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
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Senate leadership brings up bingo, health care
Republicans have tried to bring up legislation they believe would let people opt out of the national health care plan, but Senate Democrats want them to vote on bingo first. Sen. Lowell Barron, chairman of the committee that decides which bills come to the floor for debate, introduced a list of two bills for the Senate to consider. The first bill would allow people to vote on whether they want to tax and regulate electronic bingo in the state. If the bill passed, lawmakers would come into special session next year and decide more details. The second bill, which Republicans have tried to bring up repeatedly, would keep people from being compelled to participate in any health care program. Last week, several senators said they believe the legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Obama would supersede state action. Both bills are constitutional amendments that, if approved by lawmakers, would allow people to decide.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has endorsed fellow Republican Bradley Byrne, will appear at a Thursday fundraiser for the candidate's run for governor. The two will appear at The Club in Birmingham beginning at 5:30 p.m. Contribution levels include $500, $1,000 and $1,500. There are more than 100 people on the host committee including former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers; wealthy businessman Raymond Harbert, a trustee at Auburn University; and Bill Cabaniss, former state senator and U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.
King: Federal investigation into AG, office is closed
Alabama Attorney General Troy King said Thursday that his personal lawyers have been informed that a federal grand jury investigation into him and his office has been closed. He said the office of new U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance of the Northern District of Alabama informed his attorneys that the investigation has been concluded and the grand jury has adjourned. King, who stood next to his wife Paige as he read a prepared statement, talked about the difficulties on him and his family during "many months of intense scrutiny" and a protracted investigation. He did not take questions from the media. "While this has been a long and often stressful process, I never wavered in the knowledge that I have conducted myself and the high office I hold in an honorable and ethical fashion, and in accordance with the law," he said in the prepared statement. King said he and the public might never know the motivations of those who registered the complaints against him. "Holding this office requires a person to demonstrate courage, sometimes even standing up to the powerful, sometimes at great cost," he said. "Doing right has always carried a cost though." He said his office cooperated fully with the investigation. Several current and former members of King's staff were called before the grand jury in the last year. The office also hired outside attorneys to help respond to subpoenas for documents. Chief of Staff Chris Bence said he and Chief Deputy Attorney General Daniel Morris decided to hire the Birmingham firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP. The office requested the contract of up to $100,000 last summer. Bence told the Montgomery Advertiser in August that 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 at the time that some of the requests could include cases of attorney-client privilege and documents with other privileged information. Bence told the Montgomery Advertiser in August that he and a handful of other employees had been called before the grand jury. The Associated Press reported in January that Bence was seen leaving the grand jury room with his attorney, Joe Espy, and confirmed he appeared before the panel for a third time. 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 private box of Southern Co., 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 2009. King, a Republican, is running for reelection to a second full term as attorney general. He faces fellow Republican Luther Strange in the primary. The Democrats who have announced they are running include James Anderson, Michel Nicrosi, and Giles Perkins. "Surely the people of Alabama expect a higher standard from their chief law enforcement officer than simply not being indicted by a federal grand jury," Strange said in a statement issued after the announcement. "The public deserves an attorney general who is at work fighting public corruption instead of defending his office for months with over $100,000 of taxpayer money." Strange has mentioned the investigation and the money spent on outside attorneys repeatedly when criticizing King. Strange is a former partner at Bradley Arant. King, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Bob Riley in 2004 and ran successfully for a full term in 2006, did list some of his accomplishments during the Thursday statement. He talked about his work on behalf of victims. With his arm around his wife, he said the "protracted ordeal" had deeply affected Paige and their three children. Unlike the spouses of some public officials, Paige King maintains a low profile and rarely appears at public events. "She, even more than I, has had to explain to (their children) that the news reports and the schoolhouse gossip were not reasons to worry," King said. "She, like I, has explained that, once justice arrives, it is fair, and that they can be proud that their dad has done nothing wrong. Because of my calling into public service, my wife and my children have been painfully touched by this matter." While the grand jury met in Montgomery, the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama conducted the investigation. President Obama appointed Vance to one of the three U.S. attorney positions in Alabama. The investigation began under former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who was appointed to the position by President George W. Bush. "Holding the office of the attorney general or U.S. attorney is a position of sacred trust. A prosecutor is vested with one of the highest callings in preserving our freedom and upholding our sense of justice, but that authority and responsibility can also be misused and abused if it goes unchecked," King said Thursday. "If the person holding such an office sets out to settle political scores, the very powers that protect and defend can also destroy reputations and hurt innocent people."
Troy King to talk about investigation into him, his office
Attorney General Troy King will make a statement to the media at 5 p.m. today about "the long-running federal grand jury investigation of his actions and the actions of his office." His office announced the statement in a release sent out Thursday morning. Several media outlets, including the Montgomery Advertiser, have reported on requests for documents from King's office and about several key staffers testifying before the grand jury.
The Alabama Senate passed a bill that, if approved by the House of Representatives and voters, would take $1 billion over the next decade to help improve roads and bridges in the state. The Senate passed the bill 25-10 on Thursday. Democratic lawmakers previously failed on multiple occasions to pass the measure. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, has said the bill would create jobs while improving safety on Alabama roads and bridges. Republicans had expressed concerns about taking money from the state's oil and gas trust fund. Lawmakers did approve an amendment that would not let the corpus of the fund dip below $2 billion. Republican Sen. Ben Brooks of Mobile tried to increase that floor to $2.5 billion.
Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron said that he expects the Senate to take up debate on a $1 billion road and bridge proposal on Thursday morning. Republicans were able to stop the roads bill earlier in the session, arguing against taking $1 billion over 10 years from the state's oil and gas trust fund. Senators debated the bill for several days. Barron, sponsor of the bill, has said it would create 30,000 jobs over the next decade and improve safety on Alabama road and bridges. If approved by lawmakers, voters would decide in November if they want to use $1 billion from the oil and gas trust fund. Republicans have said they oppose raiding the trust fund. Lawmakers approved an amendment that would not let the corpus of the money dip below $2 billion.
A prominent Democrat declared a movement to pass a bill that would tax and regulate gambling in the state "over." Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and other Democrats did not muster the 21 votes needed to formally bring up the legislation for debate on Wednesday. They were three votes short. "I think this issue is over," he said. Some other supporters of the legislation were more hopeful. Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, said he planned to draft and introduce legislation that would be a straight up or down vote on whether people want electronic bingo. Fellow Republican Scott Beason of Gardendale has already introduced legislation that he said would allow people to vote on whether they want gambling before deciding how to govern it in Alabama. Bedford, the sponsor of the legislation they voted on Wednesday, said people lost their right to vote on Wednesday and thousands of people have lost their jobs in recent weeks as casinos in Alabama have closed. Several Republicans said the legislation before them on Wednesday was corrupt and gave monopolies to casino operators in the state.
Curran to sign copies of Siegelman book in Montgomery
Former Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran will be in Montgomery on Thursday to sell and sign copies of his book, "The Governor of Goat Hill: Don Siegelman, the Reporter who Exposed his Crimes, and the Hoax that Suckered some of the Top Names in Journalism."
The assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted Siegelman, who was governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003, credited Curran's investigative reporting on the administration with sparking their investigation.
Curran will be at the Farmer's Market Cafe, 315 N. McDonough St., from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Quite a few legislators, lobbyists and staffers purchased his book when he was selling and signing copies at the State House in January.
People can find out more about Curran and his book at www.eddiecurran.com.
Alabama state senators to begin debate on bingo on Wednesday
Alabama state senators adjourned today to look over proposed legislation that would tax and regulate gambling in the state. The lawmakers return to the State House on Wednesday morning to begin debate. Today, the Senate narrowly approved the list of bills they would debate, recessed briefly and then adjourned. Republican state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale said he does not believe the Democrats who support the measure have the votes to pass it, which is why he believes they adjourned. But the senator believes the margin is by one or two votes. "I am not confident of anything," Beason said. When the sponsor of the legislation was asked by the Montgomery Advertiser if he has the votes to pass the legislation, Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford said "I hope so." "I have said from the beginning that we will handle the gaming issue right, not fast," Bedford said in a later statement. "Openness and transparency are critical to the success of this legislation. I asked the Senate to adjourn today to give every senator the time to read and analyze this bill. I firmly believe that if we address every concern we will build the kind of voting coalition needed to pass this bill." Gov. Bob Riley, a Republican, said on Tuesday that he did not believe those supporting the measure have the votes. Beason said he supports letting people vote, but he said Bedford's legislation is not a straight up or down vote on whether people want gambling in Alabama. Beason wants an item on the ballot that lets people decide whether they want it before moving forward with how to operate it in Alabama if it is approved. Bedford said his legislation would establish one of the toughest gaming commissions in the nation and would tax the proceeds at 27 percent, three times the rate of Nevada and New Jersey. "If you are going to have gambling, it ought to provide jobs and it ought to provide revenue," he said. Several states assess a tax of more than 45 percent on gross receipts, according to the governor's office. Las Vegas and Atlantic City also have full-blown gambling establishments and have a much broader tax base, according to Riley's office. Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo, called the tax rate "chump change for the privilege to rob this state blind." Jeff Emerson, communications director for Riley, said the changes Bedford is offering to the bill, including the higher tax rate, are not enough to remove the corruption from the bill. "It still legalizes Las Vegas-style slot machine gambling in Alabama for the first time in our state/s history," he said in a statement after Bedford announced a substitute version with the higher tax rate. "It still grants a select few casino bosses no-bid contracts, giving them a government granted monopoly to operate casinos in Alabama." Beason said the bill does give certain operators in the state a monopoly. The legislation allows 10 points of destination in the state where electronic bingo would be allowed, but many of those locations are where establishments are already located including Macon County, Houston County, Lowndes County and Greene County. "There is no favoritism in the bill," Bedford said. "They all pay the same application and license fees." The legislation also includes a moratorium that would prohibit those who serve on the gaming commission, which would be created in the bill, from working in the industry for five years after their service. While some legislators believe allowing casinos in certain areas gives the current operators there are monopoly, other lawmakers plan to fight to try to get a point of destination in their district. "I am not willing to open this state to every small business having 50 machines in there," Bedford said. Barron said Riley, Erwin and others are seeking to deny people the right to vote. If the legislation is approved by lawmakers, then voters would decide its fate in the November election. "This is not a vote for gambling or against gambling," Bedford said. "This is a vote to let the people of Alabama decide this issue." Supporters of the legislation said that the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that would be generated would be used to help education and Medicaid. Several actions have kept the profile of gambling and electronic bingo high including raids and attempted raids by Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court and several of the establishments shutting down. Riley and his supporters believe the machines used to play electronic bingo at places including VictoryLand in Shorter, Country Crossing near Dothan and facilities in White Hall and Greene County are slot machines that are illegal in Alabama. Riley and the commander of his task force, Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., have said no one is above the law and should not be allowed to continue illegal activity. Supporters of taxing and regulating gambling believe the machines are allowed by local constitutional amendments. They also question why Riley is targeting the facilities, some of which have been open for years, late in his second term. Barron and Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, said stopping the operations would not eliminate gambling in the state because there are three casinos operated by Indians, which are under federal jurisdiction, and they do not pay taxes. Means said people in his district want an opportunity to vote.
Montgomery City Councilwoman and candidate for Congress Martha Roby, officially qualified Tuesday to run as a Republican in Alabama’s Second District. Roby submitted her qualifying forms and fee with the Alabama Republican Party at its qualifying location in downtown Montgomery. Tuesday was the first day of the month-long qualifying period, which closes April 2.
“I am very excited to have completed this step in the process,” Roby said, in a statement her campaign released Tuesday. “For the past ten months, we have worked tirelessly to build our campaign and spread our conservative message.
"I’ve heard time and time again from voters who are fed up with Washington’s reckless big-spending, high-taxing behavior. Still, Democrats in Washington continue to shove their bad ideas and bad legislation at us – no matter how many times we tell them otherwise.”
In addition to qualifying, Roby also picked up an endorsement from the Concerned Women Political Action Committee (CWPAC).
Concerned Women PAC is affiliated with Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization with more than 500,000 grassroots members nationwide, according to a press release from CWPAC.
“Martha Roby is a strong social and fiscal conservative, with a record to prove it," said Penny Nance, CEO of CWPAC, in a press release.
“As a private citizen, she dedicates her time and her leadership to pro-life and pro-family causes, serving on the board of Sav-a-Life Montgomery, a local crisis pregnancy center. As a member of the Montgomery City Council, Roby has vigorously fought tax increases and has consistently fought against wasteful spending.
As U.S. Representative, Roby will fight for limited government, strong national security, and pro-family legislation.”
Roby said she wants to make conservative voices heard in Washington and fight for conservative solutions.
“There’s a better way to create jobs, reign in wasteful spending, and reform health care," she said in her statement. "Our campaign continues to grow and gain support across the district, from Dothan to Opp and from Union Springs to Lowndesboro, and I am confident that we will win the Republican nomination in June and will be victorious in November.”
Roby will face small businessman and political newcomer Rick Barber in the Republican primary in June. The winner of that race will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery.
State GOP opens qualifying in Montgomery, Birmingham
The Alabama Republican Party is opening a special location for two days in Montgomery to qualify candidates for this year's election. The Montgomery location will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday on the sixth floor of the RSA Plaza, 770 Washington Ave. Candidates can also qualify at the party headquarters, 3415 Independence Drive in Birmingham from Tuesday until qualifying ends on April 2. "Obviously with the Legislature in session, there are a lot of candidates that are naturally in Montgomery, so we felt that having two locations would make it easier on everyone," said state Rep. Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. "There is so much excitement surrounding this election cycle, having two locations open for the initial surge when qualifying opens also comes out of necessity due to the volume of people who are running his year." Qualifying forms will be available at the locations in Montgomery and Birmingham and are available online at www.Alabama2010.com. People can click on the "Candidates" link for the proper forms and information on fees.
State Rep. Jay Love believes the chances of Republicans taking control of the Alabama House of Representatives for the first time in more than a century is better than 50-50 and he wants to be in the chamber providing leadership if that occurs. Love, a Montgomery businessman who is currently the second ranking Republican in the House, announced Monday that he will run for a third term in the Legislature. "I hope to provide valuable input in determining the course of the state," he said. " ... The national sentiment and the state sentiment will work to elect more Republicans, which will be a good thing for this state." No other candidate has announced he is running for the District 74 House seat, which Love has represented since 2002. Love advocated and sponsored legislation for years that would allow small businesses to deduct what they pay for employee health insurance coverage from their state income taxes. A Democratic sponsor picked up the legislation, which lawmakers passed in a 2008 special session. Love’s legislation was in a position to pass during the regular session, but died on the last night. Love, working with the office of Gov. Bob Riley and Democratic Rep. John Knight, helped craft legislation that increased the threshold at which a two-parent family of four begins paying state income taxes from $4,600 to $12,500. Love's proposal was incorporated into Knight's bill. Those situations, Love said, demonstrate his willingness to work with Democrats to ensure legislation is passed. Moving forward, he said his focus will be on creating jobs. "That is by far the No. 1 issue facing this state," Love said. He supports legislation proposed by Riley that would offer tax credit for hiring unemployed workers. The legislator is also a successful businessman, buying his first Subway sandwich shop in 1992 and eventually building his business into 16 restaurants in the Montgomery area. He sold the shops in 2006 and now runs a real estate investment company that specializes in commercial real estate. Love ran for the District 2 congressional seat in 2008. He beat out five other Republicans, including two other state legislators, to win the primary, and lost the general election by less than 1,800 votes in a down year for Republicans. Love said that after he lost the District 2 race, he received encouragement from his constituents "to continue in my service in the Legislature." When campaigning for District 2, he said he finished very well among voters in his district in the 2008 primary, runoff and the general election.
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.