By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, July 6, 2017, over half of the candidates for Senate were on hand for the Christian Citizen Task Force’s bipartisan US Senate forum at Huntsville’s Rock Worship Center. An enthusiastic crowd of over 350 were in attendance.
Afterwards there was a straw poll to gauge how the audience was planning to vote. Congressman Mo Brooks won the Republican straw poll, followed by former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Brian McGee won the Democratic straw poll, followed by Dr. Will Boyd.
The first candidate to speak was Dr. Will Boyd (D). Boyd said that he is the Chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Party and is the pastor of St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church in Florence. He is a former Greenville, Illinois city councilman and a former college administrator. Rev. Boyd said, “I believe in a strong economy. We need to do all we can to make sure Americans have good jobs.” Boyd said, “Everybody in our State needs access to affordable healthcare. 900,000 people in Alabama live in poverty. We have 1 million people with disabilities. Education is important. We spend twice as much housing a prisoner as educating a child. I am ready to go to work for you.”
Dr. Randy Brinson (R) said, “I came to Alabama to serve as a physician in the Air Force. After my times serving at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, we decided to stay.” Brinson said that after he took a stand defending: a child’s right to pray in Jesus’s name, say prayers at baseball games, and standing up for home schoolers he got the attention of the national Christian Coalition. “12 years ago I was named as President of the Alabama Christian Coalition.” Working with the legislature, I realized then that fighting corruption was the most important issue facing Alabama. In recent months we have had the heads of every Branch of Government in Alabama removed. Two weeks ago a legislator in Birmingham (Rep. Oliver Robinson) pleaded guilty for bribery and corruption in a scandal that involved Drummond Coal. Three months ago Governor Bentley (R) had to resign. I have called Luther Strange: Mr. corruption. I am not backing down from that.” Brinson said, “Jesus Christ is my personal savior. I will stand up and fight for you in the Senate. Lets send Alabama to Washington, no Washington to Alabama.”
US Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) said, “I have carried the banner of the Republican Party 12 times.” My wife Martha and I have been married for 41 years we have four children. They all live in Alabama. Paul Sanford and Phil Williams have both endorsed me in a Republican Primary which is rare for an office holder. Brooks said that there is an ethical cloud over the appointment process so much so that Kay Ivey moved the Special Election up from 2018. I have a 30 year spotless record. This is a record for US Senator which is arguably the 3rd or 4th most powerful elected leader in the country. This is not a city council or county commission race. I have a proven conservative record.
Vann Caldwell (D) said, I am the constable from Talladega County. I have a Political Science Degree in University of Alabama with an emphasis on history. My main objectives will be to improve economic growth and homeland security.
Mary Maxwell (R) said, “Thank you for letting me speak in your beautiful Alabama. It is now my Alabama. I would like you to pick me because I know what I am doing. I know right from wrong.” “Send me to Washington and watch the newspapers because there will be a blow up.” Maxwell said that the Constitution does not allow the US to go to war without a declaration of war from the Congress. The Constitution does not evolve by violating it.” Maxwell warned that people are suggesting that we go to war with North Korea or Iran because they have some new weapons. “99 members of the Senate don’t care. Rand Paul is different. If they did care they would not allow it. I have written 12 books many of them on law where I am a researcher.”
Brian McGee (D) said, I am a former Army officer who fought in Vietnam and I am a career teacher. “Put a career educator in the United States Senate.” I wasn’t born here. I was born in the Panama Canal Zone. I was an Army brat who moved from state to state with my dad. I was raised Catholic and attended both public and Catholic schools. I attend St Mary’s Church in Opelika. I have been married to my wife for 47 years. Four generations of McGees have served in the US Army during wars: World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf. There are serious questions how Luther Strange got appointed and why he was trying to block an EPA Superfund site in Birmingham. “I will put people above party and people above money.”
Former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) said, I am here with my wife, Kayla. I come from a farming background. I went to West Point and Vietnam. I became a lawyer. A judge eventually Chief Justice. “In November we were given a second chance.” We need to make America strong. I want to make our military stronger. I agree with military leaders on curtailing transgender rights in the military. It will kill the military. I am for getting rid of the IRS. I favor the fair tax, the flat tax, or something like that. Judges do not make law. I want to go to the Senate and scrutinize these judge nominees. “To make America great we need to make America good. To make America good we need to make God great again in America.”
Bryan Peeples (R) said, “It is about people, it is not about me.” I recently met a Mother of a 19 year old Autistic child and she can’t get her son any more Autistic therapy because it is not covered by Medicaid. This is about her. It is about disabled veterans going to the VA and told they are going to have to wait months for care. We are all Americans and that is what this election is about. “We have a generation that needs to step up and lead and not follow anymore. All of you need to be heard. My voice is not important, yours is. As your senator I will proudly serve your voice.”
State Senator Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) said, “I am here because Jesus Christ is my Lord and I am following his will.” I was in a plane crash then I ran for elected office. Before we put our men on the ground in a war zone we do need to declare war. If we have declared war in Korea we would likely not be facing that situation today. In the state Senate I have been budget chairman. I and my colleagues passed the toughest immigration law in the land; but had it thrown out by the courts. We passed laws to require drug testing for welfare beneficiaries. Pittman said that the free enterprise system gives us the best opportunity to be successful. Government should be limited. Socialism is on the ash heap of history. I have my business experience, experience in the military and have experience as a legislator. President John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
After introductions, audience members stood in line to ask the candidates questions.
The first audience member asked about how often they would hold town halls if elected.
Dr. Will Boyd (D) answered “I plan to have forums wherever possible at least once per quarter, and they would be all over the State.”
Dr. Randy Brinson (R) said that communicating with the people is very important. “I am the only job creator on record. We are building homes in Florence to go overseas generating $millions for the economy.”
Rep. Mo Brooks (R) said Traditionally I have held lots of town halls, but that recently out of town protesters have been crowding the town halls and threatening the Congress members and the citizens attending. I have met with every constituent group who has asked to meet with me. There has to be proper communication and proper security. I will try to do the best I can do for all 67 counties.
Constable Vann Caldwell (D) said he would have a minimum of two town halls yearly and a maximum of times yearly.
Mary Maxwell (R) condemned Professional provocateurs. “I am planning to appoint a committee of ten volunteers to enhance the flow of communication.” Maxwell said that there were not many young people in the audience. We have to find the young people. Millennials we have to find them and tell them that they have every right to participate and more so because they will have to live with what happens longer than we will.”
Brian McGee (D) lashed out at Brooks saying that when the Tea Party came to the town halls he wasn’t complaining. McGee said that he went to Birmingham and asked to see both Senators Strange and Shelby. They refused to see me. Their staffs took my phone numbers and said they would give me a call. Did I get a call? No.”
Judge Moore (R) said, “My door has always been open and I have gone out and spoken all over the State.”
Peeples (R) said that with today’s modern technology we can engage whenever possible. “I will be in the district whenever the Senate is in recess. I will be on Facebook live and Instagram. We are here to serve you and not to serve any agenda. I will personally respond to each and every one of you.”
Sen. Pittman (R) said, “I make my living selling tractors to farmers and equipment to contractors,” so I know how to communicate. What is important is we need a resurgence in faith and family. I have strong philosophical underpinnings thus feel comfortable standing up and explaining myself. “The free enterprise system gives us the ability to help people.”
Rep. Mo Brooks defended his record in the Congress when pressed by a hostile constituent. “I have been able to change statutory language over 60 different times and I have been a conservative leader.” The Heritage Foundation ranked me in the top ten members of Congress. On border security I was ranked number one over the last six years. If you look at my re-election record I have won thirty point margins of victories. That show s that I represents the wishes of the people.
A member of the audience asked each of them: If they could only accomplish one thing in the Senate what would they want it to be?
Dr. Boyd said, “My student success and empowerment bill. When education is instituted it changes the dynamic.”
Dr. Brinson said, “Repeal and replace Obamacare. I am the only person on the panel with a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Congressman Brooks said, “If we don’t change the rules of the Senate the conservative agenda is dead in the United States Senate. My number one goal is to change the rules of the Senate so that a 52 seat majority is not held hostage to a 48 seat minority.” The people voted for Republicans to control the Senate, for Republicans to control the House of Representatives, and for a Republican President. “The will of the people is being thwarted by Democrats and their liberal agenda.”
Rep. Brooks said “The incumbent (Luther Strange) has signed a letter saying that he wants us to keep those rules in place.”
Constable Caldwell said that “As a business owner I want to restore the American dream. I will protect the Constitution. Economic growth is the main thing. I will defend your rights.”
Maxwell answered, “Investigate the cause of the Autism epidemic where one out of 68 boys are autistic.” Maxwell suggested that the MMR vaccine causes Autism.
McGee responded, “We have got to get money out of politics. Citizens United was the worst thing that the Supreme Court has ever done.” Medicaid needs to be fixed. We should also be fixing the Affordable Care Act, not repealing it.
Judge Moore said that “There is a great misunderstanding of the Constitution. I would like to end the differences that divide us; White and Black, rich and poor.”
Peeples responding to Brinson’s comment about him being the only one with a plan to repeal Obamacare said, “I have a four point comprehensive health care plan that repeals Obamacare and four separate pieces of Legislation to replace it.” “I can’t do this alone. I promise to work with people across the aisle instead of going it alone like we have done for the last 20 years.”
Sen. Pittman answered, I believe in term limits. We need to have an honest debate and understand what works and what doesn’t. It is critical that you lead by example. I will work to continue the greatness that has always been here.”
An admitted former drug addict asked the candidates what they would do about the opioid epidemic.
Dr. Boyd said, “I am on the board of directors of the Board of health in Lauderdale County and also in Florence. We do have a problem and we need programs to eradicate opioid addiction.”
Dr. Brinson said, “We have an opioid crisis in Alabama. We have the highest rate of opioid use in the nation. Kentucky is a distant second. We need to clamp down on doctors that make it too easy to get. We need to improve addiction treatment in this State and we need comprehensive mental healthcare.”
Rep. Brooks said, “I am a firm believer in the 10th amendment. Let the states work their way through the problem. Families have a responsibility, church has a responsibility, friends and the community have a responsibility, we all have a role but it can’t be a government alone solution.”
Caldwell said, We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. If someone gets sick we don’t put them in jail.”
Maxwell suggested that a doctor has invented a cure to opioid dependency, but that the government is suppressing the information.
McGee said, “We should look at the cause of the problem and that is a lack of hope. We should not be putting people in jail again. We need to solve these problems and not keep treating the symptoms.”…”and we need to raise the minimum wage.”
Judge Moore answered, “Of course we have a drug problem. We need to teach people hope. How do you do that? You teach them about God. Also stop drugs crossing the border and coming up from South America.”
Peeples said. “It is a crisis. Rush Limbaugh had an addiction to opioids that he was getting on the black market. We need to look at alternative solutions to pain management. We need to deal with this not on a State level, but on a National level.”
Sen. Pittman said that he was prescribed a lot of opioids after his plane crash, “Most of them are still in my medicine cabinet. I still have pain and I take an Alleve a day. We need a resurgence in responsibility and a resurgence in work ethic because that is what gives you confidence.”
Pittman lashed out at Luther Strange: “I would appreciate it if some of the people currently in office would come out and defend their views in forums like this. If you can’t come out and talk to the people in a campaign you won’t come out when in office……he is already in office.”
A veteran asked the candidates what they would do to improve the Veterans Health Care System.
Dr. Brinson said that he has worked in the VA system and that meeting veterans’ healthcare needs would be one of his priorities. “If the VA can’t see them in 2 weeks they should be able to go to a private doctor.”
Rep. Brooks said that he favors giving every veteran a gold plated card giving them the option to get their care from any doctor or hospital. Brooks said that competition would force the VA to compete as they are losing their customer based to the private sector.
Maxwell said, “167,000 veterans are on disability because of either Gulf War Syndrome or the Anthrax vaccine which was experimental.” Maxwell accused the government of experimenting on veterans and suggested that people be put on trial for treason.
McGee said that he is a disabled veteran himself, “Just a ten percent disability.” One out of ten adults in Alabama are veterans. “Privatization is not the answer. It would only take more money out of the system. We need to fix the VA. The VA needs more funding.
Judge Moore said, “The same people that want the government to take over healthcare can’t run a VA healthcare system. Government can’t do it well. We do owe it to our veterans they have served us and we should take care of them.”
Peeples said that he favored removing the lifetime benefits of Congress and give that back to our veterans.
Sen. Pittman said that the men and women who put their lives on the line for thos country deserve better care than what they are getting. “We do need more funding.” Pittman pointed out that the VA system is a single payer healthcare system and the government does not manage it very well.
On the Republican side: Mo Brooks had 101 votes, Roy Moore had 74, Trip Pittman eight, Randy Brinson six, Bryan Peeples five, Mary Maxwell three, and Luther Strange had three votes.
On the Democratic side: Brian McGee had nineteen votes, Will Boyd had twelve, Doug Jones had five, Michael Hansen two, Vann Caldwell one, and Jason Fisher one.
The Major Party Primaries are on August 15 and the Special General Election is on 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.