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Analysis | Democratic candidates offer idealistic goals in debate. Realities remain unseen

Sam Mattison



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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, former Chief Justice Sue Cobb and former state Rep. James Field gathered in Birmingham on Wednesday in a televised debate by WVTM 13.

The debate, while eventful in moments, was plagued with common solutions by Democrats in the state.

Here are the highlights of the night:


Maddox and Cobb spar over minimum wage

When it came time for candidates to ask each other questions, Cobb did not hold back and confronted Maddox on a decision he made to oppose a proposal to increase the minimum wage in Tuscaloosa to $10.10 in 2016.

The former chief justice said that actions spoke louder than words and questioned Maddox’s commitment to raise the minimum wage, which has been a talking point of Democrats for years.

Maddox defended the decision by pointing to a law that was going through the Legislature at the time. The bill would have prohibited municipalities and local governments from increasing the minimum wage. It eventually passed out of the body and was signed into law.

According to reporting from at the time, Maddox had been informed by Tuscaloosa’s attorney that the city did not have the authority to raise the minimum wage and the Tuscaloosa mayor re-iterated that point at Wednesday’s debate.

Maddox said that he swore an oath to follow the “laws of the land” and also said that passing the proposal to raise the minimum wage would have embroiled the city in “costly litigation.”

Cobb, who has served as a legal authority, disagreed and continued to criticize Maddox.

The continued attacks led to a back-and-forth between the two candidates, which is not allowed per the debate rules. Cobb, while engaging with Maddox in an argument, restarted her time and Maddox was not allowed to respond.


Perhaps the most used solution during the debate was a state lottery to pay for Alabama’s budget shortcomings. The budget shortfall, mostly from the large Education and General Fund budgets passed this year, will reach into the tens of millions unless Alabama makes plans to stave off the deficit.

All the candidates have proposed a state lottery to fix the problems in the state, whether they be in improving education or shortfalls in the General Fund Budget. The candidates floated those same plans on Wednesday by proposing the funds go to lofty budget items like Education, Work Development, and Mental Health Funding.

Actually passing a lottery, however, is an issue that has plagued the state government for years.

While Republican leadership has cozied up to the idea in recent years with support coming from as high as Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration, passing a lottery bill in Alabama has been an arduous task for state legislators.

The most recent bill, proposed by Huntsville Republican Sen. Paul Sanford, never made it to the Senate floor after narrowly passing its own committee. The main hang-up for most lawmakers is finding a lottery bill that has the right language and does not overextend the powers of the state government.

Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, cited this very reason for not supporting Sanford’s bill.

Even if a lottery bill were to clear the Legislature, it still must contend with a popular vote in the state, and the citizens of Alabama voted down a lottery proposal in the 1990s.

Candidates on Wednesday all said the time for another vote has come, but it is unclear if the Legislature is ready to act on lottery proposals.

When asked about solutions to the funding shortfalls that did not include a lottery, Cobb and Maddox indicated that the problems could not be solved without a lottery.

“I don’t think you can take the lottery out of the equation,” Maddox said.

Fields took a different approach and proposed an overhaul of Alabama’s taxes. He also said the government would face tough decisions as they decide how to fund a system with little revenue.

Marijuana Debate

A brief question segment dealt with the question of Marijuana legalization in the state. While all candidates proposed relaxed solutions, Maddox was by far the strongest by advocating for decriminalizing the drug.

Cobb took a softer approach and said we needed to move towards medical marijuana. She said Alabama’s drug laws were “out of step” with the rest of the nation.

While bills like Sen. Dick Brewbaker’s in 2018, which advocated relaxing punishments for possession of Marijuana, passed favorably out committee, an outright decriminalization of the drug hasn’t picked up traction in the Legislature.

Domestic problems also include a contingent of senators and representatives who bitterly oppose the relaxation of drug laws and would likely stop any bills like Brewbaker’s from passing out of the body.

The decriminalization also seems unlikely as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a former Alabama Politico himself, has indicated that the Justice Department will crack down on states that evade the federal prohibition on drugs.

Blue Wave

Unsurprisingly, the three candidates pointed to Sen. Doug Jones’ victory over favored Republican Roy Moore last year as an indicator that a Democrat can win in Alabama.

Jones, a once thought long shot, defeated Moore by a significant margin and was seated in Washington earlier this year.

The candidates hope to be part of a “blue wave” that Democrats say will fall on the country in the 2018 midterms as a result of the Trump administration’s unpopularity. In December of last year, Jones’ victory in Alabama sent shock waves around the country and many pointed to his win as a sign of changing times in the YellowHammer state.

But to others, Jones’ victory was the result of a special election with a controversial, firebrand GOP candidate who lost the backing of Republicans after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced in a Washington Post report.

Jones’ victory did leave an infrastructure of support as volunteers were the foot soldiers of his campaign, but it is unclear if national Democrats are willing to fund the campaigns in Alabama when they could focus on other battleground states and districts that hold a more strategic advantage.

WVTM will host a Republican Debate tonight that will feature every candidate except for Gov. Kay Ivey, who had other events to attends, and Michael McAllister, who was found dead on Wednesday.

Editor’s Note: This article originally incorrectly stated the news station as WTVM in the lede of the story. The correct call letters are WVTM.

Sam Mattison is a reporter and copy editor at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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GOP gubernatorial candidates hold debate in Birmingham

Brandon Moseley



From Left to Right: Scott Dawson, Tommy Battle and Sen. Bill Hightower.

Wednesday, Scott Dawson, Bill Hightower and Tommy Battle were on stage at the historic Lyric Theatre in Birmingham for the Republican candidates debate sponsored by’s Reckon and ABC33/40. Gov. Kay Ivey declined to participate in the media event. An empty podium with Ivey’s name was placed on stage for her anyway.

Roy Johnson served as moderate while Lauren Walsh, Cameron Smith, and John Archibald served as the journalist panel asking the questions.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said of himself, “I am a family man and a businessman.” Battle said that he became Mayor ten years ago and education, roads and bridges, and recruiting good paying jobs were the issues, Now Huntsville is the seventh best city to live in America. I want to do the same for the state,


Birmingham-area evangelist Scott Dawson said that he grew up in Ensley, started working at 14, got a job at 16 and went into ministry.

“We love our state, but we have lost faith in our leaders in Montgomery,” Dawson said. “You can live days without food but you can’t carry on without hope and we have lost hope in our leaders.”

State Senator Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, said that he is involved in a number of small businesses in the Mobile area.

ABC 33/40’s top political correspondent Lauren Walsh asked: Alabama passed legislation making it illegal for high school teachers to have sex with students but that law’s constitutionality is being challenged in the courts arguing that is too broad and violates teachers’ rights. Since the age of consent in Alabama is 16, teachers should have the same rights to have sex with a 16 year or older student as any other adult in the state has. If the court overturns the law, would you support legislation raising the age of consent?

Battle said that we have to look at it in context.

“There is a breakdown in morality across our country,” Dawson said. Dawson said that there were a lot of hypotheticals in the question but that he would support raising the age of consent if the court strikes the law down banning teacher-student sex.

Hightower said that he opposed any lowering of the age of consent.

“You don’t allow it in a company,” Hightower said. “I have not studied the ramifications of that. I have talked to many people across Alabama who told me that they were sexually abused by the teachers and nothing is done. They should not be allowed to come back and teach.”

“This is such a serious issue,” Dawson said.

Many of the questions asked were about former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Hightower was asked about a bill he sponsored that would have changed the law on how judges are removed to make Alabama like the federal government and for non-judicial constitutional offices where impeachment is done by the Senate and not by the Supreme Court.

“The judicial inquiry commission is not working right,” Hightower said. “It was not a fair trial. Let’s have impeachment of the judicial offices just like all the other constitutional offices. I don’t think the process was right. I did not like how the process was handled. It was a very one-sided argument. Judge Moore is not the only person who has a problem with the JIC.”

Battle disagreed. “I don’t want the legislature making political decisions about a judicial candidate.”

Dawson said, “I think he (Judge Moore) was right. I think he was railroaded.”

The panel demanded to know who the candidates voted for in the Senate election.

Battle said, “I supported the Republican candidate.”

“I did vote for Roy Moore,” Dawson said.

“I couldn’t vote for the other candidate,” Hightower said.

They were asked if they believed the women who alleged that Moore had underage relationships with them. (Actually, only Leigh Corfman alleges that she was below the age of consent when she dated Moore, but the panel just used “underage” for all of the accusers).

Dawson said that the allegations were troubling but that he talked with Moore’s pastor for the last forty years and he lived an upstanding life.

Hightower said that he was confident that the U.S. Senate could have determined what happened had it come to them.

The candidates were asked if they had ever challenged authority in their lives.

Dawson said that in his ministry he has had to sit down with other minister and lay the facts in front of them that they have fallen.

Battle said, “We have got to have ethics. We have got to have integrity and got to have honesty.” Three times as Mayor I have sent in ethics reports on other officials and each time I called the person and told them what I was doing and why.

The candidates were asked about HB317, which exempts economic developers from the ethics law.

Hightower defended his vote in favor of the bill in the senate.

“Fake news condemned this bill,” Hightower said. “When the Secretary of Commerce comes to me and says that we will lose projects without this bill passing, what do you expect me to do?”

Hightowers said that if site selectors had to register like lobbyists, “Toyota wouldn’t have come. Mercedes wouldn’t have come. I did not like the bill as it came to the Senate; but in ten months we will write a more robust ethics bill.”

Battle said, “I did not need HB317 to lure 24,000 jobs,” to Huntsville.

Battle said that he supports protecting site selectors, but he was opposed to the section in HB317 allowing economic developers to work for contingency fees

“Ethics bills are not written to protect lobbyists but to protect the people of Alabama,” Dawson said. “Why not wait and get it right, especially in the wake of yet another indictment.”

“I was disappointed that we adjourned without addressing ethics reform,” Hightower said.

The candidates were asked about school security.

Battle said that in Huntsville, “We hardened the site,” where there is only one place to come in or out have to be buzzed in and buzzed out and put a police officer in every school.

“You have to protect the kids,” Dawson said. “I am not opposed to arming our teacher, but I don’t want it to be the wild wild west.” “We need to pay a stipend to those teachers who are protecting our students on the front lines.”

Hightower said, “We know who the problem kids are. In Mobile 1,700 families generate about 78 percent of the crime.”

Walsh asked the candidates about entering into an agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians to allow casino style gambling at their facilities in exchange for taxes on the revenues.

Battle said, “That is not a financial tool I would jump into quickly.”

Dawson said if you legislate stuff just to raise money all you will do is keep legalizing more stuff to raise more money. “It is not a good economic decision for Alabama.”

The candidates were asked if they support raising the gas taxes to fund more infrastructure.

Battle said that we need to have more revenue to make infrastructure improvements and could be in favor of that but said that was just one option.

“Roads and bridges have to be addressed,” Hightower said. “We also have to address waterways and broad band. The bridge in Mobile is going to be a toll road. We already have money.”

Hightower said that we need to remove earmarks and re-prioritize money and should consider privatizing the Alabama Department of Transportation.

“Right now we are transferring $65 million out of ALDOT,” Hightower said.

Dawson said that there is a rumor that Kay Ivey would call a special session after the Republican primary to raise fuel taxes for infrastructure.

Hightower said, “I have heard that. It is no rumor that if certain people are elected they will raise taxes.”

Dawson said that Kay Ivey said that she would end task forces but has since created a school safety task force and is about to form an opioid task force. “You have to wonder if we have a flip flop governor.”

Battle said, “There is probably a consortium running the government. She is on jets going here and there passing out more checks than the publishers clearing house folks. When do you have time to govern?”

Dawson said, “She is coach because we fired our previous head coach and we have an interim coach while we look for a head coach that can win a national championship.”

Hightower said, “She is no Nick Saban,”

The candidates were asked about protecting Confederate monuments.

Dawson said, “I am going to protect the monuments.”

Hightower said that nobody is talking about taking down Auschwitz..

Battle said that when he was in Maine he saw memorials to Civil War veterans like we have, except they were to Union veterans.

The candidates were asked about legalizing marijuana.

Hightower said that we are already fighting opioids.

Dawson said, “I don’t care if it did bring money into this state, I am not going to support it.”

The Republican primary is on June 5.

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Walt Maddox proposes Opioid Crisis Plan

Sam Mattison



Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Walt Maddox proposed a plan to combat the growing opioid crisis in Alabama on Monday that de-emphaizes prisons and takes away responsibilities from the Department of Mental Health.

In his plan, Maddox said that his first action to deal with the crisis would be to separate substance abuse from the Alabama Department of Mental Health and create a cabinet-level position specifically dealing with the crisis.

“We need a cabinet level officer who answers directly to the Governor in the battle to save our state from the ravages of illegal drug use while continuing to coordinate drug policy with mental health resources so that underlying causes of addiction are addressed,” Maddox said.


The candidate also stressed that prisons were not the answer to the opioid crisis.

“Our prisons are troubled on all fronts, but one of the clearest, most consistent mistakes of the past has been to warehouse non-violent prisoners with addiction problems without providing treatment or rehabilitation,” Maddox said.

Finally, he called on–as he has many times before–for an  expansion of Medicaid, which was sharply rejected by Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration.

Maddox’s call for funding hits upon one of the most crucial problems with combating the opioid crisis: how does Alabama fund the solutions to the opioid crisis?

It is unclear if Alabama will have the funds to fight the crisis considering that the state is expected to face a budget shortfall that could extend into tens of millions of dollars. A light at the end of the tunnel is an earmark in a budget proposed by Trump’s White House that would allocate billions to fight the opioid crisis.

But even Trump’s funding may come with the recommendation for harsher punishments for trafficking the drug.

Trump suggested in March that drug dealers should face the death penalty for their role in the opioid crisis. White House Spokesperson Kellyanne Conway reiterated the point in an interview with CNN.

Even when it comes to treatment, the candidates fall on different lines.

Maddox suggested in his plan that medical marijuana could be a solution to the crisis and even suggested that the drug be recreational in Alabama, which is a plan that is greatly opposed by Republicans in the state who have only recently warmed up to the idea of medical marijuana.

The plan for medical marijuana could also be met with a more pugnacious Justice Department headed by Jeff Sessions. After he was seated in the position, Sessions said he would no longer allow states to violate the federal prohibition on Marijuana and even suggested going after states that only allowed medical marijuana.

Under Gov. Kay Ivey, the opioid crisis Alabama received its own Council commissioned by the governor and overseen by three co-chairs–Attorney General Steve Marshall, Acting State Health Officer Scott Harris, and Mental Health Commissioner Lynn Beshear.

The council’s report recommended a slue of policies and legislation, but most failed to gain traction in the 2018 Legislative Session.

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Cavanaugh secures endorsement from Alabama Retail Association

Chip Brownlee



Republican lieutenant governor candidate Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh has received another business industry endorsement, this time from the Alabama Retail Association and its Alabama RetailPAC.

The endorsement comes after Cavanaugh recently received endorsements from the Alabama Realtors Association and the Alabama Home Builders Association.

Cavanaugh, who has served as the president of Alabama’s Public Service Commission since 2012, was the first woman to chair the Alabama Republican Party and was once Gov. Bob Riley’s co-chief of staff. The PSC is an elected panel that regulates utilities in Alabama, including Alabama Power.


Cavanaugh is running for the GOP nomination against State Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville.

Cavanaugh said she was honored to receive the endorsements of “job creators across Alabama.”

“Through the sale of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and much more, the Alabama Retail Association’s thousands of members touch almost every aspect of daily life in our great state,” Cavanaugh said. “Having owned several small businesses, I have signed both sides of a paycheck and am committed to sound conservative policies that allow job creators to do what they do best.”

Cavanaugh said her priorities would be with education, infrastructure, and workforce development if she were to be elected as lieutenant governor.

Formed in 1943, the Alabama Retailers Association was founded by retailers who saw a need for representation in state politics and policy.

The Alabama Retail represents 4,200 members and their 6,000 locations statewide. Those members range from small, family-owned retail stores to large national chains and big business.

Cavanaugh has raked in a number of endorsements from business interests in the state including the Business Council of Alabama, Manufacture Alabama and the Alabama Associated General Contractors (AGC). Political action committees representing the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alabama, the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association have also announced support for Cavanaugh.

The June 5 party primary elections are less than 50 days away. Cavanaugh’s March fundraising report showed a monthly fundraising total of $70,035.


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Analysis | Democratic candidates offer idealistic goals in debate. Realities remain unseen

by Sam Mattison Read Time: 5 min