By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — State Sen. Bill Hightower is stressing his background as a businessman as he runs for governor on a sweeping platform of proposed government overhauls that include term limits for legislators and replacing the state income tax code with a flat tax.
“I think Alabama needs a businessman. I think Alabama needs something different than they ever had before,” Hightower said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hightower is challenging Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in the June 5 Republican primary along with evangelist Scott Dawson and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
A relative newcomer in state politics, Hightower was first elected to the Alabama Senate in a 2013 special election and won a full term in 2014. Hightower said he didn’t feel as strongly about term limits when he first was elected to the Alabama Legislature, but believes that lawmakers should be limited to three consecutive terms.
“It seems like the enemy of improvement became the professional politician, the people who are trying to keep the status quo. Term limits will change Montgomery in a way which I think will enable us to make the reforms,” Hightower said.
A graduate of the University of South Alabama who earned an MBA at Vanderbilt University, Hightower worked for large manufacturing companies, living overseas. He moved back to Mobile in 2002, saying he and his wife wanted to raise their children “at home” in Alabama.
“My background in corporate was a lot of strategic planning. I want to develop that plan that’s going to serve Alabama well,” Hightower said.
As a member of the Legislature, Hightower proposed to change Alabama’s income tax to a flat tax, and said he will propose that again if elected governor. “You just go online, or go on a post card and pay your taxes.”
He said he would also like to end budgetary earmarks and “reprioritize” spending, noting that Alabama earmarks more revenue than any other state. “Nobody else in the nation is saying Alabama does it right and I’m convinced waste and fraud is in the budget,” Hightower said.
Alabama lawmakers have previously rejected those proposals — un-earmarking, a flat tax and term limits — as bills on those topics failed to win approval. However, Hightower said believes the ideas are popular with voters and will gather momentum. The Republican senator said he is against tax increases until the state enacts budgetary reforms.
On infrastructure, Hightower said he wants to create an Alabama Road and Bridge Commission, sell unneeded state property holdings to fund construction and commission a study to determine the feasibility of connecting major Alabama cities by high-speed rail. He said he would also like to increase partnerships between the two-year college system, businesses and high schools to improve vocational education.
Hightower has been critical of Ivey’s decision to skip two debates, saying it’s important for the public and press to get a chance to “vet the candidates.”
“She’s not being properly vetted,” Hightower said. Hightower was also the first candidate to raise the issue of health, releasing his own medical records and challenging candidates to do the same.
Ivey, who became Alabama’s governor last year when her predecessor resigned in a sex-tinged scandal, has both a fundraising and name recognition advantage over her lesser-known primary challengers. However, Hightower believes Ivey will be forced into a July runoff with one of her competitors. Hightower said he believes voters largely make up their minds in the final two weeks of the campaign, and are interested in the policies and proposals of candidates.
“You can’t accuse me of being light on policy,” Hightower said.