The Wire

  • Mo Brooks Wins FreedomWorks’ Prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award

    Excerpt from a Rep. Mo Brooks news release:

    Tuesday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) was one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives awarded the prestigious 2017 FreedomFighter Award by FreedomWorks, a leading conservative organization with more than six million members nationwide. Only members of Congress who score better than 90% on the FreedomWorks scorecard receive the FreedomFighter Award. Congressman Brooks’ FreedomWorks score was in the top 4% of all Congressmen in 2017.

    Brooks said, “FreedomWorks is a leading organization in the conservative movement. I thank them for their work keeping members of Congress accountable and scoring key House floor votes which helps the American people better understand the impact of those votes. I was proud to receive the prestigious FreedomWorks 2017 FreedomFighter Award for my voting record in 2017. If America is to maintain its place as the greatest country in world history, more members of Congress must fight for the foundational principles that made America great. I’m fighting in Congress for those principles, and I’m glad to have a partner as effective as FreedomWorks in the fight.”

  • Black Bear Sightings Continue to Increase in Alabama

    Excerpt from an Outdoor Alabama news release:

    Add Jackson, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan and St. Clair counties to the growing list of black bear sightings in Alabama in 2018. In recent years, bears have also been recorded in Chambers, Elmore, Jefferson, Lee, Macon and Tallapoosa counties. These recent sightings are more evidence of the state’s expanding black bear population.

    Biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources say the increase in sightings may be due to a combination of factors including changes in bear distribution, habitat fragmentation, seasonal movement and the summer mating season. However, most spring and summer bear sightings are of juvenile males being pushed out of their previous ranges by their mothers and other adult males.

    Historically, a small population of black bears have remained rooted in Mobile and Washington counties. Baldwin, Covington and Escambia counties on the Florida border host yet another population of bears. In northeast Alabama, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population.

    “While seeing a black bear in Alabama is uncommon and exciting, it is no cause for alarm,” said Marianne Hudson, Conservation Outreach Specialist for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). “There has never been a black bear attack on a human in Alabama.”

    Black bears are typically secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. Occasionally, a curious bear will explore a human-populated area in search of food.

    “If you are lucky enough to see a bear, simply leave it alone,” Hudson said.

  • Rep. Byrne Releases Statement on Russia

    From a Bradley Byrne news release:

    Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) issued the following statement regarding President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, this morning in Helsinki.

    Congressman Byrne said: “I applaud President Trump’s decision to start a dialogue with President Putin and I’m glad he is making it a priority. However, we must remember that Russia is not an ally – economically or militarily. They are an adversary. The United States should not tolerate actions by the Russians that intervene in our domestic affairs or pose a threat to our national security.”

2 years ago

Pro-lottery Alabama politicians are lying, contributing to the breakdown of the family (Video)

(Video above: Terrell Kennedy discusses the prospect of an Alabama lottery.)

Terrell Kennedy is the founder of Fit for Life, an after-school tutoring program for adolescent men in Birmingham. Kennedy started Fit for Life in 2005 as a way to give back and bring hope to his community, in contrast to what he believes pro-lottery Alabama politicians are now offering Alabamians: false hope.

The Alabama Senate approved lottery legislation last week. The bill, which was approved by a margin of 21-12, would send $100 million of lottery revenue each year to Medicaid, which is facing a $70 million shortfall this year, and the rest to the General Fund. The House is set to debate the bill this week. If it passes, a Constitutional Amendment will appear on the November ballot for statewide approval by the voters.

“I grew up in the projects,” Mr. Kennedy says in a video produced by the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank in Birmingham. “And I wanted to be to my family what I did not have. I wanted to be a good dad. And I’m just so concerned about the condition of the family today. We are already struggling. We’re going against headwinds. And, it’s unbelievable to me that our politicians, many of them who are of the same color as I am, who grew up just like I did, and now they have the power to make great decisions for our people—and [gambling] is what they’re offering them?”

“Who truly benefits from gambling?” He continues. “It’s not those at the bottom. We know that the rich will continue to get richer, those who are behind gambling. And we know that the politicians will continue to do well. They will be unaffected by all that takes place, all the destruction that takes place.”

Mr. Kennedy specifically mentioned the addictive nature of gambling that leads individuals to “put their hope in this activity” and ultimately “lose the money that is necessary to feed their kids, to feed their family.”

“Households break down,” he laments. “People do all kinds of things for addiction. It’s no different than being addicted to drugs. You do what’s necessary to get the money to try to make that big hit. With all of the issues that we’ve got in our society, we surely do not need to make decisions that will add to those problems.”

Mr. Kennedy also said the promise of a financial windfall for the state is unlikely, based on the experience of other states.

A Washington Post report published in 2012, for example, called into question whether so called education lotteries actually benefit public schools. According to the report, legislators in many states have concocted ways to keep the additional funds from ever making it into classrooms. In Texas, lottery funds paid for about two weeks of schooling for public school students in 1996. By 2010 it was down to three days.

“The evidence is bountiful,” concludes Mr. Kennedy. “Many states were told what we are being told by our politicians, and they were lied to—just like our politicians are lying to us.”

2 years ago

McCutcheon’s first words as Alabama House Speaker: The ‘imperial speakership’ is over

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In his first words as Alabama Speaker of the House, State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) declared “the days of the imperial speakership are over.”

McCutcheon was elected by a vote of 68 to 28, defeating the Democrats’ nominee, Rep. Joe Knight of Montgomery.

“I am not my predecessor. The days of the imperial speakership are over,” he said as members of both parties applauded. “I will work every day, every hour, every minute and every second to be the people’s speaker.”

RELATED: Alabama House Republicans just elected a new Speaker. Here’s what you should know.

McCutcheon’s rise to the speakership comes two months after a jury convicted former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) on 12 counts of using his public office for personal gain. The conviction immediately removed Hubbard from office, prompting a crowded by uncontentious race to succeed him.

McCutcheon was previously one of Hubbard’s top lieutenants in his role as House Rules Chairman, a powerful position atop the committee that decides which bills make it to the floor for a vote each day. But while Hubbard earned a reputation for ruling the lower chamber with an iron fist, McCutcheon garnered respect on both sides of the aisle for his even-handed approach.

Speaker McCutcheon’s new approach will immediately be tested as the legislature convenes for a special session to debate Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal.

The Governor’s call includes the following:

“A constitutional amendment enabling a state lottery to support the General Fund” and “Legislation providing funding for Medicaid, infrastructure investment, and/or debt repayment.”

“This call is designed for the Alabama Legislature to address adequate support of essential state services including children, the elderly, people with mental illness and support for men and women in law enforcement,” the Governor said in a statement. “A primary focus of this special session is for legislators to allow the people within their district the right to vote on a statewide lottery. I am looking forward to working with lawmakers over the next few days as we address legislation that is simple, clean and transparent.”

Gov. Bentley has been saying for weeks that a state-sponsored lottery is the only solution left to fully fund Alabama’s Medicaid program, even calling for anti-gambling faith leaders to get down off of their “high horse” to help children.

RELATED: Bentley lays out Medicaid funding options: Create a lottery or let sick children die

“Which is the most immoral: Buying five lottery tickets with money you earned or allowing a child to die?” He asked. “I don’t think there’s even a choice there, so we must fund Medicaid, we must take care of our sick children, our disabled people, those in nursing homes, those with mental illness.”

Gov. Bentley went on to say that the government has a moral obligation to fund such programs.

“Because you know what? [The sick children] didn’t choose any of that,” he said. “Nobody did, and that’s one of the big functions of government is to take care of those that can’t take care of themselves.”

Alabama is one of only six states that does not have a lottery, but a gambling expansion of any kind is already facing fierce opposition from conservative and religious organizations.

In 1999, Alabamians voted down then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed education lottery 54% to 46%. Since then, numerous statewide candidates — most of them Democrats — have run on a platform of letting the people vote again.

The special session of the Alabama Legislature began Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. Any constitutional amendment for a lottery must be approved by August 24th for it to appear on the General Election ballot in November.

RELATED: Bentley’s lottery panic is a sham. Here’s how Alabama can pay its bills without it.

2 years ago

You’ll want to hear why Alabama’s next House Speaker felt ‘guilty’ the day after being elected

Members from the McChord Field Honor Guard pallbearer team carry a casket to a hearse. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keoni Chavarria)
Members from the McChord Field Honor Guard pallbearer team carry a casket to a hearse. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keoni Chavarria)
Members from the McChord Field Honor Guard pallbearer team carry a casket to a hearse. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Keoni Chavarria)

Alabama House Republicans on Tuesday tapped Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) to be the next Speaker of the House, setting him up to assume arguably the most powerful job in state politics when the legislature reconvenes in the coming weeks.

The looming special legislative session prompted the House GOP caucus to reconvene sooner than they would have otherwise, and the timing of the election was particularly tough for Mr. McCutcheon, who was preparing to leave the state on a wedding anniversary “bucket list” trip that had been planned for months, if not longer.

Everything ended up working out — Republicans met and elected Mr. McCutcheon their leader, and he was able to fly out shortly thereafter.

But it was a solemn moment during a whirlwind few days that compelled Alabama’s next House Speaker to share an update on his Facebook page.

Yesterday Debbie and I flew to Seattle to celebrate a “46 years of marriage” trip. We were excited and looking forward to it.

During the approach into Seattle the pilot told the passengers we had a fallen U.S. SOLDIER on board and his body was being taken home for burial. Not sure of the circumstances surrounding his death, the flag draped casket spoke volumes to us.

We were ask to stay seated while the honor guard and family got off of the plane. It was a sad moment! As we watched, the mother and the soldier’s young boys were standing in front of us. The mother was weeping and Deb put her arm around her. I tear up thinking about it.

I felt guilty at first because we were on a trip to celebrate and here stood a family that had suffered a great loss. As Deb and I walked away I felt a real sense of gratitude for my freedom. Freedom is not free there is a price that is paid and Deb and I just witnessed our freedom being paid in full.

It sounds like Mr. McCutcheon will be taking some perspective with him into one of the toughest jobs in the state.

2 years ago

Alabama House Republicans just elected a new Speaker. Here’s what you should know.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)

In the wake of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard being removed from office after being convicted on 12 counts of felony public corruption, House Republicans have tapped one of his top lieutenants, Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville), to take over as speaker.

This decision led to immediate backlash from some grassroots activists and members of the media, who said the House GOP had chosen to maintain the status quo, rather than seek the major shift necessary after Hubbard’s conviction undermined Republicans’ ability to lead the state.

Mr. McCutcheon’s recent past support for tax increases worries conservatives who are hungry for reforms, but it was his decision to stand by Mr. Hubbard throughout his legal ordeal that has raised the most eyebrows.

But McCutcheon’s election is not as simple as “they chose the status quo over change.”

Having watched Mr. McCutcheon closely for the past six years, and after talking to dozens of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, one major change at the top of the House will be that the new speaker’s character is beyond reproach.

Alabamians will not have to endure another round of embarrassing scandals or ethics questions with Mr. McCutcheon, a longtime law enforcement officer, holding the gavel. That change alone is enough to spark optimism in Yellowhammer State residents who have grown sadly accustomed to their leaders disgracing themselves.

But how could he stand by Mr. Hubbard after he was indicted?

The answer to this question is really quite simple: Mike Hubbard lied, and the members of the House, to many of whom Mr. Hubbard had been fiercely loyal, believed him. And so did his constituents. Mr. Hubbard was overwhelmingly re-elected to his House seat just weeks after being indicted. He was subsequently re-elected speaker two months later by a unanimous vote of both Republicans and Democrats.

In other words, a lot of people were victims of Mr. Hubbard’s fraud.

On the first day of his trial, numerous House members from both parties expressed dismay at what they learned for the first time, because all of the facts had previously only been disclosed inside grand jury proceedings and private business dealings.

The most important question now is, in what direction will Mr. McCutcheon lead the people’s House?

Conservatives in the House — and across the state — are hungry for a return to the reform-minded approach GOP leaders took just after Republicans seized control of the legislature in 2010. The lack of reforms in recent years has left some newer members of the legislature wondering aloud why they even bother going to Montgomery.

“I don’t really know if I’m going to run again,” one frustrated Republican told Yellowhammer. “If we’re not going to do anything, then what’s the point?”

Conservatives are wanting to know if the McCutcheon-led House is going to pass tax cuts, rather than push tax hikes, and if pro-gun and pro-life will finally be priorities.

Mr. McCutcheon’s personality is the polar opposite of Mr. Hubbard’s. And even if it wasn’t, House members will no longer stand for being ruled with an iron fist. That change will take care of itself.

The one primary criticism that the well-liked gentleman from north Alabama receives is that he has in the past had a tendency to appease, rather than lead.

The real change in the House will come if Mr. McCutcheon re-ignites the GOP’s passion for conservative reform.

The floor is yours, Mr. Speaker.

What are you going to do?

2 years ago

TROUBLE: A grand jury may be looking into whether Bentley broke the law

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley’s illicit affair with his former senior advisor, Rebekah Mason, has for months made him the subject of public scorn, and it now appears that it has made him the target of a grand jury investigation.

According to court documents, multiple reports and corroborating Yellowhammer sources in Montgomery, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office has empaneled a special grand jury in Alabama’s capital city and tasked it with unraveling the tangled web of accusations that have been levied against the sitting governor and individuals around him.

Among those who are believed to have already testified before the grand jury are numerous current and former law enforcement officials who were among the first to find out about the Bentley-Mason affair, which set off an internal power struggle that ultimately resulted in Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier being replaced by Stan Stabler.

Mr. Bentley is also believed to have testified. Some legal experts Yellowhammer spoke with Thursday said this could cast doubt on assumptions that Bentley is a target of the investigation, because it is rare for a targeted individual to testify under such circumstances.

Mr. Collier served as the state’s top cop before being terminated by Governor Bentley in March of this year. A civil suit filed by Mr. Collier alleges that Governor Bentley terminated his employment after Mr. Collier refused to lie to a prosecutor in matters related to then-House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s ethics case. He also says the Bentley administration purposefully planted false stories about him in the press and suggests Governor Bentley promoted Stan Stabler to take his place because Mr. Stabler remained loyal to him in spite of growing evidence Bentley was abusing his office to facilitate his affair.

Governor Bentley says Mr. Collier was “terminated for cause” after an internal investigation revealed Mr. Collier had misappropriated state funds.

In March Yellowhammer released audio recordings exposing Bentley’s intimate relationship with Mrs. Mason.

In the wake of those revelations, information began to trickle out that revealed the depth of the Bentley-Mason affair and the potential misuse of state resources to facilitate it.

Alabama Law Enforcement Agency confirms it delivered Bentley’s wallet via helicopter
Bentley, Mason, Vegas, and Celine Dion: the trip experts are calling ‘illegal’
UNCOVERED: Bentley and Mason co-own secret safe deposit box together
‘Neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency’ — Here’s what’s in Bentley’s articles of impeachment
Economic developers frustrated as Bentley scandal chases away companies, jobs

The Alabama House of Representatives went on to begin impeachment proceedings against Governor Bentley, which he called “political grandstanding.”

Impeachment proceedings have since then been bogged down in the House Judiciary Committee led by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), a Bentley defender, but the lawmaker who spearheaded the initial impeachment push believes the grand jury could add new fuel to the fire.

RELATED: Meet the Alabama lawmaker quietly promising to save Bentley from impeachment

State Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) released the following statement Thursday:

I filed articles of impeachment against Gov. Bentley in April because it was apparent even then that dishonesty, deception, and corruption were running rampant behind the locked doors of his office, so I am gratified to learn that a grand jury is conducting a criminal probe into his actions and those of his closest aides.

If we, as public officials, are going to be true servants of the citizens who elected us and offer ourselves as good stewards of their taxpayer dollars, we must root out wrongdoing wherever it may occur in government regardless of party affiliation.

I know that Democrats across the aisle may be tempted to exploit this revelation for partisan purposes, so it is important to remember that a Republican filed the articles of impeachment against Gov. Bentley and Republicans passed the toughest-in-the-nation ethics law that is achieving success in punishing corruption that takes place. It is also difficult for Democrats to point fingers when the last Democrat elected governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman, remains confined to a prison cell in Louisiana.

If anything, this grand jury probe offers further evidence that it is time to hand the reins of state government over to a new generation of Republicans who are ready to step away from the corrupt politics of the past and have the courage to implement needed reforms that are rooted in proven conservative ideals and principles.

*This article has been updated to include some legal experts’ opinions casting doubt on Bentley being a target of the grand jury.

2 years ago

With no ‘faith in government,’ Auburn student wants to succeed convicted House Speaker

Auburn University's Samford Hall
Auburn University’s Samford Hall

AUBURN, Ala. — One Auburn University student is taking on the tremendous task of running for the Alabama House seat formerly occupied by convicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Not only is the college junior trying to win the 79th district, but he is attempting to do so under the banner of the Libertarian Party.

Gage Fenwick, an economic major, hails from Pell City and worked for libertarian-leaning U.S. Senator Rand Paul as his statewide student coordinator during his presidential campaign. But once Paul dropped out after a disappointing Iowa Caucus, Fenwick — like many libertarian-leaning Republicans — felt lost and abandoned by the GOP.

After determining the remainders in the Republican race were unacceptable, the Auburn student looked into the Libertarian Party. “I fell in limbo, I didn’t really know where to go as far as politically,” he told Auburn’s student paper. “I’ve always had libertarian ideals, but I never really looked at the party.”

After joining the LP, Fenwick became a delegate and supported the conservative libertarian candidate Austin Petersen. “He was the one who made me realize I should join the Libertarian Party,” he said to The Plainsman. “It’s really for one major reason. It’s because of the Liberty movement — this movement to push freedom for the people [and] to take away that authoritarian rule of government.”

Libertarians generally support limiting or eliminating government intervention across the board. On economic and social policy, libertarians assert that the government should have at best a minimal role, and leave such grand determinations to voluntary private interactions.

In the United States, the Libertarian Party is currently considered a minor or third party. Because of its classification, candidates representing it face a tremendous uphill battle to even get on ballots. According to Alabama law, for Fenwick to even participate, he needs 276 verified signatures by Sept. 13 to get on the ballot in November.

In 2016, both the Republican and Democratic presumptive nominees have the highest unfavorables in U.S. history, and many are contemplating voting for a third party for the first time ever. “I just realized that within the current two-party system, the people are limited with their choices,” Fenwick said. “I want to give the people another option. I don’t want it to be whoever wins the Republican primary that’s the de facto representative.”

In perfect libertarian fashion, Fenwick says he is not running to restore people’s faith in government, despite the flurry of recent scandals that have rocked the state.

“I do believe people have absolutely lost their faith in the Alabama state government, and the thing is: I don’t want to restore people’s faith in government,” he said. “I want people to question their government everyday. I want it to be a situation where people are always questioning their representative on how they voted — always calling them out on why they made certain decisions.”

After Hubbard’s conviction, Governor Robert Bentley set the date for the 79th District’s special election November 29. If there is a run-off in the hotly contested Republican Party Primary, the election will be moved to Feb. 7, 2017.

(h/t The Plainsman)

2 years ago

DEVELOPING: Alabama’s most conservative lawmaker is running for Speaker of the House

Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)
Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise)

ENTERPRISE, Ala. — The state representative Yellowhammer ranked as “Alabama’s most conservative legislator” has thrown his hat in the ring to become the next Speaker of the House. Former Speaker Mike Hubbard was removed from office last month after being convicted on 12 felony counts of public corruption.

In a letter sent to his colleagues Wednesday evening, Moore said under his leadership the House would deliver on Republicans’ 2010 campaign promise to give the people of Alabama “the conservative representation they have so long deserved.”

Moore specifically mentioned tax cuts, legislation to push back against federal regulations, and pro-gun and pro-life bills among the issues that would be included in his legislative priorities.

My ideas for caucus priorities include tax cuts for small businesses and working families, a constitutional amendment to protect Alabama gun owners from being placed into the FBI database, a program to incentivize state agency leadership to cut wasteful spending from their departments, and legislation and compacts to protect our industries and resources such as farming and coal mining from the punitive effects of federal regulation. And every caucus agenda should include legislation to protect our state’s unborn children.

I believe we need leadership who will embrace and advance a conservative agenda that unapologetically puts working Alabamians first. That can be done by unleashing the untapped potential of this caucus, every member of which is intimately familiar with the challenges of their Districts and the issues that resonate with their constituents. I also believe we need leadership whose motives are entirely above reproach. And we need a steady spokesman who can sell our collective ideas to the people of this state.

One of the most frequently expressed complaints against the former House Speaker was that he centralized power in his office, an issue Moore said he would address by “unleashing the untapped potential” of the full GOP caucus, “every member of which is intimately familiar with the challenges of their Districts and the issues that resonate with their constituents.”

“I also believe we need leadership whose motives are entirely above reproach,” he continued. “And we need a steady spokesman who can sell our collective ideas to the people of this state.”

Yellowhammer’s brief profile of Moore for the “most conservative Alabama legislators” feature outlined his private sector and legislative experience:

Representative Barry Moore is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He’s a founder or investor in multiple successful businesses, most notably Barry Moore Industries, a commercial waste management company based in Enterprise. Every vote he casts in the legislature is informed by his extensive private sector experience.
If it’s about smaller government, lower taxes, less spending or decreased government regulation, Moore’s going to be with you 100 percent of the time.

With Ft. Rucker located in his district, Moore has also been a leading advocate for military families. He shepherded a bill that made it easier for active duty military personnel to get in-state tuition, and a similar bill making it easier for military spouses to get business licenses. He also sponsored a bill that would’ve reduced unemployment benefits for certain persons receiving pension payments.

The vote that most illustrates Moore’s rock-ribbed conservatism occurred during the 2011 session. A bill to extend unemployment benefits was passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 94-1. The one “no” vote? Barry Moore.

The American Conservative Union also ranked him the third most conservative House member during the 2015 legislative sessions.

The Speaker’s race could ultimately become a battle over the fiscal and ideological direction of the House.

Other leading contenders, Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw), are both well liked among their colleagues but vocally pushed tax hikes during recent legislative sessions. Conservative State Reps. Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) and Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) have also expressed their desire to become Speaker, creating a crowded field that may take some time to whittle itself down before House Republicans tap a new leader.

“In recent weeks I have seen some good men step up and express their desire to fill the leadership void at the top of the People’s House,” Moore wrote in his letter to his colleagues. “I have heard a lot of talk about who will be the most fair and even-handed, or who will maintain the status quo or shake things up, and I have listened to discussions about where we have been and what brought us to this point — with low morale, a damaged brand, and no leader.

“What I have not heard, however, is a clear vision for where we are going to go from here. It is my belief that we must establish a vision to move forward, and the clarity of that vision depends upon our unwavering commitment to conservative principles and values.”

A handful of past Yellowhammer articles on Moore can be found below, along with a campaign ad that shows him speaking at a Tea Party rally in Enterprise during the 2010 election cycle.

1. Moore: Abolish state income tax, move to consumption tax — ‘It’s the only tax illegals pay’
2. Alabama lawmaker will introduce bill to incentivize govt. bureaucrats to make cuts
3. Top 7 most conservative Alabama legislators

2 years ago

Alabama’s most powerful politician has fallen. Here’s what (and who) is next.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)

Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 felony public corruption charges late last week, immediately prompting his removal from office as Alabama’s Speaker of the House. Such a scenario would be a seismic political event, regardless of the individual; the Speaker’s post is arguably the most powerful position in state government. But Hubbard may have been the strongest speaker to ever hold the job, meaning his ouster will now lead to a power vacuum of tectonic proportions.

His sentencing will not take place for almost a month, but the jockeying for power among his former colleagues began mere moments after the jury returned to the Lee County courtroom with a verdict.

“The corpse is still warm and the vultures are already swarming,” one House member texted less than 30 minutes after the trial’s conclusion. “It’s sad, really.”

Such a moment provides a rare, honest glimpse into the world of power politics, where naked ambition is often clothed in false humility to make it more palatable to a public that still values the appearance of reluctant leadership.

So what, and perhaps more importantly “who,” is next?

Here’s our best shot at making sense of the chaos:

1. Sentencing and uncertainty

Mike Hubbard’s sentencing will take place July 8th. He faces the possibility of spending decades behind bars, meaning there will be a lot of nervous politicos around the state wondering what Hubbard might tell prosecutors in an effort to obtain a lighter sentence.

Where does the attorney general’s office go from here? They landed the big fish they wanted, but there are still some unanswered questions.

Perhaps most notably, what will the AG’s office do about the lobbyists and the businessmen who employ them (i.e. principals) from whom Hubbard was convicted of soliciting and taking “things of value”? Do they double down and pursue charges against them, too, or do they take their victory and move on?

As of now, there are a lot more questions than answers on this front.

2. The process of electing a new Speaker of the House

Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston is now the acting Speaker of the House and will serve in that role until a new Speaker is elected by a vote of the full House of Representatives at the beginning of the next legislative session.

That means it could be months until a new Speaker is officially installed. Someone will, however, become the presumptive Speaker of the House before then.

House Republicans will likely convene in the coming weeks to decide who they will collectively put forward to be the next Speaker.

As of now, a handful of House members are testing the waters to see if they might have enough support to either become Speaker or to cut a deal with someone they believe could win.

3. The early favorite

The Speaker’s gavel is State Rep. Bill Poole’s (R-Tuscaloosa) for the taking, but it is unclear right now if he wants it.

The parallels between Poole and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan are almost uncanny.

Both are young and rose through the ranks quickly based on sheer talent and ultimately gained their colleagues’ respect as policy wonks sitting atop budget committees. Both are “consensus picks,” bridging the gap between staunch conservatives and more moderate factions, as well as between younger and older members. Both have shied away from socializing with lobbyists outside of work, opting instead to spend time with their young families. Both are viewed as an opportunity to “turn the page,” Ryan from years of Boehner’s broken promises and penchant for “punishing” Republicans who opposed him, Poole from years of Hubbard’s bullying and iron-fisted rule. Both stand out among their colleagues for their genuine reluctance to become Speaker. Both also worry that their aspirations for higher office may be derailed by taking an often thankless job that is usually the last stop in a long career, not a stepping stone for a politician with decades ahead of them.

But here’s the fact of the matter: Bill Poole will be Speaker of the House, if he wants to be, and he is the only House member who can say that right now.

His decision is made more difficult by the fact that he is a practicing attorney who has to bill hours to make a living. The Speaker’s job can be all consuming, and Poole is not one to do things halfway. He is going to have to decide whether he wants to make the personal and business sacrifices that will be necessary to do the job.

Stay tuned.

4. Other key players

If Poole decides to pass on the job, chaos and deal-making will ensue.

State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) is the next most likely candidate. He is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his fairness as Rules Committee Chairman, but he lost the support of many staunch conservatives with his outspoken push for a gas tax this past session. Losing that bloc of votes makes it much more difficult for McCutcheon to cobble together a coalition to win. He and Poole are meeting on Monday to discuss their plans.

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) was one of the first out of the gate trying to wrangle support in the wake of Hubbard’s conviction. He has also had former House member and current Secretary of State John Merrill calling members on his behalf. Jones has a small group of loyalists in his camp, but is viewed with suspicion by a wide swath of the GOP caucus. He has no clear ideology and his management of the Judiciary Committee has left some members questioning whether he could handle the Speaker’s job, which is very process-oriented. His best bet may be to leverage his bloc of votes — however small it may be — to keep his seat at the Leadership table.

Other names getting tossed around include Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville), who has the support of a chunk of staunch conservatives and may run if Poole opts out; Jim Carnes (R-Birmingham), who’s been trying to become speaker for a long time but is viewed as somewhat of a retread and just doesn’t have the base of support to pull it off; Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville), a well-liked elder statesman who could be the fallback choice if a nasty fight breaks out between other contenders; Phil Williams (R-Huntsville), a successful entrepreneur who was the only House member bold enough to challenge Hubbard directly for the job while he was still in office; Randy Davis (R-Mobile), a south Alabama businessman; and April Weaver (R-Pelham), the first woman to ever serve as chairman of the House Health Committee.

5. A new day

The Speaker’s post will remain one of the most powerful jobs in the state because of the way Alabama’s government is structured with a weak executive and strong legislature. But no matter who assumes the role, power and authority in the House is going to be much more decentralized than it was under Hubbard, and that is a good thing.

2 years ago

Articles of impeachment filed against Bentley, here are the 23 lawmakers who made it happen

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Representative Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) has officially filed articles of impeachment against Governor Robert Bentley after accumulating the 21 signatures needed to begin the process.

Henry’s original resolution had 10 co-sponsors, but earlier this week the House passed a new rule outlining a framework for the impeachment process, which has not been tried in over 100 years. The new rule required a minimum of 21 signatures to send an impeachment resolution to the Judiciary Committee. Henry rounded up 23 signatures from his fellow legislators, including 20 Republicans and 3 Democrats.

Other legislators who signed the resolution praised Henry for his leadership through this process.

“This never would have happened against the will of the establishment of it weren’t for Ed Henry’s tenaciousness,” said Rep. Johnny Mack Marrow (D-Red Bay).

The resolution makes reference to the two complaints filed against the governor with the Alabama Ethics Commission by State Auditor Jim Zeigler and former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George.

The resolution also claims that Bentley “violated the public trust” and accuses the governor of “willful neglect of duty” and “corruption of office,” including misuse of state property, misappropriation of state resources, and acting in violation of law to promote his own personal agenda.

Here are the 23 lawmakers who signed Henry’s impeachment resolution:

• Ed Henry (R-Hartselle)
• Isaac Whorton (R-Valley)
• David Sessions (R-Grand Bay)
• Mike Ball (R-Madison)
• Jim Patterson (R-Meridianville)
• Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant)
• Ritchie Whorton (R-Owens Cross Roads)
• Mike Holmes (R-Wetumpka)
• David Standridge (R-Oneonta)
• Barry Moore (R-Elba)
• Danny Crawford (R-Athens)
• Allen Farley (R-Pleasant Grove)
• Jack W. Williams (R-Georgetown)
• Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville)
• Craig Ford (D-Gadsden)
• Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham)
• Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile)
• Mack Butler (R-Gadsden)
• Becky Nordgren (R-Gadsden)
• Phil Williams (R-Harvest)
• Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay)
• Reed Ingram (R-Montgomery)
• Arnold Mooney (R-Birmingham)

Governor Bentley has repeatedly said there are no grounds for impeachment, and has called the attempt a political attack.

2 years ago

Meet the Alabama lawmaker quietly promising to save Bentley from impeachment

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) speaks at a jobs announcement with Governor Robert Bentley behind him (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) speaks at a jobs announcement with Governor Robert Bentley behind him (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) speaks at a jobs announcement with Governor Robert Bentley behind him (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) is poised to bury articles of impeachment against Governor Robert Bentley if the House continues on its current track toward sending the articles to the Judiciary Committee, which Jones chairs.

According to multiples sources in the House, Jones has told colleagues he will “protect” members of his committee from having to take a vote on the issue and effectively kill the effort before it gains any more traction.

Jones’ efforts may come as a surprise to casual political observers who have heard so much in the media from impeachment advocates in recent weeks, but behind closed doors Republican lawmakers are much less inclined to push forward with a high-profile effort to boot the state’s embattled governor out of office.

“He is not alone,” one Republican lawmaker said on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal GOP caucus business. “Basically it’s like all the attorneys in the House have banded together and Jones is the lead lawyer since he’s chairman of Judiciary. I am honestly not sure yet how I would vote on impeachment, but I think we need to go ahead and get the process started, investigate, and see where it takes us. That is not where we’re headed right now.”

Section 173 of the Alabama Constitution lays out the grounds on which a constitutional officer can be impeached:

The governor… may be removed from office for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics to such an extent, in view of the dignity of the office and importance of its duties, as unfits the officer for the discharge of such duties, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office, or committed under color thereof, or connected therewith, by the senate sitting as a court of impeachment, under oath or affirmation, on articles or charges preferred by the house of representatives.

State Rep. Ed Henry’s articles of impeachment charge Bentley with neglecting his duties as governor, corruption in office, incompetence and moral turpitude. In response to the threat of impeachment, Bentley released a statement calling it “a political attack.”

Multiple sources say Jones and his allies argue that incompetence is only grounds for impeachment if Bentley is found to be mentally incompetent by physicians. They also say moral turpitude is not grounds for impeachment, in spite of it being listed in the Constitution. In short, many of the lawmakers who are against impeaching the governor have said they do not plan to take action unless they see clear evidence he has broken the law.

Rep. Henry, who sponsored the initial impeachment petition, expressed frustration on the House floor Tuesday, saying he was “starting to feel at some level there are some shenanigans at play” to “set (impeachment) aside.”

Henry’s remarks were in response to State Rep. Mac McCutcheon’s (R-Huntsville) effort to increase the number of signatures needed to start impeachment proceedings from 10 to 21. McCutcheon explained that he believes the higher threshold would give the articles of impeachment more weight.

“The more signatures we have, the more credible it will be,” he said on the House floor.

Rep. Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) agreed.

“I would rather see the number a lot higher, because of the gravity of the situation,” he said.

State Rep. Matt Fridy (R-Montevallo) attempted to pass a resolution creating a 15-member committee to investigate whether Bentley should be impeached, but concerns were raised that selecting the committee after articles of impeachment had already been introduced would inject politics into the process. As a result, impeachment-related efforts will likely be sent to Jones’ Judiciary Committee for a quiet death.

“With the exception of a few of the guys on the far-right, everyone else talking about impeaching Bentley is just blowing smoke,” said one lobbyist. “It’s dead, whether everyone knows it yet or not.”

Rep. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

UPDATE: The Alabama House on Tuesday approved rules changes that now require a three-fifths vote (63 votes in 105-member House) for impeachment to be brought up for consideration.

2 years ago

Breaking the law isn’t necessary to get impeached, regardless of what Bentley says

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor's Office, Daniel Sparkman)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor's Office, Daniel Sparkman)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (Photo: Governor’s Office, Daniel Sparkman)

At a ribbon cutting ceremony for Phase III of the Alabama Robotics Technology Park this morning, Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) once again faced questions about the ongoing process to impeach him. “I have no plans to step down,” Bentley reiterated. “We have done nothing illegal.”

While the truth of the governor’s statement is yet to be determined, the governor misses the point entirely. Since the scandal broke, Bentley has defended himself by claiming he did not break the law and he has declared the process a mere political attack. “There are no grounds for impeachment,” He said after Rep. Ed Henry (R-Harselle) announced he would bring articles of impeachment against the governor. “I will vigorously defend myself and my administration from this political attack.”

RELATED: Lawmakers begin process to impeach Bentley; Governor calls it ‘grandstanding’

To put it plainly, the suggestion that a governor must break the law to get impeached is completely inaccurate.

The Alabama Constitution states:

The governor…may be removed from office for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics to such an extent, in view of the dignity of the office and importance of its duties, as unfits the officer for the discharge of such duties, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office, or committed under color thereof, or connected therewith, by the senate sitting as a court of impeachment, under oath or affirmation, on articles or charges preferred by the house of representatives.

While many of the charges in the list above require suspicion of criminal activity, others do not. “Incompetency” and “offenses of moral turpitude” fall into the category of those that do not; they also happen to be two of the articles of impeachment brought against the governor.

RELATED: ‘Neglect of duty, corruption, incompetency’ — Here’s what’s in Bentley’s articles of impeachment

The authors of the articles allege incompetency on the grounds that the governor has exercised “poor judgement” and made decisions “detrimental to the people of the state.” While the relationship with Mrs. Mason seems to be the impetus for this article, the Republican representatives – particularly Henry – insinuated that Bentley’s decision to push for tax hikes after running on a “No New Tax” platform also played a role. Furthermore, economic developers have also said several companies considering expanding their operations into Alabama have backed away in the wake of the governor’s growing scandal.

RELATED: Economic developers frustrated as Bentley scandal chases away companies, jobs

The Alabama Supreme Court defines “moral turpitude” as an act “immoral in and of itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law…” The articles of impeachment also contend that Bentley’s admitted extramarital relationship with Mrs. Mason qualifies as such an act and renders him ineligible to continue serving as governor.

RELATED: The complete Bentley-Mason affair audio recordings and transcripts

Rep. Henry and several others insisted, that the articles were brought because of the lack of competence, not the presence of criminality. “Waiting on a criminal investigation would be passing the buck,” Henry said.

Regardless of what turns up in the form of criminal activity, the members of the legislature do not need evidence of illegality remove the governor from his post. To insist otherwise is disingenuous.

2 years ago

Alabama House passes budget with significant raise for teachers, support personnel

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget that includes significant pay raises for teachers an education support personnel.

The Office of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) detailed the raises in a release:

Under the House-passed budget, teachers and support personnel, such as bus drivers, lunchroom workers, and others, earning less than $75,000 a year will receive a four percent salary increase while administrators and others earning more than $75,000 will receive a two percent raise. The proposed ETF budget includes a four percent across-the-board pay raise for all community college employees. The budget also fully-funds health insurance and retirement program funding requests.

“As a result of the responsible spending practices that have been utilized since Republicans took leadership of the Legislature, this budget is able to reward teachers and support personnel with a needed pay raise that also closes the salary gap between administrators and classroom educators,” said House Education Budget Chairman Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa).

“This budget also includes significant increases in classroom spending for priorities like First Class Pre-K, distance learning, school technology, and Advanced Placement courses,” added Speaker Hubbard. “When coupled with the funding we are providing to make us the first state in the nation to offer wireless broadband access in each of its K-12 public school classrooms, this education budget may be considered among the best ones passed in Alabama’s history.”

Hubbard’s office also released the following “highlights” included in the budget:

· Providing funding for an additional 475 teachers in 7-12 grade classrooms, where the need is greatest.

· Increased spending for textbooks ($8 million for FY2017 and $20.8 million over the past two years combined) and transportation ($13.5 million for FY2017 and $18 million over the past two years combined).

· Expansion of Alabama’s nationally-recognized voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, known as First Class, with an additional $14 million in funding in FY2017 and $24.3 million over the past two years combined.

· A $3.1 million increase in funding for student materials ($6.1 million over the past two years combined) to prevent teachers from pay out-of-pocket for needed classroom supplies.

· Allowing local school systems to set priorities and meet urgent needs by providing an additional $47 million in discretionary “Other Current Expense” funding.

· Providing full funding for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) with a $20 million increase that is intended to avoid premium increases.

The education budget now goes to the senate for consideration.

2 years ago

Alabama House Republicans pass bill blocking minimum wage hikes


MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday overcame a Democratic filibuster to pass a bill to block cities from imposing minimum wage hikes. The bill passed 71-31 and now moves to the Senate, where it will once again face fierce opposition from Democratic lawmakers.

Last August the Birmingham City Council passed an ordinance to increase the city’s minimum wage to $8.50 this year and $10.10 by July 2017. Alabama does not have a statewide minimum wage so the federal $7.25 minimum wage currently applies.

The vote on the citywide minimum wage hike came just days after the council voted 8-1 to increase its own salary from $15,000 per year to $50,000 per year in 2017. City councilmen serve in a part-time capacity.

The council claimed the minimum wage increase was necessary because of the rising cost of living in Birmingham, although The Magic City was ranked the most affordable city in the United States in a recent study by Forbes Magazine.

“The goal of it is to really try to bring in line the cost of living standards,” said City Council President Jonathan Austin, who sponsored the measure.

Free market economists have long criticized minimum wage hikes for chopping the bottom rung off of the economic ladder, warning such mandates only increase layoffs and cause prices to rise, effectively eliminating the supposed benefits of the forced wage increase.

Most recently, Seattle has become the poster city for a minimum wage hike gone wrong.

The city increased its minimum wage to $15 per hour last year and has experienced disastrous consequences.

In an effort to avoid layoffs as a result of the hike, some small businesses have reacted by tacking on to customer’s bills an additional 15 percent surcharge.

Additionally, some low-wage workers have asked their bosses to cut their hours after realizing the wage increase would push them past the threshold of receiving government assistance, such as food stamps and rent assistance. This has left employers scrambling to pay the increased wages while their employees’ production has plummeted.

“If they cut down their hours to stay on those subsidies because the $15 per hour minimum wage didn’t actually help get them out of poverty, all you’ve done is put a burden on the business and given false hope to a lot of people,” said a local radio host.

Seattle’s restaurant industry has been the hardest hit.

Many restaurants now peg labor costs approaching 50 percent of total operating costs, making it nearly impossible to survive. As a result, restaurant closings in Seattle are far outpacing the national average. Perhaps even more alarming for Seattle is that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a slowing of growth in restaurant jobs, meaning future jobs that would have been created will never even have a chance to exist.

This is particularly concerning for Birmingham’s flourishing culinary scene.

Earlier this year Birmingham was hailed by Zagat as “America’s Next Hot Food City.”

“This Southern contender took the top spot due to a delicious combo of fine dining, barbecue and a fresh batch of more casual restaurants,” explained Zagat. “The food culture – and the city itself – have changed dramatically in recent years.”

Alabama Democrats are also pushing to install a statewide minimum wage as part of their legislative agenda this year.

“Alabama does not have a state minimum wage, and the federal minimum wage is not a living wage,” they wrote in a release. “House Democrats will introduce legislation to establish a state minimum wage and to gradually set that wage at $10.10 an hour with an automatic cost-of-living increase that would be increase when federal social security benefits increase.”

Troy University economist Dr. Daniel J. Smith believes such a minimum wage increase would actually hurt individuals on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

“The reality is, the least-skilled Alabamians — primarily young, part-time workers — will face unemployment as mandated wage rates exceed their skill and experience levels,” he said. “Sadly, their best option for gaining the skill and experience necessary to earn a higher wage through on-the-job experience is taken away. To truly help these workers, policy makers should focus on helping this group boost their skills through educational reform and by expanding economic opportunity, not by increasing the costs of employing them.”

2 years ago

Meet Alabama’s most liberal lawmakers, including one Republican

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)
Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The American Conservative Union (ACU) this week is rolling out its annual list of Alabama’s most conservative and liberal lawmakers, and the organization’s scores may come as a surprise to some legislator’s constituents.

ACU was founded in 1964 and refers to itself as the “nation’s oldest and largest conservative grassroots organization.”

“For more than fifty years, ACU has served as an umbrella organization harnessing the collective strength of conservative organizations fighting for Americans who are concerned with liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and strong national defense,” the group says on its website. “As America’s premier conservative voice, ACU is the leading entity in providing conservative positions on issues to Congress, the Executive Branch, State Legislatures, the media, political candidates, and the public.”

The organization has for years released annual conservative ratings for members of the United States House and Senate, and more recently began doing the same at the state level.

Here’s how Alabama legislature stacked up:

In 2015, the average Alabama Senate Republican scored 62% on a scale of 1-100, while the average Senate Democrat scored a 35%.

In the House, the average Republican scored a 48% and the average Democrat scored 46%, leaving very little gap between the two parties.

Only four lawmakers received the ACU’s Award for Conservative Achievement for scoring over 80%.

After calculating last year’s votes, Senators Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) and Priscilla Dunn (D-Bessemer) and Representatives Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) and Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) were rated the legislature’s most liberal members.

Senator Coleman-Madison, who received a 17% rating from the ACU, was first elected to the Senate in 2006 after serving in the House from 2003 to 2006. Before that she was a two-term member of the Birmingham City Council.

Senator Dunn (29%) was first elected in 2009 after her predecessor was convicted on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery and money laundering.

On the House side, Rep. Todd is rated the Alabama legislature’s most liberal member with a 13% ACU score. She is the Alabama legislature’s only openly gay member and has been a vocal proponent of various liberal causes ranging from same-sex marriage to expanding government healthcare via Medicaid.

Rep. Shedd, whose 29% ACU rating makes him the legislature’s most liberal Republican and far more liberal than many Democrats, was elected to the House in a special election to succeed former Rep. Jeremy Oden, who was appointed to the Public Service Commission by Governor Robert Bentley.

The far-left Alabama Education Association pumped money and resources into Shedd’s race, successfully beating back more conservative challengers to get their chosen candidate elected.

Even with the AEA now in shambles, Rep. Shedd has continued to side with the most liberal elements of the legislature.

RELATED: Meet Alabama’s four most conservative lawmakers.

2 years ago

Gambling, ‘equal pay,’ minimum wage hike top Alabama Democrats’ legislative agenda

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) speaks at the Alabama State House (Photo: Screenshot)
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) speaks at the Alabama State House (Photo: Screenshot)
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) speaks at the Alabama State House (Photo: Screenshot)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House Democrats on Monday released their 2016 legislative agenda, and it echoes many of the priorities of the national Democratic Party, including raising the minimum wage and mandating so called “equal pay” for women.

“Our focus is going to be on education, the economy and elections-the three E’s,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). “We’re offering a lot of new things this year, as well as continuing to push for some of our long-time priorities, like the lottery.”

With regard to education, both Democrats and Republicans have included a teacher pay raise in their legislative agendas, making it almost certain that educators will get a bump this year, although how significant remains to be seen.

Additionally, Democrats are proposing taxpayer-funded pre-k for all of Alabama’s four-year-olds at a cost of $144 million annually. Pre-k has been a priority of Governor Robert Bentley’s, but the current program — which has been called the nation’s best — has also come under fire from some conservatives who view it as “taxpayer-funded daycare” and question whether it influences longterm education outcomes.

In order to fund the pre-k expansion, Democrats propose repealing the Rolling Reserve Act, which caps the growth of the state’s Education Budget and sends surplus money into a reserve account to be used in lean years when tax revenue is down. The Rolling Reserve saved the state $140 million in 2015, almost exactly the amount Democrats say should be spent annually on expanding pre-k.

Democrats also plan to roll out legislation to address the supposed gender pay gap.

“It’s amazing that gender pay equality isn’t already the law,” said Rep. Adline Clarke (D-Mobile), the sponsor of the pay equality bill. “This bill, like so many others in our legislative agenda, addresses a need that is long overdue. The path to a stronger economy begins with paying women fairly for the work they do.”

President Obama and other Democrats at the national level have frequently pledged to address the pay gap, but many economists question whether it actually exists in the form the feminist movement say it does.

According to Forbes contributor and Independent Women’s Forum managing director Carrie Lukas, “equal pay” advocates “presume the difference between men and women’s average earnings stems from discrimination… The wage gap statistic, however, doesn’t compare two similarly situated co-workers of different sexes, working in the same industry, performing the same work, for the same number of hours a day. It merely reflects the median earnings of all men and women classified as full-time workers.”

Lukas goes on to say she believes the wage gap is the result of men and women simply making different career choices at different stages of life, particularly when it comes to having children.

“Feminists may protest, but American women aren’t the victims of a sexist economy,” she concluded. “It’s time to declare an end to the Equal Pay myth.”

Alabama Democrats are also pushing to install a statewide minimum wage.

“Alabama does not have a state minimum wage, and the federal minimum wage is not a living wage,” they wrote in a release. “House Democrats will introduce legislation to establish a state minimum wage and to gradually set that wage at $10.10 an hour with an automatic cost-of-living increase that would be increase when federal social security benefits increase.”

Troy University economist Dr. Daniel J. Smith believes such a minimum wage increase would actually hurt individuals on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.

“The reality is, the least-skilled Alabamians — primarily young, part-time workers — will face unemployment as mandated wage rates exceed their skill and experience levels,” he said. “Sadly, their best option for gaining the skill and experience necessary to earn a higher wage through on-the-job experience is taken away. To truly help these workers, policy makers should focus on helping this group boost their skills through educational reform and by expanding economic opportunity, not by increasing the costs of employing them.”

To see the Alabama Democrats’ full 2016 legislative agenda, click here.

RELATED: Teacher pay raise, right-to-work, anti-Syrian refugee bills top Alabama House GOP agenda

2 years ago

Alabama Speaker strips rival of committee chairmanship in move that could hurt North Alabama

State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) last week announced committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session, one lawmaker’s name was conspicuously missing from the chairmanship he has held since Republicans took over the legislature in 2010.

State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) has been the only Republican to ever chair the Technology and Research Committee, but after questioning Hubbard’s ability to govern while facing trial on public corruption charges and challenging him for the Speaker’s gavel, Hubbard moved swiftly to strip him of his post.

Williams has now been replaced by Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva).

Hubbard’s office released a statement saying “committee assignments are chosen based upon the skills and talents each member possesses,” but declined to comment on Williams’ removal specifically.

In a phone interview with Yellowhammer Monday morning, Williams said his background in technology and startups had made him a good fit for the Technology and Research Committee chairmanship.

“I started my career long ago when President Reagan called for a strategic defense initiative, which became Star Wars,” he explained. “I applied and got in and that was my entrance into the world contracting and testing. It was cutting edge stuff. After that I started a business doing test engineering work. It was very successful and we ended up selling it.

“Then I started another company doing wireless sensor networks and later sold it. Now I spend time mentoring small business startups. So I’ve been around startups and technology for 30-something years.”

The committee chairmanship was also important to Williams’ legislative district, which is home to many of the state’s tech firms, ranging from multi-billion dollar companies to bootstrapping startups. Williams’ successor, Rep. Chesteen, represents a rural Wiregrass-area district, but Williams says he is also qualified for the post.

“A lot of Huntsville people have contacted me with some concerns, saying things like, ‘Since when was Geneva a hub of technology?'” Said Williams. “There is certainly some disappointment. But I am very supportive of Donnie. I’ll do anything I can to help him. He’s a great guy and a good friend and I’ll go the extra mile for him.

“In fact, he is actually an expert on the technology we’ll be dealing with on the Committee in the coming months. It’s a bill called the Alabama Ahead Act. It will allow local school districts to spend money on the technology they need, whether it be wireless infrastructure, or iPads, or teacher training. Donnie’s been in the middle of that issue for several years now and he’ll have a lot of people, especially me, supporting him as we work through it this session.”

Yellowhammer spoke to several North Alabama technology executives and entrepreneurs Monday morning, each of whom had varying degrees of concern about Williams being removed from his post. They spoke freely on condition of anonymity.

“I can’t imagine it will hurt us that bad,” one said. “It is in our DNA up here to do innovative things up here and most of us could not care less who is on what legislative committee. The main thing we need is for the government to stay out of our way. That being said, it is always helpful to have a guy like Phil who actually has first-hand experience with what we’re doing and it is somewhat unseemly that politics would get in the way of that.”

Another tech leader said Williams’ removal reminded him of former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner removing Republicans from certain committees if they did not vote the way he wanted, or challenged his leadership.

“We were all worried there for a little while because (Congressman) Mo (Brooks) (R-AL5) is part of the Freedom Caucus and was giving Boehner fits,” he said. Brooks serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

“But he hung in there, didn’t get the ax like some of the others. (Senator) Shelby (R-Ala.) would have been able to make sure North Alabama was not completely left out in the cold, but it would have been tougher without an ally in the House. The state level is not as big of a deal, mainly because the NASA and Redstone and contractor money is coming out of D.C., not Montgomery.”

A third North Alabama resident Yellowhammer interviewed said for him it was less about Williams’ committee post, and more about North Alabama being singled out.

“I just can’t think of anything more asinine than taking out a petty political beef on the people,” he said. “That’s who stuff like this hurts. Not Representative Williams, his people.”

There is a small but vocal effort in the Alabama House to seek clarification on whether the state constitution calls for the Speaker to be elected every year, or only once every four years.

Section 51 of the Constitution says, in part, “the House of Representatives, at the beginning of each Regular Session, and at such other times as may be necessary, shall elect one of its members as Speaker.”

Amendment 57 of the Alabama Constitution discusses organizational sessions, which take place once every four years. It also says that during the organizational session “the House of Representatives shall elect one of its members as Speaker, to preside over its deliberations.” Although Amendment 57 does not strike anything from Section 51, it has created enough ambiguity that recent tradition has held that the Speaker is only elected once every four years.

Williams says this has allowed Hubbard and Speakers before him to amass a great deal of power.

“I would fully support getting some clarification on this issue,” he said. “Part 51 of the Constitution clearly says we should elect a Speaker every time we organize in a Regular Sessions. This week we should be electing a new Speaker. I’m not going to hold my breath because a lot of people don’t want the clarification. I haven’t met anybody yet who can tell me when the Legislature adopted a four-year program. It allows the Speaker, whoever it is, to accumulate a lot of power and money. It’ll take a Supreme Court decision to work it all out.

The legislature convenes for the 2016 Regular Legislative Session on Tuesday.

2 years ago

Teacher pay raise, right-to-work, anti-Syrian refugee bills top Alabama House GOP agenda

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)
Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House Republicans on Thursday rolled out their list of 2016 legislative priorities, which they have titled the “Right for Alabama” agenda.

“Our ‘Right for Alabama’ agenda focuses on important issues like job creation, protecting public school students from harm, demanding the dignity that unborn life deserves, and other vital initiatives,” said House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). “It also continues Alabama’s on-going fight against wrong-headed federal policies that would erode our constitutionally protected gun rights and force the state to accept thousands of potentially dangerous and unchecked Syrian refugees.”

“All of these agenda bills have been unanimously endorsed and supported by our House Republican Caucus members, and they will be given our full attention early in the session,” added House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur). “Our agenda is rooted firmly in conservative policies and philosophy, and while these bills may be wrong for the liberals who will oppose them, Republicans believe deeply that they are ‘Right for Alabama.”

The list of bills included in the agenda can be found below. The accompanying descriptions were provided by the House Republican caucus:

Zero-Based Budgeting Reform – In order to bring a new level of scrutiny, transparency, and accountability to the appropriations process, the Alabama House Republican Caucus will begin to implement a new “zero-based” budgeting system. This revolutionary new process will require state agencies to fully account for each dollar they receive, help identify ineffective programs that are in need of elimination, and potentially save or re-direct substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars.

Pension Reform – The Alabama House Republican Caucus will continue its efforts to ensure the long-term solvency and fiscal health of the Retirement Systems of Alabama while protecting and preserving the current level of benefits earned by existing retirees and employees.

Alabama Taxpayer Advocate Act – Under current law, the role of Taxpayer Advocate must be filled by an employee within the Department of Revenue who is selected by the commissioner and reports directly to her. In order to ensure fair and equitable treatment of Alabama taxpayers, House Republicans will offer legislation requiring the Taxpayer Advocate to be appointed by the governor from a pool of candidates recommended by a committee of government officials and business professionals. The advocate’s role and duties in protecting taxpayers’ interests would be expanded significantly under this measure.

Small Business Job Creation Tax Credit – During the past five years, Alabama has transformed into one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, and the Legislature has worked to provide incentives necessary to lure thousands of new, high-paying jobs to our state. Small businesses, however, have created more than 65% of all new jobs over the past 20 years nationally. To encourage further job expansion within the state, Alabama House Republicans will propose a $1,500 income tax credit for every new, qualified employee hired by small businesses operating within the state.

Alabama’s Right To Work Constitutional Amendment – Although Alabama and many other southeastern states are firm right-to-work states, labor unions have stepped up their efforts to organize industrial facilities across the region after experiencing recent successes that include Volkswagen in Tennessee and Golden Dragon in Wilcox County. Alabama passed one of the nation’s first right-to-work laws roughly 60 years ago, but House Republicans believe it is time to enshrine that employment protection in our state constitution and will offer an amendment to be included on the November 2016 election ballot.

Protecting Public Safety from Syrian Refugee Threats – Recognizing the inherent risks that exist and lacking confidence in federal claims of thorough background checks, the Alabama House Republican Caucus will oppose any Obama administration effort to relocate masses of Syrian or other Middle Eastern refugees to our state. The possibility of even one “refugee” with a questionable background slipping through the system poses a danger to our public safety that Alabamians should not be forced to endure.

Preserving Second Amendment Constitutional Rights – The Alabama House Republican Caucus pledges to assist members of our federal delegation in overturning Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders attacking our Second Amendment right to own firearms.

School Security and Student Safety Task Force – Alabama schools have been extremely fortunate to avoid a violent situation like those that have occurred in other states, but we must continue looking for ways to improve school safety and ensure we are as prepared as possible to prevent or mitigate any situation that might arise. The Alabama House Republican Caucus will create a task force comprised of key education, law enforcement, and emergency management leaders from across the state and tasked with completing a comprehensive review and assessment of state laws, regulations, and protocols relating to security and student safety in our public K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. The Legislature will consider the task force’s resulting recommendations for improvement.

Teacher Pay Raise – Recognizing their importance in preparing students for success in the 21st Century workplace, House Republicans will work to provide Alabama’s K-12 and post-secondary education personnel with a pay raise.

Wireless Infrastructure Renovation for Education (WIRED) Act
– An extensive knowledge of operating computers will be required of everyone in the 21st century workforce, so today’s students must be proficient in the latest technologies. Three out of five schools in the United States currently lack the infrastructure needed to take advantage of wireless technology, and that number is believed to be even higher in Alabama. The WIRED Act proposed by House Republicans will create a framework for putting wireless broadband in all K-12 public schools by providing grants to local systems for the purchase, installation or upgrade of wireless infrastructure. Schools already possessing the necessary infrastructure may use the grants to purchase wireless devices and technology.

Unborn Infants’ Dignity of Life Act – Recent reports about outrageous acts by Planned Parenthood and its representatives have prompted public outcry regarding the organization and the cavalier practices it utilizes regarding unborn life. In order to ensure that these atrocities do not occur in Alabama, the House Republican Caucus will offer legislation banning the sale of the bodily remains of unborn infants.

3 years ago

Alabama football legend, now State Rep. will oppose lottery because ‘God won’t bless it’

State Representative Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) (Photo: ABC 33/40 screenshot)
State Representative Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) (Photo: ABC 33/40 screenshot)
State Representative Rich Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) (Photo: ABC 33/40 screenshot)

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rich Wingo was a linebacker for the University of Alabama during one of the most famous plays in college football history, “The Goal Line Stand” in the 1978 national championship game against Penn State. Almost four decades later, he is preparing to make a very different stand, this time against the lottery in his current role as a state lawmaker.

In 1999, Alabamians voted down Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed “education lottery” 54% to 46%. Since then, numerous statewide candidates — most of them Democrats — have run on a platform of letting the people vote again. In 2016, with Alabama’s budgeting woes continuing and the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot sending lottery advocates into a craze, another push is beginning to emerge.

State Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) has filed a lottery bill for the 2016 legislative session, which is set to begin next month.

“I am sponsoring this because of constituent requests,” McClendon told ABC 33/40’s Lauren Walsh. “Throughout my district, people have said why don’t we have a lottery in Alabama? We’re driving to Georgia and Tennessee. We’re driving out of state and spending our money and we’d like to spend our money right here at home.”

McClendon says he believes the lottery would raise $300 million in additional revenue for the state on an annual basis, but his bill does not stipulate what the funds would be used for.

McClendon’s legislation, which would put the issue to a vote of the people, likely in November, has begun to pick up support, even from lawmakers who are not personally in favor of the lottery but are open to letting the statewide electorate vote.

State Rep. Wingo (R-Tuscaloosa) is not one of those lawmakers.

“I hope we’re seeking the word of God and for guidance,” Wingo told ABC 33/40. “I find nowhere in the Bible does it talk about the lottery in a positive way… I am totally opposed to any kind of gaming, the lottery. God won’t bless it.”

Wingo specifically referenced Matthew 25, in which Jesus tells the “Parable of the Talents.” In the story, two servants who invest their master’s money wisely are blessed, while a third who buried his money in the sand was chastised for being “wicked and slothful.”

The full parable can be read below.

Alabama’s 2016 Regular Legislative Sessions is set to begin next month.

The Parable of the Talents — Matthew 25:14-30 (Jesus speaking)

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

3 years ago

Alabama lawmaker pushes Convention of States to pass balanced budget amendment

United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)
United States Capitol (Photo: Eric B. Walker)

A state senator is pushing to renew Alabama’s call for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) has pre-filed a bill for the 2016 Legislative Session that would compel Alabama to join the “Compact for a Balanced Budget,” a group of states “uniting to fix the debt” through a federal Balanced Budget Amendment

The idea of a Convention of States gained steam in 2013 after conservative talk show host Mark Levin advocated for a states-led convention in his book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

Article V of the U.S. Constitution says that a convention of the states can be convened if two-thirds of the state legislatures (34) approve an application for the convention to occur.

By design, that’s a high bar to clear. And the bar gets even higher when it comes to actually passing a constitutional amendment.

Each state would then choose delegates to represent them at the convention, but each state would only get one vote on proposed amendments. It takes an affirmative vote from three-fourths (38) of the states to actually amend the constitution.

In short, the convention of the states is widely viewed as a last-ditch effort to push back against an overreaching federal government. 27 states have so far passed resolutions calling for a convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

The Alabama Legislature passed a resolution earlier this year strictly limiting the purpose of a proposed convention to three areas:

1) Imposing fiscal restraints on the federal government through a balanced budget amendment;
2) limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government; and
3) implementing term limits on federal elected officials.

Members of the Alabama House and Senate who supported the effort say it was necessary because “the federal government has created a crushing national debt” and “invaded the legitimate roles of the states through the manipulative power of federal mandates.”

The resolution Sen. Allen is now proposing is even more narrowly defined. It would limit the convention to only addressing the question of a balanced budget amendment.

“Even if we don’t get enough states behind it, we’ll send a clear message to Congress,” Allen told the Anniston Star. “Get your house in order.”

The possibility of a “runaway convention” is the most often cited concern with convening such a meeting of the states.

“In the course of our work advising state and federal lawmakers and conservative allies across the country, we have been giving this issue close attention and study,” said Dr. Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “The lack of precedent, extensive unknowns, and considerable risks of an Article V amendments convention should bring sober pause to advocates of legitimate constitutional reform contemplating this avenue.”

But Rep. Ken Johnson (R-Moulton), who has sponsored a resolution calling for a Convention of States during the last couple of legislative sessions, said those concerns are overblown.

“Because we’ve never done it, the idea that there could be a ‘runaway convention’ is always brought up as a concern,” Johnson told Yellowhammer earlier this year. “The convention would be limited to a small set of issues. But on top of that, the safeguard is that it only takes 13 states to kill any runaway convention. If there aren’t 13 conservatives states left, we’re in trouble, period. And Washington is a runaway train right now anyway. How much more damage could be done?”

Alabama’s two Senate Budget Chairmen have also been actively involved in the rule-making process for a possible convention. Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) and Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) traveled to Mt. Vernon, Virginia to discuss the ground rules of a potential convention.

“We discussed the reality that the biggest threat to America is an irresponsible Federal Government,” said Pittman. “Checks that need to be put on the Federal Government have not been accomplished and based on current activity appear not to be likely… 32 (states) participated in the Mount Vernon Assembly, to prepare rules and form committees within a strict framework… to discuss and build support for a possible amendment convention of the States.”

Sen. Allen’s latest bill calls for a 24-hour, one-issue convention to convene in Dallas, Texas, the Wednesday after Congress receives the petition from the required number of states.

1. Two Alabama senators discuss potential constitutional convention at Mt. Vernon Assembly
2. Two top Ala. Senators propose bills laying out guidelines for Convention of States
3. Alabama officially applies to Congress for Convention of States

3 years ago

Lawmaker warns Alabamians to avoid foreign-owned shops, suggests they may fund terror

An old gas station in Chloride, Arizona (Photo: Kevin Cole)
An old gas station in Chloride, Arizona (Photo: Kevin Cole)
An old gas station in Chloride, Arizona (Photo: Kevin Cole)

ALICEVILLE, Ala. — State Representative Alan Harper (R-Aliceville) took to Facebook on Monday to warn Alabamians against shopping at stores and shops whose owners are from another country and are not “God fearing Christians.”


I have posted regarding this issue once before and believe it worth another read. As you travel during the holidays or any other time, please try to shop and purchase gas and other items at American owned stores. The C stores/tobacco outlets, etc. with the lights around the windows and doors are not owned by God fearing Christians.

In large part, these stores are owned by folk that send their profits back to their homeland and then in turn use these funds against our country to create turmoil, fear and in some cases death and destruction.

I realize I am “painting with a broad brush” here, but the madness has to stop. Please join me in making the extra effort to never support these stores/shops! I am trying to do my part and I know you will to.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! May God Bless.

When asked how to tell the difference between foreign-owned and America-owned shops, Harper said, “Look behind the cash register. Most are owner/operators.”

The post received both support and criticism.

“So, basically, don’t shop at places with brown people. Got it. Thanks, I am now thoroughly disappointed in both my state and my party for electing you,” said Trey Edwards, a conservative activist from north Alabama. “Also, most of the ‘foreigners’ I’ve seen owning gas stations are Indian. What on earth did anyone from India do to the US recently?”

“(This is) the kind of fear based hate talk that is filling our world today,” added another commenter. “Christ taught us to love and respect each other.”

“It’s not hatred, it’s good advice,” another commenter said in defense of Harper. “His facts are proven, too.”

Harper said he was undeterred by any blowback, adding that he is “on a personal crusade to do my part to turn back those that would harm our great nation.”

“Isn’t it funny when things are taken out of context,” he said. “Please buy American every chance you get to build our local economies…where we know the revenues stay here in the good old United States of America! May God Bless!”

Harper was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives as a Democrat in 2006, but switched to the Republican Party in 2012. He now chairs the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.

3 years ago

Alabama moving toward zero-based budgeting, requiring agencies to justify spending

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House and Senate budget chairmen signaled Monday they are preparing to move the state toward zero-based budgeting, which would ratchet up scrutiny on state agencies and require them justify their budget requests each year.

To this point, the State of Alabama, similar to the federal government, has used a form of “baseline budgeting.” This means that an agency’s budget appropriation for this year serves as the “baseline” — or starting point — for its appropriation next year, and it goes up from there. Zero-based budgeting, a frequent rallying cry for conservatives on both the state and federal levels, means agencies will start their budgets at $0, thereby forcing them to justify each dollar of their funding requests year after year.

House General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) and incoming Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) wrote a letter to state General Fund agencies, commissions and departments alerting them that pre-legislative session budget hearings will begin on Jan. 12th, roughly a month before the 2016 Regular Legislative Session.

In the letter, chairmen Clouse and Pittman also notified agency and department heads that the legislature will be asking them for more detailed information than they have in years past.

“We have directed the Legislative Fiscal Office to request and obtain detailed budget-related information from certain agencies that is in addition to the data typically required each year,” they explained. “The information requested will be based on data that the agency should already have on hand or have access to, and will be used by our committee members and other legislative members during the preliminary budget hearings and during the legislative session in the development of the state budgets.”

In a followup email to House and Senate members, chairmen Clouse and Pittman further explained their intensions.

“This budget cycle will look and feel different from previous years, given the detailed information we will require and the zero-based budgeting method we will utilize,” they wrote. “In the past, agencies have simply requested the same amount of money they received the prior year, plus any additional funding they thought they might need. From this point forward, agencies will start from zero and provide a line-item, department-by-department breakdown of their budget in order to justify their total request.”

The requests being made of various state agencies include:

• A detailed description of the agency which includes number of employees and contractors, and its funding sources (state, local, federal, etc… as well as earmarked funds);
• A detailed breakdown of each program or service provided by the agency, including its source(s) of funding and a summary of clients served;
• A line-item breakdown of all FY15 expenditures and FY16 budgeted expenses including operational costs to run each office or location; salaries, benefits, contracts, and travel;
• A list of the agency’s financial assets (including real estate) as well as their debts/liabilities;
• A line-item breakdown of the anticipated FY17 budget requests, starting from zero and culminating in the total anticipated request, providing justification for each item;
• Both a funding reduction plan and a cost-savings/efficiency plan.

2016 is shaping up to be another tumultuous year in Montgomery, coming off the divisive 2015 legislative sessions that fractured Republican lawmakers over tax increases, reforms and cuts.

Governor Robert Bentley has indicated he may pursue more tax increase proposals, as well as a controversial Medicaid expansion plan. But the latest moves from the top budget makers could indicate a renewed commitment to belt-tightening in the legislature.

3 years ago

Williams pledges to dramatically decrease his own power if elected Alabama House Speaker

State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) fills in as Acting Speaker of the House during the 2014 Legislative Session (Photo: Facebook)
State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) fills in as Acting Speaker of the House during the 2014 Legislative Session (Photo: Facebook)
State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) fills in as Acting Speaker of the House during the 2014 Legislative Session (Photo: Facebook)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Paul Ryan and Republicans in Congress are soaking up all the media attention this week, but the Alabama House of Representatives has its own emerging battle over who will be Speaker during the next legislative session. State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) is challenging current House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) for the gavel, and he’s pledging to dramatically decrease his own power if his colleagues elect him.

In an email to House Republicans Tuesday night, Williams laid out a plan to “completely change the way (House Republicans) operate” by instituting what he called a “member-based system” that decentralizes legislative power.

“Over the years we as a body have allowed for a tremendous amount of power to be concentrated in the position we call ‘Mr. Speaker,’ regardless of who is sitting in the Chair,” Williams explained. “This model has led to one person having most all of the power to move bills, make committee assignments and shape legislation… When one person has full discretion over committee assignments, committee chairs, legislation to be debated, daily schedules, etc., any casual observer of the legislature knows that there is really only one person that they need influence and that is the person sitting in the Speaker’s chair… What I am proposing is wholesale change in how we operate the House and a complete break with the power based politics of the past.”

The primary change Williams detailed in his letter was an overhaul of how committees are formed. Under the current system, the Speaker makes committee assignments, giving his office significant leverage over rank-and-file members.

“We will immediately revise how committees assignments are made by allowing members to select their own committees,” Williams pledged. “Every member will serve on two committees, and the Speaker will no longer make these assignments. For the first committee, the most senior members will get first choice for their assignment. Next the newest members will get first choice at the second committee assignment. This empowers all members and will better match up the talents and expertise that all members bring to the House. Selecting committees on this basis removes power from the Speaker and my focus will be to simply ensure the process is fair and leads to committees that work effectively.”

Williams went on to explain that he would further dilute the power of the Speaker by allowing committee members to select their own chairman, rather than the Speaker appointing each one.

“This will ensure that the Chair is responsible to the committee and not responsible to the Speaker,” he explained. “This further empowers each committee member and gives him or her a real voice in how the committees operate.”

Conservatives in the U.S. House have been advocating for a new Speaker who takes a more bottom-up approach and empowers other members, rather than the top-down approach and strict disciplinarian tactics they associate with the speakership of John Boehner. Williams clearly believes Alabama House Republicans are anxious for similar changes.

“We must change the way we run the House and return real power to the members,” he concluded. “The approach I describe will pull us all into a team like never before. This is a dramatic departure from the past top down structure that has prevailed in Montgomery for years and the time for change is now.”

A request for comment from House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s office was not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

3 years ago

Alabama just took the lead on ensuring military voting rights, here’s how

An instructor approaches a Black Hawk helicopter on Fort Rucker (Photo: Fort Rucker Flickr photostream)
An instructor approaches a Black Hawk helicopter on Fort Rucker (Photo: Fort Rucker Flickr photostream)
An instructor approaches a Black Hawk helicopter on Fort Rucker (Photo: Fort Rucker Flickr photostream)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — For the first time ever this week, a member of the U.S. armed services — an Alabamian — voted electronically while deployed abroad.

Alabama is the first state in the country to implement fully electronic voting for service members stationed overseas. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill says the system is rolling out at the county level, and he hopes all 67 Alabama counties will be up and running by the presidential primary March 1, 2016.

Alabama National Guard Maj. Chris Theilacker told WSFA he and other Alabamians deployed around the globe are excited about the more streamlined process to vote.

“It doesn’t seem like a lot of trouble, but taking the time out to request that ballot, wait for it to get there, mail may or may not ever get to you when you are in an overseas environment,” Theilacker said. “I go out everyday to make sure our citizens have the right to vote, so by the state and the city providing access to voting no matter where in the world we are, that says a lot about their commitment.”

Alabama Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise), a military veteran who was instrumental in passing a bill setting up the new system, told Yellowhammer he hopes it will make life easier for Alabamians who are deployed serving their country.

“As chairman of the House Committee on Military and Veterans, I am proud Alabama is leading the way on this important issue,” he said. “Americans’ voting rights are sacred. Nothing could be more important than ensuring that the men and women who are protecting our freedoms abroad have a voice in our political process. That is what this law does.”

Secretary Merrill concurred.

“Every military serviceman or woman who is interested in voting now has the opportunity to receive their ballot electronically, to vote electronically, and have their ballot returned electronically,” he concluded. “They’ll have their vote cast and counted the same way they would if they were at their home with their family.”

3 years ago

Everything you need to know about Alabama’s new budget and what it means for you

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Governor Robert Bentley, and House Speaker Mike Hubbard

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After months of contentious debate, the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday passed a budget and sent it across the street for the governor to sign.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. The new General Fund includes some cuts

The final tally on the Fiscal Year 2016 General Fund is $1.75 billion, down from $1.83 billion in FY2015. The roughly $100 million decrease is not as large as it may seem, though. About half of that number is the result of the federal government picking up the tab for a children’s health insurance program that was previously funded by the state.

Medicaid, prisons, Mental Health, Human Resources and the court system were essentially untouched. Most other General Fund agencies will be trimmed by around 5 or 6 percent.

In an effort to limit the cuts made to areas lawmakers deemed to be essential services, they passed a 25-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes, which will bring in an estimated $70 million annually. They also increased taxes on nursing homes by $400 per bed and on pharmacies by adding a new 15-cent tax per prescription. Both taxes were supported by groups representing the impacted industries. The two taxes will each raise $8 million in revenue for Medicaid.

2. Gov. Bentley did not get what he wanted, but appears willing to live with it

The governor’s initial call for $700 million in new revenue was cut by about two-thirds by the time the second Special Session rolled around. But although Bentley did not get anywhere near the amount of tax increases he wanted, he commended legislators who had the “courage” to back the $86 million in new taxes that did go through.

“We have made tremendous progress to fundamentally change the way our state budgets,” he said. “Tonight is an important step forward in that process. I commend House and Senate members, including Speaker Hubbard, Pro Tem Marsh and Budget Chairmen Clouse and Orr, for prioritizing people over politics. I also want to thank members of the House and Senate who courageously voted to increase revenue for the General Fund. I will carefully review the budget once it is received by my office, and I expect to sign it.”

3. Your life pretty much won’t be impacted at all

There does not appear to be any reason for parks to close, driver’s license offices to be shuttered, prisoners to be released, seniors services to be disrupted, or for any other dire prediction to actually come to fruition.

Even the executive branch agencies that will be expected to make relatively small cuts should not have much trouble carrying on business as usual after the trim.

4. The Republican-controlled Legislature may never be the same

The tax battle turned ugly in the last week, as the deadline to pass a budget loomed and legislative leaders battled it out with a bloc of hardline conservatives, particularly in the House. The final budget won passage easily, 23-9 in the Senate and 70-21 in the House, but tempers were flaring right up until adjournment.

A House member who supported the numerous tax increase proposals went to the mic on the House floor to harshly criticize his conservative colleagues for their unwillingness to compromise. Even after the gavel came down to end the session, heated discussions continued among members.

The first four years of Republican control in Montgomery (2010-2014) were largely defined by a close working relationship between House and Senate leadership and by overall consensus among GOP lawmakers. With rare exceptions, Republicans were pretty much singing from the same sheet of music.

That changed in a big way in 2015, and it could have huge implications for the GOP’s ability to govern moving forward. Republican leadership’s biggest challenge will be to keep their caucuses from permanently fracturing into the kind of establishment vs. conservatives in-fighting that dominates Congress. It may be too late.

5. The biggest winners and losers are…

Prison reform won.

The Alabama Legislature earlier this passed sweeping prison reform, culminating several years of work by a broad coalition seeking to ease overcrowding in the system while maintaining public safety. The reforms received praise nationally, including from The Heritage Foundation. After a period of uncertainty during which it was not clear if the reforms would get funded, the Legislature’s final budget included an allocation to implement the plan.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management lost.

ADEM, basically Alabama’s state-level version of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saw its budget slashed by 83 percent. The agency lost $1 million of its previous $1.2 million allocation. Ouch. They’ll be fine though. They still manage to get $154 million in earmarked funds.

6. Gambling interests are licking their chops

The vast majority of Alabama’s structural budgeting issues remain. Will Republicans use the window of time they’ve bought themselves with tax increases and incremental reforms to build consensus around major structural changes? It’s too early to tell.

What is definitely happening, though, is gambling interests who failed to gain traction this year are preparing for another push in 2016. They will be well funded and already have a group of legislators — albeit a relatively small one — who have bought into the possibility of increasing revenue by expanding gambling, rather than taking on the monumental task of reforms.