By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, June 30 The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) spoke at length with former US Attorney Doug Jones who is running for Senate in the Democratic Party Primary. Jones was a US Attorney during the President Bill Clinton (D) Administration.
APR: If Syria attacks civilians with chemical weapons again, after both Presidents Trump and Obama have warned Assad not to do that, should the US mission in Syria change to removing Assad?
Jones: Syria has been somewhat of a disaster in foreign policy for both President’s Obama and Trump. This has become a proxy war. Nobody likes Assad and nobody likes ISIS. We need to make it clear that a chemical weapons attack will have grave consequences, but I also believe that should be a coordinated effort with our allies. President Trump should talk about this with Putin when they meet in a few weeks. People get worked up about the use of chemical weapons but similarly get worked up about denying Syrian refuges who seek a free land.
APR: Should Americans have a right to not buy healthcare insurance if they choose not to?
Jones: We always are a land of freedom; but one person’s freedom affects other people’s freedom. Jones said that people who don’t participate will cost other people money in higher healthcare cost; because they will seek healthcare when they need it and the emergency room is the last place that we need healthcare maintenance. At this point I would favor some sort of a mandate. I can’t imagine anyone not seeking healthcare if they need it.
APR: Should the federal government be ordering the states to adopt national education standard, such as No child Left Behind, Common Core, or Every Student Succeeds Act or should the states be given the freedom to run their own education systems without Federal interference?
Jones: The states have an incredible amount of freedom to run their own systems but I think there is a role for the Federal government in many ways. We are a very mobile people. People move from place to place. There is a national interest in setting some minimal standards so that a child in Alabama gets the same education as a child in New York. Federal standards would involve accountability and consistency from state to state and system to system. One issue we have in education is unlimited demand and limited resources. I want to make sure that not only do the kids in Greene County have the same opportunities as the kids in Homewood or Mountain Brook but also other states. So many of the standards you talked about bubbled up from the states, from the governors and the local school systems. It gets political when the Federal government says that is a good idea. All those ideas started at the local level.
APR: Do you favor block granting many Federal programs to the states?
Jones: No. There may be some, but I don’t favor block granting things like Medicaid to the states. The states are going to have to figure out how to meet the demand. In Alabama quite frankly people ought to be very jaundiced about letting state officials decide how to spend a block of money.
APR: If you are elected you will likely be the only state wide elected Democrat official. Can you work effectively with the Republican controlled Legislature and State government?
Jones: Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat the goal ought to be to do the best thing for the people of the State.” Jones said that for every dollar we send up there (to Washington) we get a dollar fifty back so there has to be a relationship. We have to have more dialogue with each other rather than more monologues. I will work with anybody who will work with me. If they want to preach to me we won’t get far, but if they want to move Alabama forward I will work with them whether they have a D or a R behind their name.
APR: If the space launch system and Orion modules successfully fulfill their testing goals would you support a manned mission to Mars by the early 2030s?
Jones: I grew up in a time of absolute awe and wonder about the space program. If I had had my druthers I would have been an astronaut. That has always been a fascination of mine.” There are also enormous economic benefit for North Alabama, but there is also a pragmatic side. We must weigh those costs. The space program produced calculators, computers, and other things that we would use every day. I would absolutely love to see it. I would volunteer but they won’t let an 80 year old go to Mars.
APR: Agriculture and forestry are Alabama’s largest industries. During the Obama Administration many farmers and foresters complained that they were being hard hit by President Obama’s environmental regulations. Do you support President Trump’s effort to roll back many of those regulations?
Jones: I don’t know what regulations specifically affect the farmers. Most of what I have seen from President trump is simply to dismantle the EPA. I do not support that, but I understand that there has to be a balance. I don’t think the farmers and foresters at the end of the day want to see the natural sources destroyed in any way. I worked for Senator Heflin and he was a champion of the farmers. These are the kinds of issues where I can be a bridge. The farmers can tell me what regulations are concerning them while letting them know of my environmental concerns.
APR: How would you eliminate the $587 billion budget deficit?
Jones: That is a $587 billion question. We had a budget surplus until 9-11 happened and we entered into increased military and wars. The rising threat of terrorism and other things have cost the country a lot of money. We have to figure out how to grow the economy” and I don’t believe in trickle-down economics. I don’t believe that cutting taxes to the rich trickles down to the deficit or to the poor. We have a global economy that we need to expand to bring in more revenue to the government and hopefully decrease the deficit.
APR: Most of Alabama’s counties are rural. What would you like to see done by the Federal government to help rural communities?
Jones: The first think is: more attention needs to be made in the area of education. Educating the kids is potentially the most important thing that can happen. Jones said that one problem is that education is funded with property taxes and rural counties just don’t have the tax base. There can be some Federal money to help. One way you can help the rural counties is with the infrastructure program that the President has talked about. Education is part of infrastructure. Where schools are dilapidated, that can be part of the infrastructure plan to help these communities. Jones said that he would like to work to attract new manufacturing jobs; but this also tied to the education so that when those jobs become available you have a work force available to fill them.
APR: Do you support a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens?
Jones: Undocumented immigrants! I support the Dream Act. It is just unlikely that we will be able to deport 11 million people. I would like to look at what President Reagan and President Bush proposed. There has to be some accommodation. I do not believe in a wall. The money can be better used on education or health care. I do want to see more border security. I don’t like to see local police being used as immigration officers. We are a nation of immigrants. We are getting more diverse and we need to figure out how to get along.
APR: Do you support strengthening and enlarging the American armed forces?
Jones: Yes, I do think that we need to continue to modernize the armed forces. The armed forces today is different than they were 14 or 20 years ago. Austal is doing some cutting edge stuff home that we can continue to modernize and build up the fleet. Alabama has always been engaged in defense industries. The biggest issue is modernization versus enlargement. In modernizing what we have that does not always mean more personnel. It is a different world now.
Jones: I want the strongest defense possible. I have children I have grandchildren. I want to make them safe from attacks both outside and inside this country. That also includes cyber-attacks. That is as much of a threat as anything. Defending against cyber-attacks is part of modernizing our defense systems.
APR: Do you support work requirements for those able bodied people receiving federal food assistance benefits?
Jones: I hate the question. I think that it is difficult to require that a person get a job where there is not a one available. There are a lot of able bodied people working that still require food assistant. There are a lot of people who are disabled and can not work and before you can work there has to be a job that you are educated trained and trained for. In an ideal world you would have all of them come together we don’t live in an ideal world.
Jones: So much of this goes back to education. I think that it is such a shame that issues like that have been politicized that way. That comes from the right wing that says that people on assistance are lazy. That is not true. I get really frustrated with the right on that.
APR: Do you think you as a Democratic Senator should work with President Trump on confirming his judicial appointments on a case by case basis or do you think you should stand with the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate and resist many or most of Trump’s conservative appointees?
Jones: I don’t think the Democratic leadership does that. Absolutely the role of the Senator is to exercise their judgement, whether it is a midlevel position in the Justice Department or the Supreme Court. One thing I learned from Howell Heflin is to show great deference to the President, but there is a role of a US Senator to examine the character and background of each nominee. That is what I am going to do whether it is President Trump or a future Democratic President. Confirmation should not be a rubber stamp.
In closing, Jones said, “As a Democratic Senator from the deep South, Mitch McConnell will know that I am not a vote he can throw $ten millions at, and Chuck Schumer will know that I put Country and State before party. I am running as a Democrat because I believe that is where the heart of America is and that is where the heart of Alabama is.”
There are eight Democrats and ten Republicans running for the seat vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as US Attorney General.
The Special Major Party Primaries are on August 15, 2017, and the Special General Election will be December 12.
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.