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.”

4 months ago

Alabama lawmakers stretch out session amid tensions, stalemates

(AL Legislature)

Alabama lawmakers stretched out the legislative session as tensions and disagreements on Wednesday derailed what they hoped would be their final meeting day.

Legislators abandoned a plan to conclude the session Wednesday night as a number of measures had not reached final passage by late into the evening. They will return to the Alabama Statehouse Thursday morning.

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“I think everybody — with clearer heads, at nine in the morning, making reasonable decisions— we’ll still end up with a good session,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said.

The meeting day was peppered with sniping between the House and Senate over the pace of votes. The chambers each took multiple recesses as they waited to see if the other chamber was making progress on priority pieces of legislation.

“I’ve run out of patience with the people on the fifth floor and their lack of progress on lots of bills,” Republican Sen. Arthur Orr, the education budget chairman, said of the House of Representatives.

African-American lawmakers continued to push for passage of a racial profiling bill that would require law enforcement officers to record the reason for traffic stops and the race of stopped motorists. The Alabama Senate had approved the bill without a dissenting vote, but it hit roadblocks in the Alabama House.

The House adjourned Wednesday without debating the bill

Rep. Merika Coleman, a Democrat from Pleasant Grove, said she and other supporters will push to get the bill considered Thursday.

However, House Speaker Mac McCutcheon indicated the bill might not get a vote Thursday. He said lawmakers hadn’t adopted a debate agenda and would be prioritizing bills already in line for a vote.

A proposal to exempt economic developers from the rules that govern lobbyists is another contentious issue that could be decided Thursday.

A divided Alabama Senate approved the bill on a 15-14 vote after a prickly debate over whether it was an economic development necessity or creates a wide new loophole in state ethics law.

The House of Representatives will resume debate Thursday over whether to go along with Senate changes to the bill.
“It stinks,” state Sen. Bobby Singleton, a Democrat from Greensboro, said.

Rep. Ken Johnson, the bill’s sponsor, said requiring the people who help companies decide where to locate to “jump through hoops” to work in Alabama could hurt the state’s job recruitment efforts.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

4 months ago

Alabama Senate votes to track civil asset forfeiture cases

(W.Miller/YHN)

The Alabama Senate has voted to track how often law enforcement authorities use civil actions to seize a person’s property when the person hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

Senators on Wednesday voted 25-1 for the bill. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Civil asset forfeiture is the practice of law enforcement seizing property through a civil action for suspected criminal activity. Republican Sen. Arthur Orr had originally sought to require a criminal conviction for property seizures.

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Advocates argued the practice was abused and government should not take a person’s property without a criminal conviction.

The revamped bill tracks cases instead of banning or altering the practice. Prosecutors and law enforcement authorities argued the civil seizures are a valuable crime-fighting tool and people had due process.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 years ago

Three Alabama lawmakers to participate in simulated Convention of States

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

MONTGOMERY, Al. — Three Alabama state legislators will form the Yellowhammer State’s delegation to a simulated Convention of States designed to highlight needed amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

State Sens. Clay Scofield (R – Guntersville) and Greg Albritton (R – Bay Minette) and State Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) will join lawmakers from around the country in performing a test run of an actual Article V convention called to consider amendments to “impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and set term limits for its officials and for Members of Congress.”

Proposed constitutional amendments affecting issues like federal term limits, a balanced budget requirement, and limits on executive orders and rule making are among those that delegates will debate, discuss, and consider.

“The only way to rein in the ever-encroaching federal government is by adding constitutional amendments that limit its power and set strict boundary lines that officials cannot cross,” said Rep. Williams. “The most used and best known manner to amend the U.S. Constitution is for the Congress to initiate the process, but its members have proven unwilling or unable to take the necessary first steps.

“But Article V outlines that our Constitution may also be amended by having representatives from the individual states gather in convention and propose the needed changes. Our Alabama delegation will participate in a simulated convention designed to demonstrate exactly how that process would work.”

The event is being sponsored by Citizens for Self-Governance.

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 in 2015 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.”

A resolution proposed by State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) earlier this year was 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 last 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 called 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.

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2 years ago

South Alabama lawmakers fight rest of state over remaining BP Oil Spill money

A worker cleans up an Alabama beach in the wake of the BP Deewater Horizon Oil Spill.
A worker cleans up an Alabama beach in the wake of the BP Deewater Horizon Oil Spill.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Partisanship has taken a backseat to regional politics in the Alabama State House, with south Alabama lawmakers banding together to fight the rest of the state over the remaining BP Oil Spill money.

With Medicaid facing a perpetual funding shortfall, the House almost two weeks ago passed a bill that would use BP money to pay back $448.5 million in state debt, immediately free up about $35 million for Medicaid, and send the rest of the money — about $191 million — to the coast for road projects.

The bill sat on the legislative back-burner as the House and Senate wrestled with numerous lottery proposals, but re-emerged Tuesday as lawmakers faced the possibility of adjourning the Special Session without addressing the Medicaid issue.

The Senate passed a bill that would send $300 million of the BP money to Medicaid over the next three years — presumably buying the legislature time to work out a longer-term plan — then send the rest of the funds toward paying down debt, completely stripping out all funding for south Alabama road projects.

The House unanimously voted against the Senate plan, prompting legislative leaders to create a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two chambers. The conference committee will consist of three House members and three Senate members, who will seek to come to an agreement that can pass both chambers.

It will be a tall order.

Sens. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will be joined on the conference committee by Reps. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and John Knight (D-Montgomery).

One lobbyist Yellowhammer spoke with Tuesday evening put the odds of a stalemate at about 50 percent, with the House dug in on earmarking money for coastal infrastructure projects and the Senate opposed.

Senator Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) seemed to sum up the perspective of many non-South Alabama legislators when he told ABC 33/40 he believes it’s “more important to help disable children verse sending more money to Mobile and Baldwin county after they have already received over $2.1 billion is BP settlement money.”

“The citizens of Mobile and Baldwin County suffered from that oil spill,” Sen. Vivian Davis Figure (D-Mobile) said on the other side. “They did the suffering.”

The conference committee will meet Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., with both chambers reconvening an hour later.

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2 years ago

Proposed Alabama constitutional amendment would reveal ‘dark money’ donors

Money
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decator) wants to put the question of ‘dark money’ regulation to the voters. His bill, SB 356, proposes an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama requiring the state to regulate the disclosure of the raising and spending of money that may influence elections and governmental actions.

Dark money is a term that describes funds given to nonprofit organizations; primarily 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) groups. These groups can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors. The rise of so-called dark money has been tied to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United where the Court ruled that corporations and unions could spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates per the First Amendment.

“We’ve seen them pop up here in the last several years and the public has the right to know whose money is this. These groups that are now engaging in electioneering,” Orr said in an interview. “If they’re going to engage in electioneering activities in Alabama, I believe the public has a right to know who the donors are.”

According to Orr, the proposed amendment was a reaction to the 2014 and 2010 election cycles, where dark money groups paid for ads supporting or attacking candidates. “They sent out mailers attacking candidates, gave to candidates’ campaigns, engaged in all the usual activities of a PAC but they were not registered as a PAC,” Orr said. “Right now it’s just a black hole. We don’t know where the money for that organization came from.”

Orr’s bill is opposed by the conservative/libertarian group FreedomWorks, which is a 501(c)(4) political organization. Spokesman Jason Pye stated that the bill would “having a chilling effect on political speech,” and is very similar to plans of the Democrats and Bernie Sanders in Washington D.C.

Nationwide in 2014, the biggest dark-money spenders were groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA, the League of Conservation Voters, the Environmental Defense Action Fund, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2012, nationwide dark money amounted to roughly $311 million. But total election-related spending that year was $7.3 billion—which means dark money accounted for only 4 percent of the total.

An an Alabama Policy Institute debate on money in politics last year, Hans Von Spakovsky, a Huntsville native and researcher at the Heritage Foundation, argued that these types of donor disclosures of private donations constitute a chilling effect on free speech and a violation of privacy.

RELATED: Alabama Policy Institute debates: Should the IRS have more power to censor non-profits?

Spakovsky cited the firing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich after the dating site OK Cupid publicized Eich’s donation to Prop. 8, a California ballot initiative that barred same-sex marriage in the Golden State. “There are a lot of Americans that can’t afford to have their opinions known,” he added.

“Transparency is about us trying to keep an eye on what the government is doing, not about the government keeping an eye on what we’re doing,” Spakovsky said.

If Orr’s Amendment makes it to the ballot, the text would appear as follows:

“Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to require the state to regulate the disclosure of the raising and spending of money that may influence elections and governmental actions.

The summary would be followed with the option to select either yes or no.

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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.


RELATED:
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


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3 years ago

These are the politicians eyeing a run for Alabama’s highest offices in 2018

How will Alabama's 2018 electoral puzzle come together?
How will Alabama's 2018 electoral puzzle come together?
How will Alabama’s 2018 electoral puzzle come together?

The 2016 election cycle is in full swing, but outside of a potentially competitive congressional race in Alabama’s 2nd District, there’s not a lot of action in the Yellowhammer State this year. However, if you think it’s too early to start looking toward the impending electoral chaos of 2018… Well, you’re probably right. But make no mistake, Alabama’s most ambitious politicians are already jockeying for position.

Yellowhammer released a list of the “Top 20 potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates” earlier this year. It included a pretty good number of long shots and individuals who probably won’t actually end up running, and that list did not include any of the other statewide offices that the political climbers are keeping an eye on.

So let’s take a quick look at some of the politicians who are already eyeballing the state’s highest offices that will be up for grabs in 2018.

GOVERNOR

Slade Blackwell: The Mountain Brook senator strengthened his conservative bonafides this year by being a member of the “Gang of Nine,” the group of rock-ribbed senators who opposed every proposed tax increase. His extraordinarily successful business career places him a position to pump a substantial amount of his own money into the race, if he chose to do so. But he may not need to; he’s also a prolific fundraiser. The business community loves him, and his record as a fiscal conservative in the senate would help him make a strong case to grassroots conservatives as well. The only question is whether he’d pull the trigger on a statewide campaign with three young kids still working their way through school.

Young Boozer: The two-term state treasurer has a sharp business acumen and impresses with his creative thinking on complex fiscal issues. His career in banking, finance and investments has taken him from Citibank in New York and Crocker National Bank in Los Angeles, to Coral Petroleum in Houston and Colonial Bank in Montgomery. With Alabama’s budgets in perpetual disarray, Boozer could make a strong case that he’s got the background to lead the state toward a longterm solution. But will his style connect with Alabama’s more rural, populist conservatives?

Del Marsh: The Senate President Pro Tem has been a steady hand at the helm of the Alabama Senate since Republicans took control in 2010, but indications are that this will be his last term in the Senate, whether he runs statewide or not. From a leadership and management standpoint, Marsh is head and shoulders above most of his colleagues. For that reason, he is one of the few individuals who will have major players in the state’s business community asking him to run. It usually works the other way around.

John McMillan: The Agriculture Commissioner started his career in public service in 1969 on the Baldwin County Commission. Almost 50 years later, he may look around as the gubernatorial field begins to emerge in 2017 and say to himself, “Why the heck not?” Agriculture is Alabama’s largest industry, but the current likely field does not include a candidate the state’s farmers would look at and immediately say, “He’s one of us.” McMillan is a sixth generation farmer, a past Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, past executive VP of the Alabama Forestry Association, and a two-term Ag Commish. He’s built up a statewide grassroots network over the years, which could come in handy if he decides he’d like to take a crack at the state’s top job.

John Merrill: The first-term Secretary of State is a relentless campaigner who has probably been mapping his course to the governor’s mansion since he beat “The Machine” to become University of Alabama SGA President in 1986. He is a political animal whose relentless campaigning led to him burning through several sets of tires on his personal vehicle during the last election cycle. He is a resident of Tuscaloosa, a town that has essentially become the hub of political power in Alabama, with the sitting governor, a U.S. senator and the State House Budget Chairman all hailing from Title Town. Merrill’s gunning to be next.

Greg Reed: The Alabama Senate Majority Leader has quickly risen through the ranks of the Republican caucus after first being elected just five short years ago. No one doubts that he is eyeing another move up. However, as tempting as it might be to jump into the gubernatorial fray, he is so well positioned to succeed Marsh as Pro Tem, it may not make sense for him to risk it. His calculus probably goes something like this: Do I pursue the 15 percent chance of emerging from a crowded field to become governor, or do I stay on my current track and have a 95 percent chance of rising to become one of the state’s two most powerful legislators?

Martha Roby: The 2nd Congressional District representative has managed to move up the ladder in Washington fairly quickly, landing a coveted seat on the Appropriations Committee. She has proven herself to be an able defender of the District’s large military and farming communities, but has taken some shots from grassroots conservatives for not bucking congressional leadership on tough votes. The Montgomery resident with young children undoubtedly sees the appeal of not having to travel to D.C. during the week, but if she wins re-election to a fourth term in Congress, would she give up a relatively safe seat and jump into the mass chaos of a gubernatorial run?

Luther Strange: The Attorney General is almost certainly running for governor. He has already met with at least one potential campaign consultant and has signaled to some close allies that he plans to run. It is probably not the job he really wants — he’s had his eye on the U.S. Senate for a long time. But with Senators Shelby and Sessions both still going strong, the prospect of suddenly being out of public office is a non-starter for Strange. He would likely start as a favorite to make the runoff in a crowded field, by virtue of the fact that he has already run statewide three times (lost a bid for Lt. Governor, won two for AG), so the voters know “Big” Luther’s name.

Wealthy guy no one is thinking about: Never forget this guy. He’s out there. He can self-fund. And he can throw a kink in even the best-laid plans.

LT. GOVERNOR


Rusty Glover: The low-key and well-liked state senator from south Alabama has already gotten word out around Montgomery that he plans to run statewide in 2018. Democrats stripped much of the power from the Lt. Governor’s office in the late ’90s, but the fact remains that the Senate’s presiding officer is a mere heartbeat away from the top job. Glover is a retired school teacher who’s successfully ran for both the House and Senate. We’ll see if he adds Lt. Governor to that list.

Mary Scott Hunter: The state school board representative from north Alabama has made inroads with some key players in the business community as the board’s foremost advocate of Common Core State Standards. But that could hurt with grassroots conservatives who’ve labeled the standards a big business and big government takeover of public education. Hunter’s résumé is bolstered by a military record that includes stints in the Air Force, Reserves and the Alabama Air National Guard. Her dad is Scott Hunter, former University of Alabama and NFL championship quarterback, which never hurts in football-crazed Alabama.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Steve Marshall: The Marshall County District Attorney has expressed interest in a statewide run, but would face an uphill battle against other potential candidates who already have a built-in fundraising and political operation. Marshall became a Republican in 2011 after being elected in 2004 and 2010 as a Democrat. He is a past president of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association, so he has presumably built relationships around the state that would be beneficial if he jumps in the race for AG.

Arthur Orr: The Senate Budget Chairman has had the unenviable task of crafting the state’s beleaguered General Fund for the past five years. However, the scuttlebutt around Montgomery is that he and Senate Education Budget Chairman Trip Pittman will switch positions ahead of the next legislative session, placing Orr atop the state’s largest pot of money. Speaking of money, Orr is a fundraising dynamo. And being a budget chairman all but ensures he would receive big checks out of Montgomery, in addition to significant support out of his north Alabama Senate District, if he decides to run statewide. He is currently Vice President and General Counsel for Cook’s Pest Control and his legal background also includes a stint at a prominent Decatur law firm.

Cam Ward: The Shelby County State Senator was the odds-on favorite to be the next attorney general before a DUI arrest and a stint in rehab earlier this year. It is hard to imagine voters electing someone who had that big of a lapse in judgement to be their state’s top law enforcement officer and lawyer, but crazier things have happened. Ward maintains the support of many in Montgomery and in his district. He doesn’t appear to have even considered taken a step back from politics, but is weighing whether he should resurface for a statewide run or batten down the hatches and try to return to the Senate.

SENATE PRESIDENT PRO TEM

This is not a statewide elected office, but it is worth considering for a couple of reasons. Number one, it is among the state’s most powerful positions, alongside governor and speaker of the house. Secondly, it is such an attractive position that it could influence who ends up running for the posts mentioned above.

Consider this:

If current Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh suddenly switches directions and decides to serve another four year term, that could compel Sen. Greg Reed to take a more serious look at governor. If Marsh leaves, Reed is almost certainly going to be his successor, which likely bumps him out of the governor’s race. But if Marsh leaves the senate and Reed runs for governor, the race for pro tem is wide open.

It could lead Sen. Ward to abandon his attorney general ambitions and try to rally support among his colleagues to give him the job. That, in turn, would give Sen. Orr — who may have at one point wanted to be pro tem himself — an even clearer path to AG. It could also open up an opportunity for a young leader like Sen. Clay Scofield to rise quickly. The scenarios are almost endless, but they all hinge on senators Marsh and Reed.


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3 years ago

Bentley signals more tax increases, reforms could be on agenda next year

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After a months-long battle over tax increases, Governor Robert Bentley revealed last week he will push once again for revenue increases in the 2016 legislative session.

Between November 2014 and September 2015 the amount of revenue from new taxes and budget reforms the governor pushed for dropped from $541 million to $250 million, and the legislature ended up passing approximately $100 million.

Though Bentley ultimately signed the General Fund budget into law, he told a group in Jasper that it won’t be enough long term, and he will work for more tax increases and reforms in 2016.

“I think we’re going to have to have some more revenue,” Bentley told the Times Daily’s Mary Sell. “If we’re going to provide for the essential services of government, if we’re going to provide for our hospitals, if we’re going to immunize our children, if we’re going to have troopers on the road, if we’re going to do all of those things, we have to have funding, we have to have adequate funding. But we’ll wait and see.”

The $100 million in new revenue this year came from a $0.25 per pack tax on cigarettes, a provider tax on pharmacies and nursing home beds, and moving proceeds from the Use Tax to the General Fund. The rest of the budget was balanced on cuts.

Those cuts have resulted in the closure of state parks and part-time satellite Drivers License offices, the latter of which has drawn national attention.

As the economy has grown, bringing in increased revenue, so have the government programs for which tax dollars pay. State expenditures for Medicaid, in particular have increased significantly over the last several years, growing from $244,624,007 in FY2000 to  $685,125,607 in FY2015.

The inability to control these expenses, which are often mandated by the federal government, is a perplexing part of the process for legislators.

“That’s what’s so frustrating about the whole budgeting scenario, the uncontrollable cost of Medicaid, this federal program that we have very little say in how it’s run and the expenditures of it,” said Senate General Fund budget committee chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) last month.

The growth of Medicaid, state pensions, and other programs will continue to be a driving factor in funding shortfalls until significant reforms can be accomplished—reforms that have historically been ardently opposed by special interests, the federal government, and the status quo.

Additionally, the dearth of growth revenues—tax sources whose revenues increase as the economy grows—in the General Fund will continue to hamstring the amount of new revenue available for Alabama’s non-educational programs unless taxes are increased.

The Alabama Legislature will convene for the 2016 Regular Session in February, but budget planning meetings generally begin in November.


1
3 years ago

Reforming judicial retirement equals big savings for taxpayers (Opinion)

wooden gavel and books on wooden table,on brown background
Republicans in the state legislature are committed to saving money for Alabama’s taxpayers. Reforms to teacher and state employee retirement plans were made in 2012 that will save the taxpayers billions of dollars over the next thirty years and beyond. This year, the Legislature passed a landmark reform of the retirement programs for district attorneys, judges, and circuit clerks that is supported by David Bronner, head of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), and will save our state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next thirty years.

Currently, district attorneys (DAs) contribute nothing towards their retirement plan but receive a very generous post-retirement salary. If a DA earned $148,936 during his last year of service, the state is obligated to pay the retiring DA, who is subject to being called out of retirement, a salary of $111,952 annually for the rest of his life. Under the new law, DAs will pay 8.5% of their salary to fund their retirement and have a minimum retirement age of 62.

Similar to the DA reform, changes to the retirement packages for circuit clerks and judges will save the state millions of dollars by making needed cost-saving modifications. The amount that circuit clerks contribute to retirement will be raised from 6% to 8.5% of their annual salary, and like DAs, clerks and judges will not be eligible to collect retirement until age 62.

The retirement plan for state judges—whether supreme court, district, circuit or probate- has also been modernized. Previously, if a judge retired at age 65 with 12 years of service and a $135,000 salary, the judge would receive an annual retirement of $101,250 for the rest of his lifespan. The reform legislation adjusts the benefit calculator for retirement salaries to encourage judges to serve longer and thereby save state resources.

These provisions require a vote of the people on the November 2016 ballot. If the ballot measure passes, the new retirement plans will go into effect for newly elected DAs, judges, and clerks starting that month.

Judges have a sacred duty to administer the law to ensure justice for all Alabamians, regardless of income or social position. District attorneys are tasked with prosecuting violent criminals and circuit clerks are an essential conduit between the public and the legal system. Many times these public servants forego higher salaries in the private sector to work as officers of the court. This reform strikes a delicate balance of being fair to such officials, while not excessive when compared to compensation plans found in other states.

Given our current budget challenges, this reform is absolutely essential and will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next thirty years and beyond. The Republican majority in the legislature is committed to long-term, structural reform of state government. More work needs to be done to put Alabama on a sure fiscal foundation, but this is another good step in the right direction.


Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) is chairman of the Alabama Senate General Fund budget committee.

1
3 years ago

Huge special election turn out defeats yet another tax increase in Alabama

yh_82615 (1)
ATHENS, Ala. — A 120 percent property tax increase referendum was soundly defeated in Limestone County Tuesday, with a large number registered voters in the city of Athens turning out to participate in the special election.

“With an incredibly massive 45% turnout and a decisive vote of 62% to 38% against the proposed 12-mill property tax increase, the trend continues across the state of Alabama voters soundly rejecting every tax increase proposal offered to them by elected officials,” said Vote No Campaign manager Trey Edwards. “Voters and volunteers of every type imaginable worked hard to defeat this tax. We had prominent leaders from the Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party, and the Constitution Party all speak out and work hard to protect their community from reckless spending.”

Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay received criticism after using a mandatory parent orientation meeting to hold a presentation on the tax increase, instructing those present to vote yes, and handing out “I’m Voting Yes” yard signs inside the school.

The superintendent reportedly went so far as to tell the parents present, “If you’re not for this, don’t tell anyone. If you are, we want you to go vote for it and tell 10 of your friends.”

The group fighting the tax increase said Holladay’s speech was a violation of an Alabama law which prohibits public employees from using state, county, and local funds, property, or time, for any political activities. Perhaps more seriously is the allegation that the superintendent’s speech was a violation of another law barring public employees from using their official authority or position for the purpose of influencing votes or political actions.

According to polling obtained exclusively by Yellowhammer, support for the tax plummeted once Holladay’s “campaign speech” was publicized on August 4th.

Final Tracking Poll Results Graph
Orange: No votes Blue: Yes votes

Had the tax proposal passed, revenues were proposed to be used constructing large new school buildings. According to campaign finance reports, The Political Action Committee (PAC) advocating in favor of the tax increase, Citizens for our Athens City Schools, was funded largely by the builders and architects in consideration to receive the contracts to construct those facilities.

Several state lawmakers revealed in light of the vote that they believe the defeated tax is evidence of the whole state’s attitude toward the prospect of higher taxes.

“I think there is a real sense among the public that there’s a lot of waste in government, and this is certainly a way they can send that message,” Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the Senate General Fund budget committee chairman told the Times Daily. “I think it should be considered (in Montgomery); I don’t think it makes the decision.”

“The people of Alabama are not having any of the ‘raise my taxes’ push,” said Sen. Phil Williams (R-Gadsden) on Twitter Tuesday evening.

“I do look to the outcome of that election, as well as others that have happened across the state,” added Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Huntsville). “And it further supports what people are telling me on the street.”

Lawmakers are expected to return Montgomery in early September for a second Special Session seeking a solution to the projected $200 million shortfall in the state’s General Fund budget.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Senate passes General Fund budget relying solely on cuts

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama Senate Monday approved a General Fund relying solely on cuts to strike a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget.

The final vote, 19-15, followed several hours of debate on the Senate floor. Seven Republicans joined with every Democrat to vote against the legislation.

General Fund budget committee chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said the bill cuts nearly every agency, including a 4 percent cut to Medicaid, but appropriates $16 million for the prison reforms passed during the Regular Session.

Sen. Orr voted against his own proposed budget, just as he did during the Regular Session.

The Alabama House will take up the bill when it convenes Monday afternoon. Should it pass through the House without amendment, it will be sent to Governor Bentley’s desk where he is expected to veto it.

Not a single one of the governor’s more than $300 million in tax increases made it through the legislative process, with even the cigarette tax increase failing in committee.

Governor Bentley has maintained throughout the summer that he will not accept a budget that doesn’t raise revenue, calling the cuts necessary to balance without tax increases “unworkable.”

House and Senate leaders have reportedly asked the Governor to quickly call a second Special Session if he indeed decides to veto the trimmed General Fund budget. The state is constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget in place before the beginning of the new fiscal year, which begins on October 1st.

The current Special Session must end Tuesday, August 11th, according to the rules of Special Sessions laid out in the Alabama Constitution.

This story may be updated as more details emerge.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Legislature poised to approve budget balanced solely on cuts

Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner

Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After months of debates over tax increases, gambling, and budget cuts, the Alabama Legislature appears poised to pass essentially the exact same budget they approved in the Regular Session—one based solely on across the board, prioritized cuts.

In a Senate Ways and Means-General Fund committee meeting Friday, the House-passed budget cutting Medicaid by $156 million was replaced with a budget spreading the cuts across most General Fund agencies—essentially the exact same budget that was vetoed by Governor Bentley in the Regular Session earlier this year.

“We’re replacing a sorry budget with a crappy budget,” said Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) after the vote.

Committee chairman Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told Yellowhammer Friday after the committee meeting that, thus far there hasn’t been a high level of outcry from constituents about the level of cuts proposed in this budget.

“There’s been very little impact with legislators during the course of the summer, from what I can tell, as to real concern over the budget and implications from cuts to the divisions of the government that are funded by the General Fund,” he said.

This relative silence on the matter is likely a result of Alabama’s conservative electorate being entirely comfortable with cuts to government and fiercely opposed to tax hikes that could impact small business and families, and ultimately the economy.

The same rules for vetoes apply during Special Sessions as during the Regular Session, meaning the Governor could possibly pocket veto the budget, not giving legislators enough time to override, and forcing a second Special Session.

It takes a simple majority to override a veto in Alabama.

The Senate adjourned at around 1:30 Friday afternoon, and is set to reconvene to debate and vote on the General Fund budget Monday at Noon.


1
3 years ago

Conservative Alabama legislators make case for major reforms over tax hikes

Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Rep. Bill Poole, Sen. Arthur Orr, Sen. Pro Tem Del Marsh, Gov. Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard, Sen. Jabo Waggoner

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — As Alabama lawmakers debate how to patch the General Fund’s $200+ million hole and ensure a sustainable path forward for the state, one state senator is fighting back against a popular argument used by opponents of reforming and combining Alabama’s Education and General Fund budgets.

Alabama is one of only three states with two separate budgets and roughly 91 percent of the state’s money is earmarked, making it impossible for lawmakers to set spending priorities in lean years. Defenders of this system have often claimed that combining the budgets would result in public education funding being “stolen” by the growing needs of the General Fund.

Alabama State Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) asserts actual spending on education would be in a better position today if the State Legislature had combined the budgets years ago.

“Over the last several years, I have heard the argument that we cannot un-earmark our funds and unify the budget because we are worried that education money will be devoured by Genera Fund needs,” Bussman told Yellowhammer. “General Fund needs are already devouring the education money.”

As evidence of this, Sen. Bussman pointed to the decline of education spending as a percentage of total state spending over the last several fiscal years.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 4.47.04 PM

In order to “protect” education programs from further cuts, Bussman has proposed setting a minimum level of education funding as a percentage of the state’s total expenditures.

“Let’s say [the state legislature] unified the budget and set a very conservative minimum at 53% a few years ago,” said Bussman. “In 2015, they would have added an additional $103 million to K-12, post secondary, and higher education. 54% would have been an additional $213 million. But they didn’t, so we spent that money on other non-educational things.”

According to statistics from the Legislative Fiscal Office, 30 “non-educational programs” are funded through the education budget to the tune of $306,585,284 for the upcoming Fiscal Year.

Included in this number are some programs that do have educational components, including the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and the Department of Youth Services, but many other line items in the education budget appear to have no education-related function whatsoever.

Among those line items are:

Department of Examiners of Public Accounts — $6,266,034
The Alabama Law Institute — $650,000
The Legislative Fiscal Office — $456,763
The Legislature — $2,648,863
The Department of Commerce — $53,524,479
The Department of Public Health — $12,910,003
The Department of Human Resources — $27,539,792
Sickle Cell Oversight and Regulatory Commission — $1,304,701
And many others.

An additional $32,302,774 appropriation in the education budget goes to state universities and colleges to be used for purposes not strictly related to education. Many of these appropriations are from earmarked funds, meaning lawmakers cannot easily change their destinations without specific legislation.

Coupled with the $250 million in excess revenues the ETF tucked into its Rolling Reserve fund, the presence of this $338.8 million underscores the argument of many conservative lawmakers who insist the General Fund budget does not have a revenue problem, but rather has a earmarking and spending problem.

Conservative activists and commentators have been pushing for Republican leaders to take this opportunity to pass major reforms, rather than raise taxes or pass a short-term fix. Yellowhammer CEO Cliff Sims recently used a metaphor to describe the scenario lawmakers are currently facing:

Imagine a husband and wife maintain two separate bank accounts and split up the household bills. Unfortunately the husband, who’s tasked with paying the power bill, keeps coming up short month after month. Is the wife, who lives in the same house, actually going to allow her lights to be cut off? Of course not! But as silly as that may seem, Alabama’s budgeting structure — with two separate budgets and 91 percent of the money earmarked — is no less ridiculous.

House Education Budget chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) told Yellowhammer Tuesday he disagrees with this depiction of the education budget.

“I disagree with those who support unifying budgets in a vacuum as a solution to the problem,” said Rep. Poole. “We’re open to considering options that relate to transferring [to the General Fund] the remainder of programs funded by the Use Tax, which is a growth tax—something that the General Fund does need.

“The programs have educational components, and therefore can arguably be justified as education expenses,” Poole continued, “but if you look back at the education budget for a number of years you’ll see where funding programs were moved from General Fund to the ETF.”

Poole said he also disagrees with the idea that “excess” revenues from the ETF in Fiscal Year 2016 should be put toward the General Fund’s shortfall.

“What’s best for the long-term interest for the State of Alabama?” Poole asked. “In the State of Alabama it is fiscally conservative and responsible with every single taxpayer dollar to do the best you can to determine the best investment. In every investment you look at return on investment; well, what is the best return on the taxpayer dollar? Is it to invest in education, workforce development, jobs, and economic development—because those are the areas supported by dollars out of the education budget.

“Where does workforce development occur?” Poole asked. “In our K-12 schools, our two-year colleges, and our four-year universities. Do we want to invest in those things or do we want to take our dollars and put it into Medicaid and prisons?… In order to get people off the Medicaid rolls and out of prisons we need to educate our people, get them jobs, and grow the economy. That’s how you solve the Medicaid and prison problem—you don’t just throw money at it, you solve the core problems. Diverting resources from the solution to the problem doesn’t solve the problem.”

Proponents of combining the budgets note that a bill sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston) may address the concerns expressed by Rep. Poole.

Currently, Medicaid makes up approximately 9 percent of the state’s total discretionary spending (both the General Fund and education budget), and corrections makes up 5.1 percent.

Marsh, the top senate Republican, has sought to cap Medicaid spending at 10 percent and corrections at 5.5 percent, allowing for some room for growth, but forcing accountability to rein in spending.

Sen. Bussman’s push to set a minimum level of education funding and Marsh’s idea to cap the main drivers of spending growth in the General Fund could continue to help conservative reformers in the legislature make their case while other pockets of lawmakers continue to tout tax increases and gambling proposals.

(Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and the Department of Youth Services do perform education-related functions and therefor could reasonably be included in the state’s education budget.)


1
3 years ago

Alabama’s new campaign finance law reform makes political process more transparent (Opinion)

House money tax

The old saying is give people an inch and they will take a mile. Unfortunately, this is especially true of politicians. We have all heard candidates make outrageous statements in the heat of the moment during a hard-fought campaign. But what is far worse is when those same politicians, behind the scenes, quietly ignore campaign finance laws that are designed to let the public know where political contributions come from and whether those contributions are being used in an above-board manner.

For example, a legislator died several years ago with a campaign balance of almost $100,000. Years elapsed and the next report showed just a few thousand dollars in the campaign account. Where did the money go? Candidates have also purchased vehicles, computers, and other valuable assets with campaign dollars. What happens to those items when the campaign is over or to the money when these assets are sold? Often credit card purchases are not itemized as required by law. It is hard to tell how campaign money was spent with a $5,000 payment to Visa as an entry line on a report. Large payments to “cash” have also been noted on reports. Where was the money spent?

There are current officeholders who have gone substantial lengths of time without filing their required reports to show how much money their campaign fund has and which businesses or individuals contributed the money. Money is a form of influence and the people deserve to know the origin of a candidate’s contributions and how that money is being spent.

To complicate the matter, at this point no single law enforcement agency has been responsible for overseeing Alabama’s campaign laws. The Secretary of State’s Office has never been structured to enforce campaign finance laws and the Attorney General and local district attorneys are often overwhelmed with a caseload of violent crimes. So if a campaign skirts the law it often goes unpunished and when an honest politician does have a question of how best to follow election laws, authoritative guidance has not been available. Then there is the awkward reality of one elected official (a district attorney, the Attorney General or the Secretary of State) investigating another elected official or candidate, possibly for political advantage.

That is why the Republican led legislature passed a bill in the recent legislative session that will bring transparency to the political process and empower the non-partisan Ethics Commission to ensure that election laws are followed.

For instance, this reform increases transparency by lowering the threshold for filing an electronic campaign report from $10,000 to $5,000 and requires a candidate to file campaign contributions of any amount in a more reasonable time. Previously, candidates would often hold a potentially controversial contribution in reserve, but use the check to pay for media advertisements with a wink and nod to the vendor. The sped-up timeline for reporting campaign contribution means that the public will know where the money is coming from to pay for the political ads they see on TV, hear on the radio, or receive in the mail.

An even more important aspect of the reform is putting the Ethics Commission in charge of overseeing Alabama’s political campaign spending. The Ethics Commission, a non-political entity, is now empowered to supervise the campaign process and if necessary, investigate claims of illegal activity. The Ethics Commission will have the power to subpoena documents and will act as an impartial umpire over campaign financing. If the Commission should discover illegal activity, it will submit the evidence to the local district attorney or to the Attorney General for prosecution.

If a candidate for office has an honest question of how best to follow the law, the candidate may submit his or her question to the Ethics Commission that will then issue an advisory opinion. We need to encourage new people with fresh ideas to run for office and we don’t want these first-time candidates to inadvertently violate the law through inexperience.

This landmark reform sheds the light of transparency on political campaign activity and appoints an objective, non-partisan enforcement agent in the Ethics Commission to monitor the process and ensure everyone plays by the same rules. Voters give legislators enormous responsibilities in sending us to Montgomery and we owe it to the citizens of Alabama to give them the most open and fair government possible.


Senator Arthur Orr represents Limestone, Madison and Morgan Counties in the Alabama Senate and sponsored the reform of the campaign finance law. Senator Orr is Chairman of the General Fund budget committee.

1
3 years ago

Now that Gov. Bentley vetoed a budget that only relied on cuts to balance, what’s next?

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. — The Alabama Legislature is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year. This Spring, however, lawmakers passed an ill-fated budget that was immediately vetoed by Governor Robert Bentley (R).

Before closing the 2015 Regular Session Thursday evening, the legislature approved a General Fund budget that cut $200 million from Medicaid, corrections, mental health and the other agencies.

“I know it’s not something that any of us wanted to pass,” said House General Fund Budget Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark).

The cuts were so unpopular, in fact, that Senate General Fund Budget Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) voted against his own budget. Orr intimated Thursday that a push for tax increases is likely when the Legislature convenes for an inevitable Special Session later this Summer.

“It took time for an agreement that there really is a significant problem and that just passing a cut budget is not the best answer to the problem,” Orr said, calling the process “frustrating.”

The first four years of complete Republican control in Montgomery were marked by an unusual level of cohesion between the House and the Senate. The two bodies cranked through each other’s legislative agendas year after year with very minimal tension, even occasionally coming together to override Gov. Bentley’s veto on major issues like the Accountability Act, the GOP’s landmark school choice bill.

The tone was different from the very beginning in 2015.

Gov. Bentley, safely elected to a second term, sought to impose his will on the legislature by rolling out a package of tax increase bills and playing hardball with any legislators who publicly opposed him. Competing solutions to the budget shortfall emerged in the House and Senate, some involving taxes, others involving various forms of gambling expansions, and a handful involving significant budgeting reforms.

The tensions were running so high by the end of the session that Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) made a rare appearance on the House floor to rebuke and cast blame on is Senate colleagues for “clocking out” on the citizens of Alabama, an accusation the upper chamber likely won’t forget between now and an expected Special Session in August.

The challenge for anyone trying to predict how things will play out is that every viable solution appears to face insurmountable opposition. The task, then, for legislative leaders is to build consensus around the best way to approach the budget shortfall, whether it be with spending cuts, structural reforms, tax increases, gambling, or some combination thereof.

A large bloc of conservative senators and a growing group of House members have already publicly vowed to stand in the way of any proposed tax increase. Considering they will all have to face voters again in a few short years, it is hard to imagine them changing directions.

“I don’t see the sentiment of this body changing,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said of his members’ opposition to tax increases.

It also seems unlikely either of the competing gambling plans will be able to cobble together enough support to pass. There still remains a large group of staunchly anti-gambling conservatives who will not support either plan. The remaining members are split over the best approach. Some support the Poarch Creek Indians’ offer of $250 million in return for exclusive gaming rights, while others view that as the creation of an unnecessary monopoly. Another small group supports expanding gaming in the state to include Las Vegas-style casinos. The only crossover between those in favor of the Poarch Creek deal and those backing a larger gaming expansion is support for a state-sponsored lottery, which still faces widespread opposition among Republicans.

The only plan that seemed to actually gain momentum rather than lose it during the Regular Session was a push to overhaul the dysfunctional way the state structures its budgets. Alabama is one of only three states in the country that has separate education and general fund budgets. The state also earmarks 91 percent of its tax revenue, making it impossible for elected leaders to set spending priorities in lean years.

However, in spite of the growing calls from conservatives who argue the Education Budget’s surplus proves the state has enough money to meet its obligations, some longtime members of the legislature are reluctant to make such dramatic reforms.

So what is the most likely outcome of the impending Special Session?

Sin taxes on cigarettes and soft drinks are the only tax increases that garner any noticeable support among Republicans. Some have pushed behind closed doors to pass such taxes and “be done with it.” However, other members worry they would be setting themselves up for electoral defeat by supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes, no matter which taxes they are.

“It’s not like they clarify in campaign ads which taxes you raised,” said one Republican House member, who spoke on condition of anonymity to not further increase tensions among his colleagues. “The ads would just say ‘voted to raise taxes by $250 million,’ and they would be true. There’s no doubt in my mind that would get a bunch of us beat.”

There is a growing sense that at least some un-earmarking will garner enough support to pass. Most notably, a proposal to funnel some of the state’s use tax revenue from the Education Budget to the General Fund is getting cautiously favorable nods from both legislative leaders and rank and file members. And Senators say the Governor assured them if they find a way to patch the General Fund this year, he’ll throw his weight behind a push to combine the budgets in 2016, something he has been supportive of in years past.

The divisiveness that marked the Regular Session is unlikely to dissipate over the summer as leaders works toward a compromise. The only thing we know for sure is that they are constitutionally mandated to pass a balanced budget. What exactly it will look like is still anyone’s guess.


1
3 years ago

One group of retired Alabama govt. employees still receives 75% of their salary, here’s why

Jefferson County Courthouse
Jefferson County Courthouse
Jefferson County Courthouse

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama’s District Attorneys are balking at budget cuts, but reforms to a controversial program could save the DAs, and taxpayers, millions a year.

Of Alabama’s 42 circuits represented by DAs, 34 of them also have what are called “Supernumerary District Attorneys,” or retired DAs who will practice in place of the circuit’s DA if he or she must recuse themselves from a case, or if there is an unmanageably high case load.

A supernumerary DA can be appointed after serving as a DA for 10 years, and must keep current on all continuing education and legal certifications for the position, but is awarded a hefty retirement salary, despite never contributing to the state’s judicial retirement system.

The current annual salary for a DA is $148,936, and the current salary for a supernumerary DA is about 75 percent of that, or $111,952 plus health insurance.

The state employs 51 supernumerary DAs as of October 2014, for a total cost the state’s general fund of $6.8 million, or nearly a quarter of the DA’s annual appropriations.

In 2012, the last time this program came up, legislative leadership said there was room for improvement, but no changes were made.

“We want to be fair and look across the Southeast and see what other states are offering their DAs,” said Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the General Fund budget committee chairman. “In any modern retirement benefits plan, it is incumbent on the participants to contribute a portion of their salary to that plan.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) also indicated that changes needed to be made saying, “I believe the supernumerary system is flawed and needs to be addressed.”

DA offices facing budget cuts, however, are unable to do anything about the costs associated with the salaries of DAs and supernumerary DAs, as they are determined by state laws. Instead, each office’s budget must be shorn up through cuts to other positions or by finding revenues elsewhere. Some in Montgomery are suggesting they begin to rely more heavily on the work of supernumeraries whose salaries are taking up such a large part of their budget.

In other counties, DAs have pursued legislation this session that would levy an additional 5 percent tax on “spiritous wines and liquors.” Calhoun County was able to pass the tax, though it was originally vetoed by the governor who was concerned it violated Alabama law.

Revenues from the tax, about $300,000 annually, will go to the 7th circuit DA.


1
3 years ago

Shrink Alabama’s Government: End state-owned liquor stores (opinion)

Alcohol

Alabama is facing a budget crisis. The state’s General Fund budget – which funds nearly every non-education item – has a projected deficit of roughly $250 million for fiscal year 2016, which starts on October 1.

How did we get in this fiscal mess? Unfortunately, over the decades many politicians chose to kick the fiscal can down the road instead of doing the hard work of cutting government spending. But budgets, whether for a family or a state, are not that complicated: expenses have to be lower than income to be fiscally sound.

In 2010 and again in 2014, the people of Alabama elected solid Republican majorities to the state legislature. Their message to us was clear: get Alabama’s fiscal house in order. Since 2010, the legislature has cut a total of $1.2 billion in annual state spending. But a dramatic increase in Medicaid and prison expenses, coupled with an antiquated budget system that earmarks roughly 91% of state taxes, has led to the $250 million deficit we now face.

As part of the process to solve our state’s deficit, the state should privatize its ABC retail liquor stores. Government shouldn’t fund competition to the private sector. That is why I have proposed legislation that requires the state to exit the retail liquor business by October 2018, and creates a study commission to provide recommendations on the state’s exit strategy from the retail liquor market.

This is a responsible, incremental approach. The ABC board will still exist and regulate the wholesale distribution of liquor. It will still be in charge of licensing private retail stores to sell alcohol to the public. But the state will no longer compete with private businesses in the retail sale of liquor.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office, the agency tasked with providing the state legislature advice on fiscal matters, has stated that privatizing the ABC retail stores will result in annual savings ranging from $16 to $19 million. Hundreds of millions of dollars will continue to flow to state agencies like Mental Health, Department of Human Resources, and to education. This proposal does not completely solve the deficit, but the legislature has a duty to pursue every avenue possible to cut spending and right-size government.

Some object that privatizing the ABC stores could lead to an increase in alcohol consumption. But study after study shows there is no statistically significant difference in alcohol-related deaths, binge drinking, or drunk-driving fatalities between “control” states like Alabama and license states with lighter regulations on retail sells. In fact, a 2009 study by the Commonwealth Foundation examined data from 48 states, and argues that states with the highest degree of liquor control laws experience higher DUI-related fatality rates than states with less regulation. In 1987 and 1990 respectively, Iowa and West Virginia deregulated their liquor markets, and a 2007 study by the Reason Foundation found no evidence of increased alcohol consumption in either state. In 2011, Washington state passed a privatization law and DUI collisions and arrests were lower the year after privatization than the year before, according to a study by the Washington Policy Center.

As with many debates in the Alabama legislature, the message delivered to sway lawmakers is not the actual problem a group has with the bill. Consider it window dressing under the guise of “safer streets” or “protecting children” to more nicely protect the status quo.

No, those who object to our state saving money by privatizing the ABC retail stores are the usual suspects: special interest groups lobbying hard to protect their cash cow. Did you know the state does not own the property on which a single ABC store sits? Instead, a group of well-connected businessmen (some of whom live out-of-state) make over $10 million each year from the incredibly long-term leases they charge to the state of Alabama. This special interest group is spending tens of thousands of dollars on lobbyists and public relations consultants in an attempt to preserve their lucrative contracts.

Now is the time for Alabama to privatize its ABC stores. We cannot afford for the state to continue to own and operate stores that compete with private small businesses. Privatizing the ABC stores will save up to $19 million a year: that may not solve the entire deficit our state faces, but it is a step in the right direction.


Senator Arthur Orr is Chairman of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee.

1
3 years ago

Alabama lawmakers should return to conservative principles, reject tax hikes (opinion)

YH Dont Tread on Me Flag

One of the pillars of the Alabama Free Market Alliance is the promotion of pro-growth tax reform. As a result, we frequently convey the harmful effects of the tax and spend philosophy on our economy. Now, as Republicans in the Alabama State House of Representatives contemplate a proposal to raise taxes by more than $150 million, this is an important time to reflect on some of the fundamentals of conservative governance that have previously made our state a beacon of economic freedom as the rest of our nation’s prospects of prosperity slowly dim.

Smaller government should be aspirational, not a fear tactic.

During the recent government spending debate, we have heard from some state officials that revenues have remained level the last several years, while government has grown during the same time period. Therefore, they say, we need to raise taxes in order to match that growth.

An astounding – and baffling – assertion.

Since when is there a requirement in this state that government must grow? Our conservative leaders have done admirable work since 2011 of cutting waste and creating efficiency. However, now is not the time to stop. Obviously, there is more work to be done. The people of Alabama have allocated to our state government an amount certain in each of the previous years. It is incumbent upon those in public office to operate our government within the means of that amount.

Those in opposition to that idea have haphazardly thrown out consequences ranging from wide-spread disease to the closing of hiking trails. Those of us who view smaller government as a virtue look forward to a less burdensome regulatory environment and greater individual freedom. One day soon, we might even be able to enjoy a return of our own hard-earned money in the form of a tax cut.

Common sense conservatism often requires real work.

As a small business owner, I am partial to those of us in that sector of the economy and our ability to engage in the fiscal debate and serve in public office. The reason why is because we must know every aspect of our business and how each aspect interacts with the others. This is a lot different than learning out of a textbook, and it forces us to develop some common sense. Maybe more importantly, a small businessman employing his common sense has days where he just has to roll up his sleeves and work. Sometimes it falls on you to do the bookkeeping, drive the truck, or take out the trash.

Common sense conservatism in government takes work, too. There are ways the state can save money, but it’s going to be tougher than waving the tax wand whereby other people’s money magically shows up in the state’s wallet.

For example, Sen. Arthur Orr has a package of bills to reduce the taxpayers’ obligations under the state retirement system. Sen. Shay Shelnutt has legislation to require that individual counties take responsibility for the retirement costs of county officials (why in the world would the state pay for that, anyway?). Rep. Will Ainsworth has legislation to prohibit earmarking of revenue and allow more room for flexibility and better stewardship of tax dollars. There is even the idea that we rid ourselves of the last vestige of teachers’ union control and operate a single, unified budget. Placing all education dollars in a separate budget used to be a means by which the AEA could maintain its grip on state government. As we all know, times have changed.

Our Founding Fathers created a system of governance under which our elected officials respond to the will of the people, not the other way around.

Liberal pundits love to shower words of praise, such as “courageous” and “bold,” upon Republicans who propose liberal agenda items. It’s the liberal way of providing encouragement to someone who has made a proposal in complete contradiction to the will of the people who elected them.

Those same pundits also attempt to advance the faulty premise that being responsive to the principles, values and ideals of the voters is “caving to political pressure” or “letting politics dictate their actions.”

That’s silly – and wrong.

We have a representative democracy. Voters elect someone to go to Montgomery because they are too busy minding their stores, plowing their fields, or taking care of their children. However, here’s the deal that’s struck: the elected official must carry the collective ideals of the voters with them. In the present issue, that means a commitment to not raising the tax burden on Alabama families and businesses.

Rather than elected officials deciding which government programs the people of this state want, they should let us decide. If by some chance, during the downsizing of state government, the absence of some government program becomes too much to endure, then the electorate will let their representatives know and permit an allocation of revenue to pay for it. Unless and until that unlikely scenario happens, conservative principles should prevail. Having spoken to groups across the state this year, I can say definitively that voters have zero appetite for any tax hikes.

I usually conclude my columns with a call for interaction with elected officials to let them know how we feel on a certain issue. In this case, it would be unnecessary because the citizens of this state have already thanked our legislators for not raising taxes by way of their votes at the ballot box this past November.

I am proud to call many members of the Alabama Legislature my friends, and I am hopeful that they will put themselves in a posture that will allow them to serve for many more years.


Paul Reynolds is the founder of the Alabama Free Market Alliance and is currently serving his second term as the state’s National Committeeman for the Republican National Committee.

1
3 years ago

The 50 most powerful & influential people in Alabama

Yellowhammer's Power & Influence 50

[tps_header][/tps_header]

Yellowhammer's Power & Influence 50
Yellowhammer’s Power & Influence 50

Marty Abroms
Marty Abroms, President and Managing Shareholder, Abroms & Associates, P.C.

[tps_title]Marty Abroms, President and Managing Shareholder, Abroms & Associates, P.C.[/tps_title]

Abroms is the cornerstone of the northwest Alabama business community. He may not be the most well known name on the Power & Influence 50, but you can bet he’s known by any candidate with statewide aspirations.

His powerhouse accounting firm has clients with operations throughout the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Hong Kong, China, Macao, and Puerto Rico.

He’s currently the Chairman of the Business Council of Alabama, a powerful voice representing the statewide business community’s interests before state government. He’s also President Pro Tem of the University of North Alabama Board of Trustees, further cementing his place as one of the Shoals’ most influential residents, both inside and outside of politics.

Landon Ash
Landon Ash, Chief Executive Officer, Xtreme Concepts

[tps_title]Landon Ash, Chief Executive Officer, Xtreme Concepts[/tps_title]

Still in his mid-30s, Ash has quickly become one of the most active Republican political donors in Alabama at both the state and federal levels. His total donations over the last two election cycles rival anybody in the state, bar none.

His company, which almost exclusively employees former top tier operatives from the U.S. special forces, provides security services and training for both private clients and the U.S. government, as well as venture capital to early stage defense companies. That background garnered him an appointment by Gov. Robert Bentley to the Alabama Homeland Security Task Force.

Ash could see his influence increase in future years as he develops a state-level policy agenda and develops deeper relationships with other members of the business community.

Ginger Avery
Ginger Avery, Executive Director, Alabama Association for Justice

[tps_title]Ginger Avery-Buckner, Executive Director, Alabama Association for Justice[/tps_title]

Avery-Buckner has masterfully guided the trial lawyers’ advocacy group through the rise of the Republican Party in Alabama, including a total brand overhaul as the Trial Lawyers Association became the Association for Justice.

The group gave 95 percent of its campaign contributions to Democrats through 2010, but sensing a change in the political winds, gave over 80 percent of its legislative contributions to Republicans in 2013 and 2014.

Other groups traditionally allied with Democrats have struggled to adjust to Republican control and, as a result, have seen their influence diminished. Avery-Buckner moved her group to the right, and their success is a testament to her foresight and pragmatism. They don’t always get what they want, but they always get their voice heard. The association’s members have benefited from that.

Gov. Robert Bentley
Robert Bentley, Governor of Alabama

[tps_title]Robert BentleyGovernor of Alabama[/tps_title]

Gov. Robert Bentley cruised to re-election in 2014 with 63.56 percent of the vote, a full 3 percentage points higher than Romney garnered in the 2012 presidential election. His approval rating frequently rose into the 70s in his first term, allowing him to accumulate a lot of political capital. He kicked off his second term by spending it on his plan to solve the state’s perpetual budget crisis.

Early in his second term, the governor has shown an increased willingness to use his executive powers to impose his will on legislators who openly oppose his initiatives. He’s occasionally done this in very public ways, like when $100 million in infrastructure funding was pulled from the District of a senator seeking to block his tax proposals, but he’s also done it in more subtle ways, like when he made sure he maintained control of an appointment on the newly formed charter schools commission.

In his fifth year at the helm of Alabama’s state government, Bentley is clearly thinking about what will be his legacy, and he’s repeatedly made it known that he has no plans to be remembered as a “caretaker” governor.

David Bronner
David Bronner, CEO, Retirement Systems of Alabama

[tps_title]David BronnerCEO, Retirement Systems of Alabama[/tps_title]

As RSA CEO, Bronner essentially controls the fate of the pensions of every state employee, including judges and teachers.

He made his name by heavily investing the RSA’s money into projects inside the State of Alabama. That has allowed him to become a major economic development player. He’s also used that as leverage to insulate himself from reformers in the Legislature who are frustrated taxpayer contributions are needed to shore up the RSA’s bottom line.

Bronner has also maintained the support of teachers across the state, both active and retired, allowing him to win several internal battles with a teachers’ union head who tried to muscle his way into Bronner’s domain.

Although Republican control has diminished his influence in some ways, he’s still an institution in Alabama politics and oversees a taxpayer-funded investment portfolio that is staggering in its size and scope.

Will Brooke
Will Brooke, Senior Partner, Harbert Management Corporation

[tps_title]Will BrookeSenior Partner, Harbert Management Corporation[/tps_title]

Brooke has helped to launch two major Birmingham firms. He was the founder and managing partner of the influential law firm of Wallace, Jordan, Ratliff & Brandt (originally, Wallace, Brooke & Byers) and a founding shareholder of Harbert Management Corporation, where he’s served on the Board since 1994.

From his perch at the highest levels of the Alabama business community, he’s been an influential mover and shaker in state politics for over a decade, including a stint as chairman of the Business Council of Alabama.

He came up just short in his first bid for public office when he ran for Congress in 2014. However, whether he comes back to run for statewide office or continues being a major player behind-the-scenes, his influence on Alabama politics will continue to be significant.

Phillip Bryan
Philip Bryan, Chief of Staff, Office of the President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate

[tps_title]Philip BryanChief of Staff, Office of the President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate[/tps_title]

While there has been significant turnover in legislative staff since Republicans first came into power in 2010, Bryan has remained a constant force on the 7th floor (Senate) of the Alabama Statehouse. That experience and expertise has earned him the respect of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

He’s often the only non-senator in the room when Senate Leadership sets the calendar for the week. “Have you talked to Philip?” has become shorthand for “Have you gotten Leadership to sign off?”

Bryan is an intense political tactician whose skills were honed as the top communications staffer at the ALGOP prior to Republicans taking over the Legislature. He has been instrumental in the execution of Republicans’ legislative agenda, including major school choice reforms.

Paul Bryant, Jr.
Paul Bryant, Jr., Chairman, Bryant Bank

[tps_title]Paul Bryant, Jr., Chairman, Bryant Bank[/tps_title]

From 100 miles northwest of the State Capitol, Bryant maintains unrivaled influence as an informal advisor to Gov. Bentley. He has been with the dermatologist-turned-lawmaker from the time he was the ultimate long-shot gubernatorial candidate, to the day he was sworn in, all the way to the present.

In addition to his political horsepower, he’s also one of the most successful businessmen in the state as the chairman of Bryant Bank and President of Greene Group, Inc., a private holding company.

His name has been in the news a lot lately because of his longtime role on the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. Whether he exercises outsized influence over the Board or not, it is a true sign of his power that the rumor mill automatically assumes he’s bending the world to his will.

He’s proven himself to be an able protector of his father’s legacy.

Rick Burgess
Rick Burgess, Host, Rick & Bubba Show

[tps_title]Rick Burgess, Host, Rick & Bubba Show[/tps_title]

Christian conservative talk radio host Rick Burgess really flexed his political muscles for the first time during the 2014 election cycle. The small handful of Burgess-endorsed candidates were undefeated last year, including Gary Palmer, who was propelled to congress with a giant wave of ads voiced by Burgess.

Rick and his co-host Bubba are very choosy about which candidates they get behind, making their support even more coveted.

With hundreds of thousands of listeners every weekday morning, Burgess will be as influential as he wants to be in future election years, and even has some questioning whether he may at some point put his own name on a ballot. For now, he’s the most influential media figure in the state.

Greg Butrus
Greg Butrus, Partner, Balch & Bingham LLP

[tps_title]Greg Butrus, Partner, Balch & Bingham LLP[/tps_title]

Butrus heads up the Energy section of one of Birmingham’s most prestigious law firms, but prefers to fly so far below the radar that he doesn’t even put up a picture alongside his bio on the firm’s website. And although his genuine humility would keep most people from realizing it, he is Alabama’s foremost authority on state and federal energy policy matters.

Prior to joining Balch & Bingham, Butrus served on the staff of U.S. Senator Howell Heflin in Washington. He’s also a past member of the University of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees.

Some casual political watchers may be surprised to see his name on the Power & Influence 50, but those who need to know, know.

Billy Canary
Billy Canary, President and CEO, Business Council of Alabama

[tps_title]Billy Canary, President and CEO, Business Council of Alabama[/tps_title]

Canary is one of only two individuals on the Power & Influence 50 who has worked in the White House. He served as special assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration and later went on to be chief of staff at the Republican National Committee. That level of national political experience is unrivaled in Alabama politics, and Canary has used it to guide the Business Council of Alabama to new heights since taking over the reins in 2003.

The BCA is now the official Alabama partner of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. That makes them the voice of Alabama’s business community.

Canary’s friendship with House Speaker Mike Hubbard goes back decades. The Canary-led BCA jumped on board early on with Hubbard’s plan to “Storm the State House,” while other associations hedged their bets. During the 2014 cycle, BCA continued doling out millions in campaign contributions, and Canary was the one directing the checks.

Rep. Steve Clouse
Rep. Steve Clouse, House General Fund Budget Chairman

[tps_title]Rep. Steve Clouse, House General Fund Budget Chairman[/tps_title]

The budget shortfall is the single biggest issue facing the state right now and Clouse is right in the middle of the action as the top Republican on the influential House General Fund budget committee.

While most lawmakers shy away from attaching their name to specific budget proposals, Clouse has shown a willingness to step out in front — even with politically unpopular solutions — and endure the inevitable wave of arrows.

He is also the wiregrass area’s only legislator who has risen into legislative leadership. That gives him additional clout in that area of the state.

Caleb Crosby
Caleb Crosby, President, Alabama Policy Institute

[tps_title]Caleb Crosby, President, Alabama Policy Institute[/tps_title]

After serving at the Alabama Policy Institute (API) for several years as Director of Development, then Vice President, Crosby rose to be President of the influential conservative think tank when its longtime leader Gary Palmer was elected to Congress in 2014.

Most rank and file Alabama legislators do not employ policy staffers. That has made API an indispensable resource for conservative lawmakers trying to get a handle on complex issues.

A former George W. Bush staffer and a pitcher for the University of South Alabama who was drafted by the Texas Rangers, the 6’5 Crosby cut his teeth providing strategic financial management, compliance and operations guidance to campaigns, political committees, non-profit and for-profit organizations across the country.

He began his career with the Bush-Cheney 2004 re-election campaign. He then served in the George W. Bush administration, first at the EPA and then at the White House traveling with President Bush as a financial advisor. Following his time with President Bush, he served at the Department of Treasury under Secretary Hank Paulson. In 2008, Crosby was named CFO at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) before joining API in 2010.

Mark Crosswhite
Mark Crosswhite, CEO, Alabama Power Company

[tps_title]Mark Crosswhite, CEO, Alabama Power Company[/tps_title]

Crosswhite is the most powerful CEO in Alabama, and it’s not even close. The Power Company is involved in almost everything of significance that happens in the state. When the Department of Commerce is recruiting a major economic development project, they’re involved in crafting the deal. If there’s a bill making its way through the legislative process, they’re weighing in. If the Governor needs help planning inaugural festivities, the APCo team steps up to the plate.

Alabama Power has unrivaled resources and the state’s largest and most active governmental affairs operation, and Mark Crosswhite is quarterbacking the whole thing.

Crosswhite served as Alabama Power’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs for almost three years. Then became CEO and President of Gulf Power, another Southern Company subsidiary. He was then Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Southern Company from mid-2012 until last March when he became CEO of Alabama Power at the age of 50.

He is just over a year into the job, but it’s been abundantly clear from day one that he was ready to assume the role of being Alabama’s most high-profile executive.

Garry Neil Drummond
Garry Neil Drummond, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Drummond Company

[tps_title]Garry Neil DrummondChairman and Chief Executive Officer, Drummond Company[/tps_title]

Drummond is a genuine Alabama icon and likely the wealthiest individual in the state.

There is probably no industry in the country that has been the subject of more political and economic maneuvering over the last four years than coal. Drummond and his business interests have taken fire from the Obama administration’s EPA in DC, as well as from allied liberal interest groups at home. Even the Birmingham Water Works Board has placed him in its crosshairs, but Drummond continues to excel in spite of it all.

While other executives answer to boards of directors and shareholders, Drummond owns 100 percent of his company and answers to no one. He has a strong lobbying presence in Montgomery and maintains a core group of legislators who are willing to stick their necks out to protect his interests.

Most local residents may not even realize there is a giant multinational conglomerate operating out of an unassuming Birmingham suburb, but that’s just another day in Drummond World.

Joe Fine
Joe Fine, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie & Associates

[tps_title]Joe Fine, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie & Associates[/tps_title]

No individual on the Power & Influence 50 has been such a consistent power player for as long as Joe Fine. Pick a year in the last four decades and Fine would almost certainly be among the most influential people in state politics.

He was first elected to the Alabama Senate in 1970, then served a second term as Senate President Pro Tem. He went on to found the first lobbying firm of major significance in the state, and almost a half century later continues to impact the governing process every day the legislature is in session.

But even with his unparalleled success, Fine maintains a reputation for being among the nicest individuals in Alabama politics, whether he’s talking to a powerful senator, a client or a Statehouse staffer.

Bob Geddie
Bob Geddie, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie and Associates

[tps_title]Bob Geddie, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie and Associates[/tps_title]

As the second half of the Fine Geddie juggernaut, Geddie’s domain is the 5th floor (House) of the Statehouse. No one has managed it better over the years.

He has unrivaled relationships in the House on both sides of the aisle and is extremely close to the Speaker.

Prior to teaming up with Joe Fine in 1984, Geddie was Director of State Governmental Affairs for Alabama Power. He also served as Legislative Liaison and as Executive Assistant to Governor Fob James, and was a staffer for the late U.S. Senator John Sparkman.

Several of the most prominent businessmen on the Power & Influence 50 have Geddie on speed dial and rely on him to represent their interests before the legislature. They trust him so much, in fact, that rather than donating directly to candidates, many business heavyweights contribute to Fine Geddie’s political action committees and allow them to allocate the resources however they see fit.

Grayson Hall
Grayson Hall, Chairman, President and CEO, Regions Financial Corporation

[tps_title]Grayson Hall, Chairman, President and CEO, Regions Financial Corporation[/tps_title]

Hall is the CEO of the largest publicly traded company in Alabama. Regions is seemingly everywhere all at once. They are the last remaining Birmingham vestige of a time when the Magic City was the center of banking in the southeast United States. While other financial institutions crumbled, Regions survived and prospered, and it is at least in part due to Hall’s steady leadership.

Anything that has to do with banking in state government, Regions is driving the conversation as the face of the industry in Alabama politics.

Seth Hammett
Seth Hammett
Chief of Staff, Governor Robert Bentley

[tps_title]Seth Hammett, Chief of Staff, Governor Robert Bentley[/tps_title]

After spending more than a decade as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives as a Democrat, Hammett saw the incoming Republican wave and retired from public service.

Briefly.

As Hammett was exiting the scene, Robert Bentley, a little-known Republican House member from Tuscaloosa, was capping off his meteoric rise out of obscurity and into the Governor’s Mansion.

Hammett now serves as the governor’s chief of staff. Hammett’s rise, like a phoenix out of the ashes of the Alabama Democratic Party, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and unlikely feats of sheer political survival in recent memory.

He is now among the most influential voices in the governor’s inner circle.

Raymond Harbert
Raymond Harbert, Chairman and CEO, Harbert Management Corporation

[tps_title]Raymond Harbert, Chairman and CEO, Harbert Management Corporation[/tps_title]

Harbert enjoys one of the most iconic last names in Alabama business. He is carrying the family torch by growing one of the largest private investment behemoths in the state, with investment holdings on at least three continents.

He is one of the few individuals on the Power & Influence 50 who fields personal phone calls from presidential candidates. When then-Sen. Marco Rubio came to Birmingham to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Harbert was his first phone call and coordinated the event.

Sen. Jimmy Holley
Sen. Jimmy Holley

[tps_title]Sen. Jimmy Holley[/tps_title]

Holley is currently serving his fifth term in the Alabama Senate, after serving five terms in the Alabama House. He is an institution in southeast Alabama.

Outside of the Pro Tem and a couple of particularly influential committee chairmen, senators theoretically hold the same amount of power and influence. Holley has just been willing to use his more often and in ways that other senators don’t. That separates him from the parity. You’ll often hear, “If Holley’s not for your bill, it’s not going to pass.”

Holley has allied with Gov. Bentley during the 2015 session, allowing him to create opportunities for his district that are unavailable to most other legislators. When he puts his foot down on an issue, the tremor can be felt throughout the 7th floor.

Mike Hubbard
Mike Hubbard, Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives

[tps_title]Mike Hubbard, Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives[/tps_title]

Hubbard’s tenacity on the political battlefield is the stuff of legend. Inspired by the political tactics laid out in “The Thumping,” a book by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Hubbard masterfully orchestrated the Republican takeover of the legislature in 2010.

His House colleagues rewarded him with the most powerful post in state government: Speaker of the House.

The way Alabama’s government is structured places significant power in the legislative branch. The rules of the legislature make the Speaker of the House its strongest position. Put a political animal like Hubbard in that seat and you have all the makings of one of the most powerful players the state has ever seen.

He engenders a great deal of loyalty from his caucus, as evidenced by the fact that his members rallied around him as he confronted a tough legal situation. This year’s influx of new members has complicated his job a bit and made the already large Republican majority a bit more unwieldy, but Hubbard’s influence over the legislative process remains unmatched.

John Hudson
John Hudson, III, VP of Public Relations, Alabama Power Company

[tps_title]John Hudson, III, VP of Public Relations, Alabama Power Company[/tps_title]

Alabama Power’s public relations operation is vast, engaging customers on every medium imaginable, from social media to venue sponsorships and just about everything in between.

The scope of the Power Company’s external communications efforts alone would make Hudson a major mover and shaker in the business community, but his reach is exponentially increased due to his role as President of the Alabama Power Foundation. The foundation’s assets are more than $140 million, making it hands down the largest non-profit entity in the state. It has invested more than $150 million in grants and scholarships to benefit local communities throughout the state.

Hudson also serves on the Alabama A&M Board of Trustees.

His wife, Nyya Parson-Hudson, is a municipal court judge in Birmingham, further securing their place as Birmingham royalty.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey

[tps_title]Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey[/tps_title]

Ivey’s old school southern charm has made her a hit on the conservative speaking circuit in Alabama for years, and propelled her to the second highest post in state government. If you’ve never seen her lead the pledge of allegiance at an event, you’re missing out. Over the last twelve years, she’s built an extensive grassroots network around the state and is particularly strong in rural areas.

She’s also the highest ranking female elected official in the state. She presides over the Senate and determines to which committee each bill is assigned, but in reality her role in the Senate is minimal. That’s not Ivey’s fault, though. Democrats gutted much of the Lt. Governor’s authority in 1999 after Republican Steve Windom was elected and threatened to hold up Democratic Gov. Donald Siegelman’s first-year legislative agenda.

The bottom line is that Ivey remains one heartbeat away from the Governor’s office.

Johnny Johns
Johnny Johns, Chairman, President and CEO, Protective Life Corporation

[tps_title]Johnny Johns, Chairman, President and CEO, Protective Life Corporation[/tps_title]

There has been a lot of turnover at the top tier of the Birmingham business community over the last decade, but Johns has been a constant presence since taking over the CEO post at Protective Life in 2002.

Most recently he deftly guided the company through its acquisition by Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, Japan’s second largest private insurer, resulting in a huge financial win for Protective shareholders. Each share of Protective common stock was converted into the right to receive $70.00 cash, representing a total transaction value of approximately $5.7 billion.

He serves on numerous prominent Boards, including Regions Financial and Southern Company, and perhaps most notably, the University of Alabama. He’s often the public voice of the UA Board in interviews with both local and national publications.

Johns is a past chairman of the Business Council of Alabama and the Birmingham Business Alliance, making him a major player in the state’s economic development efforts. And along with several other members of Yellowhammer’s Power & Influence 50, he was instrumental in flipping Alabama’s courts away from their reputation as “tort hell.”

He engages in the political process in Alabama both directly and through a powerhouse team of lobbyists. Every ambitious politician aspires to enter his orbit. And if they manage to catch his attention, they’ll find him to be one of the most humble individuals to rise to the highest levels of the business world.

Sen. Del Marsh
Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tem, Alabama Senate

[tps_title]Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tem, Alabama Senate[/tps_title]

In the Alabama Senate, where even Kanye West’s ego probably wouldn’t stand out among the body’s oversized personalities, Marsh’s leadership has been unquestioned on either side of the aisle for the past five years.

His influence on the legislative process is felt in every nook and cranny of the State House, but often in more subtle, behind-the-scenes ways. He’s not as flashy as other power players of similar stature. He doesn’t have a security detail or driver. The Senate President Pro Tem’s office, which once employed over 40 staffers, is now run by a small team of four Marsh loyalists. But when he does make a move publicly, it’s significant.

The entire school choice movement in Alabama owes its success in large part to Marsh’s unflinching political will to see tax credit scholarships and charter schools become a reality. The social and economic impact of the education reforms implemented on his watch will ripple throughout generations of Alabama families, and that is not hyperbole.

Rebekah Mason
Rebekah Mason, Advisor, Gov. Robert Bentley

[tps_title]Rebekah Mason, Advisor, Gov. Robert Bentley[/tps_title]

There has been a lot of turnover in Bentley World since he was first elected in 2010 — from staffers to consultants — but Mason’s presence has been the one constant. She believed in him when he was a little-known state legislator. It paid off, big time.

She was the administration’s first communications director and now wields significant influence as an outside consultant, part of the very small circle of the governor’s closest advisors.

From crafting State of the State Addresses to coordinating external efforts to advance the governor’s agenda, Mason is involved in all of it. No one has the governor’s ear more than she does. No one.

Rep. Mac McCutcheon
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman

[tps_title]Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman[/tps_title]

McCutcheon is similar to Nick Saban in the sense that he is fiercely devoted to the process. For Saban, that means having a daily commitment to the smallest details on the practice field. For McCutcheon, that means having a daily commitment to making sure the legislative process works as smoothly as possible for members of both sides of the aisle. That’s an important trait in his role of House Rules Chairman, where he has enormous influence over what pieces of legislation actually make it to the floor for a vote.

McCutcheon is Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s single most important ally. Republican legislators — both veterans and rookies alike — look to McCutcheon for guidance. As long as he has Hubbard’s back, any attempted coup inside the GOP caucus is dead on arrival.

Robert McGhee
Robert McGhee, Head of Governmental Affairs, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

[tps_title]Robert McGhee, Head of Governmental Affairs, Poarch Band of Creek Indians[/tps_title]

McGhee is currently serving in his third term on the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Tribal Council and runs the Tribe’s governmental affairs operation.

The Poarch Creeks are able to devote an almost unfathomable amount of resources to state politics and have been at the center of political and legal debates in Alabama for the last decade.

McGhee is a savvy political operator who cut his teeth in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Department of Interior-Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Troutman Sanders LLP-Indian Law Practice Group.

The Poarch Creek’s jaw-dropping offer to cover Alabama’s entire $250 million General Fund Budget shortfall has once again placed McGhee in the center of the action in Montgomery. Expect that to continue in the years to come.

John McMahon
John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries

[tps_title]John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries[/tps_title]

No state supreme court in the country changed more than Alabama’s between 1994 and 2004. In the mid-90s, all nine justices on the court were Democrats. A decade later they were all Republicans. A Texas-based political consultant named Karl Rove has gotten a lot of credit over the years for making that happen, but it was John McMahon and a small group of influential businessmen who were the real driving force. The resulting effect on Alabama’s business climate has been profound.

In addition to his undeniable impact on Alabama’s business and political landscape, McMahon serves on numerous influential boards of directors, including Protective Life Insurance, ProAssurance, National Bank of Commerce, Cooper/T. Smith, and UAB Health Systems. He is also a trustee for the University of Alabama and Birmingham-Southern College.

McMahon is the epitome of a behind-the-scenes power broker.

Chief Justice Roy Moore
Chief Justice Roy Moore

[tps_title]Chief Justice Roy Moore[/tps_title]

Moore’s profile has skyrocketed in 2015 as the same-sex marriage debate came to Alabama in a big way for the first time. No other Alabama elected official has his ability to be instantly ubiquitous in the national media.

Because of his nationwide following, Moore’s influence in Alabama is unique in that it has less to do with the office he holds and more to do with his unrivaled populist appeal among evangelical conservatives. He is one of the few individuals on the Power & Influence 50 who can take his message directly to the people and move the needle.

Bill O’Connor
Bill O’Connor, President, Results LLC

[tps_title]Bill O’Connor, President, Results LLC[/tps_title]

O’Connor is an old school Alabama political veteran with the battle scars to prove it. He cut his teeth four decades ago as the Director of Field Services for the University of Alabama’s College of Communications. After working in state government in the late 70s and running the Alabama Press Association in the early 80s, he returned to UA as Director of Legislative Relations. In 1997 he rose to become Vice Chancellor of External Affairs, overseeing the UA System’s entire governmental affairs operation.

He really hit his stride in the late 90s when he was recruited by industry leaders to run the Business Council of Alabama. Over the next decade he was one of the most influential players in a state government entirely run by Democrats. He was particularly close to then-House Speaker Seth Hammett.

O’Connor’s influence waned for a period of time before he saw potential in a little-known gubernatorial candidate from Tuscaloosa named Robert Bentley. He’s ridden the wave right back to the top, earning himself a second act near the top of the Alabama political pecking order.

Sen. Arthur Orr
Sen. Arthur Orr, Chairman, Senate General Fund Budget Committee

[tps_title]Sen. Arthur Orr, Chairman, Senate General Fund Budget Committee[/tps_title]

As the General Fund Budget Chairman in the Senate, Orr is the epicenter of the biggest battle in state government.

He has earned a reputation among his colleagues, lobbyists and executive branch agency heads for being a serious customer. No one looks forward to sitting down in Orr’s office to convince him their department or interest is worthy of General Fund dollars. He challenges everyone who walks in.

Orr is an underrated operator behind-the-scenes and often stirs the pot in both chambers in ways that most people don’t even realize. Being Senate Budget Chairman is a big deal, but it likely won’t end up being the highest title Orr attains in state government.

Jimmy Parnell
Jimmy Parnell

[tps_title]Jimmy Parnell[/tps_title]

Agriculture-related industries account for 580,295 Alabama jobs and generate $70.4 billion for the state’s economy. So needless to say, as the head of the largest farmers organization in the state, Parnell has some serious horsepower.  Throw in ALFA’s massive insurance operation and you’ve got a business and political behemoth that is rivaled by only a couple of entities in the state.

Parnell has a history of doing things fast. He was driving a tractor by age five and managing his family farm’s payroll by age 12. He graduated from high school in three years and from Auburn by age 20. And when he took over the reins at ALFA in December of 2012, he quickly established himself as a major player in state politics. Parnell’s down-to-Earth leadership style has drawn rave reviews from lawmakers. His stature combined with his lobbying team — among the most active in the Statehouse — has made the Parnell-led Farmers’ Federation one of the elite governmental affairs operations in the state.

Parnell oversaw a wildly successful 2014 election cycle, during which Federation-backed candidates won almost all of the organization’s targeted races. That is thanks in part to ALFA’s unrivaled network of grassroots activists, another Federation asset with which few other outfits can compete. Every candidate covets their endorsement.

With Parnell now in his third year at the helm, he’s hitting his stride and appears poised to take ALFA to new heights.

Sen. Trip Pittman
Sen. Trip Pittman, Chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee

[tps_title]Sen. Trip Pittman, Chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee[/tps_title]

Pittman is a larger-than-life physical, ideological and political presence on the 7th floor of the Statehouse. He loves to mix it up as much as anyone in the Senate. He’s got a libertarian streak (He served as a delegate for the 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaign) and is not afraid to buck the status quo.

Pittman has actively pushed for a Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution to term limit elected officials and force the federal government to balance its budget. On the state level, he’s ardently opposed expanding Medicaid and pushed for further conservative reforms to the state’s retirement systems.

There are plenty of staunch conservatives in the Alabama legislature, but few of them rise to the level Pittman has. He oversees the biggest pot of money in state government as the Senate Education Budget chairman.

Rep. Bill Poole
Rep. Bill Poole, Chairman, Education Budget Committee

[tps_title]Rep. Bill PooleChairman, Education Budget Committee[/tps_title]

Very few freshmen legislators land a committee chairmanship, much less the Education Budget. It is a testament to Poole’s talent that he almost immediately shot into the ranks of legislative leadership.

He is highly competent and made a commitment from his first day in the Statehouse to understand even the most minute details of the Education Budget. Now in his second term, it has clearly paid off.

Sen. Richard Shelby and Gov. Robert Bentley have made Tuscaloosa the seat of power in Alabama, but Poole — who succeeded Bentley in the House — should also be a part of that conversation. As the architect of the House Education budget, he is overseeing the lifeblood of the city’s most important institution: The University.

It is unclear whether Poole has aspirations to rise higher in the Legislature, or may at some point run statewide. Either way, “Mr. Chairman” probably won’t be his last title in state government.

Jimmy Rane
Jimmy Rane

[tps_title]Jimmy RanePresident and CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving[/tps_title]

The Yella Fella is running a genuine international business powerhouse out of Abbeville, Alabama. Great Southern Wood is the nation’s largest producer and distributor of pressure-treated lumber products. If Rane had been born in an earlier generation, he would have fit in right alongside the titans of industry who quite literally built America — men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan.

When it comes to politics, Rane was supporting Alabama Republicans long before they were in power, and was a major backer of the 2010 GOP plan to take control of state government for the first time in 136 years. He remains one of the closest allies of House Speaker Mike Hubbard and is among the first people with whom any ambitious politician tries to build a relationship.

He is currently serving in his second term as President Pro Tem of the Auburn Board of Trustees. Additionally, his annual Jimmy Rane Foundation charity event attracts a who’s who of business heavyweights and pro sports icons. That makes him one of the few individuals whose influence touches Alabama’s “big three” — politics, business and sports.

Rane is Alabama’s entrepreneur — a success story like no other.

Sen. Greg Reed
Sen. Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader

[tps_title]Sen. Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader[/tps_title]

In just the first year of his second term in the Senate, Reed has assumed the role of Senate Majority Leader. That post is chosen by the Senate caucus, showing how well liked and respected he is among his colleagues. He is the first senator from the class of 2010 to rise into Senate Leadership, and is one one of a very small handful of senators who have a legitimate shot at becoming Pro Tem.

Reed is also president of Preferred Medical Systems, a company that sells medical equipment in multiple states. That background has allowed him to quickly become a significant player in reforming the state’s healthcare system.

There’s a general sense around the Statehouse that Reed is going places. He will definitely be one to watch over the next decade.

Quentin Riggins
Quentin Riggins, Vice President of Governmental Relations, Alabama Power Company

[tps_title]Quentin Riggins, Vice President of Governmental Relations, Alabama Power Company[/tps_title]

Riggins leads the top corporate governmental affairs shop in the state. The Power Company’s business is so vast there is hardly an issue before the Legislature that does not impact them in some way. It’s a big job, but Riggins has virtually unlimited resources and personnel at his disposal.

He has worked for governors on both sides of the aisle, including some time as a cabinet member in the Riley administration. He also worked for Democratic Speaker of the House Seth Hammett, then ran the governmental affairs operation at the Business Council of Alabama before briefly launching his own firm.

Prior to that he had an impressive college football career as a big-hitting linebacker for Coach Pat Dye at Auburn. He helped lead the Tigers to SEC titles in 1987, ’88 and ’89 and was a member of the 2009 class of SEC Football Legends. He still roams the sidelines of Jordan-Hare Stadium moonlighting as a reporter for the Auburn IMG Sports Network.

From sports to politics to business, Riggins is another power player with an extensive reach.

John Ross
John Ross, Lobbyist, Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross

[tps_title]John Ross, Lobbyist, Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross[/tps_title]

There may not be anybody in the Statehouse who House members trust more than John Ross. In his prior role as executive director of the Alabama Republican Party, he was with many of the current legislators before they even announced their candidacy for the first time. Other lobbyists couldn’t even hope to cultivate that level of trust with lawmakers.

In addition to his relationships with rank and file members, Ross is also extremely close to both House and Senate GOP Leadership. He was House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s right-hand-man when Hubbard was ALGOP chairman, and when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh was re-elected, there were only two people on the front page of his hometown paper — Marsh high-fiving Ross.

But even with those relationships, he doesn’t take anything for granted. He has earned a reputation for being a serious workhorse. Still just in his mid-30s, Ross will likely be making his mark on the Alabama Statehouse for decades to come.

Nick Sellers
Nick Sellers, Vice President of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company

[tps_title]Nick Sellers, Vice President of Regulatory & Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company[/tps_title]

Sellers is another former college football star who has risen through the Alabama Power ranks to become a vice president. The regulatory affairs operation, which Sellers oversees, is probably the most vital part of the Power Company’s governmental affairs shop. With the Obama administration’s open hostility toward energy producers across the nation, Sellers is the one tasked with maintaining a fair regulatory environment in the state, in contrast to what’s happening on the federal level. Needless to say, that’s no easy task.

Sellers’ political experience is extremely diverse. He was policy director for a Democratic governor, held a position at the Alabama Republican Party, worked at the state’s top Democratic consulting firm, then became the power company’s federal legislative director before rising to become a VP. On top of that, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone with a more in-depth understanding of the Power Company’s business.

Britt Sexton
Britt Sexton, CEO, Sextons Inc.

[tps_title]Britt Sexton, CEO, Sextons Inc.[/tps_title]

When it comes to politics, Sexton is probably the most significant private businessman in north Alabama. Before names ever even appear on a ballot in that part of the state, you can bet Sexton has scouted out the best up and coming talent and recruited them to run. His office overlooking the Tennessee River is on the list of stops that any statewide candidate absolutely has to make.

His company’s interests include financial services, private equity, software and real estate, and his success has allowed him to become one of the most generous philanthropists in the state. He also serves on the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, where he has been a part of leadership team that brought Nick Saban to UA and implemented an ambitious growth strategy.

He’s already peers with power players a full generation ahead of him, and his influence will only increase in the years to come.

Zeke Smith
Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

[tps_title]Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company[/tps_title]

Smith is running the largest external affairs operation of any company in Alabama, and it’s not even close. He’s a homegrown talent out of Trussville, having worked his way up the Power Company ladder over the last thirty years. He is now one of the most respected executives in the state, as evidenced by Gov. Robert Bentley tapping him to lead the Alabama Workforce Council. The future success of Alabama’s $184 billion economy will be determined in part by the work the Smith-led Council does to redesign the state’s workforce development engine.

Smith oversees Alabama Power’s public relations division, as well as the governmental and environmental affairs departments. Each of those departments has a significant impact on the company’s bottom line. On the political side, elected officials in both D.C. and Montgomery go out of their way to maintain a strong relationship with him.

Prior to rising to his current post, Smith served as Vice President of Regulatory Services and Financial Planning. His predecessor is now the CEO. Enough said.

Smith is the quintessential Power Company man.

Attorney General Luther Strange
Attorney General Luther Strange

[tps_title]Attorney General Luther Strange[/tps_title]

If you’re an ambitious Republican politician, being Alabama Attorney General is a pretty good gig. Just sue the Obama administration every chance you get. It’s proven to be a sound political strategy and has allowed Strange to raise his profile and remain relevant in the minds of voters.

Prior to running for elected office, Strange was an elite D.C. lobbyist who founded the federal governmental affairs practice at one of Birmingham’s most prestigious law firms. He has made no secret of the fact that he has his eye on higher office, whether U.S. Senate or governor. When that time comes, those inside-the-Beltway connections will serve him well as he cranks up his impressive fundraising operation.

Until then, conservatives look to Strange and other state attorneys general to battle it out with the Obama administration in court.

Dax Swatek, Lobbyist
Dax Swatek, Lobbyist, Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross

[tps_title]Dax Swatek, Lobbyist, Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross[/tps_title]

Swatek is the top lobbyist at a firm with an ever-growing client list. He’s established himself as the Birmingham business community’s go-to governmental affairs pro. Clients hire him not only for his influence in the Statehouse, but also for strategic guidance on a wide range of issues.

Swatek is one of the few successful lobbyists in the state who cut his teeth running political campaigns first, including gubernatorial, legislative, congressional and even presidential races within the state. He led the small circle of strategists who crafted the GOP’s successful plan to seize control of the Legislature in 2010. He then immediately moved to capitalize on that success by launching a full-service governmental affairs shop with three of the state’s other top Republican consultants.

Because he was so instrumental in the current House and Senate Leadership’s rise to power, they often view him as not just a lobbyist, but as part of their team. That’s the kind of access you only garner by being around from day one.

Mike Thompson
Mike Thompson, Chairman & CEO, Thompson Tractor

[tps_title]Mike Thompson, Chairman & CEO, Thompson Tractor[/tps_title]

Thompson has been the CEO of his family’s company for the last quarter century and has grown it into a global industrial behemoth. If there is a major development project going on in Alabama, there’s a good chance his machines are doing the work.

The Business Council of Alabama named one of their highest honors the “Thompsonian Leadership Award” in honor of Thompson, who Chaired the BCA in 2003 and initiated the formal partnership between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council.

He was a member of the Governor’s Circle, a $40,000 commitment to the successful push to elect a Republican majority in the Alabama legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. But he is also one of the few members of this year’s Power & Influence 50 whose political reach extends to the highest levels of national politics as well. He was a George W. Bush “Pioneer,” one of the few hundred individuals who raised a minimum of $100,000 for the Bush 2004 re-election effort. When presidential candidates come to the state, you can bet Thompson gets a personal phone call. In short, he puts his money where his mouth is.

If you’re considering a run for statewide office in Alabama, Mike Thompson is one of the first people you go see.

Sen. Jabo Waggoner
Sen. Jabo Waggoner, Chairman, Senate Rules Committee

[tps_title]Sen. Jabo Waggoner, Chairman, Senate Rules Committee[/tps_title]

Legend.

Waggoner is the longest serving Republican in the Alabama Senate and has been a player in state politics since the mid-60s. But don’t think for a second that he’s lost a step. During the 2015 legislative session — his 33rd in the Senate — he muscled through major reforms to the embattled Birmingham Water Works Board and proved why his constituents will continue sending him back to Montgomery for as long as he wants to go.

His position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee gives him a lot of discretion over what bills actually make it to the floor for a vote. While most of what happens at the mic in the Legislature is inconsequential, when Waggoner says, “Madam president, I have a report from the Committee on Rules,” everyone stops to listen.

His legacy in the pantheon of Alabama political titans is secure, but he still goes to work every day with an attitude of genuine humility.

Sen. Cam Ward
Sen. Cam Ward, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

[tps_title]Sen. Cam WardChairman, Senate Judiciary Committee[/tps_title]

Ward’s fingerprints are on more bills than anyone in the Statehouse. Outside of the Senate Rules committee, through which every bill that reaches the floor must go, Ward’s Judiciary crew hears more legislation than any other committee. In the Senate where there is relative parity among members who aren’t in official Leadership roles, the sheer volume of bills he touches slightly separates him from the pack.

He has been instrumental in creating a balance between trial lawyers and business interests. It’s been a savvy political strategy as he appears to have his ambitions set on the AG’s office during the next election cycle.

He decided against a congressional run last year, it’s hard to imagine him passing on another chance to work his way up the political ladder.

Steve Windom
Steve Windom, Lobbyist, Windom Galliher & Associates

[tps_title]Steve Windom, Lobbyist, Windom Galliher & Associates[/tps_title]

Windom, a former Alabama Lt. Governor, is a case study in political survival. He was a gubernatorial opponent of Bob Riley’s, then became one of his closest allies. He then became one of the few Riley confidants who managed to secure a place in Bentley’s orbit. While most former elected officials-turned lobbyists get by on their name alone, Windom grinds it out in the halls of the Statehouse day after day.

By bringing on former Alabama House Rules Chairman Blaine Galliher, Windom’s team took another big step forward in 2015. His singular goal is to win on behalf of his clients, whatever coalition of unlikely bedfellows he has to assemble to make it happen. More often than not he pulls it off.

Dr. Robert Witt
Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor, University of Alabama System

[tps_title]Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor, University of Alabama System[/tps_title]

Witt is the chief executive of Alabama’s largest higher education enterprise. With a budget exceeding $5 billion and an annual economic impact of more than $8 billion, the UA System is comprised of doctoral research universities in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville as well as the acclaimed UAB Health System.

Prior to his election as Chancellor, Witt served as President of The University of Alabama from 2003-2012. During his nine-year tenure at the Capstone, he positioned UA as one of America’s fastest growing public universities.

He’s cultivated strong relationships with a who’s who of major business and political players in the state, from the governor to the heavyweights on the UA Board. The System’s presence in Montgomery is strong, with Witt retaining the top external lobbyists in the state, in addition to having former Congressman Jo Bonner handling his governmental relations in-house.

Witt has taken the UA System to new heights academically, economically and politically, and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

[tps_footer]The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state. Names are listed in alphabetical order.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s inaugural Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state.

The event will take place Friday evening, May 29 at the Renaissance Ross Bridge in Birmingham. James Spann is emceeing the event. Confirmed attendees include Gov. Bentley, Congressmen Aderholt, Palmer and Roby, Lt. Gov Ivey, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and many, many more of the state’s top politicians and CEOs. Click here for more details and to purchase tickets. [/tps_footer]

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3 years ago

Bentley shock memo predicts parts of govt. will ‘cease to exist’ if taxes aren’t raised

Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)
Gov. Bentley signing bills in his office (Photo: Office of the Governor)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Yellowhammer has obtained a memo Gov. Bentley sent to state lawmakers Tuesday afternoon detailing what the administration believes will happen if the legislature chooses to make cuts, rather than raise taxes.

The memo is as death and doom as it gets, predicting the EPA will take over the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), 13 Trooper posts will be closed, and 33 of the state’s 78 stand-alone Drivers License posts will be shuttered.

The court system’s operations would “cease to exist in [their] current form,” and thousands of prisoners would have to be relocated into even smaller facilities.

Perhaps the most stark numbers are the hundreds of millions of dollars in matching funds from the federal government that would be forgone if the state does not come up with its part in Medicaid and the Department of Human Resources.

The governor’s office has insisted their recent public statements are sincere attempts to educate the public and legislators about the potential impacts of budget cuts, but others have accused the administration of fear mongering.

The administration recently instructed case workers to tell elderly Medicaid Waiver Program participants their services are in imminent danger of being cut. Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I-Slocomb) called it “the lowest thing I’ve seen in all the years I’ve served.”

On Yellowhammer Radio recently, host Cliff Sims called the administration’s threats to close state parks “bogus.”

“It’s a political scare tactic, and I’m telling you, I believe they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” he said.

Conservative talk show host Matt Murphy on Wednesday compared the latest memo to the dire predictions the Obama administration made leading up to the 2013 federal government shutdown.

“Robert Bentley has become Barack Obama,” Murphy intoned.

Legislators insist the dire predictions are premature, as they are still in the fact-finding phase of the budgeting process.

General Fund budget chairmen Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) have asked agencies to show them what potential cuts would look like.

“Legislators need to know the possible impact if we had just a budget based on cuts and the governor is in a better position to define what the cuts might mean as far as agencies being able to perform their missions,” Sen. Orr said, adding that the House General Fund committee will consider the budget beginning next week.

The Governor has spent much of the last month touring the state asking businesses to support his plan for higher taxes, but this week’s memo is perhaps the first time many in the public have seen all the proposed cuts in one place.

The memo can be read in full below, but it is important to remember that this it outlines what cuts could look like if there is no priority given to some agencies and programs over others; it is simply a reflection of across-the-board cuts.

Click here to read Governor Bentley’s memo.


1
3 years ago

Bentley predicts public safety and govt. services will be at risk if taxes aren’t hiked

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley Yellowhammer Politics
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Governor Robert Bentley (R-AL) addressed members of the Huntsville and Madison County chambers of commerce Wednesday to spell out the agencies and state services that will be shutdown or slowed down if the Alabama Legislature fails to pass his $541 million tax hike proposal.

In his remarks, Governor Bentley said that due to cuts to the Department of Human Resources (DHR), 17,000 children of working poor families would lose their subsidized childcare, causing one or both parents to quit work to stay home and take care of them. “They’ll be on welfare,” Gov. Bentley said.

This number is derived from a letter sent by the director of DHR to Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the Senate General Fund Budget chairman. Earlier this year Sen. Orr asked the head of each state agency to show him what a 15 or a 30 percent cut would look like for their department.

The cut to DHR would trigger a decrease in federal matching funds. Each cut of $1 from the state is a decrease of more than $3 from the federal match.

The Governor said the state may also have to close 15 of its 22 state parks, and cut prison funding.

“You might not care about prisoners,” he said, “but when you have them in your basement, you’re going to care.”

He urged the members of the audience, and the general public to encourage their legislators to pass the tax increase, reiterating that he is willing to call several special sessions of the state legislature this summer to accomplish his agenda if the tax hikes don’t pass during the regular session currently underway.

“It’s easy to say no, it’s harder to try to solve problems,” Gov. Bentley said. “I’m asking y’all to continue to give these guys support. Give them support because it is tough to make bold decisions.”

One cut Governor Bentley said would be made to DHR would cause 30,000 children to lose their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, otherwise known as food stamps.

“I know some of you don’t care about food stamps, but if it affects children, you should care,” the governor said.

SNAP benefits are administered by the state government, but are 100% paid for by tax dollars appropriated by the federal government, making it unclear how 30,000 children would be losing nutrition assistance.

UPDATE: The Governor clarified during a radio interview Thursday that he meant to say 30,000 poor children could lose access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), not the SNAP program, or “food stamps.”

None of the Governor’s eight tax increase bills have made it to the floor in the House or Senate yet, as many legislators are hesitant to raise taxes.

Alabama is constitutionally mandated to have a balanced budget, so any gap between the estimated future expenditures of the state and tax revenues must be closed by either increasing taxes or cutting spending.

(H/T The Decatur Daily)


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3 years ago

Refusal to privatize liquor sales shows there’s no intention to shrink AL’s govt. (opinion)

YH Alabama liquor ABC

An effort to privatize Alabama’s retail liquor establishments met its demise Wednesday in the Alabama’s Senate’s General Fund Budget Committee. The bill, SB115, sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), lost on a recorded vote of 6-7.

There is no way to sugar coat this: The vote clearly established that certain members of the Alabama Senate have no intention of reducing the size of state government, because if there ever there was a “slam dunk” opportunity, this was it.

The six Republican senators who supported the bill (Holtzclaw, Melson, Orr, Pittman, Sanford and Stutts) should be commended for their courage to go against the frantic opposition of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board, the state employees’ union and, most surprisingly, ALCAP.

ALCAP?

According to their website, ALCAP is an interdenominational ministry that claims to serve as “Alabama’s moral compass,” promoting an ethical, moral and responsible lifestyle based on biblical standards, for the benefit of the state. Their executive director testified at Wednesday’s hearing opposing the legislation, stating that the bill would increase the consumption of alcohol.

Huh?

Privatizing state-controlled retail liquor stores is going to increase alcohol consumption? Is there anyone in the state that can’t get liquor now? This is an extremely naïve position.

In reality, the funding challenge for General Fund agencies is going to continue to fester to the point that the Legislature will be left with three choices.

1. Increase taxes. Good luck with that.

2. Fund the General Fund with existing available revenues, which will result in a 15 percent reduction from current year expenditures, at least.

3. Adopt “other” funding sources, which could include entering into a “compact” with the Poarch Creek Indians and legalizing gaming.

The irony here is that AlCap — a staunchly anti-gambling organization — is now allied with the state employees’ union, and its actions will make gambling a more likely prospect.

None of this is good news for Alabamians who support limited, more efficient government.


Tom Saunders is General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs for the Alabama Forestry Association

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3 years ago

Bill would allow Alabama minors to use pistols under adult supervision

YH pistol gun
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Have you ever been target shooting with someone under the age of 18, say, your daughter, nephew, or grandchild? If you allowed them to possess a handgun during that time, you were breaking the law.

A bill currently under consideration in the Alabama Senate would allow minors to obtain pistols while under the supervision of their parents or another adult, as well as eliminate some redundant record keeping regarding the sales of handguns.

Under the changes proposed by SB262 minors would only be allowed to use the weapon if a safety instructor, parent, or other adult has given permisson. The pistol may only be used on private property, with the permission of the property owner.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), told Yellowhammer in a phone interview Monday afternoon that, contrary to how it’s being characterized by some in the media, the legislation simply allows parents to give permission to their teens to use pistols under parental or adult supervision. The bill will not allow minors to purchase handguns, or allow them to have possession of a pistol without adult permission.

Orr says that under current law he is unable to lawfully to hand his own son a pistol, even if it’s on his own property.

Minors are currently allowed to lawfully handle rifles and shotguns.

Another part of the bill would relieve firearms retailers from some of the record keeping required by the state that are already remitted to the federal government for its database. Current law requires the seller to keep records in triplicate of all sales of handguns in the state. One copy of the records are sent to the sheriff in the county where the handgun was sold, and another copy is sent to the Alabama Secretary of State.

The bill is currently pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs committee, and is expected to be taken up in the next few weeks.


1
3 years ago

Alabama Republican lawmakers reveal budget with major cuts, no tax hikes

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

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A budget revealed by Republican members of Alabama Legislature shows agencies what cuts would look like if no tax increases are passed.

“I think this is an educational process for the members that’s a starting point for what the budget might look like given no new revenues,” said Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the chairman of the Senate General Fund Ways and Means committee.

The plan, which most lawmakers acknowledge has little chance of being passed in its current form, makes significant cuts to many of the agencies and services funded by the General Fund.

19 percent would be cut from the court system, the Department of Mental Health would lose 24 percent, Medicaid would be trimmed 3 percent, and the budget for prisons would shrink 5 percent.

The proposed budget would transfer $287 million in sales and use taxes—fees on products purchased out of state—from the education fund to the general fund. This move was one proposed by Governor Bentley.

“It’s very bleak,” said Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House General Fund Ways and Means committee, who has been one of the few lawmakers to openly join Gov. Bentley in pushing for tax increases. “There’s no question that we have got to have additional funds.”

Clouse is carrying Governor Bentley’s tax increase on car purchases and rentals in the House, though he has had to negotiate the proposal down from a 2 percent increase to 1 percent.

Clouse is also sponsoring a bill that would apply the state income tax to the FICA money already taxed by the federal government. Clouse told Yellowhammer that he’s using a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ method for finding a tax increase palatable enough for the legislature to pass.

“I don’t know… I’m just throwing options out for the House members to look at… I don’t know what I can get out of committee,” Clouse said.


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