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, January 31, 2011
Ten local Democratic officials switch to GOP
The exodus out of the Democratic Party is continuing. Alabama Republicans are boasting about local officials leaving the Democratic Party in Covington and Tuscaloosa counties after sweeping GOP wins in November. While Republicans had gained increasing influence in the state in recent years, Democrats had held onto the Legislature and onto county elected positions. In November, Republicans took control of the Legislature and now some of those local officials are switching. In Tuscaloosa County, Sheriff Ted Sexton switched parties. A host of Democrats switched parties in Covington County including District Judge Trippy McGuire, Circuit Judge Lex Short, Sheriff Dennis Meeks, Commissioner Bragg Carter, Coroner Norman Hobson, school board Chairman John Clark, and school board members Jeff Bailey, Jimmy Rodgers, and Linda Powell. Alabama Republican Party Chairman Mike Hubbard, who is now speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, is continuing to work to build the party after its wins in November and in his final weeks as chairman, according to a statement from the state party. He welcomed the party switchers. "Each are highly respected in their counties and we are honored they have chosen to join us," Hubbard said. "2010 was an historic election cycle for Alabama Republicans and I'm proud to see our success spilling over into 2011. The future of our party has never been brighter." Republicans won every statewide office on the November ballot and took control of the Legislature for the first time in more than 130 years. Soon after the November election, four legislators announced they were switching parties, giving the Republicans a supermajority in the House and Senate.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the culture of corruption isn’t the only thing that’s changing in the Alabama Legislature.
A culture of chaos in the Alabama State House is also about to change starting with the new legislative session.
In a joint press conference Monday, Hubbard and Marsh said that they are working on ways to streamline access on the fifth and seventh floors were lawmakers meet to relieve hallway congestion for safety.
Hubbard said during the December special session a new House member was harassed and barricaded in an office by opponents of a bill that was being considered.
“We want to know who is back there, especially after Tuscon,” Hubbard said.
Marsh said there have been times when he’s gone back to his office and found six lobbyists waiting on him.
“Anyone who goes down the halls (knows) it’s chaotic,” he said.
Marsh said he and Hubbard are looking at ways to restrict access to the fifth and seventh floors on Tuesday and Thursday starting this session. Next year, after some reconfiguring of the third and fourth floors to create more meeting space, restrictions could come for Wednesdays too.
Marsh said the public and lobbyists would still be able to get to legislators, but it would be done in a more organized way such as setting up appointments. He said the public won’t have to make an appointment a month in advance.
Shelby to speak to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce
U. S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Tuscalosoa, will stop by Montgomery Monday to speak to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce as part of his annual visit to every county in Alabama.
Shelby will appear at the RSA Activity Center at 7:30 a.m. Monday to talk about the legislative agenda for the first session of the 112th Congress and other important issues facing the state and nation. Shelby also will hold a question and answer period for those in attendance.
“Over the years, these meetings have provided an excellent opportunity for area residents to listen and voice their opinions on the activities of our government,” Shelby said in a press release. “This will be a great chance to discuss the important issues facing our state and our nation.”
This meeting is open to the public. If you're planning to attend you must register for the event beforehand with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce at http://www.montgomerychamber.com/ or by calling (334) 230-8361.
Attorney General Luther Strange said Wednesday that his office has dismissed private attorneys brought in by his predecessor to handle a lawsuit related to the oil spill in the gulf of Mexico and that he will personally head up litigation related to the environmental and economic disaster. Strange, in his second week in office, said he will be in New Orleans on Friday for a status hearing on the case before federal Judge Carl Barbier. He said the judge has the case on a fast track. "We don't want to delay and we don't think BP wants to delay," Strange said. The attorney general contends Alabama suffered more economic damage than other states due to the loss of tourism and related business on the coast and said the oil spill is his top personal priority. "I think we've suffered significant damage," he said. Strange said the case is being brought "in house" and that there are extremely well-qualified attorneys to handle it. The plaintiffs in the case include the federal government, the state of Alabama, businesses and others who have filed suit for damages to them. Alabama is the only state that has filed a lawsuit against BP and other companies that are considered responsible for the oil spill. While Strange, along with former Gov. Bob Riley, were early critics of the lawsuit filed by former Attorney General Troy King, Strange said Wednesday that it places Alabama "in a leadership role already." "That was then. Now, I'm glad we're in court," Strange said. Strange said BP has said they want to make the situation right. "We're gonna hold them to that," he said. Strange said they have not established how much Alabama lost due to the spill. He said they are working on those numbers. "I think they're significant," Strange said. Corey Maze, the special attorney general assigned to the oil spill, said there was an attorney in New Orleans on Wednesday taking depositions. In Alabama, they are working on the damages here, he said. "Our job is to have our numbers ready," Maze said. He said those numbers need to be ready in case BP wants to negotiate or in the event the case goes to trial. "We will be prepared for a trial," Maze said. When asked about a settlement, Maze questioned whether the defendants would want "to face an Alabama jury after what they did to Alabama." Strange said he met with Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the claims process, last week. He said he told Feinberg he was not happy with the situation and thought the claims process lacked transparency. "I'm still very concerned about how he's handling himself," Strange said. Strange said he hopes that it sends an important signal to the judge that this is a top priority for the state and its attorney general.
Early morning casino raids appear to be a thing of the past.
In one of his first acts as governor, Robert Bentley, abolished former Gov. Bob Riley’s task force on illegal gambling and reassigned gaming cases to the attorney general’s office.
Riley was able to use the task force and the threat of raids to shutdown and keep closed non-Indian electronic bingo operators in the state. He established the task force during the last year of his second term after he disagreed with former Attorney General Troy King about the legality of so-called bingo machines.
But new Attorney General Luther Strange said that he has no plans to raid electronic bingo facilities, even though he has the resources to do so if they begin re-opening their doors.
Strange said his office will take a different approach to the gaming issue and work with local law enforcement agents to make sure that everyone is following the law when it comes to gaming. A familiar face, however, is handling the gaming cases. Sonny Reagan, former legal advisor to Riley, has returned to the attorney general’s office under Strange and is working on the gaming issue.
Strange said he has been in contact with representatives from Greenetrack, Country Crossing and VictoryLand about getting cases before judges so the issue can be resolved once and for all. There is a hearing in the Greenetrack case today.
“We’re offering them an opportunity to make their case in court,” Strange said in a special meeting with the press Wednesday. “Our position is that these machines are illegal and they don’t fit the definition of bingo.”
Strange said he wants the operators of the machines to allow them to be seized so that forfeiture hearings could take place. He said the machines could be seized “in place” so that they don’t have to be removed from the facilities. Strange said that if the state wins in court, and he believes it would, the machines would be destroyed.
Strange said he doesn’t expect any currently closed bingo operations to re-open, but if they did, his office would follow standard law enforcement procedures to shut them back down.
But one thing Strange said he is not willing to do is allow the issue of determining whether so-called electronic bingo machines are actually illegal slot machines consume his office.
“I’m trying to put bingo in a box like any other legal issue,” he said. “There has been too much focus on it.”
Bentley appoints Sparks to head rural development office
Gov. Robert Bentley appointed his former opponent and former agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks to head the newly created Alabama Rural Development Office. Bentley announced the appointment on Wednesday, when he also signed an executive order creating the office. Bentley's order also rescinds previous executive orders that created the Black Belt Action Commission and the Alabama Rural Action Commission with the missions and responsibilities of those now falling under Sparks and his office. Sparks will be paid $80,000 in his new role, according to Bentley communications director Rebekah Mason. She said he begins work immediately. The purpose of the new office, according to the governor's office, is "to improve and advance education, healthcare, and economic development in the rural areas of Alabama." Bentley and Sparks "share a common desire to create a better quality of life for Alabama’s rural areas," according to a release from Bentley's office. "During the campaign, I got to know Commissioner Sparks well and the one issue we could always agree upon is the need to improve the lives of those who live in our rural communities," Bentley said. "This is an example of how we can put politics aside and work together for the common good of all Alabamians. I appreciate his willingness to serve." Sparks said he looks forward to working with Bentley on issues affecting rural Alabama. "I look forward to implementing the governor's policies improving the quality of life in some of our state’s poorest regions," Sparks said. Bentley will appoint members to the Alabama Rural Development Office. Bentley, the Republican nominee and a former state legislator from Tuscaloosa, soundly defeated Sparks, the popular two-term agriculture commissioner, in the November election.
Rogers to serve on Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee
Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Saks, was selected to serve as a member of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee in addition to chairing the Transportation Security Subcommittee.
Rogers, who has represented Congressional District 3 since 2003, has served in a leadership position with the Homeland Security Committee since 2005. He is also a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Securing our borders, stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into our nation and protecting our vital ports like the ports of Mobile, Alabama, are critical to our nation’s security," Rogers said in a press release. "This subcommittee’s jurisdiction goes hand in hand with the issues I face as Chairman of Transportation Security Subcommittee. I am honored to serve on this subcommittee and look forward to working with the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Candice Miller (R-MI) and full Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY) on these vital issues."
The Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee exercises oversight over the missions of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the maritime security missions of the U.S. Coast Guard; Operational Control of the Border; Counter-Narcotics; Security Screening and Facilitation of International Travelers and Commerce; Supply Chain Security.
The White House released the following excerpts ahead of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address tonight:
"With their votes, the American people determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all -- for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics. "At stake right now is not who wins the next election - after all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It's whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It's whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world. We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again. "But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer. By the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise. By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children. That's the project the American people want us to work on. Together."
"Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik¸ we had no idea how we'd beat them to the moon. The science wasn't there yet. NASA didn't even exist. "But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. "This is our generation's Sputnik moment."
Freshman U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, talks about why she voted to repeal the health care law passed by Democrats during the last Congress. While the Republicans in the U.S. House voted to repeal the health care act, there is not enough support in the Senate, where Democrats remain in the majority, and President Obama would veto that repeal even if it made it there.
Bentley signs order creating commission intended to improve government
Gov. Robert Bentley, in his second week in office, signed an executive order creating the Alabama Commission on Improving State Government, which is tasked with analyzing and exploring new ways to reduce government spending with little or no effect on services. In the order, agencies, departments and commissions are expected to evaluate the effectiveness and need for their current spending levels. Bentley wants to find duplicated, outdated, unnecessary and ineffective services and wants to redirect any savings to more essential state government functions. The commission will also examine the work of similar commissions across the nation and talk to business leaders here about ways to make state government more effective. "The Alabama Commission on Improving State Government will take an in-depth look at the current cost structure of every state agency and look for new and effective ways to cut costs without cutting essential services," the governor said in a statement. The commission will deliver a preliminary report to Bentley by June 1. Bentley is "looking at a number of qualified people to lead the Alabama Commission on Improving State Government, and to serve on the commission," his communications director, Rebekah Mason, wrote in an e-mail. "We expect him to make those announcements in the next few days." The executive order is the fourth of Bentley's administration. His first executive order dissolved the Task Force on Illegal Gambling created by his predecessor, Gov. Bob Riley.
President Barack Obama might not give his State of the Union address until Tuesday, but an Alabama congresswoman released some critical statements of his administration on Monday. U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, released the following comments Monday in advance of the president's State of the Union address:
"Our nation is in the midst of a severe budget crisis. Unfortunately, rather than propose difficult but necessary spending cuts, the Obama Administration is reportedly now considering significant new increases in spending. If true, this effort to boost federal spending even higher represents a monumental misreading of the American people who sent a clear message that they want less government, less spending, and less debt. "President Obama has repeatedly stated his intent to rein in spending. Actions, however, speak louder than words, and what we have seen over the last two years are record deficits averaging more than a trillion dollars annually. "Turning back this great tide of spending will require a deep commitment by the White House and Congress. The State of the Union is a perfect opportunity for President Obama to demonstrate presidential leadership by carefully outlining a plan to reverse course and put our nation on the path toward fiscal responsibility. We are past the point where well-written speeches and unfulfilled promises will suffice. Instead, we need a specific and executable plan that will dramatically cut spending, reduce our deficits over the next 10 years, and restore certainty and confidence to the economy. Restraining spending and debt is the best stimulus for economic growth, not more government regulation."
Who will be sitting with the First Lady at the State of the Union?
The White House released Monday night the list of people who will be sitting in the first lady's box with Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address on Tuesday. The list includes some of those involved with the tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz., including the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor and Daniel Hernandez, the intern who tried to help U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at the scene after she was shot. The doctor who treated her in Tucson, Peter Rhee, will also be there. The Obamas will use other seats to show the face of those who will benefit from the federal health care law including James Howard of Katy, Texas, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in March and thought his diagnosis was a death sentence because he did not have health insurance. Now, according to the White House, Howard joined the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and is receiving the necessary treatment. There will also be business owners in the box who benefited from the Recovery Act, know by many as the stimulus, and veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bentley apologizes if comments were offensive to other religions
Gov. Robert Bentley apologized Wednesday to anyone he might have offended with comments following his inauguration that some considered intolerant to other religions. During a speech at historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, Bentley told those in attendance for an event honoring the birthday of the late civil rights leader that he would be a governor of all of the people even though he was elected as a Republican. But, then added that "Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said, according to The Birmingham News. Religious organizations and media outlets from throughout the nation have been critical of Bentley’s comments and consider them judgmental and question whether his administration would be fair to people of other faiths. Bentley met with members of the religious community, including The Birmingham Jewish Federation, in his office on Wednesday about the comments at Dexter Avenue that some interpreted as offensive toward other religions. Bentley said those in attendance at the church understood the comments and he said that he was speaking as an evangelical Christian to other Baptists. "We made some statements that people in the church understood," Bentley said. He said people in his faith, like those in other religions use "terminology some others might not understand." "This was a difficult misstep at the beginning," said Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Temple Emanu-El of Birmingham. Miller said he was very troubled when he read the comments on Tuesday. But Miller and others who met with Bentley on Wednesday said he was gracious and that they do not believe the governor was trying to be divisive. The governor said he did not expect the uproar. "I did not feel I had said anything wrong," he said. The governor said he would not apologize for his beliefs and would continue to talk about his faith, but did not intend to offend anyone. "I want to be the governor of all of Alabama," he said and said he will represent Baptists, Muslims, Jews and other religions.
After a firestorm of criticism from both inside and outside of Alabama, new Gov. Robert Bentley is meeting with The Birmingham Jewish Federation this afternoon and will talk to the media following his meeting.
During a speech at historic Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, Bentley told those in attendance for an event honoring the birthday of the late civil rights leader that he would be a governor of all of the people even though he was elected as a Republican. But, then added that "Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother," Bentley said, according to The Birmingham News. Religious organizations and media outlets from throughout the nation have been critical of Bentley's comment and consider them judgmental and question whether his administration would be fair to people of other faiths.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, has announced all of his six-member staff, which includes five former staffers of Gov. Bob Riley. He previously announced five of those hires, but former Riley press secretary Todd Stacy has also joined his staff as communications director. Previously announced hires include: Chief of Staff Josh Blades, who served as deputy chief of staff to Riley; legislative counsel Jason Isbell, who worked for the Legislative Fiscal Office for eight years; legislative analyst Sommer Vaughn, who was executive assistant to Riley's chief of staff; policy analyst Boone Kinard, who was senior constituent services specialist for Riley; and executive assistant Erica McLain, who was an assistant scheduler in Riley's office. "I've always believed in order to be successful, you must surround yourself with dedicated, intelligent and talented team members who will serve with integrity," Hubbard said in a statement. "That description fits this team perfectly. We are committed to being a legislative body that is productive, accountable and responsive to the people's needs. I'm certain the individuals we have brought together in the speaker's office will help our 105 members do just that."
Newly inaugurated Gov. Robert Bentley has started out on the wrong foot, at least in the eyes of those who believe in religious freedom and individual rights.
Bentley apparently stepped on some toes with remarks he made at Dexter King Memorial Baptist Church Monday.
Bentley, a devout Christian and Baptist church deacon, told an audience gathered at the church in observance of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday that he would be the governor of all of Alabama, but only "saved" Christians were his brothers and sisters.
His Communications Director Rebekah Mason later clarified his remarks, after criticism rained down, essentially saying that Bentley would be governor of all, Christian or not.
But the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance, didn't take too kindly to the remarks made by Alabama's new governor just minutes after his swearing-in ceremony Monday. Gaddy issued the following statement Tuesday in response to Bentley's comments:
“Governor Bentley’s comments at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church raise disturbing concerns for anyone committed to protecting religious freedom and maintaining the constitutional boundaries between religion and government in this country," Gaddy said in the statement. "The people of Alabama elected Mr. Bentley to lead the state, not to give him a platform from which to proselytize.
"Though Mr. Bentley promised to be ‘the governor of all the people,’ he immediately cast doubt on the sincerity of that statement by telling citizens in Alabama who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior that ‘you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister’—thus creating two classifications of residents in the state.
“It is somewhat ironic that these comments were made on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at Dr. King’s own church. Dr. King embraced all those who stood with him in his quest for civil rights and gave his life for the establishment of a society in which there were no classifications of citizens identifying some as more important to government leaders than others. Mr. Bentley’s comments fly in the face of the example Dr. King set for us and throw in question the new governor’s commitment to religious freedom as promised in the United States Constitution.
“Mr. Bentley has a right to his beliefs, as do those who hold beliefs different from his, but he must remember his election conferred upon him the title and responsibilities of ‘Governor,’ not ‘Reverend.’”
Bentleys decide where they will reside in Montgomery
Gov. Robert Bentley said Tuesday that he and his wife will live in the historic governor's mansion on Perry Street.
Bentley said his wife, Dianne, will be looking at the mansion today. He said the executive mansion would likely need some fresh paint and some touch-ups, but that he expected them to move in late this week or early next week.
There had been some discussion early on about whether the Bentleys would move into the mansion near downtown used by governors for decades or whether they would move into the estate of Winton "Red" Blount that was given to the state during the Riley administration.
Bentley also said they would keep the mansion open for tours and that there would be work, funded by private dollars, to restore the downstairs portion of the mansion to look more like it did at the time it was built in the early 1900s.
Bentley said they wanted people to visit the mansion.
Patsy Riley, the wife of Bentley's predecessor, worked hard to restore the downstairs portion of the mansion that people see when they visit.
In his first order as governor, Robert Bentley on Tuesday disbanded the Task Force on Illegal Gambling created by his predecessor. Bentley, the Republican governor in his first full day in office, signed two executive orders including one dismantling the task force. He promised during the campaign to do away with the task force. Bentley has handed over legal issues and cases related to gaming in the state to Attorney General Luther Strange. Gov. Bob Riley created the task force, which essentially shut down all non-Indian gaming facilities in the state, after repeatedly disagreeing with then-Attorney General Troy King on legal issues related to gaming. When asked if he thought dismantling the task force was a sign for the casinos to reopen, Bentley said "on my part it is not a sign and on the attorney general's part it is not a sign." Bentley had expressed concerns about the use of state troopers to raid the facilities. Bentley and Strange were sworn into office on Monday. Riley said he was simply enforcing the laws of the state. Bentley signed another order directing all state agencies, commissions and departments to include job creation as an objective. People can comment below on the dismantling of the task force.
Gipson selects former Democratic legislator for ABC post
Former state Rep. Mac Gipson, who was selected by Gov.-elect Robert Bentley to be the administrator for the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, said Friday that former state Rep. William Thigpen would serve as assistant administrator. The ABC Board appointed Gipson, a Prattville Republican who lost in the primary, as administrator at its Thursday meeting. His appointment, and that of Thigpen, takes effect on Monday. Thigpen, D-Fayette, served three terms in the Alabama House of Representatives representing Fayette, Lamar and Tuscaloosa counties. He served in the Alabama National Guard for 27 years, including nine years as commander of the Fayette unit. Thigpen also has been president of the Fayette Area Chamber of Commerce, and was the chamber's Member of the Year in 1993.
Prattville Mayor Jim Byard Jr. will be the next director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
Rebekah Caldwell Mason, newly appointed communications director for Gov.-elect Robert Bentley, confirmed Wednesday that Byard would be resigning his position as mayor to join Bentley's cabinet.
Byard, a former Prattville City Councilman, has been mayor since 1999. He will step down as Prattville’s mayor at the close of business Jan. 17 and assume his new responsibilities at ADECA Jan. 18.
Byard was first elected to the Prattville City Council in 1992 and reelected in 1996.
He was elected council president in 1996 and served until becoming mayor in 1999 after the death of incumbent Mayor David Whetstone Jr. Prior to becoming mayor, he worked for the Alabama Department of Transportation.
-- posted by Markeshia Ricks and Sebastian Kitchen
Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives elected state Rep. Micky Hammon of Decatur as House Majority Leader on Wednesday. In his position, Hammon will help to control the flow of legislation onto the House floor. "I am touched and honored by the responsibility my colleagues have given me, and I look forward to serving the citizens of Alabama in this role," Hammon said. "Republicans are committed to bringing widespread reforms and changes to the way Montgomery does business, and serving as majority leader will allow me to be at the center of those efforts."
He has been an outspoken proponent of illegal immigration reform.
Other candidates for the position were Rep. Mike Ball of Madison and Rep. Greg Canfield of Vestavia Hills. Hammon, an electrical contractor who was elected to the House in 2002, will also serve as chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, and as vice chair of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Gov.-elect Robert Bentley appointed several more key posts to his administration on Wednesday including policy director, legal advisor, communications director, and legislative director. He appointed Michael Ciamarra of Trussville as policy director; Tuscaloosa attorney R. Cooper Shattuck as legal advisor; Bentley campaign press secretary Rebekah Caldwell Mason of Tuscaloosa as director of communications; and Allison A. Bell of Phoenix as legislative director. Ciamarra, vice president of the Alabama Policy Institute, has 22 years of experience in public policy and legislative initiatives. He served as executive assistant and director of policy development from 1995 to 1999 for former Gov. Fob James. Shattuck is a practicing attorney and shareholder with the law firm Rosen Hardwood, P.A. in Tuscaloosa, and is an associate pastor with the First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa. He also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Alabama School of Law. Mason served as press secretary during Bentley's 2010 campaign for governor. In 2003, she co-founded Caldwell Mason Marketing, an advertising agency providing marketing, public relations and media relations services for local and regional clients. She was a television news anchor and Tuscaloosa bureau chief for Birmingham-based WBRC television and served as news director and news anchor for Tuscaloosa television station WDBB. Bell, a native of Alabama, has been the lead in-house lobbyist for the Arizona Chamber of Commerce since July 2008 and she oversees the chamber's legislative agenda at the state level and manages its public and political affairs programs. Before she joined the chamber, Bell was legislative associate at Stevens and Stevens P.C. of Phoenix. She managed the firm's day-to-day lobbying activities at the state capital. She was also an associate at DeMenna and Associates, a Phoenix-based governmental relations firm.
State Reps. Jay Love, Jim Barton and Blaine Galliher were appointed to be chairmen of the three key committees in the Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday.
House members found out on Wednesday which committees they would serve on.
Galliher, R-Gadsden, will be chairman of the Rules Committee, which decides which bills comes to the House floor for debate.
Love, R-Montgomery, will be chairman of the education budget committee.
Barton, R-Mobile, will be chairman of the general fund budget committee that sets funding levels for Medicaid, prisons, public safety and most other non-education entities.
Love and Barton are both small business owners. They acknowledged that the coming budget years will be difficult. Barton called the situation "dire" and said he was nervous, cautious and anxious about his post, which he said Speaker Mike Hubbard asked him to serve in.
"I have a steep learning curve," Barton said.
He acknowledged there will be drastic cuts, but said he will try to stay away from public safety. Barton also asked that his predecessor, Rep. John Knight of Montgomery, serve on the committee with him along with House Majority Leader Victor Gaston of Mobile, who was the ranking minority member when Democrats controlled the Legislature.
Love said that sometimes the best reforms emerge in tough times. He said he is excited and this is his first opportunity to chair a committee.
Love said there could be a $500 million to $600 million hole in the budget. He said he would also wait to see the priorities and policies of Gov.-elect Robert Bentley.
Galliher vowed to be courteous and fair to members and their legislation as chairman of the Rules Committee.
"I think a member has a right to have his day in court," he said.
The Alabama public, political observers and Alabama state senators found out Tuesday who will chair key committees in that body. Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who is considered one of the most conservative members of the Senate, was selected as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee that determines which bills come to the Senate floor for debate. He succeeds powerful Sen. Lowell Barron, a Democrat who lost in the November election. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, will be chairman of the Senate general fund budget committee which sets funding levels for Medicaid, prisons, public safety and most other non-education entities in the state. Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, the previous chairman of the committee, will serve as a minority member. Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, will preside over the education budget in the Senate. The former chairman, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, will continue to serve on the committee. The House did not announce committee assignments on Tuesday, although Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery and Rep. Jim Barton of Mobile are expected to serve as the chairmen of the House education and general fund budget committees, respectively.
Alabama state senators reelected Del Marsh as president pro tem of the Senate on Tuesday.
By law, legislators must meet in January following the November election to elect leaders including Senate president pro tem and House speaker.
But, Gov. Bob Riley called a special session in December and lawmakers had to vote for their leadership then.
Lawmakers reelected Rep. Mike Hubbard, R- Auburn, as House speaker and Marsh, R-Anniston, as Senate president pro tem.
"We made the right choice in selecting Senator Marsh as our president pro tem of the Senate," said Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills. " ... I think it was proved during the special session that he was a guy of great integrity and great talent."
Senators reelected Marsh 29-0 with several members missing or late due to weather elsewhere in the state.
Marsh was joined by his wife, Ginger, and his daughter, Christine, but said his son Justin was not able to make it because he was "still celebrating in Glendale." Some legislators rushed back from Arizona early Tuesday after Auburn won the college football national championship.
Marsh promised to be fair as president pro tem. He said he expects the men and women in the Senate "to make history."
"I am honored you have chosen me to take us in that direction," he said in a very brief speech after his election.
Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said she also supported Marsh's selection as president pro tem.
After losing his ride home when Gov. Bob Riley cancelled his trip to the BCS Championship and flying most of the night to get back, state Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn was once again elected speaker of the House.
"This is a tremendous honor for me," he said. "But I won’t give a long speech considering less than 12 hours ago I was on a football field in Glendale, Ariz."
There were 68 members who made it in time to vote for Hubbard at Tuesday's organizational session. He was first elected speaker during the 2010 special session, but had to be re-elected for the new quadrennium.
Hubbard promised the members that he would work with all members and "make sure that everything is done in an above board and honorable way."
"I hope that you saw that during the special session," he said. "I can tell you that you won't agree with me all the time, but I will listen, the door to the office will be open all the time and I will make sure that everyone is treated fairly and that the rules are enforced fairly."
"I will work every day to not let you down," he said.
Gov.-Elect Bentley Appoints Faulkner, former Rep. Gipson and Keeps DHR's Buckner
Gov.-elect Robert Bentley is closer to filling in all the slots in his cabinet after making the following appointments Friday:
Art Faulkner, who is currently serving as director of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, will head up the state Emergency Management Agency. Faulkner has over 22 years experience in local and state government. He served as police chief of Coosada for three years and as Elmore County’s 9-1-1 director and assistant EMA director for three years before moving to the state EMA in 1996 as head of the state 9-1-1 program. He will replace Riley appointee Brock Long.
“Art Faulkner is a dedicated public servant who brings over 20 years experience in local and state government. He understands emergency management and we are indeed fortunate that he will direct our EMA program," Bentley said in a press release Friday.
Faulkner also served as director of operations at EMA during 2002-2003 overseeing the day-to-day operations of the agency. In 2003 he joined the newly created State Department of Homeland Security. Faulkner continued to serve as state 9-1-1 coordinator as well as assistant to the director until being appointed director of the department.
Former State Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, will be the new administrator of the state Alcohol and Beverage Control Board. Gipson served four terms in the Alabama House of Representatives representing Autauga and Elmore counties before he was unseated during the 2010 election cycle. He will replace former Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar, who was appointed by Riley.
“I have worked with Mac Gipson for the last eight years in the Alabama Legislature and I am confident he will provide the steady hand and the leadership we need for the ABC Board," Bentley said.
While a state legislator, Gipson served on the Travel and Tourism Committee and helped craft the state education budget as a member of the House Education Appropriations Committee.
Nancy Buckner will be re-appointed commissioner of the state Department of Human Resources. She will continue to serve as commissioner until the seven-member DHR board, which includes Bentley as its chairman, confirms the appointment. Buckner has served as commissioner of the Department since September 2008. She has over 37 years experience in the human resources field including service at the Talladega County Department of Human Resources and as legislative liaison for the state DHR.
She was also St. Clair County Child Welfare Administrator and Calhoun County DHR Interim Director. In both positions, she directed the revamping of each county’s child welfare program.
“Nancy Buckner has done an outstanding job as Commissioner of DHR. Her 37 years of experience in human resources and her ability to achieve remarkable results managing our state DHR program convinced me we needed her continued leadership at DHR,” Bentley said.
Turnham steps down, state Dems to elect new chairman
Alabama Democrats will elect a new chairman later this month after Joe Turnham informed executive committee members he will resign effective Jan. 29. Turnham said he sent his letter resigning as chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party to state committee members on Wednesday. He said they would meet on Jan. 29 in downtown Montgomery to elect his successor. He said the only candidate who has publicly expressed interest in running is former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy. While the committee members will ultimately vote on his successor, Turnham said "I have a high level of comfort with Mark Kennedy." He said he has talked to Kennedy several times and that he has the maturity, wisdom, drive and intellect "to really build the party at this tough fork in the road." Kennedy is the son-in-law of former Govs. George and Lurleen Wallace. Turnham, who has served as chairman for three nonconsecutive terms, was elected to another term last year, but said he never intended to serve very long after the 2010 election. He was first elected in 1995. "I nearly left after the '08 election," he said. "A lot of folks knew it was going to be a very challenging cycle. They asked me to stay on and I did." Turnham said he is ready to move on with his personal and professional life, and to turn the party over to someone else. He has been active in Democratic Party politics for decades, running four of his father's campaigns for the Legislature, twice being the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress, serving as a county chairman, and as state chairman. He also started the state's conservation lobby. Turnham, 51, said he did all of that in the last 25 years. "I am just physically and mentally and politically exhausted," he said. "It was probably the toughest cycle in two generations. ... I just know it is time for other people to step up in this environment and build." Turnham said that last week he appointed attorney Ed Gentle, an Auburn and University of Alabama law school graduate and Rhodes scholar, to serve as party treasurer. He said that since the Legislature voted to overhaul campaign finance laws in the state that they have been assembling a "strong financial plan" for the party. Turnham said he has been working on the transition to a new chairman for about two months. Turnham said he was at the helm when the state elected the first Democratic governor since Wallace in 1998, elected the first female chief justice in 2006, won several other races statewide, and held the Legislature for two of those three terms. "We've had some good times and some tough times," he said. Turnham said the party has also helped to elect Democrats, including judges, county commissioners and superintendents, at the local level and has improved technology and outreach with its voter files. Moving forward, Turnham said he hopes to help in several economic development ventures. He acknowledged his time at the party has prepared him to work for a non-profit or a corporation. Turnham said he has developed some skills and "some pretty thick skin." "The Democratic Party is a tough place to govern internally," he said, adding there are a "lot of competing factions and personalities."
Philip Bryan, communications director for the Alabama Republican Party, started Monday as the chief of staff for Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. Marsh, R-Anniston, said Bryan has the personality to work with people on both sides of the aisle, which is important in the pro tem's office. But, he also said Bryan had been a "faithful Republican to say the least" helping the party with its Campaign 2010 effort to elect more Republicans to the Legislature and to other offices. Marsh also commented on Bryan's "work style," and said it was a "fairly easy choice to bring him on." From working as communications director, Marsh said Bryan also has a "great relationship with the press," which the senator expects to help in conveying what his office is trying to accomplish in the next four years. Bryan acknowledged he criticized Democrats as spokesman for the party, but said that came along with his job there. He said he will work for all 35 senators as chief of staff for Marsh. Bryan was the voice for the Republican Party during much of the last four years, often attacking Democrats in the Legislature. He is now working to win over some of those same Democrats, trying to set up meetings with each of them. "This will be an office for all 35 senators," Bryan said. " ... I will extend my hand to those Democrats who were elected by the people of Alabama." Bryan said the party was successful in winning more seats and he did his job there, but has a much different job and goal now. "We did a great job at the party of doing what the party function should be," Bryan said. He said he will fulfill his new duties with the same vigor. Bryan said people are "grown up" and know politics is a contact sport and he hopes people can move forward. He said he shares Marsh's vision of the office being fair and not being punitive. Marsh has not hired any other employees, but said he is looking to hire a part-time bookkeeper. He said there was previously a full-time bookkeeper in the office, but that he did not feel that was warranted. Marsh said he now has one employee in an office that once employed more than 40 people. Some of those employees worked for other senators, but were paid through the pro tem's budget. "There is a different philosophy to say the least," he said. Marsh said he is contemplating a position that would deal with policy and look at what other states are working on, especially in areas with challenges such as Medicaid and corrections. Marsh said he expects all of his staff positions to be filled by the time the regular session starts in March.
Josh Blades, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Bob Riley, will finish his term with the governor before moving Jan. 18 to work as chief of staff for new House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. Hubbard said Blades has "already been working and helping and preparing and that sort of thing." "He's going to be great," Hubbard said. "He's a sharp young man." Jeff Woodard, who was the chief of staff for former Speaker Seth Hammett, will be moving into another role in the House, Hubbard said. Hubbard said he is expanding the number of employees in the speaker's office from four to six, but will keep the budget essentially the same because those working for him will be paid less. Other hires by Hubbard include legislative analyst Sommer Vaughn, legislative counsel Jason Isbell, policy analyst Boone Kinard, and executive assistant Erica McLain. Hubbard said he has yet to hire a communications director. Vaughn is assistant to Riley’s chief of staff Dave Stewart. Hubbard said she worked for the Republican Party before going to work for Stewart. Isbell is an attorney and has worked with the Legislative Fiscal Office for eight years so "he brings a great deal of knowledge about the budgets and policy," Hubbard said. Kinard has worked in constituent services in the governor's office and McLain works in the governor's scheduling office. The speaker said he hopes to revamp the office where more services and resources are available to House members and there is less dependence on information from lobbyists.
Gov.-elect Robert J. Bentley has named former Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives Seth Hammett as Director of the Alabama Development Office (ADO). Hammett is currently vice president of business development for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative headquartered in Andalusia, Alabama.
Hammett, a Democrat from Andalusia, served 32 years in the Alabama House of Representatives, the last 12 years as Speaker, elected by members of the House.
“Seth Hammett has played a key role in every major economic development project in Alabama in the past 20 years including Honda, Hyundai, ThyssenKrupp and the EADS Tanker Project,” Bentley said in a Monday press release. “Not only does he know economic development, he has the leadership skills and experience to keep Alabama at the forefront in attracting new business and helping our existing businesses grow and prosper."
Hammett was a founder and served as the first president of the First National Bank of Andalusia, now Wells Fargo, and was president of Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia. In 2004, he joined PowerSouth Energy, a generation and transmission cooperative providing wholesale electricity in central and south Alabama and northwest Florida, as director of economic development. Hammett will serve as a loaned executive during his tenure at ADO.
He is a native of Covington County, Alabama and holds bachelors and masters degrees from Auburn University.
During his legislative career, Hammett received numerous awards including Legislator of the Year, Visionary Leadership Award, Meritorious Service Award and Guardian of Small Business Award. He is past chair of the 16-state Southern Legislative Conference, past president of the National Speakers Conference and is a member of the Coastal Recovery Commission of Alabama.
He and his wife, Nancy, live in Andalusia and have two adult children and two grandchildren.
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.