“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.
1. The Republican U.S. Senate primary is still a two-person race, but expect that to change in the weeks ahead. Yellowhammer News first reported that freshman State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) was exploring a run, and now we can confirm that he is seriously weighing jumping in. Today, Dismukes is in Washington, D.C. meeting with groups – potential benefactors – that include Club for Growth, which has let its anti-Bradley Bryne sentiments be well known.
With Mo Brooks telling Talk 99.5’s “The Matt & Aunie Show” today that he is not running in 2020 (he has long maintained it would take a “seismic” event for him to change his mind) and Gary Palmer still looking unlikely to enter the Senate field, Club is frantically looking for a horse to back.
Brooks also newly introduced the possibility of State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) or former State Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) running.
A source has told Yellowhammer News that Mooney, 68, could be set to announce for the Senate next week. Mooney would definitely start with the lowest name ID in the field. He is telling people that he has the Club endorsement locked up and that he is going to hire national political players to handle the campaign: Fred Davis for media/advertising consultant, Jordan Gehrke to be the general consultant and Public Opinion Strategies to do polling. Gehrke was the GC for Brooks in 2017. Davis is recently best known for handling the media for John Kasich’s 2016 presidential bid.
Based on a conversation with someone familiar with Pittman’s thinking, his interest in running is fueled by a desire to inject serious issues of fiscal responsibility into the debate. Pittman had always been a fiscal hawk throughout his time in the Alabama legislature and was known for forcing tough decisions when he oversaw the budget. He is a big-thinker who it sounds now is being stirred to run by trillion dollar deficits and renewed interest in socialist policies. Pittman and Byrne hail from the same area of the state so dual candidacies could mitigate any geographic advantages in the Republican-heavy area.
Secretary of State John Merrill very well might announce a Senate candidacy in the next month or so, and he certainly seems like an option for Club. However, do not discount the possibility that the D.C. organization could still back Tommy Tuberville.
Finally, don’t sleep on Robert Bentley. Appearing on “The Jeff Poor Show” last week, the former governor sounded like a guy who truly wanted to run.
2. The Alabama House Minority Caucus and the Black Caucus have a pivotal decision to make on State Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham), who managed to make his viral abortion remarks even worse with follow-up comments on Donald Trump, Jr.
The Minority Caucus leadership was already set to throw Rogers under the bus before he dug himself a deeper hole, and Black Caucus Chair A.J. McCampbell was in utter disbelief when he heard Rogers’ remarks about Trump, Jr.
House Democrats, in a superminority, have been working diligently and purposefully behind the scenes since Election Day to slowly build good will and political capital that they can leverage behind the scenes in negotiations about select priorities, including healthcare and Medicaid discussions.
Rogers’ actions could very well set them – and their state party – back at least another election cycle from having a meaningful seat at the table on the issues most important to them.
However, taking forceful action against Rogers (including asking for his resignation), comes with the risk of angering the Democratic base. In a state where primaries are king, there will be House Democrats afraid of their most strident voting blocs. Rogers is a longtime fixture in Democratic state politics and was already at odds with Caucus leadership over their decision to walkout on Tuesday’s abortion debate. The leadership risks making him an enemy in a place where they already have few friends, and Rogers could take a few Caucus veterans like State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) with him.
3. One potential big winner in the 2019 legislative session is David Bronner of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA). As the pension systems’ head man, Bronner once again tops the list of highest-paid state employees and has leveraged his position to enjoy an enviable lifestyle. He is also, perhaps, the most feared man in Montgomery.
As CEO of RSA, Bronner oversees a pension system into which more than 300,000 people have paid or are currently paying. This means that he has a communication pipeline to names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for 300,000 Alabamians with a vested interest in engaging the political process. Priming that pipeline with a message advantageous to him allows Bronner to quickly whip up an educated constituency when the time comes to apply pressure to members of the legislature on issues affecting the pension system.
Thus, it is no surprise that the legislature seems poised to pass a bill sweetening the pot of pension benefits for state employees. Proponents of the legislation believe it will help state government attract and retain its employees. As a credit to Bronner’s near total control over pension policy, there are no opponents. The bill passed the House on a 100-0 vote.
The cost of the increased benefits comes in at a paltry $2.53 billion over the next thirty years. While Bronner has voiced his displeasure in the past over the reluctance of Alabamians to raise taxes, and advocated for the legalization of marijuana and gambling so it can be taxed, the issue of funding for this measure seems to be of no concern.
As a result, the work done by RSA in the 2019 legislative session may go down as one of David Bronner’s greatest achievements.