Wednesday, Scott Dawson, Bill Hightower and Tommy Battle were on stage at the historic Lyric Theatre in Birmingham for the Republican candidates debate sponsored by AL.com’s Reckon and ABC33/40. Gov. Kay Ivey declined to participate in the media event. An empty podium with Ivey’s name was placed on stage for her anyway.
Roy Johnson served as moderate while Lauren Walsh, Cameron Smith, and John Archibald served as the journalist panel asking the questions.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said of himself, “I am a family man and a businessman.” Battle said that he became Mayor ten years ago and education, roads and bridges, and recruiting good paying jobs were the issues, Now Huntsville is the seventh best city to live in America. I want to do the same for the state,
Birmingham-area evangelist Scott Dawson said that he grew up in Ensley, started working at 14, got a job at 16 and went into ministry.
“We love our state, but we have lost faith in our leaders in Montgomery,” Dawson said. “You can live days without food but you can’t carry on without hope and we have lost hope in our leaders.”
State Senator Bill Hightower, R-Mobile, said that he is involved in a number of small businesses in the Mobile area.
ABC 33/40’s top political correspondent Lauren Walsh asked: Alabama passed legislation making it illegal for high school teachers to have sex with students but that law’s constitutionality is being challenged in the courts arguing that is too broad and violates teachers’ rights. Since the age of consent in Alabama is 16, teachers should have the same rights to have sex with a 16 year or older student as any other adult in the state has. If the court overturns the law, would you support legislation raising the age of consent?
Battle said that we have to look at it in context.
“There is a breakdown in morality across our country,” Dawson said. Dawson said that there were a lot of hypotheticals in the question but that he would support raising the age of consent if the court strikes the law down banning teacher-student sex.
Hightower said that he opposed any lowering of the age of consent.
“You don’t allow it in a company,” Hightower said. “I have not studied the ramifications of that. I have talked to many people across Alabama who told me that they were sexually abused by the teachers and nothing is done. They should not be allowed to come back and teach.”
“This is such a serious issue,” Dawson said.
Many of the questions asked were about former Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Hightower was asked about a bill he sponsored that would have changed the law on how judges are removed to make Alabama like the federal government and for non-judicial constitutional offices where impeachment is done by the Senate and not by the Supreme Court.
“The judicial inquiry commission is not working right,” Hightower said. “It was not a fair trial. Let’s have impeachment of the judicial offices just like all the other constitutional offices. I don’t think the process was right. I did not like how the process was handled. It was a very one-sided argument. Judge Moore is not the only person who has a problem with the JIC.”
Battle disagreed. “I don’t want the legislature making political decisions about a judicial candidate.”
Dawson said, “I think he (Judge Moore) was right. I think he was railroaded.”
The panel demanded to know who the candidates voted for in the Senate election.
Battle said, “I supported the Republican candidate.”
“I did vote for Roy Moore,” Dawson said.
“I couldn’t vote for the other candidate,” Hightower said.
They were asked if they believed the women who alleged that Moore had underage relationships with them. (Actually, only Leigh Corfman alleges that she was below the age of consent when she dated Moore, but the panel just used “underage” for all of the accusers).
Dawson said that the allegations were troubling but that he talked with Moore’s pastor for the last forty years and he lived an upstanding life.
Hightower said that he was confident that the U.S. Senate could have determined what happened had it come to them.
The candidates were asked if they had ever challenged authority in their lives.
Dawson said that in his ministry he has had to sit down with other minister and lay the facts in front of them that they have fallen.
Battle said, “We have got to have ethics. We have got to have integrity and got to have honesty.” Three times as Mayor I have sent in ethics reports on other officials and each time I called the person and told them what I was doing and why.
The candidates were asked about HB317, which exempts economic developers from the ethics law.
Hightower defended his vote in favor of the bill in the senate.
“Fake news condemned this bill,” Hightower said. “When the Secretary of Commerce comes to me and says that we will lose projects without this bill passing, what do you expect me to do?”
Hightowers said that if site selectors had to register like lobbyists, “Toyota wouldn’t have come. Mercedes wouldn’t have come. I did not like the bill as it came to the Senate; but in ten months we will write a more robust ethics bill.”
Battle said, “I did not need HB317 to lure 24,000 jobs,” to Huntsville.
Battle said that he supports protecting site selectors, but he was opposed to the section in HB317 allowing economic developers to work for contingency fees
“Ethics bills are not written to protect lobbyists but to protect the people of Alabama,” Dawson said. “Why not wait and get it right, especially in the wake of yet another indictment.”
“I was disappointed that we adjourned without addressing ethics reform,” Hightower said.
The candidates were asked about school security.
Battle said that in Huntsville, “We hardened the site,” where there is only one place to come in or out have to be buzzed in and buzzed out and put a police officer in every school.
“You have to protect the kids,” Dawson said. “I am not opposed to arming our teacher, but I don’t want it to be the wild wild west.” “We need to pay a stipend to those teachers who are protecting our students on the front lines.”
Hightower said, “We know who the problem kids are. In Mobile 1,700 families generate about 78 percent of the crime.”
Walsh asked the candidates about entering into an agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians to allow casino style gambling at their facilities in exchange for taxes on the revenues.
Battle said, “That is not a financial tool I would jump into quickly.”
Dawson said if you legislate stuff just to raise money all you will do is keep legalizing more stuff to raise more money. “It is not a good economic decision for Alabama.”
The candidates were asked if they support raising the gas taxes to fund more infrastructure.
Battle said that we need to have more revenue to make infrastructure improvements and could be in favor of that but said that was just one option.
“Roads and bridges have to be addressed,” Hightower said. “We also have to address waterways and broad band. The bridge in Mobile is going to be a toll road. We already have money.”
Hightower said that we need to remove earmarks and re-prioritize money and should consider privatizing the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“Right now we are transferring $65 million out of ALDOT,” Hightower said.
Dawson said that there is a rumor that Kay Ivey would call a special session after the Republican primary to raise fuel taxes for infrastructure.
Hightower said, “I have heard that. It is no rumor that if certain people are elected they will raise taxes.”
Dawson said that Kay Ivey said that she would end task forces but has since created a school safety task force and is about to form an opioid task force. “You have to wonder if we have a flip flop governor.”
Battle said, “There is probably a consortium running the government. She is on jets going here and there passing out more checks than the publishers clearing house folks. When do you have time to govern?”
Dawson said, “She is coach because we fired our previous head coach and we have an interim coach while we look for a head coach that can win a national championship.”
Hightower said, “She is no Nick Saban,”
The candidates were asked about protecting Confederate monuments.
Dawson said, “I am going to protect the monuments.”
Hightower said that nobody is talking about taking down Auschwitz..
Battle said that when he was in Maine he saw memorials to Civil War veterans like we have, except they were to Union veterans.
The candidates were asked about legalizing marijuana.
Hightower said that we are already fighting opioids.
Dawson said, “I don’t care if it did bring money into this state, I am not going to support it.”
The Republican primary is on June 5.