously passed by the House 97-2 and now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

“This is proactive legislation to ensure clarity in food labeling. Around the country, there are more and more companies trying to market lab-grown products as meat, which is misleading since they aren’t derived from actual livestock production,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions pointed out that the nutritional and safety risks of foods developed in labs from animal cell cultures are still unknown.

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“These new lab-produced foods are, at best, synthetic meats, and their nutritional effects are unknown right now. Let’s see how the science develops through further research, and make a clear distinction between meat that is farm-raised on the one hand, and lab-based products on the other,” he advised.

The beef cattle industry represents a $2.5 billion industry in Alabama and is the number two agricultural commodity in the Yellowhammer State, with over 20,000 cattle farms. Beef continues to be a favorite protein among consumers worldwide, with exports of American beef representing an $8 billion industry by itself.

“The Alabama Cattlemen’s Association represents over 10,000 members across the state. As alternative proteins enter the marketplace in coming years, we think it is imperative that the integrity of all meat labels are protected and clear for consumers when they go to the meat case,” Erin Beasley, executive vice president of the Alabama Cattleman’s Association, commented.

She concluded, “The passage of this bill is a win-win for the consumers who love to buy beef, and the cattlemen who work hard to produce a high-quality product. We would like to thank the Alabama Legislature for the support of this bill, and especially Senator David Sessions and Representative Danny Crawford for carrying the bill.”

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