By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Longtime Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox — a quiet upstart in the Alabama Democratic Party who has drawn the eyes of many in the party despite maintaining a relatively low profile in statewide politics — is considering a run for Governor next year.
Maddox, 44, has been the mayor of Alabama’s fifth largest city since 2005 and recently won his fourth term in May. For several years, Democrats across the State have been pushing Maddox to consider a run, believing that his success in one of Alabama’s largest cities could be translated to a Democratic resurgence in Montgomery.
Maddox confirmed Thursday in an interview with APR that he had launched an exploratory campaign but hasn’t made a final decision about whether he will run. If he chooses to run, he’ll run as a moderate Democrat — despite the urging of some friends and colleagues who thought he would do better on the GOP ticket.
“It would be dishonest to change parties because of our State’s political climate,” Maddox said. “It would be dishonest with the voters; it would be dishonest with my family; it would be dishonest with myself.”
Being competitive in a gubernatorial race in Alabama as a Democrat — much less winning — would require a big shift in the State’s electoral landscape. The state hasn’t had a Democratic governor since Don Siegelman, who was elected in 1998, ended his term in 2003.
Since then, the elections have been largely safe bets for Republican candidates including former Gov. Robert Bentley, who won by nearly 30 percentage points in his 2014 re-election bid. Siegelman’s race against then-candidate Bob Riley in 2002 was the last time a Democrat wholeheartedly challenged a Republican candidate.
Maddox hopes to change that.
“People are going to be interested in the individual and what that individual can do to help them — their lives and their children’s lives,” Maddox said. “We have reached that point, and I think Alabama is ready to be proud again. They’re ready to look toward Montgomery and be proud of its leadership.”
Though he never went negative toward his own party in his interview with APR, Maddox has been notoriously quiet about his membership in the Democratic party before. He has painted himself as a centrist interested in appealing to voters across party lines.
“For 136 years, the Democrats didn’t succeed,” Maddox said. “For the last seven years, the Republicans haven’t succeeded. We, as a State, have been captured by the parties and not by the people.”
Maddox rose to statewide prominence in 2011 after the April 27 tornado outbreak when he was praised for his handling of the aftermath. More than 40 people died in Tuscaloosa that day and tens of millions of dollars in damage was done.
More than 12 percent of the city was destroyed, leaving thousands unemployed and the economy of the city in question.
The New York Times, a month after the storm, hailed Maddox as an “efficient, earnest, unwavering hero of the storm, praised by federal officials and tornado victims alike.”
Since the storm, Tuscaloosa has more than recovered. Most of the areas of the city destroyed by the storm have now been replaced with new shopping centers, apartments and homes. The city now has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, much lower than the the statewide rate.
Before becoming mayor, Maddox served as a personnel director for Tuscaloosa City Schools and later on the Tuscaloosa City Council before deciding to run for the mayorship. In 2005, he made the jump, and he hasn’t looked back.
“What we have done in Tuscaloosa has been results oriented,” Maddox said. “For nearly 12 years, we’ve demonstrated what results-oriented government means and you can see it in every corner of our city.”
Maddox said he was tired of leadership in the state who are content with Alabama being ranked near-last in almost all quality-of-life categories. He said 2018 is an opportunity for a change in style of leadership.
“In recent years, our politics has been about bumping heads. Our politics has been about distraction. Our politics has been about fear,” Maddox said.
“The people of the state continue to get farther and farther behind because the leadership in Montgomery are more concerned with playing the game than they are with changing the landscape so that we can compete with Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida — not only now, but in the future.”
Over the course of a single year, Alabama lost all three of its top political officials — from former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, to Chief Justice Roy Moore and finally culminating with the resignation of Gov. Robert Bentley. New scandals have also engulfed Sen. Luther Strange and the Alabama Board of Education.
Maddox said those were evidence of a bigger problem.
“Beyond the fact that we lost leadership in all three branches of government due to corruption or the unwillingness to follow the law, our state is hurting,” Maddox said. “We need leadership that is going to focus on what everyday Alabamians are experiencing.”
The Tuscaloosa mayor said he was perhaps most concerned with the dire straights of the health care industry in Alabama, including Medicaid, rising private insurance premiums and rural hospitals struggling to keep their doors open.
Dozens of small rural hospitals are on the verge of closing.
“That would be calamitous for our state, for Alabama,” Maddox said. “We need leadership that is going to have the willingness to address it.”
Though he hasn’t yet released comprehensive policy memos, Maddox said he would like to develop a set of detailed policies that will move his campaign forward, focusing on implementation and results.
His health care policy memo would most likely include expanding Medicaid in compliance with a portion of Barack Obama’s 2010 healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act. ACA’s Medicaid expansion was meant to make up for restructured reimbursements in the Medicare program, which provides insurance coverage for those 65 and older.
Without the Medicaid expansion to make up for lost dollars, the loss in Medicare dollars hit Alabama’s hospitals — hospitals that largely rely on caring for the Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries — even harder.
“As it comes to rural hospitals, think about what happens if rural hospitals close,” he said. “That means the residents in that county — thousands of people — face more than just losing a hospital. If they have a heart attack or a stroke, whatever it may be, they go from having health care in minutes to health care in over an hour.
“That can be the difference between life and death.”
Maddox said he believes a Medicaid expansion, which would largely be covered by federal dollars currently, would be one of the first things he’d do if it’s still available.
“It will bolster our health care system here in Alabama. Ultimately, it’s going to be good for all Alabamians,” he said.
Maddox said he would bring a comprehensive policy approach to all of the issues facing Alabama including education, infrastructure, prisons and health care.
“If you look at every quality of life category that we are judged by, we are not succeeding,” Maddox said. “There is going to have to be a laser-like focus to go and begin tackling those problems.”
Those issues have been bandaged and put aside, Maddox said, leaving the people to deal with the fallout.
“All of these problems that we are getting accustomed to, there are real people who are hurting behind these statistics, and they need leadership that is going to be their voice — leadership that is going to be their advocate, leadership that is not going to forget that they are there to serve everyone,” Maddox said.
On the Democratic side, Maddox would join Alabama Democratic powerhouse Sue Bell Cobb, a former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Maddox will have to defeat her and any other Democratic candidates to make it to the general to face off against a Republican.
Both battles could be difficult for Maddox. Cobb enjoys wide support within the Democratic party in Alabama, and she herself was also the focus of pressure to run for the office.
The Republican field is already more crowded than the Democratic primary despite the fact that Gov. Kay Ivey could seek re-election next year. She hasn’t made an announcement yet.
Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.
“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.
Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.
It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.
Tuberville said he would ban that practice.
A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.
President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.
The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.
Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.
House passes General Fund Budget
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.
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.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
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.
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.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
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.
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.