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
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Rogers holds Montgomery town hall
David Ledford used one of his only days off in the last two weeks on Thursday to attend a town hall meeting so he could address his congressman. The airline pilot, who lives in Montgomery, wanted to tell U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers and others that the people attending town halls throughout the nation are not angry mobs. They are working-class people concerned about the future of the country. And Ledford is not just talking about pending health care proposals.
Ledford was in a crowd of about 100 people who listened to Rogers, R-Saks, speak and answer questions on Thursday at Auburn Montgomery. Some people have criticized the other congressman who represents a portion of Montgomery, U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, for not having a live town hall. Bright hosted a telephone town hall on Wednesday with about 4,400 people participating, according to his office. Lewis Lowe, communications director for Bright, has said the congressman can reach more people by phone and the format is easier for constituents who never have to leave their house. Critics have said Bright is able to screen the questions asked on the phone and that it does not allow people to follow-up on their questions. Like Bright, Rogers is firmly against the current health care proposals before Congress.
If there is a public option that does not have to make a profit, is not taxed and has less regulation, private companies will not be able to compete, Rogers said. "Everything slowly erodes until the only option is the public option," he said
Rogers said his local paper has called him a "fear-monger." "I don't think it's fear-mongering. I think it's doing my job," he said. Rogers said he believes the current health care proposal considered to be the "gold standard" by Democratic leaders will be changed before it comes to the House floor because Speaker Nancy Pelosi will need to compromise with conservative Democrats to pass the legislation.
"Don't get too concerned about what is in the bill now," Rogers said. "It will probably change and it could be worse."
With procedural tactics that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has discussed using that would only require 51 votes to pass a health care plan in the Senate, Rogers said southern Democrats such as Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and others in more conservative states can vote against the plan. Rogers said those Democrats can go home and criticize the plan. They can "dog cuss Harry Reid. They can dog cuss Nancy Pelosi," he said. With the situation being volatile, Rogers said people might not be stuck with a public option.
D'Linell Finley, a political science professor at AUM, reminded Rogers that the excessive spending did not start with the Obama administration. Rogers agreed, but said "they make us look like amateurs." He said the excessive spending is one reason people voted Republicans out.
"We spent too much," he said.
Mark Montiel, cohost of the "Morris and Montiel" radio Show and a former state appeals court judge, criticized Rogers for voting along with the Democratic majority for the "Cash for Clunkers" program. He said the state's two U. S. senators, Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, voted against the program. "Why should my money go to buy anybody a car," Montiel asked. He later told Rogers that the congressman voted wrong. Rogers fired back that the plan was not perfect, but there are people in his district who work for auto manufacturers and suppliers and they were hurting. He said Hyundai has returned to a five-day work schedule and that another manufacturer in the state that was laying people off is now hiring. "I don't apologize to anybody for that (vote)," Rogers said. He said people could vote him out if they disagree.
Over 4,400 people participate in Bright telephone town hall
U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, said over 4,400 constituents in his congressional district participated in a telephone town hall Wednesday evening, which focused largely in health care. The call was Bright's sixth town hall. He fielded calls from his Montgomery office. Calls went out to about 40,000 households in the district and included some people who had requested to participate. Most people asked about health care, although some also asked about czars in Washington, the national debt, small businesses and other issues. "I place a very high priority on listening to and communicating with my constituents,” Bright said in a statement. "I have heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our previous telephone town halls because they are an effective way for me to communicate with so many folks in my district and to better understand their concerns and views." Some people have bashed Bright for using the telephone town hall instead of hosting a live in-person town hall. They said he has refused, that they want to hear specifics on what he does and does not support, that there are no follow-ups in the telephone format and that his staff selects the questions they will take. Lewis Lowe, communications director for Bright, has said the congressman can reach more people through the telephone and the format benefits citizens because they do not have to leave their own home. Bright has answered questions about health care at live events. Last Wednesday, he took questions from Realtors about health care and he also talked to people who stopped at his Congress on Your Corner event. Twenty-three people asked questions during the telephone town hall and 103 left voice messages for Bright and his staff, according to a release from his office. Bright has said he opposes all five of the current health care plans being considered by Congress. He said he opposes a public option and wants a more market-drive plan that does not compete with private enterprise. "It is clear from this call, and from my many conversations with citizens across the 2nd District that they are also opposed to the health care proposal," he said. "I will take those concerns back to Washington in September." The telephone town hall lasted about 80 minutes. Bright's staff conducted a poll during the phone call in which people could punch a number that corresponded with their response. About 77 percent of people on the line said they were opposed to the health care plans. "That is a pretty loud voice as far as I am concerned," he responded.
Action star Chuck Norris, who was in Alabama a year ago to endorse presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, has announced he is endorsing former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for Alabama governor in 2010. The actor and martial arts expert believes Moore is the strongest, most qualified candidate in the race for governor and that he can lead the state during these difficult times. The men agree on their support of supply side economics and eliminating waste in government.
Greenville businessman and gubernatorial candidate Tim James said Wednesday he wants public forums on Alabama health care. James, a Republican and the son of former Gov. Fob James, said the initiative is part of his Common Sense Solutions campaign. He said the effects of lawsuit abuse in medical malpractice insurance rates has hurt "rural Alabama communities where physicians have been hardpressed to sustain their medical practices." "Politicians in Washington are preoccupied with nationalizing health care while failing to address basic problems that have left many areas of our state with a shortage of health care professionals," James said. "Malpractice insurance premiums have increased dramatically here in Alabama and across the nation, while politicians have turned a blind eye." He said the issue should discussed at forums about health care along with the "growing cost of Medicaid, small business and health insurance affordability, and health care savings accounts." James will host the health care forums throughout the state this fall.
Chris "Chip" Beeker, a former Greene County commissioner, has announced he will run for the Place 1 seat on the Public Service Commission in 2010. The commission has oversight of utilities in the state. The Republican said he will fight for fair rates for consumers "while balancing the rights of the people with the responsibilities of the utilities." Beeker was chairman of the Greene County Commission from 1996 to 2000. He owns and operates Beeker Catfish and Cattle Farms in Eutaw.
U.S. Rep Artur Davis, a Birmingham Democrat and Montgomery native who is running for governor, released the following statement about the death of longtime U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy:
"During his 47 years in the U.S. Senate, Edward Kennedy helped remake the social contract in America and he helped forge a stronger more perfect union. American politics will miss his eloquence, the Senate will miss his genius in crafting compromises and translating good intentions into public policy. May God bless the Kennedy family."
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Will O'Rear, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Bob Riley, will run for the family court seat in 2010. Riley appointed him to the Place 8 seat in 2008. O'Rear served as legal counsel to Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney until he was appointed. He is a former licensed mental health counselor. The judge will host his first fundraiser on Thursday. He hopes to be elected to a full six-year term. O'Rear, in a statement, said he started the first juvenile mental health court in Montgomery. "I plan to expand this program to involve our families with in-home mental health services," he said. He is handling cases involving divorce, child welfare and juvenile offenses.
Christian Coalition of Alabama Gubernatorial Candidates Forum Tonight
The Christian Coalition of Alabama will be putting on Montgomery's first gubernatorial candidates forum at 7 p.m. Monday (Aug. 24), but you will need a ticket if you want to get in.
The forum will be held at Taylor Road Baptist Church, which is located at the corner of Taylor Road and Berrington, next to the Shoppes at EastChase. Gubernatorial candidate attendees will be Democrats Artur Davis and Ron Sparks and Republicans Robert Bentley, Bradley Byrne, Tim James, Bill Johnson and Judge Roy Moore.
The forum will last approximately 90 minutes, covering topics such as health care, education, the economy, and moral issues, with candidates given rotating questions from a panel representing the faith community, according to the coalition's Web site.
Those interested in attending can obtain tickets can download it right here, or from Taylor Road Baptist Church or from the Christian Coalition of Alabama directly at 451 St. Lukes Drive, Montgomery, Al 36117
Statement by Ron Sparks on Casino Gambling and Economic Development
"Alabama is facing the some of the most difficult economic times in our history.
"I’m running for Governor because I want to change the future of Alabama. I’m the only candidate for Governor with a specific plan to pay for that change.
"I am offering a specific plan for the future of our children, our education system, funding Medicaid, and insuring for our seniors the future they deserve.
"Casino gambling is an industry. It is an industry that is growing like kudzu across Alabama right now. Alabama residents are spending a billion dollars a year in casinos right now but our state realizes virtually no income from this billion-dollar industry.
"This week, I held press conferences in Selma, Montgomery, Mobile, and Birmingham. When I’m Governor, unless the people of those counties vote to do otherwise, I will fight to bring upscale casino gambling to those areas.
"In addition to the revenues Alabama could realize from gaming itself, the average upscale casino employees about 1,000 workers. Add to this the thousands of other jobs in the restaurant and hotel business created by casinos and the economic impact of the casino business is staggering.
"If we didn’t have any car dealerships in Alabama and our people were spending millions in Mississippi buying cars, I would be standing here talking about building more car dealerships. It’s a matter of simple economics – supply and demand.
"According to the regulating agencies in Mississippi, Alabamians made almost 4 million visits to casinos last year. Gross gambling revenues in Mississippi exceeded $1.2 billion last year and taxes from gambling amounted to almost $660 million for the past two years.
"That’s $330 million a year from a state that has little more than half the population of Alabama. Over 36% of the coastal gambling customers are from surrounding states closer to Alabama than Mississippi, and 44% of the northern gambling establishment customers come from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, or Tennessee. Only one-fourth of the coastal gambling customers come from Mississippi, and only 18% of the northern gambling establishments come from Mississippi. It is no wonder Mississippi gambling interests oppose Alabama gambling initiatives—Casinos in Alabama would dig into hundreds of millions of Mississippi tourism dollars every year and keep those Alabama dollars here at home.
"The casino industry will have a gigantic impact on state revenues, but it will also be a game changer for local economies and local governments.
"According to Mississippi Gaming Commission last year alone, Casinos in Biloxi pumped over 980 Million Dollars of revenue into the city’s economy. The average casino in Mississippi employs over 1000 people. The Gaming Industry in Biloxi alone employs 10,000 people. We must regulate the gambling industry and develop it like we would any other emerging industry. If elected Governor, I will regulate the gaming industry and I will treat it as an economic development opportunity.
"I promise to the bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in local economic impact. I promise to fight to bring the jobs and businesses associated with a casino that will fund better schools, better services and a better way of life.
"I have laid out specific plants that will fund the Special Education Trust Fund, Medicaid and a new Agriculture Relief fund. I have laid out a plan for you that generates hundreds of millions of dollars for Alabama. Before anybody criticizes my plan, they should be required to explain how they plan to generate this much money for the state. The difference between me and the others in this race is that I have a plan and I am willing to present it to the voters and fight to make it a reality."
Gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne won a recent straw poll among Republicans who attended a forum in St. Clair County. All six Republican candidates who have announced they are running attended the event. Byrne, in a release, called the win a "springboard for the future." Several hundred people attended the forum, according to Byrne's campaign. Byrne, a former state senator and former chancellor of the state's two-year college system, finished with 40 percent. Greenville businessman Tim James and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore were next with 21 percent. State Rep. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa claimed 14 percent while former Birmingham City Councilman Bill Johnson, a member of Gov. Bob Riley's cabinet until recently, had 3 percent, and state Treasurer Kay Ivey finished with 1 percent. The poll was conducted last week, but was released by officials with the St. Clair County Republican Party during their monthly meeting on Thursday. St. Clair County is just northeast of Jefferson County.
Gov. Bob Riley will take the reins of the Southern Governors' Association from Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine when they and other governors meet in Williamsburg, Va. this weekend.
Riley said he plans to lay out a platform of economic development for the South as a region and talk about how to brand the South as a place that international corporations want to bring their business.
He said there also was a need to address issues at the federal level such as cap and trade that will have a negative impact on the South's economic future.
The folks over at Save Alabama PACT have a copy of the much anticipated actuarial study on the state's prepaid affordable college tuition plan from the Retirement Systems of Alabama up on their Web site.
The House passed a weed abatement bill for Montgomery County Wednesday, but much of the short discussion of the bill had an underlying hint of a few other things.
Speaker Pro Tem Demetrius Newton, D-Birmingham, took the time to do a short commercial on constitutional reform. Newton has been an avid sponsor of bills and resolutions that would allow the state's residents a chance to vote on whether they would like to call a constitutional convention.
"You know if we had constitutional reform you wouldn't need to tie up this extraordinary session of the legislature to deal with weeds," Newton said to state Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, and sponsor of the legislation.
"Mr. Speaker that's why I'm very much in support of an article-by-article revision of the constitution," Wren said.
To which Newton replied, "It will take us a long time to get to weeds in a constitutional revision because I would insist that we remove the racist language."
Wren took to the time to point out that the bill not only deals with weed, but grass too. Newton said he had a lot of mushrooms in his yard, and asked whether the bill would do anything about that.
Talk of a different kind of weed has kept the state Legislature abuzz for weeks, after the Montgomery Advertiser broke a story about how two pounds of marijuana was found in the State House three years ago.
The House Legislative Council will meet today to review how the case of the mystery marijuana was handled. The meeting was expected to be held on Thursday, but was moved up.
House Passes Unemployment Compensation Legislation
The House unanimously passed a bill that would extend unemployment compensation to those who have exhausted or are about to exhaust their unemployment benefits.
If the bill is passed by the Senate, it will extend benefits for another 20 weeks. The bill will not add additional benefits. The extension is funded by federal stimulus money and is not expected to cost the state anything. Final vote was 102 to 0.
Legislators Say PACT Should Have Been in Special Session
State Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Gov. Bob Riley "needs to quit sitting in the dugout, pick up a bat," and get in the game to fix the state's prepaid affordable college tuition plan.
Ford wanted Riley to delay the special session so that a report on PACT from the Retirement Systems of Alabama could be released next week. Riley has said he would call a special session to deal with PACT, but wanted a separate session to deal with Jefferson County's financial woes.
"Here it is we're going to spend two to three million dollars of taxpayers money on a special session," he said. "People outside Jefferson County don't know what's going on with Jefferson County other than people are losing jobs."
Ford said a better use of the money would have been to take up solutions that would address the 49,000 outstanding PACT contracts.
State Rep. Pat Moore, R-Pleasant Grove, said she also would have preferred to be in special session to deal with PACT rather than comming to pass a new occupational tax for Jefferson County. Moore is a member of the Jefferson County delegation.
"I do not support the Jefferson County occupational tax; it's not the bill I want," she said. "We could have waited until the Supreme Court ruled."
In a close vote, a occupational tax was passed out of the Alabama House of Representatives Wednesday.
The bill, which would reinstate Jefferson County's occupational tax passed on a 17 to 15 vote. Thirty-six legislators abstained from the vote. The bill needed only a simple majority vote of the legislators present to pass.
There were actually two votes on the bill. The first vote failed 14 to 15, but passed after it was asked to be reconsider.
-- posted by Markeshia Ricks
UPDATE: House passes companion accountability legislation for Jefferson County in 25 to 1 vote.
State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said that the nation is watching the outcome of a special session to save Jefferson County.
Rogers said CNN is already calling to see whether the 25 members of the Jefferson County legislative delegation is going to pull off to what amounts to a miracle. That's especially true as legislators who represent other areas of the state are chomping at the bit to get into the fray.
Several legislators outside of Jefferson County are opposed to the occupational tax, particularly those who have constituents who live in their district, but work in Jefferson County.
During the morning discussion of the occupational tax bill, state Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, pointed out that the Jefferson County's problem was becoming a statewide issue.
State Rep. Jeremy Oden, R-Eva, told Rogers at the mic that he planned to vote no.
"I have an ideological problem with an occupational tax," he said.
Longtime state Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, said Monday as the Legislature opened a special session that a 100-year-old state constitution had brought them together in Montgomery again unnecessarily. Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, called lawmakers into special session to deal with legislation related to the ongoing financial fallout in Jefferson County. Denton said local officials should be able to address the issue. The 1901 Alabama constitution allows for very little local control so cities and counties must bring issues through the Legislature for changes or approval.
Candidates for governor are among those who abruptly stopped their efforts to raise money for their 2010 campaigns when Gov. Bob Riley called lawmakers into special session on Monday. The Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act does not allow candidates to accept or solicit contributions during a legislative session. Riley called legislators into a special session that started at 6 p.m. Monday to address the financial crisis in Alabama's most populated area, Jefferson County. At least one candidate for governor, Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, had not scheduled fundraising events during the week because of speculation Riley would call the special session, said Sparks campaign manager Justin Saia. The campaign of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, a Birmingham Democrat running for governor, canceled two events including one in Tuscaloosa and another in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, according to his campaign spokesman Alex Goepfert. "We suspended all events and solicitations in accordance with the law," he said. The office of Alabama Secretary of State Beth Chapman received several calls about the issue and posted information on its Web site Monday to remind candidates. "Fundraising and solicitation of contributions for 2010 general election candidates for state office will be suspended temporarily at the start of the special session and will remain suspended until the adjournment of the special session, sine die," according to the site. The suspension does not apply to federal, municipal or special elections, according to the Secretary of State’s site. Saia said the Sparks campaign stopped soliciting and accepting donations Sunday night. He said the Sparks campaign understood that a candidate could not raise money at all beginning the first day of the special session until the last day, and criticized Davis for not taking down the contribution link on his site and canceling events sooner. Goepfert said the fundraising portion was taken down about 11 a.m. Monday and that the events were canceled. He said technical issues kept the campaign from pulling the fundraising link until about 11 a.m. Monday. Davis received five contributions on Monday morning for a total of $30, Goepfert said. All of those contributions were voided and the donors received an e-mail, he said. When people click on the contributions link on the Davis site, they see the message "We are not currently accepting donations." State Rep. Robert Bentley, R-Tuscaloosa, sent out two e-mails on Monday, one inviting people to an event in St. Clair County and another apologizing for mistakenly attaching contribution information to the bottom of the first e-mail. Bentley is one of six Republicans who have announced they are running for governor. "The solicitation was not supposed to be a part of that email, as Alabama law does not allow a candidate to solicit funds during a session of the Legislature," Bentley wrote to supporters. If people clicked on the Bentley link on Monday afternoon, they would go to a Web site informing them "Due to the special session of the Alabama Legislature, we are not able to accept contributions at this time. Please check back shortly." The only Web site for a gubernatorial campaign where people still appeared to be able to contribute online as of 7 p.m. Monday was the site of former Birmingham City Councilman Bill Johnson, a Republican who was also appointed by Riley to head the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. People were able to contribute to former Chief Justice Roy Moore Monday afternoon, but contributions had been stopped by Monday evening, and people were informed about the state law. Moore, a Republican, is in his second run for governor and has reported receiving contributions from all 67 counties in Alabama and all 50 states. On Monday afternoon, there did not appear to be active fundraising links on the sites of Greenville businessman Tim James, state Treasurer Kay Ivey and former two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne. All three are Republicans running for governor.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery, arrived in Israel Sunday morning as a part of a fact-finding trip with other members of Congress, according to a press release from his congressional office.
Bright says the goal of the trip is to learn more about the U.S.-Israel relationship, the Middle East peace talks, Israel's security situation, and the status of important economic and political trends in Israel.
Bright, who is a Christian, said he is also looking forward to seeing the holy sites and history of Jerusalem and the region. He will be in Israel through Aug. 15.
“The United States has no better ally than Israel; our relationship with the country is essential to our success in foreign policy in the region and world,” Bright said in the statement. “As the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel is the bulwark in a region that is oftentimes chaotic and hostile to American interests. For these reasons, maintaining our strong partnership with the nation of Israel is a top foreign policy priority.”
Bright will participate in several high-level meetings with a wide variety of leaders -Israeli, Palestinian, secular, religious, government, opposition, as well as experts in the peace process, U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation, and Israel's economy. The group will also learn how Israel has combated terrorism and secured its borders.
“Though visiting the Holy Land is important from a policy perspective, the trip has personal significance,” Bright said. “I make no secret of the fact that my Christianity is fundamental to who I am, both as a person and an elected official charged with making good decisions for his district, state, and nation. My faith is tremendously important to me, and prayer helps to guide me through everything that I do. As a deacon in a Southern Baptist church, I believe visiting Jerusalem and the holy sites throughout the region is an integral part of my spiritual journey.”
The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF) is sponsoring the trip. AIEF sponsors, among other things, educational programs such as trips to Israel for community leaders and elected officials, seminars on Middle East issues at universities across the country, and other projects that help to educate the general public about U.S.-Israel relations.
Sparks wants unemployment compensation in special session
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks, Alabama's agriculture commissioner, called on Gov. Bob Riley to include legislation that would allow the state to accept an additional $100 million in unemployment compensation in the special session. Business interests and Republican lawmakers have opposed the legislation, which would be necessary to receive the additional funding, saying it would increase the costs for businesses. Riley has said he opposes the legislation. Labor unions and Democrats have voiced their support for the change. "People are hurting all over Alabama," Sparks said in a statement. "The slow recovery of our economy is placing a heavy burden on thousands of Alabamians who are currently out of work and eligible for unemployment benefits. "As I have previously stated, I fully support an extension of the benefit period for those currently receiving unemployment and the expansion of benefits to part-time workers and others covered by the federal stimulus plan. Let me be clear on this issue: any legislation dealing with this issue should include a legislative requirement that calls for the termination of the expansion of benefits once the stimulus funds are exhausted. I refuse to strap the businesses of this state with undue financial burdens."
Lawmakers did approve a $200,000 contact on Thursday for a Montgomery lawyer to defend Gov. Bob Riley and the state in a lawsuit over the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Program. Ken Wallis, legal adviser to the governor, told lawmakers that three lawsuits have been filed regarding PACT. He said they expect to have them dismissed because there has not been any harm. Wallis said others who were sued include Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., Treasurer Kay Ivey and other members of the PACT board.
Ken Wallis, legal adviser to Gov. Bob Riley, told lawmakers on Thursday that plans were not finalized, but to keep their calendars open next week beginning Monday. Lawmakers were asking Wallis about a pending special session to handle financial woes in Jefferson County. Wallis said he has spent about 99 of his time recently on issues related to Jefferson County. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, said he recently talked to Riley and asked the governor to include ethics reform in the special session. "I hope the governor will put all of that in the call," he said. Holmes wants to stop lobbyists from buying lawmakers meals.
In looking at a contract requested by the Alabama Department of Education on Thursday, some lawmakers on the legislative contract review committee questioned how long a case had been ongoing and how much the state had spent. The case started in 1972 and has cost the state $4 million in legal fees, according to an official with the department. The lawsuit involves the testing of teachers for them to become certified in their field. The official told lawmakers on the committee that Alabama was paying for attorneys on both sides and that as many as 16 lawyers had shown up at times to represent plaintiffs in federal court.
State Rep. Alvin Holmes questioned an education contract on Thursday in which only two of the people working are black. Holmes, D-Montgomery, asked an official with the Alabama Department of Education if there were only two blacks working under the contract. Retired educators provide expertise to the state through the agreement. The man told Holmes that there were five minorities listed as working through the contract. "You're not calling Hispanics black are you," Holmes asked him. "If you are, you are in a lot of trouble. They kill you if you call them black." Holmes said there are more than two retired educators who can help with the contract.
The gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, released an online ad Thursday slamming his Democratic opponent, Ron Sparks, for comments on unemployment. They even asked people in his hometown of Fort Payne.
State Sen. Larry Dixon is not certain whether he will run for reelection in 2010, but he will have competition if he does. Montgomery businessman and former state Rep. Dick Brewbaker, a Republican, announced Thursday he is running for the District 25 seat in the Alabama Senate. District 25 includes portions of Montgomery and Elmore counties. Brewbaker, a member of the town council in Pike Road, served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 2002 to 2006. He said Dixon, R-Montgomery, has done well representing the district. "Modestly speaking, I think I can do a good job, too," Brewbaker said after applauding Dixon. He said he decided to enter now because of the timing. Brewbaker said other people are discussing the race and he wants to have enough support and funding to run a quality campaign. "This is the time of year a campaign has to be organized," he said. Dixon said he thought Brewbaker's entrance was premature and that he was trying to pressure him into making a decision. The senator said he plans to decide by early next year, but still has 15 months left in his term and one regular session. Dixon said any potential candidates would have had time to organize a campaign after he announced whether he was retiring or seeking an eighth term. "As of today, I am running," he said. "There is 15 months left in this term. I just can't tell you what I'm going to do 15 months from now. I am not going to be backed into a corner." Dixon said he is a friend and supporter of Brewbaker. "I thought he did a good job when he was in the House of Representatives," he said. "I just wish he would have kept his powder dry a little longer." Brewbaker, who people might recognize from the commercials for his auto dealerships, made his announcement on the steps of the Elmore County Courthouse. He said he decided to make his announcement in Wetumpka instead of on the State House steps because there are plenty of insiders in Montgomery and because Elmore County is one of the more conservative counties in Alabama. If he is elected, he said he would "not use inside the State House thinking to govern the decisions I make." Brewbaker said he opposes any new taxes, supports an amendment guarding property owners against eminent domain, wants ethics and campaign finance reform, and would not serve more than two terms. The former lawmaker said he wants to limit the contributions coming into campaigns, "especially from those who cannot vote for the candidate." While some states have passed constitutional amendments, he said Alabama has "never dealt effectively with eminent domain." Brewbaker expects Republicans to take control of either the Alabama House or Senate in 2010. He said there is a better chance of the Republicans taking control of the House outright. "I would like to be part of the Republican revolution that is about to happen in this state," Brewbaker said. He was joined by about three dozen supporters at the courthouse.
Lawmakers approve $100,000 to help King's office with federal subpoena
Legislators approved a contract of up to $100,000 on Thursday that will allow an outside law firm to help the office of Attorney General Troy King respond to a subpoena from a federal grand jury. King's office requested a $40,000 contract with the Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LP last month. He sought an increase of $60,000 this month. Charla Doucet, chief of the administrative services division in the office of the attorney general, said she received the first invoice and it was for more than $40,000. Chris Bence, chief of staff for King, said there appears to be little action in the case in the last two months, but said he and a handful of other employees were called before the grand jury. "Evidently they finished up for at least the personnel in this office a couple of months ago," he said. "I am not aware of anybody else in the office who has been called." Bence said, to his knowledge, King has not appeared before the grand jury. The legislative contract review committee also approved a legal contract of up to $200,000 for an attorney to defend the governor and the state in a lawsuit over the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Program; and an additional $200,000 for Bradley Arant to advise the governor and his task force on gambling. The panel previously approved $250,000 for Bradley Arant to advise the task force. The contract for the attorney general's office that legislators approved on Thursday, which will be funded completely by state money, will be for $195 an hour up to $100,000 between July 3 and Dec. 31 of this year. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, chairman of the legislative contract review committee, said on Wednesday he was not sure why agencies submitted legal contracts for $40,000 because the big law firms would not work for that little. The Montgomery Democrat did not oppose the contract and said he thought a month ago that $40,000 sounded "cheap." Current and former King employees have been called before a federal grand jury. King, who plans to run in 2010 for his second full term as attorney general, has also confirmed the investigation and has said he does not know what they are looking for. The Birmingham News reported in May that the subpoenas sought all documents related to communication with Alabama Power Co., the Atlanta Braves, the Business Council of Alabama, political consultant Dax Swatek, and others. King, his family and some friends used the box of Southern Company, the parent of Alabama Power Co., during a Braves game in 2006. Media outlets first reported the federal investigation of the attorney general's office in March. Since then, the northern district of Alabama has a new U.S. attorney. President Barack Obama appointed Joyce White Vance to replace Alice Martin. Bence said Bradley Arant was hired on behalf of the office because many of the documents in the office are legally sensitive and attorneys need to be sure they process the subpoena accurately while protecting the legal rights of those involved in the cases. He said some of the requests could include cases of attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, at the end of the day, whatever they ask for they are going to receive and have received," Bence said.
Gov. Bob Riley appointed King as attorney general in 2004. The Republican won his first full term in the 2006 election. Birmingham attorney and lobbyist Luther Strange, who was the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2006, has announced he will run against King.
At a news conference Thursday in Montgomery, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner, and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ron Sparks unveiled a Web site that his camp says is one of the most technologically advanced political sites in the nation. Sparks faces U.S. Rep. Artur Davis in the Democratic primary.
“I’m proud that this campaign remains on the cutting edge of technology and will continue to interact with Alabama voters at every level," Sparks said, in a statement.
"The people can come to our website and hear from my own mouth where I stand on the key issues of this campaign. A lot of hard work and time went into the site and I hope the people enjoy it and visit often.”
Riley Still Undecided on Special Session Next Week
Gov. Bob Riley said Thursday that he's still leaning toward calling a special session of the state Legislature for Monday of next week, but he's not yet satisfied that all the kinks have been worked out of an agreement for Jefferson County.
Riley was touring Montgomery's new Johnnie Carr Junior High School Thursday and he said he's told legislators not to schedule anything for next Monday, but he's still not ready to pull the trigger on calling a special session.
"We're still working on the language of the bill and we're getting very, very close," he said. "I've talked with all the (Jefferson County) House and Senate members, and the speaker of the House and the leadership in the Senate to make sure that we're all on the same page. "
Riley said that doesn't mean there will be a unanimous vote on whatever bills are brought to address the financial woes of the state's most populous county, but he wants to make sure that the bills are something that enough legislators can support and pass in five days.
Riley said he intends to make any call to special session specifically about Jefferson County, and is not considering adding anything that would address the problems with the state's prepaid affordable college tuition plan.
"We can take up local bills, as long as they don't pertain to gambling," he said.
During a meeting of the legislative contract review committee on Wednesday, state Rep. Alvin Holmes asked Sen. Del Marsh when the governor was going to call a special session. "I hope he will call it at 6 p.m. Monday," said Marsh, a Republican from Anniston who is a close ally of the governor. He said he talked with Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham, who told him the delegation in Jefferson County had reached an agreement on how to address the county's current financial mess. "I hope we go five days and get out of here," Marsh said.
When asked how he was doing in a crowded field of six Republicans, Tim James said on Tuesday that he was one of the top two Republican candidates for governor. He said he was clobbered in 2002, but it was the "wrong race at the wrong time." He finished third in the Republican primary in 2002. "Timing is everything," James said. The Greenville businessman was the first candidate to enter the 2010 race for governor. He immediately assembled an experienced staff and began to seek support from throughout the state. Supporters include former U.S. Rep. Sonny Callahan of Mobile and U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Haleyville, who are hosting a fundraiser for him this week. James said he will set himself apart with his common-sense message and with his business experience. He is touting that he is the only businessman in the race, which he said would help during the "most frightening time in 70 years."
Republican Tim James is on the road promoting a platform of 21 wide-ranging issues and suggesting what he considers to be conservative, common-sense solutions. "Common sense is one thing we are missing in government," he said Tuesday. The candidate, in his second bid for governor, talked to about two dozen supporters at The Silver Spoon Cafe in downtown. The issues include returning to property appraisals every four years, requiring a photo identification to vote, and stopping any new taxes or any raids on the state's oil and gas trust fund. James, a businessman from Greenville, also wants to keep top spots in Alabama universities open for in-state students with "B" averages and acceptable ACT scores. To address several issues in education, the candidate is proposing the "Alabama Reading Corps," which would bring college students into public schools to work with children, boosting reading scores and one-on-one interaction with students. The college students would receive credit. James said that would probably bring about 4,000 college students into Alabama K-12 schools. When asked how he would pay for background checks for those students, he said they would cost about $400,000. James said he would approach the business community for the money or he would find money in the multi-billion dollar state education budget. When asked how he would move money within the education budget, which is difficult without the support of the Alabama Education Association, and how he would advance other issues that have stalled in the Legislature, James said he plans to run two campaigns. He said he is running a campaign to be elected governor and, if elected, will run an ongoing campaign using technology and the media to inform the public and promote his message. "For the first time in my life, the masses are paying attention," James said. He said he would move to cap tuition increases at universities at the rate of inflation. In pointing to what he believes are failures of the current education system, James said the education budget has doubled in the last decade, but ACT scores have gone up only 1 percent and 40 percent of children are dropping out. Brett Hall, the communications director for James, said he is the only candidate talking about methamphetamines, which are destroying families throughout the state, or about the need to establish a system to help mother collect child support. He said about two in three mothers are not receiving the child support due to them. Hall said helping single mothers would relieve the demand on some social services. James proposes withholding state services and tax returns from parents who have not paid their child support. He proposes strengthening drug courts in the state to help with addiction to crystal meth. In talking about business and economic development, James said he supports giving incentives to existing businesses before giving them to the large outside companies who are considering Alabama as a site. James finished third in the Republican primary in 2002.
Montgomery businessman and former state Rep. Dick Brewbaker, a Republican, will kick off his state Senate campaign on Thursday in Wetumpka. Brewbaker, a member of the town council in Pike Road, will be running for the District 25 seat currently occupied by Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery. Dixon is in his seventh term in the Senate. Dixon said Tuesday he did not know if he was running, but feels Brewbaker is trying to push him into a decision. "I don't like to feel like I'm being pushed to make a decision with a year left to go and another legislative session left to go (in my term)," he said. "Right now, if push comes to shove, I plan on running again." District 25 includes portions of Elmore and Montgomery counties. Brewbaker will announce his candidacy at the courthouse in Wetumpka.
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.