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
Monday, April 26, 2010
Bryan Taylor announces Senate run
Bob Riley will not be governor this time next year, but his former policy director hopes to be pushing his agenda in the state Senate. Bryan Taylor resigned his position as policy director and legal counsel for Riley on Thursday. On Monday, Taylor announced he was running to represent Senate District 30, which includes all or part of Autauga, Elmore, Lowndes, Crenshaw, Butler and Pike counties. He wants the seat held by longtime Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, who is running for an eighth term. But, first, he has to defeat two Republican opponents including Ken Barnett of Prattville and Prattville City Councilman Ray Boles in the primary. In front of about two dozen supporters that included several members of the Riley administration, Taylor said leaving the administration he has served in for four years was difficult, but he decided to run after seeing the continued antics of the Democratic majority in the Senate. "Unfortunately, our cause to break up the corrupt, good-ol'-boy system in Montgomery has been met year after year with stiff resistance, particularly by the Democrat majority in control of the state Senate," Taylor said. He accused the majority of killing education reform, mocking accountability and anti-corruption measures they campaigned on, and pushing to legalize casino gambling. The 34-year-old attorney helped shape the administration's stance on electronic bingo. Taylor, who lives with his wife in Prattville, said the situation "reached the boiling point" several weeks ago. "Like many of you, I was absolutely repulsed by the unabashed corruption on display in the state Senate," he said. "Some defenders of the system tried to dismiss it as politics. No, it wasn't just politics; it was pure, unadulterated corruption." Taylor said the last legislative session, which ended Thursday, convinced him "this state desperately needs a new class of elected leaders who want to serve for the right reasons." Senate Democrats said last week that the legislative session was the most successful in years. They said they balanced the budgets with decreased revenue coming into the state while protecting senior citizens, children and teachers. The senators applauded the passage of bills that will let voters decide if they want to use $1 billion for road and bridge work, offer tax credits to businesses that hire unemployed workers, and help save the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program. Democratic leaders have said bingo is not taxed or regulated now and that the legislation would have ended the raids by Riley's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, and the legal fight between Riley and Attorney General Troy King over the gambling-related litigation. Taylor said he is tired of the federal investigations, indictments, and convictions. "I'm tired of being embarrassed by our elected officials," he said. "We deserve better." Taylor knows the Riley talking points, carrying the governor's message of job creation and battling corruption. He talked about the accomplishments in education and economic development during the Riley administration. "It happened in no small part because Governor Riley challenged the good-ol'-boy politics of the past and has operated the most open, honest, accountable administration in Alabama history," he said. Taylor supports charter schools, disclosure of lobbyist spending on public officials, rewriting "Alabama's ridiculously weak ethics code," tax relief for small businesses, and targeted tax credits for businesses that will get people back to work. He also wants the state to continue its support of the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math, Science & Technology Initiative, ACCESS Distance Learning and First Class Pre-K. Taylor, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service in Iraq, joined the U.S. Army after Sept. 11, 2001, and was a captain and a JAG prosecutor prior to joining the administration. He is a member of the Alabama National Guard. Riley will join Taylor for a meet and greet in Prattville om Tuesday. Taylor traveled to Troy on Monday. He will visit Luverne and Greenville later this week.
Gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks announced Friday that he accepted the resignation of Sharon Wheeler as his campaign manager and said Rick Dent, who had advised the campaign since January, would assume the position. Authorities arrested Wheeler early Thursday for allegedly having a blood alcohol level above the legal level of .08 percent. She was pulled over for illegal lane usage. "She wishes to focus on her situation and does not want to become a distraction from our effort," Sparks said in a statement. "I agree that this decision is what's best for both Sharon and the campaign for which she has worked so hard. She is an extremely talented individual, who has done a tremendous job on my behalf and I hate to lose her. "I don't drink. Drinking and driving is a serious offense and can never be tolerated. Everyone makes mistakes. Sharon is entitled to a presumption of innocence and I will support her in any way that I can. I wish her only the best." Wheeler joined Sparks' campaign after resigning as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville after he switched parties to become a Republican. She also previously served as the chief of staff for then-Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe. Recently, Dent has been a consultant for the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Riley's policy director steps down to run for Senate
Gov. Bob Riley's policy director, Bryan Taylor, resigned on Thursday and will formally announce on Monday that he is running for the state Senate. He will face fellow Republicans Ray Boles and Ken Barnett in the Republican primary. The winner will meet longtime state Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, in the November general election. Taylor helped shape the administration's stance on electronic bingo. He decided to run "after seeing yet another session of backroom deals and broken promises from Senate Democrats." "It is a difficult decision to leave Governor Riley's administration," Taylor said. "But I felt absolutely compelled to run so that District 30, my district, would have a conservative vote in the Senate for the first time."
Tim James, Republican candidate for governor wants to challenge fellow Republican candidate for governor, Bradley Byrne, to a series of public debates "to bring all of the attacks and allegations out in the open."
"Let’s take this beyond dueling press releases and talk show chatter," James said in a press release Thursday. "I call upon Bradley Byrne to debate me, face-to-face, in a public forum."
James said that there are key differences between him and Byrne that voters need to see. With 40 days left in the primary campaign, James said that it’s time for the people of Alabama to learn the real records of the candidates for Governor.
Republican Ray Boles received the endorsement of the Home Builders Association of Alabama (HBAA) in his bid for state Senate District 30. HBAA represents local businesses in the housing and construction industry across Senate District 30 and has 12,000 members statewide.
“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of such a highly-respected organization whose members are so vital to economic growth in Senate District 30,” said Boles in a statement Thursday. “I’m grateful for the confidence that the Home Builders Association has shown in my campaign and my vision for job creation and economic development."
Senate District 30 includes all of Butler, Pike and Crenshaw counties and parts of Autauga, Elmore and Lowndes Counties and is currently represented by Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne.
Ken Barnett and Bryan Taylor, both Prattville Republicans, are also running for the seat.
"I look forward to working with home builders across our district toward our common goal of creating jobs, growth and progress," Boles said.
29th Legislative Day Rundown/Looking Ahead to Sine Die
On the next to last legislative day of the 2010 session lawmakers were fairly productive. And in a reversal of roles, the House spent much of the day mired in controversial bills while the Senate moved bills fairly quickly and closed up shop early.
In case you missed it:
Bingo bill is essentially dead for the session -- at least that's what the House sponsor, state Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said Thursday. Black said the bill was short the 63 it needed to pass, so he decided to have it carried over about 30 minutes before the House went into session Thursday. See Markeshia Ricks' story Thursday's Montgomery Advertiser for the whole story.
Billion dollar road bill finally gets the all clear. The bill, if approved by Alabama voters (that would be you reader if you're registered to vote here) would take $100 million out of the Alabama Trust Fund (state oil and gas trust fund) over the next 10 years. See Sebastian Kitchen's story in Thursday's Montgomery Advertiser for more information.
PACT conference committee report finally concurred upon by the House. But many legislators that represent two-year colleges and any other university besides Auburn and the University of Alabama are not amused.
On tap for the 30th and final day: The House a list of 30 Senate bills that it has proposed to take up before it adjourns sine die.
-- Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, SB518, entertainment district bill for class 1, 2 and 3 municipalities
-- Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, SB 211, increase of penalties for driving under the influence with a cancelled, suspended or revoked driver's license.
-- Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn, SB194, establish the Alabama Public Interest Energy Research and Development Grants Program, a commission for the program and a permanent joint legislative committee on energy policy.
Other things to watch on the last day:
-- 2010 Shroud Award recipient for the lawmaker who introduces the deadest bill of the session.
-- Speaker of the House Seth Hammett's last hurrah.
Politics magazine recently published an interesting question and answer with prominent Democratic pollster John Anzalone of Montgomery. Anzalone, a partner at Anzalone Liszt Research, works for U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright and 18 other congressmen. The well-respected firm has also worked for Senate candidates, candidates for governor, the campaign of Barack Obama, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors' Association and a variety of other candidates and organizations. The firm worked for the gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Artur Davis until a recent split. In the "Movers & Shakers" segment, Anzalone answers questions about health care, Eric Massa, and talks about some of his candidates including Bright, a Montgomery Democrat.
"So it's all about being prepared, having a connection with the district and having something to say. And in a lot of cases, it's about not being vulnerable to the attacks. In the case of people like Bobby Bright or Travis Childers, they aren't. It's just tough to make an argument against them just because they're Democrats, and saying they voted for Pelosi just doesn't cut it. Bobby Bright is one of the safest incumbents. Republicans will try to tell you he's one of the most vulnerable, but it's just not that way." -- John Anzalone
Sixteen current and former black Alabama mayors endorsed Artur Davis for governor on Thursday. They cited "his record of standing up for ordinary Alabamians and his vision for creating jobs and improving public schools." "I know Artur Davis, I know his track record of standing up and fighting for communities like mine, and I am proud to support him for governor," said Selma Mayor George Evans. Evans and his colleagues join Mobile Mayor Sam Jones, who previously endorsed Davis, a Montgomery native who represents Birmingham and much of the Black Belt in Congress. He and agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks are the Democratic candidates for governor. "For years, I have said that I do not need nor will I seek the permission of Montgomery's power brokers, regardless of race, to run for office and serve the people of Alabama," Davis said in a statement. "These grassroots endorsements are a signal that the era where one voice can speak for an entire community is over." The congressman said the mayors are the elected officials closest to the people they represent. Other mayors who endorsed Davis include: Kenneth Coachman of Fairfield in Jefferson County; Oscar Crawley of Lanett in Chambers County; Ed Daniels, former mayor of Marion in Perry County; Ron Davis of Prichard in Mobile County; Glenda Dubose of York in Sumter County; Fletcher Fountain, Sr., of Ft. Deposit in Lowndes County; Carrie Fulghum of Gainesville in Sumter County; Mary Fuseyamore of Pickensville in Pickens County; Stanley Hollie of Akron in Hale County; Jamaal Hunter of Uniontown in Perry County; Ronald Jones of North Courtland in Lawrence County; Edward May of Bessemer in Jefferson County; Willie Mae Powell of Shorter in Macon County; Raymond Steele of Eutaw in Greene County; and Roy Willingham of Emelle in Sumter County.
Sanders: Davis's decision could affect dynamic of endorsement
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis said he will not participate in the screening processes of three black political organizations as he seeks the Democratic nomination for governor because he believes black voters do not need permission from those groups and that they do not need a sample ballot to decide who to vote for. Davis, D-Birmingham, was responding to a press conference by leaders in the Alabama New South Coalition. One of those leaders, state Sen. Hank Sanders, said Davis being the lone member of the Congressional Black Caucus to vote against health care complicated the selection process and that he thought the screening process would help. Davis and Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks are the Democratic candidates. Sanders said he expects the vote over which candidate to endorse to be close at the Saturday convention. He said Davis not attending could "change the dynamic." Davis also criticized "coded language about the 'electability' of black candidates." Sanders said, when they formed the coalition, that they created five criteria to endorse candidates. He said electability is one of those criteria. The coalition could agree with a fringe candidate on all of the issues, but the candidate might not have a chance of getting elected, Sanders said. Sanders, who said he will be presiding and will sit his personal thoughts aside on Saturday, said he was not greatly surprised that Davis decided not to participate. He said Davis previously had talked to him about the New South endorsement and helping him try to win it. Davis also said he would not participate in the screening processes of the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Jefferson County Citizen's Coalition. He said he has great respect for the legacies of those organizations. "In fact, the best way to honor the legacy of Senator Sanders, Dr. Reed, and Dr. Arrington is for candidates to give black Alabamians the respect of honoring their independence and their capacity to make informed judgments," he said. Davis has been able to win without strong support from those organizations.
President Barack Obama has nominated Montgomery Police Chief Art Baylor for U.S. Marshal for the Middle District of Alabama. Former Mayor Bobby Bright, who is now a member of Congress, appointed Baylor chief of police. Bright recommended Baylor for the marshal position, according to the congressman's office. Baylor must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Bright congratulated Baylor on his nomination. "Art is a very deserving and qualified candidate and he will serve his state and country extremely well in this new capacity," Bright said in a statement. "As chief of police, Art has been instrumental in keeping Montgomery safe and managing a department of over 700 employees."
A spokesman for Gov. Bob Riley said the Legislature has wasted most of its session "obsessing" over a gambling bill that does not give people an up or down vote, but "now we learn they're going to spend even more time on it." Leadership in the Alabama House of Representatives has indicated the body will not vote today on the bill that would tax and regulate gambling and will put it off until next week. "Delaying this vote until next week does nothing but give casino lobbyists extra time to influence lawmakers," said Jeff Emerson, Riley's communications director. "We've all seen reports of legislators saying they were offered contributions in exchange for their votes on this bill, so giving lobbyists more time to pressure lawmakers should be troubling to every Alabamian, regardless of whether they support gambling or not." A close vote is expected in the House. The Senate passed the bill 21-13. Supporters have said the bill creates a gaming commission, finally taxes and regulates electronic bingo in Alabama, and ends the drama of raids and fights between the governor and attorney general. Opponents believe electronic bingo is illegal in Alabama and that the bill allows a simple majority of the House and Senate to decide the future of gambling in the state. If approved by the Legislature, voters would decide in November if they want the constitutional amendment to tax and regulate electronic bingo.
The congressional campaign of Martha Roby announced that former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Terry Butts will serve as the campaign chairman for Crenshaw County. "Martha has the right experience and temperament for the job," Butts said in a statement. "I am confident she will fight each and every day for our conservative values in Washington. I'm happy to be part of her team." Roby, a member of the Montgomery City Council, is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat now represented by freshman Bobby Bright, D-Montgomery. Roby is a Republican. Her campaign is announcing chairmen for each of the counties in the district as part of the grassroots effort to build support. "I am so glad to have Judge Butts' support and guidance in this campaign," Roby said. "We are building a grassroots team that will be unmatched in this race. Each day we are picking up more support and more momentum." Butts served on the Alabama Supreme Court from 1994 to 1998. He now runs a law practice in Luverne and serves on the Executive Committee of the Alabama Republican Party.
After more than five hours of debate, the Alabama House of Representatives carried over a bill on Tuesday that would let people decide if they want to spend $1 billion from a state savings account over 10 years to build roads and bridges. They decided to sit the bill aside to work on other legislation that originated in the House of Representatives and needs to be passed and moved to the Senate in the waning days of the session. Lawmakers have three work days, including Wednesday, remaining in the session. House members said they will bring up the roads bill again. The Senate has already passed the legislation, which would take $100 million a year from the state's oil and gas trust fund.
Longtime state Sen. Wendell Mitchell is being treated for a rare blood condition, but he will return to his normal duties in four to six weeks, according to a letter from his son. Mitchell, a Democrat who represents all or part of Autauga, Elmore, Butler, Crenshaw, Lowndes, and Pike counties, is "being treated at one of the leading hematology clinics in the United States," according to the letter from Maury Mitchell of Montgomery to his father's friends and colleagues. "His treatments are progressing well, and, hopefully, he can be back to performing his normal duties within four to six weeks," his son wrote. "In the meantime, by doctor's orders, he cannot make or receive phone calls. "He very much misses being able to attend Senate sessions and conduct his normal daily workload with his school and among constituents." Mitchell is the dean emeritus of the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University. Marsha Allison, administrative assistant for Mitchell, said she talked to him Sunday and said he sounded better than he has in a while. He is the deputy president pro tem of the Senate. By virtue of his position, Mitchell is a voting member of almost all standing committees in the Senate. He is chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee. Mitchell was visibly ill when he came to the Senate to vote for the much-debated bingo bill, which would allow people to vote on whether they want to tax and regulate gambling in the state. He has said he is opposed to gambling, but supports letting people vote. At the time, some of his Democratic colleagues applauded his effort to come to the chamber in spite of his illness, which they did not know was as serious at the time. They needed 21 votes to pass the constitutional amendment and the bill passed the Senate 21-13. Some House members have discussed amending the bill, which would require 21 votes for the Senate to concur or take other action. McDowell Lee, secretary of the Senate, said members must be present and answer the roll call to vote. The Senate has three work days remaining including today. Mitchell, 69, is in his seventh term representing District 30. He filed to run for an eighth term. Jim Spearman, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said the chairman of the party talked to friends of Mitchell and said the senator plans to run for another term. "As far as I know he's our candidate and he'll be a good one as he always is," Spearman said. Mitchell will face the winner of the three men in the Republican primary, Ray Boles, Ken Barnett and Bryan Taylor. He has no primary opposition. Allison did not know where Mitchell was being treated. She said Mitchell's son would be by the Senate office this afternoon to pick up an envelope of cards and take those to Mitchell.
Preuitt: "I never engaged with anyone to make deals"
State Sen. Jim Preuitt said Tuesday he has talked to agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Alabama Bureau of Investigation about his votes on electronic bingo bills before the Alabama Senate. Preuitt, who filed Friday to run as a Republican after five terms as a Democrat, changed his vote on the bill, which had been drastically altered by the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Roger Bedford of Russellville. Preuitt said the first bill was terrible. Preuitt, in talking about his vote, said the first bill "forgave wrongdoing," "forgave taxes" and was "very cumbersome" at more than 40 pages. He also mentioned that the first bill set up 10 points of destination where casinos would be located. "The new bill is much more simple," Preuitt said. He said he "never engaged with anyone to make deals" for his vote. Preuitt, who represents all or part of Talladega, Coosa, Elmore and Calhoun counties, said a lobbyist who was approached by state and federal investigators just hours after the vote talked to him in the halls about the bill, but that Jarrod Massey never tried to bribe him. State and federal investigators and prosecutors met with several top lawmakers on Thursday to inform them there was substantial evidence of corruption involved in the vote on Bedford's bill in the Senate. The Senate approved the bill 21-13 on March 30. Bedford's first attempt to bring up the legislation for debate failed, but he drastically altered it from more than 40 pages to down to eight. Agents approached Massey at his home at 8 a.m. the morning after the vote, according to his attorneys. Agents have also talked to Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, who also changed his vote. Denton talked to the media in his hometown on Sunday and said the questions asked about him and possible bribes, and the critical e-mails from people were hurtful and infuriated him. Preuitt said he was approached on Thursday and was first contacted by an ABI agent. "I had no idea what it was about," he said. Massey's political action committees have contributed $2,000 to Preuitt this election cycle. The senator said those were in December and that he does not believe he has received any contributions from gaming interests this year including while the Senate was working on the bingo legislation, before or after he changed his vote. When asked if Massey tried to sway his vote with possible political contributions, Preuitt said "absolutely not." "Jarrod has not put any pressure on me. I vote my convictions," the senator said. Massey's clients include Country Crossing near Dothan, which has a bingo pavilion, and its developer, Ronnie Gilley. Massey's firm, Mantra Governmental, also represents a variety of other entities including corrections officers and those with interests in education. State Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, told several media outlets that he talked to investigators over the weekend and claims Massey approached him while he was a candidate in the special election for his seat and said he had two clients willing to contribute $125,000 each if he supported electronic bingo legislation. Sanford, according to the Associated Press, said Massey told him there was no quid pro quo, but they wanted to know his stand on electronic bingo bills. Sanford, who was elected in a special election last year to fill a vacant seat, voted against the electronic bingo legislation. "Our client denies ever having a conversation with any legislator in which he offered campaign contributions in exchange for a vote on the bingo bill," Massey's attorneys, Brett Bloomston and Joe Basgier of Birmingham, said in a statement. The attorneys and some top Democratic lawmakers, which have written letters to the U.S. Department of Justice, have said the investigation is political and intended to have a cooling effect on the vote in the House of Representatives, which has yet to take up the bill, which would legalize, tax, and regulate electronic bingo in the state. State Rep. Jay Love, a Montgomery Republican who opposes the legislation, said he believes the investigation will have an effect on the House vote. He does not believe the legislation will pass. "There were a lot of people on the fence who will be voting 'no' now," Love said.
Attorneys file complaint, claim FBI bingo investigation is political
Attorneys for a political consultant and lobbyist who represents Country Crossing will talk to the media today about a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice over a federal investigation into the bingo debate in Alabama. Several lawmakers confirmed Thursday that they met with officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. attorneys office on Thursday. They said they were told there was substantial evidence that there was public corruption tied to the debate over electronic bingo. Attorneys Brett Bloomston and Joseph Basgier III represent consultant Jarrod Massey, who represents Country Crossing and its owner at the State House. Bloomston and Basgier, according to a release, are "asking that the Justice Department in Washington D.C. take control of an investigation into this week's passage of Senate Bill 380 (a bingo bill) by the Alabama Senate." According to the release from Massey's attorneys, they believe there is political motivation behind the investigation and ask "the Justice Department to remove control of any investigations from the office of U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama Leura Canary in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety ahead of a vote on the bill in the Alabama House of Representatives." Democratic lawmakers also expressed concern Thursday that the investigation was political, with them being brought in and told about the inquiry just two days after the vote and before the House of Representatives has voted. They accused Gov. Bob Riley of being involved. A Riley spokesman said Thursday that Riley had nothing to do with the investigation, and found out information from those who attended the meeting. Canary, the U.S. attorney for the middle district of Alabama, is the wife of Bill Canary, a close ally of Riley. Riley opposes the bill passed by the Senate and wants to stop electronic bingo in the state, which he believes is played on slot machines that are illegal in Alabama. The Senate passed the bingo bill 21-13 on Tuesday, just two days before federal investigators met with the leadership for both parties in the House and Senate including Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., House Speaker Seth Hammett, Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, House Majority Leader Ken Guin, and House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard. Several of those legislators confirmed attending the meeting and said the investigators were vague about the investigation. Little and Hubbard said they were not aware of any corruption. Massey is president and founder of Mantra Governmental, which represents County Crossing and owner Ronnie Gilley at the State House, but also works for a number of other entities.
Key legislators talk about federal investigation into bingo
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney's office and other top law enforcement agencies are looking into public corruption that is alleged to be involved with the bingo debate in the Alabama Legislature. "They said there was substantial evidence that there was some public corruption in the bingo issue," said Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Birmingham. Waggoner and other top lawmakers confirmed that the FBI, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the public corruption section of the U.S. Department of Justice met with them Thursday to inform them about the investigation, ask for their help and ask some questions. Waggoner, Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little and House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard confirmed they were summoned to the office of Col. Chris Murphy, director of the Alabama Department of Public Safety, along with Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., House Speaker Seth Hammett, and House Majority Leader Ken Guin. They were joined by three FBI officials, two from Washington and one local, and two assistant U.S. attorneys, Waggoner said. Murphy moderated the meeting, according to the lawmakers. The lawmakers were all asked if they knew of any corruption occurring in the Legislature concerning the bill, according to Little and other Democratic legislators. Each legislator responded that they did not, they said. "We're not aware of any wrongdoing on the part of any senator," said Chip Hill, director of external affairs for Folsom. "We hope there was no wrongdoing. We are very concerned about the timing of this investigation. We hope it was not designed to infringe on the people’s right to vote on this issue." The Senate voted 21-13 two days earlier to approve a bill that, if approved by the House of Representatives, would let voters decide if they want to tax and regulate gambling in the state. The bill was approved largely along party lines with most Democrats voting for it and most Republicans voting against it. Democrats failed to get enough votes earlier in the session to push through a more comprehensive bill that would have determined the 10 places where casinos would be located in the state. Gov. Bob Riley and other Republicans have said both pieces of legislation are corrupt. They said the first piece gave monopolies to existing casinos in Macon, Houston, Lowndes and Greene counties. They said the current legislation, which if approved would bring legislators into special session early next year to decide more details, would allow a simple majority in the House and Senate to determine the future of gambling in the state. Little, Senate President Pro Tem Rodger Smitherman, Sen. Lowell Barron, Sen. Roger Bedford and Sen. Hank Sanders, the top Senate Democrats, released a statement saying that they believe Riley, who has been waging a campaign against electronic bingo, is behind the investigation. "The timing of this smells to high heaven," the statement said. "Gaming has been a contentious issue for the last four years in the Alabama Legislature. But within 48 hours of a successful vote on electronic bingo in the Senate, in swoop investigators. "We believe Gov. Bob Riley is behind this effort. We believe this is a latent attempt to undercut the people’s right to vote on the bingo issue, something that a large majority of citizens support, and to ensure the death of this legislation. This is about intimidation and killing bingo. The timing proves it." Jeff Emerson, communications director for Riley, responded in a statement that the governor had nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation. "Gov. Riley was not even aware this meeting was taking place," Emerson said. "He's had nothing to do with the investigation. From what our office was told by people in the meeting, the investigation is being run by the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C." Waggoner said they were told that this is an ongoing investigation and not a fishing expedition. He said the investigators were vague and did not give details concerning who they were looking into. Hubbard, who is also chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said he was talking to Riley on the House floor following a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday when Hammett asked him to come by his office, where he informed him he had learned about the FBI investigation and told him about the meeting. Hubbard asked about the time and said Hammett called him back later to tell him that the meeting was at 1:30 p.m. "The FBI agents and U.S. attorneys walked in. None of them were smiling. They never smiled," Hubbard said. "An FBI guy did the talking." He said they were told there was an ongoing criminal investigation and that the officials were there to inform them as a courtesy. They were told "we have substantial evidence to believe that crimes have taken place," Hubbard said. He said the agents told them they believed it was time for them to know about the investigation, although Hubbard said he did not know why that was. When asked if they were talking about the bingo issue, Little said "yes" and added "everybody knew what they were talking about." Little, D-Cullman, said people should be investigated and prosecuted if there is evidence of corruption, but said it is also a crime to lie to a federal agent. If the accusations are not true, he said he told them the accuser should be prosecuted. "Gov. Riley has used every tool in the book to deny the people of this state the right to vote," Little told the Montgomery Advertiser. Little commended the law enforcement and said they are bound to look into accusations. "These folks are doing their job," he said. Little, an attorney, and some other officials also questioned how the meeting happened, two days after the vote and pulling all of the lawmakers together to tell them about the investigation. "If you're trying to catch the bad guys, you don't tell them you're coming," he said. Hubbard said Little immediately said the investigation looked political and that they appeared to be trying to kill the bingo legislation. Hubbard said they told Little they did not care whether the bill passed and were only worried about the crime. He said they told them the only people involved in the investigation were in that room. "We asked a few questions and they gave vague answers," Hubbard said. He said they were asked, if they were aware of any criminal activity, to cooperate and pass along the information. Little said the investigators asked for help. Hubbard and Little both told the Montgomery Advertiser they were not aware of any criminal activity. Hubbard said there have been rumors "all over the place." "If there has been criminal activity, they need to be prosecuted and justice served," Hubbard said. "I don't know that it has taken place. They just said there was substantial evidence." When contacted by the Advertiser, Guin, D-Carbon Hill, said "I'm not going to talk about that issue." Hubbard said he called the House Republican Caucus together after the meeting, told them what occurred, and told them, as he said he has done repeatedly before, not to do anything that could be construed as quid pro quo. "My main concern was to let our caucus know to be very careful," he said.
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.