Inside Alabama Politics

Inside Alabama Politics – February 22, 2018

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Ch-ch-ch-ch-anges

 Now that candidate qualifying has ended, we have a clearer picture of who’s staying, who’s going, who’s trying to move up, and who’s being challenged for their seats. The sexy races are the state-wides, but we will talk about them mostly in terms of how it will affect the make-up of the legislature.

Senate

 While it may come as a surprise to some even long-time observers, the leadership looks to remain intact. Senator Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has been rumored to be running for everything from Governor to US Senator, and may have considered giving it up altogether, is running for re-election. Though he has nominal opposition in Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis, the odds are he will return to the senate. As will Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills). Does this scenario set us up for a leadership fight, or will there be a deal cut to leave the current power structure in place – perhaps with different names behind different titles?

There were also some surprise challengers in the GOP Primary races, including Cullman City Council President Garlan Gudger’s decision to challenge Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) and the three challengers to Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia).

While Gudger is rumored to be backed by the powerful and well-funded Business Council of Alabama, it remains to be seen if Bussman is vulnerable in the least. He bested powerful Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little in the 2010 Republican sweep, and easily won re-election in 2014. Beating a two-term incumbent of the same party usually requires a hometown gaffe for series of votes one can point to. Bussman’s reputation as a curmudgeon in Montgomery may well help him back home.

As for Stutts, it appears he may be a sitting duck – whether in the Republican Primary, or more likely the general election against Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay) – Stutt’s sponsoring of self-dealing legislation and reputation as a crank have not served him well in Montgomery, nor has it served the people in District 6. If one of the Republicans can beat him, it makes life difficult for the popular Morrow. But if a wounded Stutts can make it through a primary and likely runoff, he should probably start considering his retirement speech.

The other surprise in the state senate is the sheer number of seemingly vulnerable incumbents and open seat races where either no opponent was drawn, or only nominal opposition appeared.

Senators Holley, McClendon, Ward, and Whatley have no opposition, Senator Allen has only a nominal challenger and Rep. David Sessions is getting a senate seat on the cheap, as no one bothered to qualify against him.

Holley, a fixture in state politics for the better part of a half century, was thought to be on his last legs, and vulnerable to an insurgent challenger promising fresh leadership and new ideas. The thing is, you don’t stay in office for 45 years by not knowing your district, and what buttons to push and who to keep close.

McClendon’s district was drawn by him and looks like an apostrophe circling the outer rim of Birmingham. Though not particularly well regarded among the cognoscenti, his campaign account and mastery of the district’s geography probably staved off a challenge.

Ward, the chair of the powerful Senate Judicial Committee, once thought to run for a higher office, is not only  staying where he is, but also did not draw opposition.

Whatley also had some trouble since the last election, but it appears he has put that behind him and is creating a power center in his Auburn-based district. He is rumored to have looked at the race for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries but took a back seat to Sen. Gerald Dial.

There were two even stranger cases of retirements in the senate, one a Democrat, the other a Republican that has many tongues wagging in the sheer audacity of their political scheming.

The Democrat, long time Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) never tipped his hand that he was retiring, and on the last day, he elected to not qualify. What Sanders did instead was to put his daughter’s name on the ballot in his place. The statehouse watchers we spoke with have two general thoughts on the subject. First and foremost is “Will she be more like Hank, or more like Rose [Mrs. Sanders]?”

Hank is known as a champion for Democrat and African American causes, but also known as someone that lobbyists and others can deal with in a personal and friendly nature. Mrs. Sanders… aka Fara Rose Toure…is generally regarded as a bomb thrower of the Black Lives Matter type, and not known as a compromiser. It remains to be seen what tack Malika Sanders-Fortier takes.

The Republican is Slade Blackwell, who in his short time in the senate has been the subject of considerable conjecture. When he first took on then-Sen. Steve French (R-Mt. Brook) in the Republican Primary in 2010, many remarked that his father, powerful former Auburn University Trustee John Blackwell, was known to be close to Lowell Barron. It was even rumored that if the partisan make up the senate were close or tied, Blackwell would support Barron in his quest to keep power. Alas, the numbers were not on his side, and Barron was defeated, so we will never know the truth to those persistent rumors.

He has since been rumored to be wanting to move up to higher office – any office really. Then apropos of nothing and with nary a trial balloon floated, he pitches a rich kid temper tantrum and without consulting anyone, tosses his hat in the ring for governor. Then on the Monday after qualifying, he decides against mounting a hopeless and underfunded race for which he has built up no infrastructure and no name ID needed to mount such a challenge.

The rub here is that his last-minute decision not to run for his senate seat leaves two relatively unknown amateur candidates to fill that seat – one that represents the heart of the suburban conservative Birmingham area that is among the wealthiest and most developed in the state. We can’t imagine the political makers of that district are very happy with Mr. Blackwell.

House

 The State House of Representatives is losing almost a quarter of its members this election cycle. From Democrat mainstays such as Rep. Richard Lindsey (D-Centre) and Rep. Marcel Black (D-Tuscumbia) to Rep. James Buskey (D-Mobile) who combined for 105 years of service to the state.

Also, Rep. Phil Williams, as previously reported is electing not to run for state senate, or state house…and only one person qualified to run for that seat.

Rep. Ed Henry, an always controversial, though with his own set of unimpeachable ethics, decided against a third term. Three are vying for his seat with the smart money on Homebuilder Scott Stadthagen.

Democrat turned Republican Mike Millican is hanging up his spikes, and there’s a three-person race to succeed him on the (R) side.

A bevvy of freshmen drew opposition, though it remains to be seen how serious. Corey Harbison, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, Kyle South, Richie Whorton, Tommy Hanes, Mike Holmes and Matt Fridy all had someone sign up to challenge them in the primary. As did veterans and mainstays like Mike Ball, Ken Johnson, Ron Johnson (no relation), Dickie Drake, Jim Carns, April Weaver, Harry Shiver, and technical freshman, but long time elected official Jimmy Martin.

The open seat races are very fluid, and we will handicap those in another issue.

Bar Light, Bar Bright…..

 There are many strange and arcane rules and customs associated with the statehouse. Hang around long enough and you’ll hear mentions of times when political giants roamed the earth, and fishbowl icons like Jimmy Clarke, Rankin Fite, Earl Goodwin, and Bob Wilson ruled their fiefdoms via their own whims and wonts.

It was a time when many a piece of legislation began with the idea to, frankly, screw someone who had violated these unwritten rules.

Which brings us to Senator Pittman. A giant of a man who has represented Baldwin County since winning a special election, ten years ago, to replace now-Congressman Bradley Byrne. (Old politicians don’t burn out or fade away, they mostly seek higher office.)

The Sunset Committee is supposed to reauthorize (and allegedly do away with) state agencies, boards and other obscure creations that regulate the comings and goings of commerce. It could also allow powerful pols to reward their allies and punish their enemies.

Via his appointment to “Sunset,” Pittman had taken his pithy privations and decided to propose adding another commissioner to The State Pilotage Commission. Which, as the name indicates, regulates and oversees Licensed Bar Pilots in Alabama.

IAP has heard that Pittman is unhappy that Mobile dominates this commission and has decided Baldwin County needs a seat at the table.

Needless to say, Sunset is not generally the venue to alter the makeup of a board or commission, but the domain of re-approving or removing said entity’s existence. His proposal being rebuked by the fellow members of the committee, Pittman had apparently vowed that he would hold up the General Fund Budget, even forcing a special session to deal with the budget, if his obscure demands are not met.

As with the rumors of similar behavior of Senator Gerald Dial we reported last week, these threats and approbations should be taken Cum Grano Salis (with a grain of salt.) The budget passed the Senate Tuesday, but the Senate delayed passage of the state employee pay increase, though it is expected to be considered today.

Chambliss to takeover General Fund Budget?

Another hot rumor, given the proclivities of the current chairman Pittman, who is electing not to run again, is that Sen. Clyde Chambliss is considered by many to be a candidate as the next Chairman of the General Fund Budget Committee…once the 2019 Senate convenes for the new quadrennium next January.

Chambliss, ran as an actual fiscal conservative in his 2014 election, and does not have any opposition in the primary or general election this year.

We say actual fiscal conservative, because during his tenure as an Autauga County Commissioner, and Commission Chairman, Chambliss emphasized building up the county’s reserve fund, allowing them to weather the (Great Recession) without laying off any county employees. This type of budgetary bonafides and his attention to detail allow him to both position himself as a budget hawk…and sponsor a pay raise for State Employees.

Chambliss has a genial disposition and dislike of political games, which means that while there would be less wild rumors, innuendo and conjecture for us to report on. It is believed by many the state in general would be in good hands with the State Senator from Prattville.

Why do we have a Governor’s Mansion?

 The Governor’s Mansion, located in Montgomery’s Garden District is a beautiful and historic grounds, with a swimming pool and ample room to entertain. If this sounds like a Realty listing, it’s because that’s what we’re proposing.

Both former Gov. Robert Bentley (R-Rebekah) and current Gov. Kay Ivey (R-Montgomery) have elected to use The Blount Mansion, out by Blount Cultural Park. It was generously donated to the state by Winton “Red” Blount, Sr. as a residence. Though we’re not sure why longtime Montgomery resident Gov. Ivey would elect to move to either residence, it does beggar the thought that the state could either unload or re-purpose the Official Governor’s Mansion.

One proposal is to put it under the auspices of The State Archives and open it up to events just as their facility downtown is used for. Another is to sell or privatize the entire operation for use as an event space. One thing is for certain – why fund their upkeep or let it fall into disarray via disuse when the state is constantly strapped for cash?

  • We get it wrong occasionally and this was one of those times. Governor Ivey resides full-time at the Governor’s Mansion on South Perry Street and has never spent a night at The Blount “Wynfield” Mansion. However, it still remains our opinion the current Mansion should be converted to a museum and The Blount Mansion off Vaughn Road be used as the Governor’s residence.

Ethics complaint coming for the Canaries?

 The Alabama Political Reporter published an expose on the finances of powerful but embattled BCA CEO William J. Canary and his wife Leura Canary. If APR’s reporting that Canary is listed by financial reporting company Experian as a principal in Dax R. Swatek and Associates (their financial entanglements are a steadfast rumor for statehouse observers) then Mrs. Canary, as a state employee, would need to report said financial situation on her financial disclosure forms.

Were someone to decide to make an official Ethics Commission complaint, they would be obligated to investigate the situation, which could jeopardize reputations and financial arrangements…and have a ripple effect throughout state politics. Or, at least on this issue, silence Canary critics.