3 years ago

Yellowhammer exclusive: Bentley gives scoop on social media activity, leaves door open for 2020 US Senate run

Former Alabama Governor Robert J. Bentley is back.

This summer, Twitter and Facebook accounts representing the former Alabama governor were reactivated to coincide with the unveiling of Bentley for Alabama.

This new site, launched on Memorial Day, examines Bentley’s time serving as Alabama’s 53rd governor and provides contemporary updates on his life since leaving office.

The platform also makes available to the general public archived digital content from the Bentley Administration and both of his gubernatorial campaigns.

“Governor Bentley was Alabama’s first governor to serve during the rise in popularity of digital mediums and social media platforms,” the site notes, before outlining the litany of online resources that it provides.

In an interview with Yellowhammer News, Bentley discussed his new project, his post-public life and even left the door open on a 2020 U.S. Senate run.


Transcript as follows:

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: What would you like people to know about Bentley for Alabama and what’s the goal of this new endeavor?

BENTLEY: Bentley for Alabama is really a continuation of the work we began during my Administration. The goals and initiatives of all the people who worked so hard in our Administration are important and matter to our people, such as job creation, Pre-K growth and even the need to build new prisons. We were inspired by President George W. Bush, and the philanthropic work he continues to do after leaving office. The Bush Administration makes available its digital resources from his time in office.

I love history, and we felt that is was important to preserve the work we did, and the recording of that work. It just so happens now that’s all in a digital format where it can be accessed by anyone. We wanted to make it easily available online for anyone.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: Should we expect frequent social media posts from you?

BENTLEY: Absolutely! Social media really exploded during our administration, and we found it to be very effective when it came to communication with both the media and the people of our state. The Internet can be dark and dirty, but it can be used for good. I love staying in touch with what people are thinking and talking about, social media is a great way to do that.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS:  What are you most proud of from your tenure as governor?

BENTLEY: Without a doubt, lowering unemployment and changing the state’s jobs strategy. We were over 10 percent unemployment when I became governor, and we hit full employment when I left office. It’s gratifying to see the strategy we put into place, Accelerate Alabama, net so many good jobs. Especially in Wilcox County and other small towns that were hurting. I always believe if you educate people and give them an opportunity to succeed in a good job, they’ll be fine. I believe we are helping do that by expanding Pre-K, and by creating jobs. I’m also proud of how our administration responded and rebuilt after the 2011 tornadoes.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: How has the adjustment back to private life been?

BENTLEY: It was a little awkward at first, sometimes you feel like a baby giraffe learning to walk, especially driving around town when you really haven’t driven much in seven years. I had a few health issues, and I needed some time just to rest and get re-acclimated. I actually enjoy doing ordinary things like going to Winn Dixie to buy groceries. I’ll see folks and they still want to ask me how I’m doing, tell me they appreciate my time as governor and get their picture made with me. That’s always sweet and very humbling.

I opened a new medical practice June of 2017. I started on that a few days after coming home, and it has been an absolutely blessing. We are busier that I could have ever imagined.  The practice is a true miracle, and God gets the glory for every bit of that. My medical practice staff is top-notch and like family to me. I’m a creature of habit, so I just settled back into my old routines at my house. I love to get out and cut grass when I have some free time. But people have been so kind and supportive and I can’t thank them enough.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: Would you consider a return to public office? Maybe the U.S. Senate in 2020?

BENTLEY: I love serving the people of this state. Serving as governor was the greatest honor of my life. I have a heart for our people and I believe we are all called to serve one another in some capacity. I found public service was a way to do that. I believe what is missing in public service today is loving the people that you serve and wanting to help those who need help, especially those who are less fortunate and really have nothing. If God shows me a new avenue where I can do that, I’ll do it.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: How do you want people to remember Robert Bentley?

BENTLEY: I just want people to know how much I truly care about them. I love being a physician and taking care of patients. Being governor opened up a whole new world to me, and it changed how I see people. Especially after the tornadoes. When you go through something like that, you realize hurt and suffering are no respecters of people.

We’re all equals and that’s how I see the people of Alabama. White Republican governors in their 70’s usually don’t push to fund Medicaid for the disabled, elderly or poor, much less try to make people care about building a new women’s prison where female inmates were once subjected to humiliation, shame and abuse. And politically speaking, doing that probably hurt me. But I always tried to put the people first. And I’m proud of that.

YELLOWHAMMER NEWS: Is there anything else that you want our readers to know?

BENTLEY: I would just thank them again for allowing me to serve as their governor. In this campaign season, just remember public service is tough, and credit goes to anyone who is willing to step in the arena. I never intended to be a caretaker governor. If you want to be a public servant and see change, be ready to get bloodied. As a voter, look for a candidate who cares about people, not just one who panders

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

14 hours ago

How the Regions Tradition led to Alabama’s star-studded vaccine PSAs

You already know the Regions Tradition’s reputation for competition. It’s the first major on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule in 2021, and it produces millions for charities.

But it’s also the place where things get done. And this year’s focus was intended to save lives.

The Bruno Event Team, which manages the Tradition, and the Alabama Department of Public Health used the annual Celebrity Pro-Am tournament as a stage to create a public awareness campaign encouraging Alabamians to get the COVID vaccine ASAP.

The idea, the pitch and the execution all came together in a week. And when approached, the centerpiece of the project agreed to participate without hesitation.

The centerpiece?

Alabama football coach Nick Saban.

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RELATED: College football’s biggest names turn out for 2021 Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am

“Research told us you don’t use national celebrities,” said Gene Hallman of the Bruno Event Team, which produced the spots. “You use local doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. Or you use local celebrities. And in this state, no one is better known than Coach Saban.”

In fact, according to a Montgomery pollster the Bruno team consulted, there’s no one more respected throughout the state than Saban. John Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal that Saban’s favorability rating is the highest in the state – 77 percent. That means that even Auburn fans who root against him each week still respect him.

Or, as Anzalone told the Wall Street Journal, “He is a God.”

The Alabama Department of Public Health reached out to the Bruno team to create a marketing campaign for the state’s underserved population, intending for the spots to motivate Black, Latino and tribal populations to get the vaccines. The public awareness videos will run on television and radio stations statewide, as well as on social media.

But as the campaign expanded, the goalpost moved. With federal and state grants provided for that specific reason, “we’re going to try to reach a very broad audience – the entire state,” Hallman said. “We’re not hammering people. We just want to provide an education on the science of the vaccine, so people can make an informed decision.”

And, since it’s Alabama, there’s also another lure: the opportunity to pack college football stadiums at 100% capacity next fall if enough people get vaccinated.

It’s not the first time the tournament known as the Regions Tradition proved to be a catalyst for change.

When the Champions Tour first came to Birmingham in 1992, Hallman’s group was called in to help with a very hush-hush operation. They were told an unnamed group of visitors from Europe, interested in bringing business to the U.S., would be coming to town to see what Alabama had to offer. No other information was provided, but they were to be shown a good time.

Only one problem.

The first tournament was held in August, a notoriously bad time for southern hospitality – at least for people used to cooler weather than the notorious sticky, 100-degree days. But, as luck would have it, an unusual cold front swept in at the start of the tournament, providing record low temperatures that created perfect temps for the visitors.

So, the secret entourage spent a week at the tournament, got to meet popular Champions Tour legend Chi Chi Rodriguez, and spent a day touring a large plot of land outside Tuscaloosa, less than an hour away …  land that would eventually become the site of Alabama’s first automotive manufacturing plant.

As for the vaccine spots, once Saban came on board others followed. The list includes an NBA legend, a college conference commissioner, a U.S. Senator and other coaches. All recorded their parts while participating in the Regions Tradition Pro-Am.

“We asked and they answered in two seconds,” Hallman said. “There was no hesitation. We got them all on camera that day.”

(Courtesy of Regions Bank)

14 hours ago

Governor Ivey urges Alabamians not to panic-buy gas

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday spoke with the U.S. Department of Energy on a call regarding the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which has caused a shutdown of the pipeline operations.

The pipeline, which is the largest system for refined oil products in the United States, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York. It is operated by Colonial Pipeline Company, which is headquartered in Georgia.

The pipeline runs through Alabama, as people may remember from a Shelby County leak in 2016 that caused gas shortages in the region. The county is home to the Colonial Pipeline Co. Pelham junction and tank farm.

However, Ivey wants to assure Alabamians that the temporary pipeline shutdown should be resolved in the coming days and that any potential gas shortages have not reached the Yellowhammer State.

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“Please do not fill up your car unless you need to and do not fill multiple containers. Overreacting creates more of a shortage. Please use common sense and patience!” Ivey said in a social media post.

The governor’s spokesperson reiterated Ivey’s message.

“She was assured that the pipeline should be operational in a few days,” said Gina Maiola. “She is urging Alabamians and others to not panic and to use good judgement. A shortage has not reached Alabama at this time, and she reminds us that an overreaction would only lead to that. Be courteous, only fill up if you need to, and do not fill up multiple containers. Governor Ivey urges patience and common sense.”

Public Service Commissioner Jeremy Oden echoed Ivey’s words.

“While the state of Alabama is fortunate to this point to not be suffering from gas shortages, there have still been reports of panic-buying and gas price increases,” he said in a statement. “I echo Governor Ivey’s request that Alabama residents refrain from panic-buying, which would only cause more anxiety in the market. As Colonial has stated publicly they are working vigorously to reestablish service.”

The Colonial Pipeline shutdown comes as the average price of gas in the U.S. has risen from $2.112 per gallon before President Joe Biden was elected to $2.985 per gallon this week.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

15 hours ago

Vocational center for construction, electric vehicle, aviation technology fields coming to DeKalb County

Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced a $1 million grant to help the Fort Payne Board of Education construct a new vocational center aimed at training students in careers that include construction, electric vehicle and aviation technologies.

The funds come from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), an economic development agency of the federal government and 13 state governments. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs administers the ARC program in Alabama.

The new DeKalb County vocation center will prepare Fort Payne high school students and adults for the future while helping to meet the needs of Alabama’s workforce in several career fields.

“Alabama is sounding the call for a skilled workforce and the Fort Payne Board of Education is responding to that demand,” Ivey said in a statement. “This program will ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for rewarding and high-paying jobs, and that employers will be hiring a qualified workforce to move our state forward.”

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RELATED: Guest: Electric vehicles important for Alabama’s automotive industry

The new Building, Electric and Aviation Technology Center will provide students with a rigorous training program in a workplace environment to ready them for careers.

“The path to rewarding careers does not always go through colleges and universities,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell added. “I applaud the Fort Payne Board of Education for offering other options for students who have the same dreams for successful careers but choose a different path to get there.”

The project is supported by Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro), who chairs the Alabama Space Authority and the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Alabama State Senator Andrew Jones running for reelection

State Senator Andrew Jones (R-Centre) on Tuesday announced he will seek reelection to a second term in the 2022 election cycle.

As a freshman member of the legislature’s upper chamber, Jones currently serves as chair of the Children, Youth, and Human Services Committee.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in the last 2 ½ years,” he stated. “I ran for the State Senate because I had seen first-hand as a business owner and farmer how government impacts hardworking Alabamians. I have worked hard to be the people’s voice in the Alabama Senate and bring much-needed resources back to the people of Etowah, Cherokee, and DeKalb.”

Jones will kickoff his reelection campaign at respective events in Etowah and Cherokee Counties on May 25 and June 3.

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Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper) offered his support for Jones’ reelection bid.

“Senator Jones has quickly learned to navigate the ins and outs of the Alabama Senate. He is known by his colleagues as a capable and effective Senator who will do whatever it takes to fight for his district. Andrew is not afraid to take bold, decisive action to meet the challenges our state faces,” Reed said.

Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) echoed Reed’s comments.

“Andrew has been a key voice in our Republican caucus for conservatives policies to improve the lives of everyday Alabamians,” Scofield commented. “Senator Jones is a champion for his local folks, but at the same time he has also won the respect of his colleagues. He has the full support of our caucus in his reelection effort.”

Elected in 2018 in his first run for public office, Jones campaigned on economic development, infrastructure, education and protecting Alabama values. Progress has been made, he now says, on all of those fronts.

“During my campaign, I talked about three infrastructure projects in my district. The U.S. 411 expansion project between Etowah and Cherokee Counties is currently underway, which is a $43 million project. We also recently secured $2 million for the engineering design of the I-759 Eastern Connector, and we are working with local leaders on multiple applications for funding for the Southside Bridge project. Last year, that same application made it to the final round,” Jones advised.

The freshman senator also touted a $2.7 million investment at the Etowah County Little Canoe Creek Megasite through the Growing Alabama Tax Credit Program, an investment which was made possible through an amendment that Jones negotiated to prioritize megasite properties over 1000 acres. He has also supported broadband expansion, incentives for small businesses and workforce training efforts in the Senate, as well as education initiatives to expand pre-K, provide teacher raises, and recruit math and science teachers. Additionally, Jones has backed pro-life legislation, election security measures and Second Amendment protection bills.

In the Senate, Jones has also authored legislation to support the military, incentivize adoptions, promote small farm wineries and repeal the grocery tax, among various other causes. Locally, the Republican has led an effort to repeal occupational taxes in five Etowah County municipalities. In 2020, voters approved a local constitutional amendment sponsored by Jones to designate surplus prison food funds for law enforcement purposes, including school resource officers.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

NFIB survey: Record number of employers have job openings

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) on Tuesday announced that its Small Business Optimism Index rose to 99.8 in April, an increase of 1.6 points from March. While this index has now increased 4.8 points this year, a record 44% of employers reported job openings that could not be filled in the latest month’s survey.

Additionally, 8% cited labor costs as their top business problem and 24% said that labor quality was their top business problem, unchanged from March as the top overall concern.

A net 31% (seasonally adjusted) reported raising compensation in April, while a net 20% plan to raise compensation in the next three months. Increased compensation is being passed on to customers through higher prices, per NFIB.

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This is backed up by the net percent of owners raising average selling prices increasing 10 points to a net 36% (seasonally adjusted), the highest reading since April 1981 when it was 43%. Price hikes were the most frequent in wholesale (62% higher, 3% lower) and retail (46% higher, 6% lower). Seasonally adjusted, a net 36% plan price hikes, the highest reading since July 2008.

“Small business owners are seeing a growth in sales but are stunted by not having enough workers,” stated NFIB chief economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Finding qualified employees remains the biggest challenge for small businesses and is slowing economic growth. Owners are raising compensation, offering bonuses and benefits to attract the right employees.”

Alabama currently has the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and one of the lowest in the nation.

State-specific data is unavailable, but NFIB state director for Alabama Rosemary Elebash said, “Today in Alabama, there are more job postings than there are job applicants, but hopefully Governor Ivey’s decision to end federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits will encourage people to return to the workforce.”

RELATED: Aderholt, Palmer praise Ivey’s decision to opt-out of $300 federal unemployment supplemental

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn