The Montgomery Advertiser newspaper's blog on all things related to Alabama politics and state government, featuring the writings of Sebastian Kitchen and Markeshia Ricks
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
State Rep. Cam Ward 2009 Legislator of the Year
State Rep. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was named the 2009 Alabama Legislator of the Year by the Alabama State Chiropractic Association (ASCA) at the organization’s annual convention.
The meeting was held recently at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Spa in Montgomery. The award was presented to Ward during a meeting of the Shelby County chiropractors who gathered to honor him for his many years of public service.
“Rep. Ward was our natural choice to receive this award because of his exemplary leadership as a member of the House of Representatives," said association Treasurer Dr. Benjamin Smith in a statement.
Smith also said that Ward has been a friend to the chiropractic profession and a tireless servant for the people of District 49 since he was elected in 2002.
Each year, the ASCA presents the legislator of the year award to a member of the Alabama Legislature who has exhibited outstanding service to their constituents and supports the chiropractors of Alabama and the thousands of patients they serve.
Upon receiving the award, Rep. Ward commended the work of the Association in advocating for its members.
“I am proud to be called a friend of the chiropractic profession," Ward said.
Ward is currently serving his second term in the House where he serves on the Education Policy, Judiciary and Rules Committees. He is also a member of the Shelby County Legislative Committee. He is a declared candidate for Senate District 14, a seat left vacant by Sen. Hank Erwin who is not running for lieutenant governor.
Established in 1926, the Alabama State Chiropractic Association is a professional organization comprised of over 375 doctors, students and chiropractors from surrounding states. The ASCA is the largest organization representing chiropractors in the state.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has announced that Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby has earned "On the Radar" status in her campaign for Congress.
According to a fundraising e-mail from NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, Roby, who is running against U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, is one of 13 Republicans working to get elected, and "On the Radar" status means she's met "an important milestone" in her efforts to get elected.
"These men and women have said 'No More!' to Nancy Pelosi and her Democrat puppets," Sessions said in the email.
The other young guns on the NRCC's list are:
CA-47 Van Tran CO-04 Cory Gardner FL-12 Dennis Ross HI-01 Charles Djou ID-01 Vaughn Ward IL-11 Adam Kinzinger MD-01 Andy Harris NM-01 Jon Barela NM-02 Steve Pearce NH-01 Frank Guinta OH-01 Steve Chabot OH-15 Steve Stivers
Democratic state Sen. Wendell Mitchell said he will run for an eighth term in the Alabama Senate. He said his seniority and knowledge of how Montgomery operates allows him to help constituents. With the retirement of two senators, Mitchell said he would be in line to "claim the top seniority spot in the state Senate." He represents District 30, which includes all or part of Autauga, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes and Pike counties. He will have at least one opponent, first-term Prattville city Councilman Ray Boles, who was elected to his seat in October. The Republican is a businessman in Prattville. Political observers considered the 2006 campaign to try to unseat Mitchell to be very negative. He said his opponent, Republican Joan Reynolds, sent out 26 mail pieces to potential voters and 25 of those were negative. "I did not send out one single negative piece or ad on her," the senator said. Despite the attacks, Mitchell easily won reelection. Mitchell said he does not anticipate a negative campaign this year, one in which the Alabama Republican Party has raised millions to try to take over the Legislature from Democrats. With his experience, Mitchell said he knows the career people in state agencies who "push buttons ... that make things tick." He said he probably knows more people in those positions than anybody else serving in the Senate. Knowing those people helps him to be responsive to the needs of constituents, Mitchell said. When asked about running for an eighth term, Mitchell said "I am feeling better physically than I have in 10 years." He said he intentionally lost 10 pounds and has a very high energy level. Mitchell, the deputy president pro tem in the Senate, said he is ready "to render at least four more years of really committed service and be able to help a lot of people." During his time in office, Mitchell said he is proud of his assistance to the one major university in his district, Troy University. He said he worked diligently to ensure Troy received its "fair share of allocations." "They were not at parity with similar organizations until about four years ago," Mitchell said. He said he has been able to secure as much money, if not more, for legitimate public projects in his district as any of his colleagues with the exception of the chairmen of the budget committees. Mitchell, the former dean of the law school at Faulkner University, said he has also been a mediator during disputes in the Senate. He said he works behind the scenes to help the Senate be productive. "I'm not one who holds up the system by filibustering," Mitchell said. The senator pushed a bill through a Senate committee in 2008 to try to stop the transfer of money between political action committees, a practice that critics say helps to hide the original source of contributions. Republicans criticized Mitchell and other Democrats for watering down the bill, which never passed. At the time, Mitchell said he allowed members of both parties to include amendments.
There has been some buzz in the blogosphere that state Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, might run for state treasurer or the District 25 Senate seat, but Mask says he plans to run for his House seat in 2010.
Mask has been representing parts of southeast Coosa County and norther Elmore County since 2006. He said there were people pulling at him to run for treasurer or the Senate 25 seat, which is currently held by state Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, but in the end he wanted to stay put.
Democratic state Sen. Myron Penn said on Tuesday that he will not run for a third term after seeing quality candidates interested in running for his seat.
Those candidates include Democratic state Reps. Locy Baker of Abbeville and Billy Beasley of Clayton, he said.
Penn, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had expressed concerns about the first candidate to announce he was running, former state legislator and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford.
The senator, a lawyer in Union Springs, said he gets along with Ford, but said constituents have expressed concerns about Ford being elected to the Legislature as a Democrat and then switching to the Republican Party during the term. Ford then ran for Tuskegee mayor while serving in the House.
The executive committee of the Alabama Democratic Party recently voted to let Ford return. He plans to run in 2010 as a Democrat.
While some other former Republicans requested and received approval from the Democratic executive committee to switch parties, Penn said those men were not former Democratic officials who had previously left the party.
Penn said the race to replace him in the Senate will be interesting. He said he will make his choice for a replacement known at a future date.
The district includes Barbour, Bullock, Henry, Lee, Macon and Russell counties.
Baker could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Beasley and Ford have formally announced their candidacy.
"I am sure there will be good candidates running for what will be an open seat for the District 28 seat," Penn said.
He said Baker and Beasley have proven themselves and "stayed true to form" when dealing with issues important to District 28 in the House.
"I have a better idea of where they are on issues," Penn said.
Those two representatives give people "some certainty about who they are going to be voting for," he said.
Penn said he has decided to focus his attention on his growing law practice. He said he wants his clients to "feel like the only client in the world," which he said is difficult while serving in the Senate.
Penn said he feels he can directly help people as much as a lawyer as he can as a lawmaker.
"I talk to people face to face a lot more often," he said.
Also, Penn said he will be able, if he is not in the Senate, to spend more time with family and in church.
Penn, the former chairman of the Bullock County Commission, said he is 37 and has been a public official since he was 28.
"I want to make sure I make the most of the opportunity to represent people in the courtroom as much as I have in the Senate," he said.
He has law offices in Clayton and Union Springs.
But Penn was quick to say he was not leaving politics. He said he would be very involved in helping to elect quality candidates to local and state offices. And he has not ruled out running for office again.
"You don't have to be in the Senate to have influence," Penn said. "A title is not anything I have ever needed to get things done for people. It is not a huge change to my ego."
Penn said he believes he has been successful during his time in the Senate. He said he worked to have appropriations included for Tuskegee University in the education budget every year and to improve laws to protect people against sex offenders.
"I have one more year to do great things in the Senate," Penn said.
Penn has not always agreed with the other Senate Democrats. He worked with at least two other black Democrats to slow down the legislative session in 2008 because he was upset that a local gambling bill, which he said only affected Macon County, did not receive the same courtesy as other local bills. Others argued the bill would expand gambling in Alabama, which Penn adamantly denied.
Many people are arguing about the following video taped by a man who is questioning U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, as he walks down the street in Washington. He is trying to ask Bright his name and his thoughts on health care.
This group shot videos of other congressmen at the same time, but Bright responds differently than his colleagues. Very interesting. Bright only talks about the weather. The videographer appears to threaten Bright for not cooperating.
State Rep. Billy Beasley of Clayton has said he will compete for the Democratic nomination for the District 28 seat in the Alabama Senate.
The seat is currently represented by Sen. Myron Penn, an attorney and a Democrat from Union Springs.
Penn would not say Monday if he was running for the seat, but has previously said he was leaning toward focusing on his law practice. But, after the announcement that former state legislator and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford was running, Penn said he would run again if he did not see a quality candidate who wanted to represent the district and not an opportunist.
Beasley and Penn said they have talked to each other.
Penn said he would announce on Tuesday whether he was running in 2010.
Beasley said Penn has decided not to run.
Beasley, a pharmacist, was elected to the House in 1998. He represents Barbour, Bullock and Russell counties.
The legislator said he has been, and will continue to be, an advocate for all levels of education, for businesses, and for crime victims.
Gov. Bob Riley has appointed E. Ham Wilson Jr. to a vacancy on the Montgomery County Commission. Wilson will fill the vacancy left by former Commissioner Todd Strange's election as mayor of Montgomery. Wilson is a lifelong resident of Montgomery who served as a state representative and as a special assistant attorney general for the state. He is the managing partner of a Montgomery law firm. "This is an important position and we searched far and wide to find the right person for the job," Riley said in a statement. "Ham is a respected member of the community, both as a businessman and a civic leader, and I know he will serve the citizens of Montgomery County with distinction." Wilson, in the release, said he is ready to go to work. The appointment is effective immediately. "I look forward to serving the people of District 1 and working with the commission to continually improve the quality of life in Montgomery County," he said. Wilson is a graduate of the University of Alabama and Cumberland Law School.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, raised over $275,000 in the second quarter of the year according to a recently filed Federal Election Commission report. Rogers reported having almost $262,000 in the bank.
"In these tough economic times, I am deeply humbled by the continued support for our campaign," Rogers said in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, says he has already raised $542,786 for his campaign since November, leaving him with a strong campaign war chest heading into the 2010 election.
Bright is debt free heading into 2010 election were he is expected to face Republican challenger and Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby. With five more quarters to go, Bright raised another nearly $220,000 in the last reporting period.
“There is a time and a place for politics, but right now I am focused on representing the people of the Second District to the best of my ability and finding solutions that work for the American people,” Bright said in a statement. “I am pleased, however, that my campaign continues to be ready for any challengers in 2010. Until then, I will continue to be a strong, thoughtful, independent voice and work hard every day to advance Alabama and its citizens and communities."
Bright was recently ranked the second most independent of all members of Congress by Congressional Quarterly for voting with his party only 52% of the time. He also was the first freshman Democrat to sponsor a bill in the 111th Congress, which provided tax breaks for small businesses.
Roby raises more than $125,000 to run for Congress
Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby has raised $125,645 in her first quarter of fundraising even though she did not announce her candidacy for U.S. Congress until May 19, according to her campaign. Roby is the only Republican who has announced she will run for the 2nd Congressional District. Other candidates who have said they are running include the incumbent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright of Montgomery, and independent Rob John of Millbrook. Roby also had more than $125,000 cash on hand at the end of the quarter, which concluded at the end of June. "I am honored and excited by the strong, early support I have received from the people throughout Alabama's 2nd Congressional District," Roby said in a release. "When we announced our campaign on May 19, my goal was to raise $100,000 by June 30. We not only met, but exceeded our goal. Our fundraising success is a testament to the desire for fundamental leadership change for Alabama's 2nd Congressional District." Roby, who is in her second term on the council, had a total of 207 contributors, more than 95 percent of her money came from individuals and more than 90 percent of her money has come from Alabama, according to her campaign. Bright has raised much of his money so far this year from political action committees.
Republicans pick up another seat in the Legislature
Republicans appear to have claimed another previously Democratic legislative district for the second time in five weeks. Republican Phil Williams won the seat in North Alabama, which was vacant because of the conviction of former Democratic Rep. Sue Schmitz. Williams easily defeated Democrat Jenny Askins for the House District 6 seat. The win also brings Republicans within single digits of a majority in the House for the first time since Reconstruction. "We had a great candidate, the right message and Alabamians showed today that they are poised to end the culture of corruption that the Democrats have fostered for far too long," said state Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. Republican Paul Sanford won the race for a north Alabama Senate seat that was previously occupied by state Sen. Parker Griffith, a Huntsville Democrat who was elected to the U.S. Congress. "There should be no doubt that the Alabama Republican Party has the team and resources to continue making history in 2010," Hubbard said in a statement. Democrats control the Alabama House and Senate.
Gov. Bob Riley released $100 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund on Monday to help balance the state's education budget. "The world-wide recession is continuing and we need to release this $100 million right now to maintain proration at its current level," he said in a statement. The Republican declared proration in the state's education budget in December. A governor can declare proration when he does not believe there will be enough revenue to maintain a balanced budget. Related departments must then cut their budgets by the percentage declared by the governor. In December, Riley released $221 million or about half of the Rainy Day Fund. About another $116 million remains in the education Rainy Day Fund.
Shelby, Rogers Meet with Corps of Engineers Nominee
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, will be in the national spotlight this week, as he puts U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor thorough her paces in the hot seat of a confirmation hearing, but U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, are doing a little grilling of their own this week.
Today Shelby and Rogers met with Jo Ellen Darcy, President Barack Obama's nominee for assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works. In this position, Darcy would oversee the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During the meeting, Darcy committed to a fair and transparent process when reviewing the ongoing water dispute in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins, according to a release from Shelby's office.
Darcy also stated that it is not the role of the office to regulate a resolution while litigation is pending in federal court and that she will not use her office to manipulate the court case through the corps’ actions.
“Congress never intended for the federal reservoirs in Georgia to be used primarily for Atlanta’s water supply,” Shelby said. “That conclusion has been reached by every court that has ever considered the issue. The Corps should not interfere in ongoing litigation and it is my hope that, unlike her predecessor, Ms. Darcy will uphold her commitment to an honest and fair adjudication of the situation.”
Last week, Shelby successfully added an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Energy, Water, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill during the full committee markup to require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to report how the water along the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins is currently being allocated. Alabama, Georgia and Florida have been locked in legal disputes over the basins for two-decades.
The two sides in a bitter fight over removing Joe Reed's name from the Acadome at Alabama State University bickered with each other before and after a court hearing on the issue on Thursday. John Knight, a powerful state legislator from Montgomery and executive vice president at Alabama State University, was angry about how he received his subpoena to appear. He said he did not know what day he received it, but he said he was going out to get his newspaper at 5:45 a.m. when someone jumped out of a vehicle close to Reed's house and ran toward him. The men live close to one another. "He almost got hurt," Knight told Reed. Knight said all somebody had to do was deliver the subpoena to the university's attorney. Knight's comments were during bickering before the hearing. Some of the attorneys for the plaintiffs apologized to Knight for how he received the subpoena. The bickering continued after the meeting in the hallway outside the courtroom. Knight, a decorated war veteran, said "jumping out of a car and running. ... He could have been shot. I'm from Vietnam." In the hall, some ASU board members said the situation had gone on long enough and asked Reed "you want your name on that building that bad." Reed informed them the situation "was just getting started." Knight and Reed, both powerful black officials in the state, said there other issues they were "not going to give on." The hearing on Thursday was preliminary and the judge did not rule.
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Truman Hobbs Jr. did not seem much happier than some defendants in his court room as he presided over a case on Thursday dealing with the naming of the Acadome at Alabama State University. University trustees removed Reed's name in May 2008. When he first sat down and started communicating with the attorneys, the judge asked if there were any other cases pending with "this Joe Reed mess." Attorneys said other related cases had been resolved. "How did I get so lucky mine hadn't been resolved," Hobbs asked the attorneys.
The fight over the name of the arena at Alabama State University has moved from a board meeting at the school to the state Legislature and now to a courtroom. Current and former top officials with the university were in Montgomery on Thursday for a preliminary hearing for a lawsuit claiming the ASU Board of Trustees violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act at the meeting in which members voted to remove Joe Reed's name from the Acadome. The officials bickered among themselves before and after the hearing, which was before Judge Truman Hobbs Jr. Current top ASU officials claim they followed the law when voting to remove the name. They also sought to dismiss any insinuations that there was a conspiracy involving powerful state lawmaker and ASU Executive Vice President John Knight to remove Reed's name. Reed, who is also a top official with the Alabama Democratic Party and the Alabama Education Association, was a trustee when the name was removed in May 2008. A witness, Cynthia Williams, who worked for Knight, said he talked to her and another employee, after 5 p.m. and asked them to draft a resolution to remove Reed’s name from the Acadome. She said Knight gave them "bullet points" and she transformed it into a resolution. "I added the context, the narrative," Williams said. Knight, Williams said, also talked about "bad press and the media." The next day, after the meeting and the vote to remove the name, Williams said Knight informed them that no one was supposed to know "in any way that the resolution originated from his office." Also, the evening Knight called, he asked for contact information for the employee who manages facilities, Williams said. Shortly after the vote, university employees were at the Acadome removing Reed's name and likeness. Alabama State attorney Kenneth Thomas said Williams did not know if Knight was reading from a document when he called May 29. Knight, who was the special assistant to the president of the university at the time, said he received the draft from Thomas and, on Thomas' advice, did not talk about the conversation between them. Knight said some changes and corrections were made. He said he would not have trusted Williams to draft the document, saying "that is one reason she is no longer an employee." Knight said he did not give a copy to the president or to board Chairman Elton Dean. Knight contends he did not draft the resolution and was simply having his staff type the document and print it on stationary. Trustee Herbert Young said he wrote the resolution about four months before the meeting and only talked with Thomas about his proposal to remove the name. Young said he never discussed the proposal with school administrators or other board members. Dean said Young told him he had a resolution to present under the "other business" portion of the agenda at the meeting, but that he did not mention what was in the resolution. Dean, who is also chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, said he did not know about the resolution until the May 30 meeting. Trustees and Williams were asked about the hospitality room reserved for trustees on May 29, 2008, the night before the board meeting in which Reed's name was removed. The hospitality room was at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, which several people said is the hotel of choice for several trustees and other people who come in to Montgomery for business with ASU. Four of the trustees stayed at the hotel, according to testimony. Dean also stopped by, but trustees argued they did not have a quorum or discuss the resolution. Thomas said Williams was not at the Renaissance, did not know who was there and did not have first-hand knowledge. Williams said she was told who to tell about the hospitality room and Reed, who was on the board at the time, was not included. She said there had been previous meetings they tried to conduct when he could not attend. "One meeting, they really did not want his presence and told me to find out when he was not available," Williams said on the stand. Williams was fired from the university on Jan. 2. She denied Thomas' question about her being a disgruntled former employee. Thomas said the university has been held hostage by the lawsuit. He said there was not substantive evidence to proceed. Attorney James Anderson said there were three different stories on Thursday about the drafting of the resolution. He contended business was discussed and a quorum was present outside of the board meeting in violation of the open meetings law. After the court proceedings, some of the current trustees claimed Reed conducted business in the same way when he was ASU board chairman that he is now claiming violated state open meeting laws. Hobbs did not rule on Thursday.
Congressional Quarterly Study: Bright 2nd Most Independent
A Congressional Quarterly study recently found that U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright is the second, most independent member of Congress.
Based on votes he's taken so far as a freshman congressman in the 111th Congress, Bright has voted with his own party 52% of the time, which is the second-lowest percentage of party line voting for Republicans or Democrats.
Republican state Rep. Gerald Allen of Cottondale announced Tuesday that he will run for the Alabama Senate in 2010 to try to remove from office the one man many have considered one of the biggest obstacles to progress in the state Legislature in recent years. Allen, who was elected to the Legislature in 1994, said he will run for state Senate District 21 against Democrat Sen. Phil Poole. Republicans and Democrats, including House Speaker Seth Hammett, have criticized Poole for locking down the Senate and blocking most Republican bills from the House of Representatives. Poole has been unhappy that Gov. Bob Riley vetoed funding for a highway project from the General Fund budget at the end of the 2007 session. The line item was the only money Riley sliced from the budget. Poole, an attorney, has sought to kill bills from Republican House members that he believes helped keep Democrats from reinstating the money on the last day of the 2007 legislative session. The senator, who has been a member of the Legislature since 1982, stalled during the 2009 session because he said members of the Democratic leadership interfered with a local bill. Allen is considered one of the more conservative members of the Alabama House, pushing to stop same-sex marriage, introducing a bill to move property appraisals to every four years, and requiring photo identification to vote. Some of his bills have met stiff resistance from the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. After several years of trying, the Legislature did pass a bill sponsored by Allen that would create a state boxing commission to encourage fights in Alabama, allowing local talent to fight here and to attract tourism dollars. Allen, the owner of CASCHO Marketing, currently represents the southern part of Tuscaloosa County and the northern part of Hale County in the Alabama House. District 21 includes Pickens County, parts of Hale County and the southern portion of Tuscaloosa County. The Tuscaloosa News reported that Allen said he wanted to be part of a movement of Republicans who take control of the Legislature in Alabama for the first time since Reconstruction.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price is the latest Democrat to say he is not running for governor in 2010, according to The Associated Press. Price recently said that members of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the black wing of the state Democratic Party, had approached him and encouraged him to run. Those members included Joe Reed, head of the ADC, a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, and a top official with the Alabama Education Association. Price told The Associated Press he has been a judge for 26 years and wants to continue in that role. The well-known judge received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 1997. County officials recently named the Montgomery County courthouse for Price. The current Democratic candidates for governor include U.S. Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Six Republicans have announced they are running. Democratic officials have approached several people including Price, state Sen. Roger Bedford and Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb about running. They have all decided to remain in their current positions.
Stimulus funds will support 15,000 transportation-related jobs in Alabama
The office of Gov. Bob Riley announced on Monday that the state has 216 highway and bridge projects, 83 transit and 10 aviation projects that are being funded by the federal stimulus money. Riley, in a statement, said he expects more to be added in the future. Alabama is receiving a total of $513.7 million for highway projects, $46.4 million for transit projects, and $12.2 million for airport projects from the stimulus funding. The governor's office is reporting that $131 million in highway and bridge projects have been let from 48 contracts. State and federal officials will have obligated the remainder of the more than $572 million in allocated stimulus money by March 2010. "Stimulus projects will be awarded in every county of Alabama to improve travel and help economic development," Riley said in the statement. "In addition, by using stimulus dollars on these improvements, it frees up non-stimulus funding and allows us to redirect these existing dollars for work on other planned highway projects throughout our state." Joe McInnes, state transportation director, said "we're combining our share of stimulus funds with our regular transportation funding to address our most pressing resurfacing needs and to close gaps in new construction. And we're committed to being good stewards and using our entire funds down to the last cent." Using an analysis from the Federal Highway Administration, state officials estimate the transportation stimulus money will support approximately 15,000 jobs in Alabama.
Sparks rolls out plan for education lottery, to tax gaming
Democrat Ron Sparks rolled out the first major platforms in his run for governor on Thursday, pushing for a state lottery, vowing to tax and regulate casino gambling in Alabama, promising to roll back annual property tax appraisals and supporting the removal of the state sales tax from groceries. Sparks, in his second term as agriculture commissioner, said he would use revenue from taxing gambling in the state to offset the removal of the state's sales tax. Several proposals in the Legislature would have replaced the lost revenue by not allowing some Alabamians to deduct the federal income taxes they pay from their state income taxes. "With the revenue we gain from finally taxing casino gambling in Alabama, we can eliminate any need for new taxes and freeze existing taxes and still meet our obligations to education and the General Fund programs," Sparks said at the announcement at his Montgomery headquarters. He said he would use the revenue to support Medicaid and education, and to create a disaster relief fund for agriculture. Sparks said he wanted to use a state lottery to fund LifeStart scholarships to guarantee that Alabama students with at least a "C" average in high school can attend a university, two-year college or technical program of their choice in the state. "State lotteries are educating the children in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida," he said. "Every year Alabamians spend millions of dollars on these lotteries to help educate the children of other states. A LifeStart scholarship program will make sure that Alabama dollars educate Alabama children." Alabama voters soundly defeated a state lottery during the administration of the last Democratic governor, Don Siegelman. The lottery was a top issue for Siegelman. The commissioner said gambling is "already big business in Alabama" and that Alabama residents spend $1.2 billion a year "on some kind of gambling." He said about 10 percent of the money spent in Mississippi casinos, about $80 million, comes from Alabama. "For too long, Alabama politicians have pretended that gambling didn't exist," Sparks said. "For too long, state leaders have refused to face reality and deal responsibly with one of the fastest growing businesses in our state. "Well, it's time for that to end." He said, no matter the rhetoric from politicians, they are not going to "prevent or get rid" of gambling in Alabama. Sparks, who cannot run for a third consecutive term as agriculture commissioner, does not support a referendum to allow voters to approve gambling statewide, but a vote in each county to decide whether or not they want gambling there. "If you live there, it should be your choice," the commissioner said. He said he would look at the taxation of gambling in nearby states to try to determine at which level to try to tax gaming. When asked how he knew if there would be enough revenue generated to offset removing the sales tax and other proposals, Sparks responded "we're not raising any money today." "Our state is sending hundreds of millions of dollars to other states and allowing in-state gaming to get by without paying their fair share," he said. "It's time to start collecting taxes from gaming operations and to use that money to support vital state services and programs." Sparks also said he would work with the Indian gambling operations in the state, which cannot be taxed, to try to develop a compact in which those entities agree to give money to the state in lieu of taxes. He also supports the formation of a gaming commission to regulate the operations. The Legislature has locked down in recent years over gambling proposals, including one introduced in the last session that would have created an entertainment and gaming circuit in the state intended to attract tourism dollars. The commissioner and U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, are the only two Democrats who have announced they are running for governor. Six Republicans have announced they will run for governor in 2010. Davis spokesman Alex Goepfert applauded Sparks for some of his goals, but criticized him for using failed ideas, which he called "old Alabama politics -- the same old sound bites, fuzzy math, and no bold new plans that challenge us to move forward." "It's a good thing that Ron Sparks has signed onto Congressman Davis' goals of funding college costs for young people who need help, of allowing local communities to make their own choices on gaming, and eliminating the regressive state tax on food and prescription drugs," he said in a statement. "But to achieve these ideas, Sparks has managed to cobble together some golden oldies from the last ten years of failed stalemates in Montgomery. Instead of putting forward new plans to strengthen public education, instead of proposing new ideas to recruit high paying jobs, Sparks wants to refight old political battles from the past decade." In polls released by the Davis campaign, the congressman was well ahead of Sparks in a potential head-to-head match-up.
Sparks plans major platform announcement on Thursday
Gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks has a major campaign platform announcement planned for Thursday.
The Democrat, who is commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, will make the announcement Thursday morning in Montgomery.
"The announcement will include specific plans to guarantee advanced education for every child, reduce taxes, increase funding for Medicaid and education and create a disaster relief fund for agriculture," according to a release from his campaign. "The Sparks plan will eliminate illegal gambling in Alabama and outlaw gaming in any county where it is rejected by the voters."
Sparks is one of eight candidates, two of them Democrats, who has announced he is running for governor in 2010. He cannot run for a third consecutive term as agriculture commissioner.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb said in a statement Wednesday that she will not run for governor in 2010. The Democrat sent out an earlier statement saying she had been encouraged by some people to run for governor and by others to remain the head of the state's judicial system. She is the only Democrat on the nine-member Supreme Court. Cobb said in her statement that serving as chief justice has been a privilege and she would remain in that position. Unlike some other officials who remain in their elected position while running for another office, Cobb would have had to step down from as chief justice to run for governor. "I am honored to have been sought out and encouraged to run for governor by so many Alabamians from all walks of life," she said. "Their support has been humbling and perhaps made this decision the most difficult I have ever been called upon to make." Cobb said she would continue to work on programs in the judicial system that she believes benefits the people of Alabama. "I care greatly about where we are as a state and the direction in which we need to go," she said. Some power players in the Alabama Democratic Party have approached Cobb, state Sen. Roger Bedford, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price and other Democrats because of their apparent discontent with the current candidates, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Those Democrats, including top officials with the Alabama Education Association, started talking to other prospective candidates after Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. said he would run for reelection and not for governor. Soon after Cobb's announcement, Davis said in a statement that he considers her a friend, respects her and her work to help the state's children and promote judicial reform, and said they would have had a dignified campaign about the state's future. "As governor, I would work closely with her to improve the quality of life for Alabama's children; and I look forward to supporting her re-election in 2012 to the Alabama Supreme Court," he said.
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a candidate for governor in 2010, released the following statement on Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb's decision to remain on the court and not run for governor in 2010:
"I have respected and admired Sue Bell Cobb for many years, and I have been fortunate to count her as a personal friend. I know that she will continue to serve our state well as an outspoken children's advocate and a champion of judicial reform. Sue Bell would have been a formidable candidate and we would have had a dignified campaign about where our state should go in the next decade. As governor, I would work closely with her to improve the quality of life for Alabama's children; and I look forward to supporting her re-election in 2012 to the Alabama Supreme Court. I wish her the best and fully appreciate that this decision was a difficult one for her and her family."
The following is a statement released by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, a Democrat, on 2010:
"I am honored to have been sought out and encouraged to run for governor by so many Alabamians from all walks of life. Their support has been humbling and perhaps made this decision the most difficult I have ever been called upon to make.
First and foremost, I want the best for the people of Alabama, whom I have attempted to faithfully serve for the last 28 years. I care greatly about where we are as a state and the direction in which we need to go.
While this love for our state and encouragement caused me to seriously consider running for governor, I have been privileged to serve as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and plan to remain in this position. Therefore, I will continue to work tirelessly to improve the court system of this state and will continue to devote my time and energy to programs and projects that improve the lives of all citizens of Alabama:
-Programs that make our communities safer, while at the same time saving precious financial resources.
-Programs such as model drug courts, dedicated domestic violence dockets, and local juvenile justice corrections programs.
-Programs that are already paying dividends by not only reducing costs but also reducing the financial burdens of our jails and prisons and more importantly redirecting "would be career criminals" to a path away from crime and toward meaningful rehabilitation and productive lives.
As I stated when I sought the office of chief justice of the Supreme Court, the challenge for judges and justices is to do the harder work of fixing people rather than the easier work of just filling prisons.
I want to thank the voters of Alabama for giving me the distinct honor of serving as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and I want to thank the judges and all of those who work so hard every day to make our justice system a model for the nation."
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb said in a statement Wednesday that she will not run for governor in 2010. The Democrat sent out an earlier statement saying she had been encouraged by some people to run for governor and by others to remain the head of the state's judicial system. She is the only Democrat on the nine-member Supreme Court. Some power players in the Alabama Democratic Party have approached Cobb, state Sen. Roger Bedford, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price and other Democrats because of their apparent discontent with the current candidates, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. Those Democrats, including top officials with the Alabama Education Association, started talking to other prospective candidates after Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. said he would run for reelection and not for governor.
A draft of a new Alabama Constitution is available on line for Alabamians to give their feedback. The draft is the result of the Mock Constitutional Convention that was held by the Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform.
This is the last week that people can give their feedback on the document. The deadline for sending in your feedback is by midnight on Tuesday, July 7.
After reading a story in the Montgomery Advertiser on Tuesday, the Alabama Republican Party lashed out at Democrats for not considering ethics a priority. Republicans criticized Jim Spearman, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, for stating that he does not hear that banning money transfers between political action committees is a top issue among citizens in Alabama and that there are other priorities. Democrats running for the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate did make passing a PAC transfer ban and other ethics reform part of the agenda they wanted to pass in the first 10 days of the 2007 legislative session. Republicans have criticized Democratic lawmakers for including a PAC ban and other issues in their 2006 covenant with voters and then having made little progress three years into this term. The Tuesday release suggests Democrats are opposed to transparency. Transferring money between political action committees helps to hide the original source of contributions. State Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, called the Democrats' covenant "simply empty rhetoric, and not a sincere commitment to ensure transparency in government." "The majority's arrogance on ethics reform shows that their only real priority is staying in power," Hubbard said in a statement. "It is a shame that Democrats are working so hard to fulfill their commitment to the special interests - while completely ignoring the people’s interests."
Jefferson County voters elect Dunn to state Senate
State Rep. Priscilla Dunn defeated one of her colleagues in the Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday to be Alabama's next state senator and to bring the Senate to 35 members for the first time this year. Dunn defeated fellow Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman to replace former Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, who was ousted following an ethics conviction. Dunn won the runoff and there is no Republican opponent. Democrats, who operated three members short during the last legislative session, have won two special elections this year, but lost one seat in northern Alabama. Dunn's victory in the Jefferson County district does create another vacancy in the Alabama House.
South Union Street is the blog of Montgomery Advertiser political reporters Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen. Always check here for the latest on the Legislature, elections and other activities and players in Alabama.