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
Friday, February 26, 2010
National Journal names Bright Most Conservative Democrat
The National Journal released its 2009 Vote Ratings Friday, which is a comprehensive examination of voting patterns for the first session of the 111th Congress. The publication named U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright the most conservative Democrat, and among the “centrists” in the House. According to the study, his voting record is more conservative than 11 Republicans. For its vote study, the National Journal examines 92 "specific and significant" votes cast, as opposed to procedural and non-controversial votes.
“I came to Washington to keep my country strong and represent my constituents- not a political party or special interest,” Bright said in a statement Friday. “Publication after publication has affirmed my independent-minded approach, and I will continue to put the interests of my country and district first.
"People across America are demanding that Congress work together to improve the economy and get our fiscal house in order. We can’t do this unless we put aside partisan politics. I stand ready to work with anyone to solve these pressing issues without compromising my core values. I hope more will join me in the coming months.”
Bright has previously been named the second-most independent member of Congress by Congressional Quarterly and the Washington Post. He said ratings show that too many members are at the extremes, and the American people are the loser when members of Congress are so strongly divided.
“The middle is where we solve serious problems and our country does its best work," Bright said in the statement. "As we conduct the people’s business, all members would be well-served to take the National Journal study to heart.”
Several Republican lawmakers rushed over to the Embassy Suites on Wednesday after hearing about the death of state Rep. Warren Beck. Beck, 65, was found dead on Wednesday at the hotel. While foul play is not suspected, an investigation is being conducted, according to an e-mail from the Alabama House of Representatives. Beck, the former mayor of Geneva, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 to represent Geneva County and southern Dale County. Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, sat beside Beck in the back of the House chamber for eight years and the men had offices across from each other in the State House. He was emotional as he talked about his colleague and his "best buddy" in the Legislature. "I dread in the morning," Faust said of sitting in the House chamber next to Beck's empty chair. Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, added "it will be tough with that vacant seat." "I just can't believe it," said Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette. Shiver said he spent time with Beck on Tuesday and would get up at 3 a.m. to drive hours to eat breakfast with Beck. "He was the kind of guy you would drive three hours for," he said. Faust, Beck and other lawmakers who sat nearby would often joke with each other and those speaking at the podium. Because Beck often joked in the chamber and during committee meetings, Faust said some people thought he was carefree. "He wasn't. He really had a heart for what he was doing," he said. When considering serious legislation, Faust said Beck gave serious thought to the issues. Beck recently announced that he was one of a few Republicans who would support legislation to let people vote on whether they wanted to tax and regulate electronic bingo in the state. The lawmakers said Beck still preferred to be referred to as mayor. "He loved being called mayor of Geneva," Baker said. Beck, who was involved in the insurance industry, had two children and four grandchildren, according to the Web site for the House of Representatives. Faust and his wife, Sharon, said Beck had lost two wives and had married his high school sweetheart in the last year. "Everybody loved Warren Beck," Faust said. "He was one good guy. In my opinion, he's just as good as gold." Baker said they learned about the death from a clerk while they were in a committee meeting at the State House. They arrived as the body was being removed from the hotel. Beck, according to his colleagues, had called in a prescription for cough syrup and had skipped a reception on Tuesday night to rest. Faust said Beck was found with his hands on his chest. Shiver said they usually stayed at the Drury Inn, but that Beck was staying at the Embassy Suites this week because the Alabama Federation of Republican Women was hosting an event at the hotel. Faust and his wife, who is participating in the event, were staying there. Sharon Faust said she last saw Beck in the hotel about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. She said her husband had a special relationship with Beck. At least three other legislators have died unexpectedly during the current four-year legislative term including Rep. Lea Fite, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Albert Hall, D-Gurley; and Sen. Pat Lindsey, D-Butler.
Attorney General Troy King said he has the authority to take over the work of Gov. Bob Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, but instead on Wednesday made recommendations to the task force on how to achieve its goals without using force, threats, limited state resources, or putting people in danger. "It is within the authority of the office of the attorney general to intervene into the controversial and irresponsible activities of the task force, and to direct Mr. Tyson's actions," King said. "Frankly, that is an option that I have strongly considered for the past two weeks. The task force's pending armed confrontation with Greene County authorities left me no choice but to consider this option. ... " "Yet, out of deferential respect for the governor, assuming direction over Mr. Tyson is not an option that I am prepared to exercise ... yet." The commander of the task force, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., said the governor appointed him and the task force will continue to take direction from the governor. "It is the duty of the Task Force on Illegal Gambling to enforce criminal law of Alabama," he said. "We will do just that. ... The work of the task force will continue." In the event King intervenes, Tyson said "certainly we are prepared for that." "He's given advice, but he's not doing anything," Tyson said of King. King's recommendations, after a raid by the task force on an establishment in Lowndes County, threats to an establishment in Greene County and attempted raids in Macon and Houston County, include: -- Tyson immediately should file for declaratory judgments to find out whether electronic bingo is legal in Macon, Lowndes, Houston and Greene counties. King said that would lead to definitive rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court. -- The task force filing civil actions in those counties "to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to keep these facilities that are closed closed and to close others." -- Tyson should reduce the risk to law enforcement and the public by not going forward with more warrantless raids. King said the district attorneys elected in those counties can enforce criminal laws there. Tyson said all 19 of the law "enforcement operations and suppression activities the task force has conducted have been orderly and safe." He said "none have been found illegal." King said the process of determining the legality of the machines, which he believes are legal in some portions of the state, could move forward quickly if the task force followed his advice. Tyson said he believes King's push for the task force to seek declaratory judgments is a delaying tactic. "Delaying the enforcement of criminal law allows a few people to go on breaking the law and get away with it while the rest of us obey the law," Tyson said. "That's neither fair nor right." The Alabama Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the task force two times in four months, Tyson said. He said those rulings demonstrate the machines at the facilities are not legal and are not bingo. Tyson and Riley believe the machines are slot machines, which are illegal in Alabama. "Slot machines are illegal no matter what name you call them," Tyson said. "Alabama law clearly states that if it accepts money and dispenses cash value prizes based on any elements of chance, then it's an illegal slot machine. There is no question these machines do exactly what the Alabama law says is illegal." King said all of the rulings to date have been procedural. The attorney general said a lot of people have asked him to intervene. King said that in his 16 years as a lawyer in state government, including six as attorney general, "I have never seen a more ill-advised and reckless approach to a legal issue than the current approach now being undertaken by the governor's task force." "Rather than moving quickly in a court of law to obtain the answer, the task force has regrettably chosen drama, intimidation, and force." He would not give a timetable for when he would like to see his recommendations followed and said he was not issuing a threat or an ultimatum. King said the actions of the task force could subject the state to "devastating liability." "I have offered this advice in general terms on several occasions. It has gone unheeded," he said. King said a volatile situation like Greene County could recklessly place law enforcement and the public at risk with county officials including the sheriff vowing to stop a raid if the task force does not have a warrant. The task force did not have a warrant when it attempted raids on VictoryLand in Macon County and Country Crossing near Dothan in Houston County. King said the decisions about whether the facilities should remain open must be made by courts through proper legal processes. "Forcing their closure with threats of massive warrantless raids after attempts to get a search warrant is denied by a judge is not such a process ... and saying so does not put one on the side of the gambling interests," King said. " ... If Mr. Tyson cannot close these facilities through a proper court proceeding, he should not attempt to close them by force, fear, or intimidation." King described the situation as the "right thing ... being done the wrong way ... and with serious consequences." He said the right thing is trying to seek an answer to a legal question: "can bingo be played electronically where constitutional amendments, approved by the voters, allow it." Riley and King, both Republicans, disagree on the answer. "No crisis was required to answer this question," King said. "It is time for a definitive yes or no answer to be sought and gotten," King said. "If the answer is no, we must immediately close down every bingo game in Alabama and deliver a monopoly to the Indians." King, who said he is opposed to gambling, said the question on the legality of the so-called electronic bingo machines has not yet been put before the Alabama Supreme Court by the task force. "In fact, as recently as Nov. 13, 2009, the Supreme Court expressly stated that the question of the legality of electronic bingo in Alabama had not been brought before it, and, therefore, they were expressly declining to answer it," King said. "As you all know, a simple, definitive answer from the Alabama Supreme Court would become indisputable law -- law that is definitive, clear, and due to be uniformly enforced." The state's high court did outline a six-point test for what should be considered bingo, which included more human participation and using cards.
Riley, Republican Lawmakers say: 'Free the jobs bills.'
Gov. Bob Riley, Republican lawmakers and pro-business advocates are calling on the Democratic leadership in the House, particularly Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, to get a package of three bills out of committee and onto the House floor for debate.
Riley held a press conference Wednesday where he talked about the need to get the bills passed so people can be put back to work. He said discussions about bingo should be put on the back burner until these bills can be passed.
The three bills would, among other things, offer tax incentives to small business that hire unemployed Alabamians, incentivize hiring in areas of the state where unemployment is highest and raise the amount small businesses can deduct from state income taxes if they offer health insurance and their employees buy insurance.
Lindsey is the head of the House education budget committee, where the bills have been assigned. Riley's Communications Director Jeff Emerson said that Riley wrote Lindsey a letter asking him to get the bills moving, but he did not respond.
Lindsey told the Associated Press Wednesday that he instead supports a bill by Republican Rep. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa that would provide tax deductions for businesses that hire new workers for at least a year.
The National Republican Congressional Committee included Montgomery City Councilwoman and congressional candidate Martha Roby in the top tier of its "Young Guns" program. According to the NRCC, the 10 candidates "have reached the third and final step by establishing a clear path to victory through their ability to build a formidable campaign structure and achieve important goals and benchmarks." The effort, started in the 2007-2008 election cycle, has become an NRCC effort to help elect Republican challengers and open-seat candidates nationwide. "These candidates have met a series of rigorous goals that will put them in position to win on election day," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. "The momentum behind these campaigns is proof-positive that Americans are fed up with a Democrat majority that continues to spend too much, tax too much and borrow too much at the expense of hard-working families. These ten candidates are leading the pack as Republicans continue to send a loud and clear message that we will hold Democrats accountable for their unpopular partisan agenda." The candidates, according to the NRCC, have demonstrated "their ability to build competitive, effective, and winning campaigns." Roby has entered the Republican primary for the District 2 congressional seat. Her primary opponent is Rick Barber, a Montgomery businessman and Marine Corps veteran. The winner will likely face freshman U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery.
Sen. Lowell Barron, chairman of the committee that decides which bills come to the Senate floor for debate, said "the gaming bill probably will come up on Tuesday." "That will tie us up for a time," said Barron, D-Fyffe. Barron said he was offering a list of bills to debate on Thursday that he said were not controversial before the gaming bill comes up next week. Republican Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, offered his own bill to debate on Thursday and that was the bill that would, if approved by the Legislature and voters, create a gaming commission to oversee casino operations at 10 points of destination in the state and tax the revenue. Marsh, who opposes the legislation, said he wanted people to know Republicans are not holding up the bill. He said they want to move on to bills that Republicans believe will create jobs. His effort to bring up the gambling bill on Thursday failed. Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said people were still in discussions and needed time to look at the bill. She said she did not know where she stood on the legislation. Most Republicans believe the bill would create a monopoly for existing casino operators in the state and would expand gambling. Democrats who support the bill said it would allow the people to vote, would tax gaming in the state and use the revenue for Medicaid and education, and would stop small illegal operations from popping up throughout the state. Democrats and casino operators have intensified their push to pass the bill since Gov. Bob Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling began attempting raids on large facilities in the state, which have shut down following those attempts and rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of Texas, who was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the popular movie about his assistance to Afghanistan in its war against the Soviet Union, has died, according to several media outlets. He was 76. He died Wednesday in a Texas hospital. His assistance to Afghanistan was captured in "Charlie Wilson's War," as was his reputation for having a good time. Wilson served in the U.S. House from 1973 to 1996.
Republican state Sens. Jimmy Holley and Harri Anne Smith have said they support a bill that would allow a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment that would legalize and tax electronic bingo at destination points in the state, according to a report in the Dothan Eagle.
Holley and Smith could be very key votes in the fight over electronic bingo, which Gov. Bob Riley and many Republicans believe are slot machines that are illegal in Alabama. The Democrats would need 21 votes to stop a filibuster on the bill, which is expected, and to pass the legislation.
There are 21 Democrats in the Senate and 14 Republicans, but one of those Democrats typically votes with Republicans.
"The events of the past few weeks dictate and clearly point to the fact that a final resolution to electronic bingo's legality will require the people of Alabama to exercise their right to vote on the issue," Holley, R-Elba, said in a Wednesday release. "I will support a vote on a constitutional amendment on the bingo issue if the amendment provides for a strong oversight commission, taxes the machines in an amount that is fair to the people of Alabama, and brings closure to this sad chapter in Alabama's history."
Holley and Smith, R-Slocomb, represent areas where feelings are strong about the Country Crossing development, which recently shut down due to threats of a raid from Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling. Hundreds of people lost their jobs when the complex, which includes a bingo pavilion and restaurants, shut down.
The Senate Tourism and Marketing Committee approved the bill on Tuesday and a top senator has said the bill would come before the full body on Thursday or early next week.
Holley opposed a similar measure a year ago, according to the Dothan Eagle, because it created a monopoly for a few operators, and would take money from local charities.
The senator said the ongoing fight between Riley and Attorney General Troy King over the issue and the attempted raids at Country Crossing near Dothan and VictoryLand in Shorter contributed to his belief that a statewide vote is the best way to solve the conflict.
"I am still reviewing the legislation and will monitor any changes to the proposal. However, ultimately only a vote by Alabama's citizens will bring the issue to a conclusion," Holley said in the statement. "This is a great state whose citizens believe in democracy. If this legislation is placed on the ballot for a vote, then the final resolution would be in the hands of those who exercise their constitutional right to vote."
Republican voters in House District 73 will see a familiar face on their primary ballots when they go to the polls in June.
State Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery, announced Tuesday that he will seek a third term representing the district that stretches from Cloverdale to Sturbridge and south of the bypass.
"I have enjoyed being accessible to my constituents and dealing with the legislation that deals with our lives daily," he said. "Many issues come before the Alabama Legislature that deal with everyday life. I have the life experiences that make me the best candidate for this office."
Grimes said he continues to be an advocate for fewer taxes, less government, better education, ethics reform and job creation.
"During the last seven years, Alabama has enjoyed more economic progress than in its history, more money in education than ever before and the best climate for ethics reform than in any other time in history," he said. "We need to continue the conservative movement that seems to be underfoot in our nation and in our state."
Grimes, who has lived in Montgomery since 1977, serves on the House Banking and Insurance, Commerce and Internal Affairs committees. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2002.
Grimes said he has fought to pass several key pieces of legislation during his tenure including bills that would protect children, provide better retirement benefits for Montgomery employees and establish tougher penalties for domestic violence.
"It has been an honor to serve the residents of District 73 these last seven years," he said. "But there is a lot of work still to be done.
"I believe that my record of fighting against higher taxes, fighting for less government interference in our lives and protecting our conservative Christian beliefs are in tune with what is needed in our elected officials."
In the June Republican primary, Grimes will face political newcomer Jeremy Walker, who recently picked up the endorsement of the Alabama Association of Realtors political action committee. The winner of that contest will face Democratic candidate Joe Hubbard in November.
GOP races for governor, AG wide open, according to poll
The Republican primaries for governor and attorney general are wide open, according to an independent poll released on Monday. Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore are close in a race in the Republican primary for governor while Troy King and Luther Strange are virtually deadlocked in the race to be the state's chief law enforcement officer, according to the poll conducted by Baselice and Associates of Austin on Feb. 3 and Feb. 4. In both races, almost half of those polled were undecided. Brett Hall, a spokesman for gubernatorial candidate and Greenville businessman Tim James, said the campaign conducted a poll at the same time and disputes the numbers released on Monday. Hall agreed that the undecided voters make up more than those selecting any one candidate. He said 31 percent were undecided in their poll. The poll conducted for the James campaign has Moore with 26 percent while Byrne and James are in a "dead heat" for second. Moore is the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. In the James poll, James finished with 18 percent and Byrne with 17 percent. Byrne is a former state senator and former chancellor of the two-year college system. "What we see is a wide open race," Hall said. He said both sides have the objective of converting the undecided voters. "From other sources I am getting, this poll is way off," Hall said. For its poll, Baselice polled 1,007 likely Republican voters with a margin of error of 3.1 percent. Mike Baselice is the pollster for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and has polled for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Montgomery firm of Public Strategy Associates, a Republican consulting and marketing firm, paid for the poll. Brent Buchanan, senior partner at Public Strategy, said they decided to conduct the poll because other groups had conducted polls and not released them. He said the firm has a relationship with Baselice and decided to conduct the poll to show where the candidates stand because they did not have a candidate in the race. "We've got four months and a lot of money to be spent," Buchanan said of the GOP primaries. Public Strategy did represent state Rep. Robert Bentley, a Republican running for governor, from March through October, but no longer works with the candidate. Byrne had 20 percent of the support from those polled while Moore was at 17 percent. James had 8 percent, Bentley had 4 percent, state Treasurer Kay Ivey had 3 percent, and Bill Johnson, former director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, had 2 percent. Forty-six percent of people were undecided. When people were asked about ideology, 55 percent of those polled said they were "very conservative" with 29 percent as "somewhat conservative" and 14 percent as moderate or liberal. "It may not be this conservative if we were talking about a general election survey," Baselice said. Ninety percent of those surveyed also said they would definitely vote in the June primary. Moore had stronger support from the "very conservative" Republicans voters while Byrne was better among the "somewhat conservative" and more moderate voters. When looking at media markets across the state, Byrne finished well ahead of the pack in Mobile while Moore's numbers were consistent in each of the markets. Baselice said if a candidate for governor is persuasive "he could move into the top tier very quickly" because no one has distanced themselves from the competition. Hall said he knows the James campaign is in better shape than the numbers in the Baselice poll. "We're happy with where we are," he said. "We're where we need to be according to the poll. We have a clear strategy to win this race." In the Baselice poll, King garnered 27 percent of the vote in the Republican primary for attorney general while Strange had 24 percent. Strange is a Birmingham lawyer and lobbyist. King is the sitting attorney general. Almost half of people were undecided. "It is still wide open," Baselice said. The participants were also asked about their Republican choices for president in 2012. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee finished ahead of the pack in the state with 33 percent of the vote with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin finishing with 23 percent. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney finished with support from 12 percent of those polled while U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 5 percent. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 3 percent. Twenty-four percent of the Republicans polled said they were undecided on their pick for president in 2012.
Dothan businessman George Flowers plans to run against fellow Republican Harri Anne Smith for her state Senate seat. Beginning in December, he raised more than $100,000 to run for the southeast Alabama Senate seat. "Our success in fundraising convinced me we would have the resources needed to run a competitive and ultimately successful race," Flowers said. "It is obvious there is a hunger throughout the district for new leadership in Montgomery, and the money we raised in just one month is evidence of that fact." Smith angered some in her party when she endorsed the Democratic candidate, Bobby Bright, in the race for congressional District 2. She lost in a runoff in the Republican primary to state Rep. Jay Love. Flowers said he recognizes the importance of Country Crossing to the Wiregrass and said he would support a statewide referendum if the legislation is acceptable and the revenues are taxed at a national standard. He criticized the incumbent for several of her votes including one on a teacher code of ethics. Former U.S. Rep. Terry Everett was among the first to contribute to Flowers' campaign.
A joint resolution passed by the state Legislature to restore Joe L. Reed's name to the Alabama State Acadome will stand.
The resolution went to the governor's desk last month, and Reed said that unlike last year, the governor did not veto the resolution.
Though a resolution is non-binding, Reed has sent a letter via his lawyer to the chairman of the Alabama State University Board of Trustees advising the board to put Reed's name back on the Acadome.
The ASU board recently voted to change rename the Acadome after coaches Charles Johnson "C.J." Dunn and James V. Oliver with the best winning records.
The board voted to remove Reed's name from the building in May 2008, but Reed said a resolution of the state Legislature supersedes what was passed by the board. In addition, he says the state Legislature's resolution passed before the board decided to rename the Acadome.
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.