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3 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

11 hours ago

Byrne first to officially declare run vs. Doug Jones – ‘Future is too important to sit on the sidelines’

Just down the street from where he grew up, Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) announced Wednesday evening his candidacy for the United States Senate while surrounded by family, friends and supporters gathered at Wintzell’s Oyster House in beautiful downtown Mobile.

Byrne became the first candidate to officially announce a run against the incumbent from Mountain Brook, Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). In doing so, Byrne made clear his campaign will focus on his record as a fighter for Alabama’s values, drawing a clear and direct contrast between his traditional Yellowhammer State roots and the “radical policies” being pushed by Jones’ Democratic Party.

In his announcement speech, Byrne emphasized, “The fight for America’s future is too important to sit on the sidelines. I am running for the United States Senate to defend the values important to Alabama.”

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The congressman spoke about the “disconnect” between hardworking, everyday Alabamians and people stuck in the bubble of Washington, D.C.

Byrne urged attendees, “Look in Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

“We need a Senator who will fight with President Trump to defend the Constitution, build the wall, stand up for the unborn, push for lower taxes, make health care more affordable and protect the Second Amendment,” he outlined. “I will fight every day to bring Alabama’s conservative values to Washington.”

Answering questions from reporters following the announcement, Byrne decried the Democratic Party’s embrace of socialism and “[killing] babies as they’re delivered.”

He also warned voters that Democrats should be expected to try and interfere in the Republican primary through “fake news” and  manipulative social media efforts. This comes in the wake of revelations that “Project Birmingham” was orchestrated to aid Jones’ general election candidacy in 2017.

Byrne, a labor-employment attorney by trade, is the former chancellor of the state’s community college system and one-term member of the state senate. He has served southwest Alabama in Congress since January 2014.

The Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in Alabama will be held March 3, 2020, with the general election to follow in November.

You can watch Byrne’s announcement speech and hear him answer questions from reporters afterwards here.

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

12 hours ago

Watch live: Bradley Byrne announces U.S. Senate run against Doug Jones

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) is set to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate seat held by Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) live at the Wintzell’s Oyster House in downtown Mobile.

Watch live below:

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

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13 hours ago

Heavy rains swamping Deep South

Heavy rains are causing problems in parts of the Deep South.

Police in Huntsville, Alabama, say a half-dozen roads are blocked by downed trees or utility poles plus water from flash floods.

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Flood watches and warnings cover the northern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia and nearly all of Tennessee is at risk for floods.

Several school systems are delaying classes or closing.

The weather service is predicting as much as eight inches of rain in spots through Saturday, and freezing rain and sleet are possible in western South Carolina.

Forecasters say moisture from the Gulf is mixing with weather systems moving eastward in the Mississippi and Ohio valleys.

As much as one inch of rain an hour is possible, and the weather service says some areas could get more.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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13 hours ago

Ivey announces plan to turn old Jefferson County mine into technology park with $85 million economic impact

Alabama is working again — including in places that have been dormant for decades.

Governor Kay Ivey, the Alabama Department of Labor’s (ADOL) Abandoned Mine Land Program (AML) and United States Steel Corporation (U.S. Steel) announced Wednesday that long-abandoned mine land in Jefferson County will be reclaimed, making way for the new Grand River Technology Park project and relocation of the Southern Museum of Flight.

“This reclamation project has the potential to bring millions of dollars in economic impact, and hundreds of jobs to the Greater Birmingham area,” Ivey said in a press release. “The new Grand River Technology Park will be a regional nexus for research and development, tourism, and light manufacturing. This project will bring positive improvements to the citizens who call this community home.”

This project, which is expected to generate an economic impact of more than $85 million, has been made possible through funds appropriated from the U.S. Treasury through the AML Pilot Program Grant. The funding was secured by the stalwart leadership of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Shelby said he is looking “forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The senator said, “The Grand River Technology Park project will attract new businesses and promote economic development throughout the Birmingham area. I am proud that the AML Pilot grant funds I worked to secure have helped make this effort possible and look forward to witnessing the impact it will have on the state.”

The project is possible through a collaborative public-private effort and includes participation by ADOL’s AML Program, U. S. Steel, the City of Birmingham, the Southern Museum of Flight, Jefferson County and the City of Leeds.

In 2018, U. S. Steel and its community partners were given approval for a $6 million grant by the ADOL AML Pilot Program toward the development of its Grand River Technology Park.

“We are pleased to see the redevelopment of this land. We are grateful for the partnership of Governor Ivey, [ADOL] Secretary Washington, and the AML staff during this process and thank Senator Shelby for securing AML Pilot grant funds. We look forward to providing quality economic and community development projects that will benefit the Birmingham community,” U. S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt commented.

The technology park represents a multiphase opportunity to reclaim and transform approximately 105 acres of undeveloped land surrounding and including several pre-1977 abandoned coal mine lands in east Jefferson County. An initial assessment conservatively estimated that 1,200 new employment opportunities will be created by this project.

Plans for the Grand River Technology Park (Contributed)

Dangerous abandoned mine land features previously reclaimed on the property included many portals (openings to old underground coal mines) and vertical openings (former air shafts associated with underground coal mines) connected with Red Diamond Mines #2 – #5, #7, #9, #11 and #12, as well as the former Tennessee Coal and Iron (TCI) Mine #6, all of which ceased operations in 1948.

After the closure of these underground mines, a major portion of proposed development was strip-mined for coal prior to August 3, 1977, leaving extensive spoil piles (waste rock and soil overburden removed to access the coal seam) on the property and a highwall cut (a hazardous vertical bluff left where mining of the coal seam ceased) adjacent to the current location of the Barber Motor Sports Park. Evidence of the highwall cut and spoil piles still remain on the property today. As part of the redevelopment of the property, extensive reclamation will be performed on these remaining spoil piles.

“Our Abandoned Mine Land Program does a wonderful job in helping to ensure that old, dangerous mines are properly reclaimed, which eliminates safety hazards and allows the land to be redeveloped,” ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington advised. “In addition to cleaning up this site and making it safer, this project will help to improve the lives of many.”

To date, the ADOL AML Program has reclaimed 81.6 miles of dangerous highwalls, eliminated 1,613 dangerous mine openings and completed approximately 661 reclamation projects in the coalfields of Alabama.

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

14 hours ago

Alabama law requires the state and local governments fund The Democrat-Reporter’s racist rants — It is time to stop

Almost every politician in Alabama wanted to get in on condemning, and in some cases calling for the resignation of the editor, publisher and owner of a rag out of Linden, Alabama, with roughly 3,000 subscribers.

The governor, both United States senators, multiple congressmen and congresswomen, the State Senate pro tem, the lieutenant governor and surely countless others went on the record to say this is unacceptable.

It is obviously unacceptable, but now what? You can’t really force a guy who owns a newspaper to quit. Especially when he seems to think he has done nothing wrong.

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All of this is a minor problem. The Democrat-Reporter is a small-town nothing newspaper. If the Auburn Plainsman hadn’t posted the editorial in the form of a photo, no one would have ever known.

This raises another issue. The state of Alabama is providing revenue to this newspaper and other newspapers around the state of Alabama. And it is actually worse than that: Current state law requires government entities in Alabama to advertise legal notices, legislation, constitutional amendments, voter rolls and other public matters in the local print media outlets, which is not cheap.

So, how much does The Democrat-Reporter get from the governments?

Well, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) alone spends thousands every year.

Maybe these aren’t all required expenditures, but for what other reason would ALDOT be spending this money here?

What have the local governments been required to pay this newspaper? What about average citizens and businesses that have to post foreclosures, abandoned property and other matters in a local newspaper by state law?

Even without the racist overtones of this story, this matter should offend you. There is currently a state law that requires we do business with a series of private entities.

This may have been a necessity decades ago, but it is time for the state legislature to readdress this issue for the 21st century.

@TheDaleJackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN