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An interview with Senate candidate Robert Kennedy

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Friday, August 4, 2017, The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) had an in depth conversation with US Senate Candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. (D).  Kennedy is running in the Democratic Party Special Election Primary for the Senate seat vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was confirmed as Attorney General.

APR asked: The VA scandal exposed the fact that most federal employees can not be fired, even for incompetence. Should that change?

Robert Kennedy Jr.: Absolutely.  One of the things we talk about is accountability.  The employees should be held responsible for their actions and their supervisors should also be held accountable.  Federal employees can be fired now, but it is a very arduous process and takes a year and a year and a half.  What happened to those veterans on those waiting lists, particularly in Arizona, is ridiculous.

APR: Should veterans be allowed to receive their health care from doctors and hospitals outside of the Veterans Healthcare system?

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Kennedy said that he supports whatever is in the best interests of the individual.  On the campaign he met Walter a Vietnam veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  He earned his benefits.  When he is denied services at a VA center and goes on a waiting list, he should have the option of transferring his care to a private doctor. The Veterans have earned their benefits.

APR: If the Assad government in Syria uses chemical weapons against civilians should the US send in American troops to overthrow the Assad regime?

Kennedy:  That is a vast oversimplification.  I am a Naval Academy graduate in 1992.  I am the only Democrat candidate who served in uniform.  I served for nine years.  I rejoined the armed forces after 9-11.  We need to evaluate and be very discerning in how we respond to any situation.  As President he can commit troops, but only Congress has power to declare war.  It is way too early to tie down what our response would be to a chemical weapons attack.

APR: The President has discussed spending a $trillion on infrastructure needs.  The national budget deficit is $567 billion.  Do you support the President’s infrastructure plan even if it means increasing the debt?

Kennedy: Again the situation is more nuanced than that.  Yes we should invest in infrastructure not only roads, bridges, airports, and ports; but also things that help our rural communities as well including broad band so they have the opportunity to rise like the rest of us.  I am a fiscally responsible Democrat.  Every program should have a time frame, a goal, and a standard by which it is evaluated.  If a program is not working it should be eliminated.  This would help bring annual budget back into balance.

APR: Would you support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution putting term limits on members of Congress?

Kennedy: Yes, this is something that we need to talk about either through the convention or amendment process.  I do believe that we should have term limits.

APR: Do you support a bill demanding that all 50 states honor the concealed carry permits of every other state? Reciprocity?

Kennedy: I have a concealed carry permit and it is recognized by the states around us.  I believe right now that we have the appropriate balance.  We don’t like large states like California, Illinois or New York establishing a standard and telling us what to do.  Likewise we should be concerned about us in Alabama telling New York, Illinois, and California about what they can do.  We in Alabama think differently about guns than people in the south side of Chicago do, for example.  As a concealed carry holder myself, I am glad that I am and I appreciate the states that honor that.

APR: Congress recently imposed tougher sanctions on Russia.  Do you support expanding sanctions against Russia?

Kennedy: I support sanctions on Russian and I support sanctions on any of those countries around the world that are not conducting themselves appropriately.

APR: Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Conference endorsed Doug Jones for Senate saying he is more electable.  What is your response to those who say that a White guy with more name recognition is more winnable?

Kennedy: Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Committee have been instrumental in making a better environment especially for people like me: a black man from Pritchard.  That allowed me to go to the Naval Academy.  I have nothing against that organization.  When I interviewed with that group someone literally blurted out that ‘White people will never vote for you.’  White people already voted for me.  Sonny Callahan did my application to the Naval Academy.  I was the first Black person elected as student President of the Naval Academy.  Only 40 out of 1000 students there were Black.  There were large number of White males who voted for me or I could not have won.  I am a different kind of candidate.  I am a manifestation of the dream that organizations like the ADC helped make possible.  As Senator, I want to represent White people as well as Black.

APR: If North Korea were to successfully launch a nuclear warhead at the United States, would you support the US retaliating with our own nuclear counter strike?

Kennedy: It is way too early to address how we would respond. When I was in the Navy, in 1997 I served on the USS Dubuque which was training for that mission.  The sailors, soldiers, and Marines in that theatre are properly trained and are prepared for that mission.  They are able to take them out if they were to do that.  We do not even need inflammatory language about us using nuclear weapons.

APR: Would you support raising taxes on upper income earners if it were part of a broader package to reform the tax code and end the budget deficit?

Kennedy: It is too early to answer that question. To ultimately address the deficit, we need a pass a budget.  We know that we operate the best when we have a robust economy. To know what we have to work with, we have to grow the economy.  I do not demonize anybody, including upper income earner.  We need to work together.

APR: US Senate candidate Michael Hansen (D) called for the decriminalization of marijuana, what is your view?

Kennedy: I think we need to study this issue.  The problem we need to be addressing is criminalization.  Lots of people of color have been affected by these laws.  How we address sentencing reform.  That is the core issue here.

APR: If the people of Puerto Rico vote to apply for statehood in their current referendum, would you support of oppose making the island territory of 3.4 million people a state?

Kennedy: It is not something that happens in isolation.  This is a collective decision made by the whole country and it is just not just Puerto Rico; but also the District of Columbia that wants statehood.  We as a people should make that decision collectively.

APR: The F35 fighter has failed to achieve some of the cost and performance objectives set by the Pentagon.  Should we cut short the ambitious orders for the new aircraft and instead order less costly F16s, A10s, and F/A-18s.

Kennedy: I question your premise. It has not met cost objectives.  We need to look at the three components: Mission, production, and training.  We may need to make modifications and changes in order to improve the performance of the program.  Those older airframes were cheaper, but they are also less advanced.  We need to do the work, before we make the decision on whether or not to cut the F-35 purchase short.

Kennedy: I am currently polling as the number one candidate.  I am getting support across the state.  Ultimately it is the voter who decides whom they want to vote for.  It is not the candidate with the most money, as one Birmingham area candidate has. I am a fiscally responsible Democrat who leads with faith.  I am a graduate of Duke with a Masters in Business Administration.  I have worked with Fortune 500 companies.  I am business friendly.  I am a military veteran.  I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy.  I am able to reach across the aisle.  I can appeal to the moderate Republicans, who used to be conservative Democrats, to win the election.

Kennedy said he is a different kind of Democrat.  He has been married to his wife, Aqua, for two years and said that he is a Christian.

The Democratic and Republican Primaries will be on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.

 

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In Case You Missed It

House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

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The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

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Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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In Case You Missed It

Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

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Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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House OKs bill to clarify consulting contracts by state legislators

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill to try to clarify how legislators accept consulting contracts under Alabama’s 2010 ethics law. Some pundits have suggested that House Bill 387 is actually designed to weaken the existing ethics law.

Sponsor state Rep. Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, argues that the legislation is merely a clarification and is intended to prevent legislators from inadvertently crossing the line into illegality.

Wingo said that his bill would require legislators to notify the Alabama Ethics Commission that they have entered into a consulting agreement in an area outside of their normal scope of work.

State Rep. Paul Beckman, R-Prattville, said, “I have never understood why members of this body were allowed to take contracts as consultants or counselors.”

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Wingo said, “Never do I use the word counselor in my bill; it is consulting.”

Beckman asked, “Are we going to be getting into an area where  every time we turn around we create a bureaucratic nightmare where we have to go get an opinion. These opinions whether it is orally or written don’t hold up in a court of law.” Beckman said, “We are serving the people here but we get this admonition that we can still be a consultant if we get an opinion.”

Wingo said, “This does not apply to professions where a member is currently licensed.”

Beckman said, “I would like to see more opinions coming out of the Ethics Commission. Right now we have the Ethics Commission competing with the Attorney General’s office over who has more authority.”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said,”This happened to a friend of mine. He just got out of prison. He was a state senator and had a written letter from the Ethics Commission which his lawyer read at trial and the jury convicted him anyway.”

Rogers never named his friend, but reporters think he was talking about former state Sen. Edward Browning ‘E. B.’ McClain who spent over 22 years in the legislature until he was convicted on 47 counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, bribery, and money laundry in 2009.

A federal jury found that McClain and the Rev. Samuel Pettagrue were guilty in a scheme where McClain would secure public funds for Pettagrue’s community programs and then receive a kickback once the funds were in hand. McClain was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison. McClain was not prosecuted under the Alabama ethics law as the state has a much weaker ethics statute then. The current ethics law was passed in 2010.

Rogers said, “If they offer me a consulting contract for a field like aerospace engineering that I know nothing about they are trying to pay me off. If you can already be a consultant for something you know about why would you seek a consulting contract for something you don’t know about.

Rogers this is how they can pay you off for your vote.”

State Rep. Artis “A.J.” McCampbell said, “I don’t like making changes to things like this because we get into things called unintended consequences.”

McCampbell was reading from the bill and Wingo said, “You are reading from the original version it has completely changed.” “We worked tirelessly on this bill with the Ethics Commission this is not a fly by night bill.”

“If a member of the legislature enters into a contract to do a consulting contract outside of their normal field of work this bill requires that they consult with the Ethics Commission first,” Wingo said. “It is up to the member to notify the Ethics Commission not to the company or person offering them the money.”

State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said, “Everybody but legislators are allowed to do contract work up to $30,000.”

Rep. Wingo said, “This is not intended to be a roadblock.”

State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said, “The whole purpose of this is not to prevent members from doing work in your field.” “What you are doing is offering to protect me.”

State Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, asked Wingo what the Alabama Attorney General said about this legislation.

Wingo replied, “I have not contacted the Attorney General.”

Knight responded, “Something from the Ethics Commission does not carry a lot of protection from the Attorney General. We have seen that in the past. I think the Attorney General and the Ethics Commission should be in agreement in the working on this.”

Wingo answered, “Maybe this is a first step.”

Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked, “Do we have anybody doing work outside of their regular scope of work?”

Wingo answered, “Yes I think so.”

Wingo said, “If we had had this bill four or five years ago maybe we could have been spared the embarrassment that this body experienced with the former Speaker.”

Wingo was referring to former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard who was convicted of 12 counts of felony ethics violations in June 2016. Ironically, Hubbard is largely responsible for creating the ethics law that he was found guilty of violating 11 times in his relentless pursuit of outside contracts and personal wealth.

Unlike McClain, however, Hubbard has not yet served any of this sentence.

House Bill 387 passed 67-0 with 26 legislators abstaining.

The bill now moves to the Senate for its consideration.

(Original reporting by the Alabama Media Group’s Lisa Osborn in 2009 was consulted in this report.)

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An interview with Senate candidate Robert Kennedy

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