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Analysis | GOP Debate: Overtly friendly but not toward Kay Ivey

Sam Mattison

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While the three GOP gubernatorial candidates were in Birmingham debating, their minds drifted towards the empty podium in the room meant for Gov. Kay Ivey.

Former state Sen. Bill Hightower, Evangelist Scott Dawson, and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle gathered for a televised debate last Thursday. Minutes before the debate, WVTM, who hosted the debate, announced they had prepared for Ivey’s arrival despite her rejection of the offer earlier this month.

Ivey’s decision to not participate has drawn ire across the state and the three other GOP candidates made it the focus of key parts of Thursday’s debate.

During the pivotal question toward other candidates portion of the debate, which the Democratic candidates used to contrast ideas, the GOP candidates present used it to bash Ivey for a variety of topics.

To each other, the candidates were noticeably less competitive than their Democratic counterparts. In a Democratic debate that same week, former Chief Justice Sue Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox endured a brief spat over a minimum wage proposal that Maddox struck down while he was mayor of Tuscaloosa.

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No such spat occurred on Thursday, and the candidates seemed to bond over their similar views and disdain for Ivey’s absence. They may share similar sentiments later this month when they gather for another debate hosted by Reckon that Ivey has also announced she will not attend.

Besides the negative feelings towards Ivey, the debate yielded some other interesting points.

Medical Marijuana

An interesting point of the debate was that all of the gubernatorial candidates supported medical marijuana in some shape or form.

“I’m not against that particular,” Dawson said of medical marijuana. “I think it has to be highly regulated under doctor’s care and there has to be no other medicine available that could treat that condition.

They all drew the line at recreational marijuana, which only Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox has championed openly in last week’s debate.

“Recreationally–no way,”  Dawson said.

“I don’t like the negative effects of that,” Hightower said. “We’re facing an opioid epidemic and marijuana is a gateway drug.”

Support for Roy Moore

Even now 4 months after the December Special Election, Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore was still present in Thursday’s debate. Hightower and Battle took a page out of the Republican playbook immediately after Moore was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman. That play, mainly used by Washington Republicans, was to ask Moore to resign only if the allegations were true.

“I have supported Republicans nominees throughout my history,” Hightower said. “My position on it was that if the atrocious claims were true, the Senate could have dealt with the candidate. But I could not stomach Doug Jones.”

Hightower went on to say that Democrat Jones, who won the Senate election, had filled his “worst nightmare” in supporting abortions up to 20 weeks, which was a controversial view even among Democrats.

“When the allegations came out against Roy Moore, I said if those are true, he does not need to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Battle said in response to the allegations of Moore. “After that, I said I was running for governor. I’m running for governor. I’m not running for U.S. Senate That’s where I stand on it.”

Dawson took a different approach and said he openly voted for Moore, which Battle and Hightower declined to say whether they did.

“They need to be dealt with,” Dawson said of the allegations against Moore. “But they are not supposed to be considered absolute truth either. There is a balance. When I was looking at this, the worst possible statement is to say that I believe the young ladies, and I am still voting for the candidate. You have to look at these and the tenant of society is innocent until proven guilty–here you have to give the benefit of the doubt.”

Medicaid Work Requirement

Another question dealt with a work requirement for Medicaid that is being pursued by Alabama’s state government. The proposal, which has been referred to the Federal Government for approval, would push hundreds of people out of Alabama’s program.

Democrats have suggested that the state expand Medicaid, a plan that was shut down by Gov. Robert Bentley when the Obama administration offered it to the state.

“What government was designed to do is now being perverted,” Dawson said. “It was never intended to meet every need. When you try to do that, it starts to implode.”

In place of Medicaid expansion, Dawson floated that those left behind on the work requirement could be picked up by charities, communities, churches, and private corporations.

“It seems like it’s always the first resort and the only option,” Dawson said. “I think Alabama should have been on that list of the right to work, and I will push it forward.”

Hightower broke away from Dawson’s view and came out rather harshly against the motion.

“It is brutal and not treating people like they need to be treated, I’m against it,” Hightower said.

The state senator was quick to say that he is not entirely okay with people not working and receiving medical insurance from the government.

“Work is a gift,” Hightower said. “It’s not a curse. It gives us purpose. It gives us meaning. I would want that opportunity to be given to these people as well, but their medical care is very important.”

Battle fell somewhere in the middle of the two views.

“There is a small group in the middle and there needs to be an opt-out for parents with small children who need day care,” Battle said. “The biggest thing is, it is not wrong to ask someone to work. If they can work, I think it’s the greatest thing they can do. You help them become someone who is productive in society.”

A State Lottery?

Perhaps the biggest topic discussed during the Democratic debate last week was the state lottery, which Democrats have been pushing for years. Lately, however, certain Republicans are rallying for the state lottery with the highest support coming from Gov. Robert Bentley in the waning days of his candidacy.

“I am for the vote on the lottery,” Battle said. “I would allow that vote. I don’t think it is a cure-all that everyone talks about, it’s just a financial tool more than anything else. Last time, I voted.”

Dawson and Hightower were firmly in the no camp.

“I’m against the lottery,” Dawson said. “Not necessarily because of my spiritual formation, but also because it is a poor economic decision for the future of Alabama.”

“It’s no answer,” Hightower said of the lottery. “What I really dislike about this is they market to minorities for this. That’s what I don’t like we are also seeing a change in culture in gaming. It’s going online. We are in a changing environment, and I don’t want to have the Jersey boys coming down, walking the state house throwing their money around to more of the politicians like we had a few years ago. I think it’s a bad introduction into government and creates a dependency issue.”

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BCA announces search criteria for new President and CEO

Bill Britt

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The Business Council of Alabama on Monday posted it’s search criteria for a new president and CEO. The posting will close on Oct. 8, 2018, at noon.

BCA Announces Search Criteria for New President and CEO

Those close to the process say the new Executive Committee doesn’t have a pre-chosen individual and that Alabama Power Company CEO Mark Crosswhite who leads the group made it clear from the outset that he wanted a fair and transparent process free of cronyism or insider influence.

President and CEO Billy Canary was ousted from the business organization earlier this year after a bitter fight to retain power.

“The job description hasn’t really changed from what it was when [Billy] Canary was President and CEO,” said an individual close to the search who asked not to be identified. “It was Canary who changed the job to suit himself. That’s never going to happen again.”

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Among the duties of the new president and CEO will be to execute the policies established by the Board to advance the interests of the BCA, possess, develop and foster strong relationships with state and federal elected officials and have a deep understanding of the legislative process.

Those with knowledge of the committee’s thinking doubt anyone from out-of-state will emerge to lead BCA.

The short job-posting window shows the committee understands the need to quickly build a new team ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session beginning in March.

“There’s a lot to be done, and the new guy must hit the ground running,” said a staffer that hopes to remain at BCA. “Canary loyalists will have to be rooted out and removed if there’s any chance this thing will work,” they added.

So, far no significant changes have occurred, but there is little doubt that with new leadership will come substantial personnel changes.

The executive team is anxiously awaiting the results of a full-scale audit that is currently underway because of Canary’s frantic spending near the end of his tenure.

 

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The Montgomery intervention’s $700,000 CFO is missing, but still getting paid

Josh Moon

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Where is Jason Taylor?

Taylor, one of former state superintendent Michael Sentance’s most controversial hires, was brought into Montgomery by the Alabama State Department of Education to serve as chief financial officer for the Montgomery Public School system during the ongoing state intervention.

Taylor, the CFO in the Huntsville system at the time, signed a three-year, $708,000 contract and resigned from Huntsville.

Now, Taylor has mysteriously vanished from MPS.

But the $19,500 monthly checks continue to roll in.

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Multiple sources within MPS, including two school board members, told APR that Taylor hasn’t been with the system “for several weeks.” MPS spokesman Tom Salter said it was his understanding that Taylor had been “reassigned” by ALSDE.

Where Taylor was reassigned is unclear. APR reached out to ALSDE to ask about Taylor and his whereabouts but received no response.

Wherever Taylor is, he’s well compensated.

The Alabama Open Checkbook — an online database of all payments made by state departments — shows North Bar Strategic Partners, which Taylor formed specifically to take the ALSDE contract, received its most recent $19,500 check on Sept. 13. Since signing the original contract in March 2017, Northbay has been paid $346,875 by the state.

The Northbay contract, and Taylor’s departure from HCS, was controversial from the start.

The company was formed by Taylor a little more than a month before it received the ALSDE contract for Montgomery. It was also formed while Taylor was still working in the Huntsville system.

Taylor’s time working with MPS was fairly unremarkable. He managed to shuffle funds between accounts to add to the system’s bottom line, but his proposed budgets also called for massive personnel cuts and/or outsourcing of custodian and other service jobs in MPS.

 

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Elections

Maddox touts plans to expand Medicaid, launch education lottery at bus tour kick off

Chip Brownlee

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walt Maddox promoted his plans to establish a state education lottery and expand Medicaid at the kick off of his statewide bus tour in Tuscaloosa on Monday.

Maddox is attempting to make gains against sitting Gov. Kay Ivey by visiting 35 different stops on the tour. After the launch in Tuscaloosa, Maddox stopped at the Walker County Kiwanis in Jasper on Monday.

Later this week, he’ll visit the Shelby County Democrats in Pelham on Thursday and attend the Dr. Yvonne Kennedy Community Service Awards Banquet in Mobile on Friday.

The last stop of his tour will be at Magic City Classic football game between Alabama A&M and Alabama State University in Birmingham on Oct. 27 at Legion Field.

At the kick off event in Tuscaloosa Monday, Maddox said he was running for governor because of his two kids, Taylor and Eli, who joined him at the event along with his wife.

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“Our state is not where it needs to be,” Maddox said. “We are at or near the bottom in everything that matters — everything. And they deserve to grow up in a state that can provide them the opportunities that I’ve had and that your families have had. And this is the pivotal moment.”

Maddox said he would continue to push hard for an education lottery and Medicaid, two issues he said would appeal to crossover and moderate voters.

“I’m willing to tell the truth to things that matter,” Maddox said when asked how he would appeal to Republicans in a deeply red state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1998.

“If you’re in Haleyville, Alabama, right now, you’ve had to experience an increase in taxes because your hospital is on the verge of closing,” Maddox said. “If you’re in Alex City right now, your hospital could close all because, whether you’re Haleyville or Alex City, because we didn’t expand Medicaid.”

Maddox said the state’s road and bridges are inadequate to handle 21st Century traffic, and the state’s schools are behind in offering a 21st Century education.

“Too many families woke up this morning and saw they were sending their children to schools that are not going to meet a technology-driven economy,” Maddox said.

And the Democrat said Ivey, who has so far refused to debate him ahead of the Nov. 6 election, is ducking those issues in favor of other, more controversial issues that will turn out her conservative base.

“How do you get moderates, moderate Republicans and independents to vote for you? You talk about more important things than monuments,” Maddox said.

Maddox also promised to address mental health issues and overcrowded prisons during a 10-minute question-and-answer session with reporters who attended the kick-off event.

“Those are things that people care about, not this nonsense of political rhetoric. They want results, and that’s what we are going to deliver as governor,” Maddox said.

When asked what he thinks about Ivey’s decision not to debate him, he said it wasn’t a slight against him, but a slight against the people of Alabama, who he said deserve a debate.

“It doesn’t hurt me that she doesn’t want to debate. It hurts the people of Alabama,” Maddox said. “Think how many schools today — nearly a hundred schools in our state are struggling  — doesn’t she owe the parents at those school a debate?”

The Democrat said Ivey should also answer pressing questions about prisons, infant mortality and access to health care before the election in 50 days.

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Elections

State Senate District 2 candidate refuses to debate his opponent

Staff

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State Senate candidate for District 2, Amy Wasyluka, D, and her campaign have made several attempts to contact her opposing candidate, Tom Butler, R, to organize a debate. Butler is currently refusing to debate Wasyluka.

On Sept. 10, Wasyluka sent the following email to Butler’s campaign:

“Dear Tom,

It was good to see you the other night at Sheriff Blakely’s Political Rally.

I would love to give the voters of District 2 the opportunity to hear from both of their state senate candidates prior to the election, and so I wanted to reach out to you to see if you would agree to a debate. If so, we would be happy to work with you to find a neutral third party to host it here in our district.

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I hope that you are having a good week, & I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Amy Wasyluka”

Butler decided not to respond to the email, which prompted Wasyluka to make an in-person visit to Butler on Friday, Sept. 14. and ask him face-to-face for a debate. Butler indicated that he did not want to debate her because, “it would help Ms. Wasyluka’s campaign.”

The Wasyluka campaign released the following statement in response to Tom Butler’s lack of willingness to debate and the importance of electoral debates.

“The Wasyluka campaign believes debates are an essential part of our democracy and part of a candidate’s duty to the voters. We believe that party label alone shouldn’t earn a vote, but that passion, commitment to the issues, and a desire to serve the public should.

The Wasyluka campaign likewise believes debates are not tools to help a particular candidate or campaign, but rather they serve as an opportunity to demonstrate these qualities and to discuss the issues in order to provide the voters with the information they require to choose the candidate who they believe will best represent them in Montgomery.

The Wasyluka campaign remains open to participating in a neutral, public debate should Mr. Butler change his mind.”

Wasyluka and Butler will face each other in the fall general election.

 

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Analysis | GOP Debate: Overtly friendly but not toward Kay Ivey

by Sam Mattison Read Time: 6 min
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