Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Inside Alabama Politics – December 3, 2020

Latest on a special session


By our count, this is the fifth edition of Inside Alabama Politics to speculate on the possibility of a special session of the Alabama Legislature to take care of unfinished business from the COVID-curtailed 2020 Regular Session. There are good reasons for that.

When lawmakers adjourned sine die in May, it was generally assumed that there would be at least one special session, perhaps two or three even, because of the bills left on the board. Maybe there should be a cooling off period to let tensions ease between the respective chambers and branches, but surely there would be a special. In fact, a key reason why the House leadership believed it was justified in not taking up non-budget, non-local bills in the final days was the assumption there would be plenty of opportunity over the next seven months to get them done. More to the point, if it was widely thought that there wouldn’t be a special session, leadership would have insisted on the passage of key bills: reauthorizing economic development incentives, un-taxing COVID income and limited liability protection. Why? Because waiting until February to act on these bills would create headaches – treatable, but avoidable headaches.

Well, it seems headaches there shall be. Well placed sources tell IAP that, with 28 days remaining in the calendar year, the likelihood of a special session is small and growing smaller by the day. Some reasons are obvious: the state is experiencing a second surge of the coronavirus pandemic, this one in many ways worse than the first. While some precautions have been put in place, the State House at the moment simply does not have the facilities and equipment to assure the safety of lawmakers, staff and observers. Could they meet at an alternate, spacious location like the Renaissance convention hall to complete a five-day, five-bill session? Sure, but someone has to pick up that ball and run with it. The fact that nobody has might speak to the less obvious reason we are unlikely to see a special: most of those in charge don’t want one. While many rank-and-file lawmakers have expressed an interest in a special, the leadership of the two chambers have been at best ambivalent and at worst antagonistic toward the idea, especially in the House. Gov. Kay Ivey isn’t too keen on lawmakers gathering in Montgomery and potentially meddling with the ongoing prison contract process. Of course, the governor would set the agenda for a special session in her “call,” but lawmakers can take up outside issues with a two thirds vote of each chamber. That may seem like a high bar, but it’s not that much higher than a Budget Isolation Resolution. Also, word to IAP is that the House has been discussing alternatives to Ivey’s prison plans. Sources say there are three basic lanes of thought: (1) attempt to block the plan outright and start over; (2) replace the plan with an “off the shelf” proposal much like the one Bentley failed to pass five years ago, and: (3) acquiesce and let the plan proceed. That chatter would make Ivey’s concerns valid and her prudence justified. Or is the House simply rattling their sabers in order to spook the governor because they themselves really don’t want a special session? That would be clever.

In any case, the next time the Legislature meets is likely to be Feb. 2 of 2021 at its constitutionally prescribed time. Where and for how long they meet has yet to be determined. They could gavel in and adjourn until a few months later when the COVID coast is clearer. They could take up those aforementioned “must pass” bills and then hit the road until a later date. Either way, the Legislature will be making up for lost time throughout 2021.

The conventional Montgomery wisdom of multiple special sessions may have been right, only a year premature.


Polls show consistency


The decision to forgo a special session to deal with unfinished business, or even to delay further business come February, may be prudent given the dire nature of the pandemic over the next few months. However, it could also come with political consequences. A recent Alabama Daily News poll conducted by Cygnal found that 78.1% of state voters thought the Legislature should be meeting and conducting the state’s business in person. Those numbers were even stronger among Republicans.

While those poll numbers were widely circulated given their topical nature, they weren’t actually all that new. That is to say, the ADN poll in many ways reflected the numbers taken in a previous poll commissioned by the Alabama Policy Institute and conducted by the same polling firm.

API’s poll was specific to the tenets of the RESTORE Act the conservative think tank is advocating: liability protection from frivolous COVID lawsuits, reforming the public health emergency process, using CARES Act money to fund broadband and tax cuts, suspending the certificate of need process, expanding school choice and reauthorizing the Alabama Jobs Act. Not surprisingly, all of those issue polled well. What also polled well was the prospect of the Legislature meeting to debate such issues, to the tune of 70%. That’s eerily similar to the more recent numbers. In fact, if you look at the top lines from each, it appears the biggest change is those going from “unsure” to “support.”

That shows us what voters think when asked. But the question is, will a special session or those specific issues or access to the Legislature be what they are thinking about when they vote? Chances are they won’t, not unless someone makes them think about it: outside groups, primary challengers, etc. Even then, there’s plenty of ways to divert blame (Only the governor can call a special, and the like).

Feedback from lawmakers and consultants alike on the polling has been that they understand it could be turned into a campaign issue and that they must work to neutralize it. That means whenever and however the Legislature meets, it will be incumbent on them to deliver meaningful results to a populous weary from a prolonged pandemic.


They weren’t kidding about the “scorecard”


Speaking of the Alabama Policy Institute, the group is moving forward with plans to keep an active tally on lawmakers based on a “watchlist” of activities, including votes, taxes raised by local legislation, attendance and public accessibility. The idea, first reported by Inside Alabama Politics in August, is to “inform the general public on the conservative stances taken or rejected by their elected State Senators and Representatives.”

Many groups have scorecards they use to grade lawmakers on votes that are important to their constituency. Most famously, the Alabama Education Association was known for putting the faces and names of the entire Legislature in the Alabama School Journal along with a passing or failing grade based on a slate of bills.

However, API’s effort sounds more like what national organizations do to Congress. Heritage Action, the Club for Growth and other groups have made a lot of hay the last several years grading congressmen on their scorecards on votes and bill sponsorships, grades which they eventually unleash on the member’s unwitting constituents via mail or other forms of advertising. It’s an effective, if at times unfair, strategy. Congressmen who would have once not thought twice about supporting the Farm Bill or an appropriations package suddenly were spooked into wondering how it might be graded by these so-called conservative groups. This, plus the shameless fundraising off it all, drives congressmen crazy, and many say it has only made it more difficult to pass meaningful bills.

To be clear, what API plans to do is much different and above board, according to those within the organization. For one, their agenda will be clear from the beginning and no lawmaker will be caught off guard by a “scoreable” vote or action. That is certainly a change from the likes of Heritage and Club.

Longtime State House observers will finding it interesting that the scorecard will include attendance. Some lawmakers have had a bad habit of missing votes over the years. In the Senate, there is no way to hide it, but in the House, members can vote each other’s machines unless special rules are invoked to prevent it. Members of the press watched in 2019 as one ambitious young lawmaker missed day after day of the legislative session, only to have votes curiously cast by his machine.

Inside Alabama Politics got to see a mockup of this watchlist scorecard. Take a look.

State House Machinations


As ADN’s Mary Sell first reported last week, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh will relinquish the top job in the Senate when it reconvenes. State Sen. Greg Reed of Jasper was chosen last week by the Senate Republican caucus to become the next Senate president pro tempore. While the timing of the vote came as a surprise, the choice of Sen. Reed was not; he has been the heir apparent for several years. The unanimous vote all but ensures that Reed, currently the Senate Majority Leader, will be elected by the full Senate to one of the most powerful positions in state government when the Senate begins the 2021 legislative session in February.

Replacing Reed as the #2 person in the Senate is Sen. Clay Scofield of Guntersville who was elected to the position of Senate Majority Leader. Both Reed and Scofield were first elected to the Senate in 2010.

Playing out behind the scenes was an attempt to elect Sen. Steve Livingston of Scottsboro pro tem, which was orchestrated by about a half dozen North Alabama senators. It obviously failed and could cost several of those senators consideration for premium chairmanships when the dust settles. (Note: some mentioned to IAP that Livingston and others simply wanted a more formal process for selecting the next Pro Tem and their actions may not have been as aggressive as perceived)

The Republican Senate caucus has worked well together the last ten years under the leadership of Marsh, but with several of the 2010 class exiting the Senate and newer senators jockeying to fill the void, the waters have gotten a little turbulent. The recent change in leadership will also lead to several committee chairs becoming available.

Scofield’s promotion to majority leader will make available the chairmanship of the popular Confirmations Committee. Originally Sen. Livingston was expected to get the appointment, but after his failed coup, I think it will be offered to Sen. Clyde Chambliss of Prattville.

Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster was just appointed by Gov. Kay Ivey to be the next director of Pardons and Paroles. His absence in the Senate will leave a void. Not only has he served as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, but he has also been the leader for sentencing and prison reform, a strong advocate for public notice and open government and just an all-around good public servant since first being elected to the Legislature eighteen years ago. He will continue serving the state well in his new capacity.

Although Sen. Will Barfoot of Pike Road currently serves as vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it will likely be Sen. Tom Whatley of Auburn who replaces Ward as chair of Judiciary because of seniority. Whatley currently chairs the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation committee, so there’s that too.

One rumor has Whatley being appointed by the governor as district attorney of Lee County, were there to become a vacancy. The current D.A. is under indictment. Whatley, a practicing attorney in Auburn and a Lt. Colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard, fits the job description. That said, I imagine he stays in the Senate.

So it appears that electing Reed and Scofield was the easy part. Let the game of musical chairs begin. When the Senate is predominately Republican there isn’t really anyone to squabble with other than each other.



Rogers finally hits committee pay dirt


Speaking of the federal side, Congressman Mike Rogers got some good news this week: he has won the House Republican Steering Committee’s nomination to become Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee. This was first reported by Politico based on its sources inside the House GOP Conference. Ranking Member is the top position for the minority party on a committee in the House. That’s significant because, with a Biden administration coming in – and with it new Pentagon leadership – Rogers will play a key role in cross examining witnesses, requesting information and keeping the administration accountable. More significantly, however, is that it means Rogers will become Chairman of House Armed Services if and when the Republicans win back the majority. Right now, Democrats hold a slim 10-seat House majority, which could shrink to nine depending on what happens in NY22. The party out of power tends to pick up seats in the midterm following a presidential election, so history is on the GOP’s side to win back the House.

That would give Rogers Alabama’s first Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee since 2nd District Congressman Bill Dickinson in the 80s and early 90s. Dickinson brought home a lot of Department of Defense bacon to Alabama, especially in the budgets of Reagan and Bush. He was also highly protective of the state’s military installations. It was after Dickinson’s retirement in 1992 that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted to close Fort McClellan in Anniston, a city Rogers now represents in Congress.

Alabama’s military footprint has only grown since then, especially on the defense industry side. Rogers has always sat on HASC and had a seat at the table on military matters, but there’s a big difference between having a seat and being chairman.

To win the job, Rogers beat out Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. Turner actually has more seniority on the committee than Rogers, but word is he is seeking a seat on Defense Appropriations, and you certainly can’t have both of those.

For Rogers, to have a gavel is long overdue. He should have been chairman of the Homeland Security Committee back in 2015 but was elbowed out by the Texas and Ohio delegations and their numbers on the Steering Committee. Thankfully for Rogers, HASC is a much more influential committee to chair, especially for his district and state.


Tuberville world comes full circle


U.S. Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville made his first big government hire last week in naming Stephen Boyd as his chief of staff. As we first reported, Boyd is an Alabama native with an extensive Washington, D.C. resume, to include senior-level stints in the Senate, House and Department of Justice. Simply put, it was a “home run” hire for Tuberville, who himself acknowledges that he needs someone with considerable knowledge and experience leading his team given that he is new to the process.

Boyd checked all the obvious boxes: Alabama roots, Senate experience, universal respect among Washington and Alabama politicos. But there was a less obvious box he didn’t check: he didn’t personally know Tuberville. As Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Boyd couldn’t come anywhere close to helping on Tuberville’s campaign and there’s no reason their paths would have crossed in the past. The former coach is known to value personal loyalty, which is why many presumed he would hire someone from his campaign team as his chief.

So, how did Tuberville turn his eye toward Boyd? Enter Tripp Skipper, the Alabama politico who first engineered Tuberville’s candidacy starting two years ago. As Inside Alabama Politics reported last December, Skipper and the Coach had a falling out during some turbulent times on the campaign trail, which kept Skipper out of Tuberville’s orbit for several months. That led him to pursue other races, including a successful congressional contest in Indiana for Victoria Spatz. Not long after, the two reconnected to bury the hatchet, and Skipper began working behind the scenes on transition ideas. Key to any Senate office is hiring a chief, and at the top of Skipper’s list of candidates was Boyd.

There were complicating factors. Tuberville was getting significant pressure from the White House and D.C. special interests to hire their preferred candidates. And again, Tuberville had never met Boyd. But after an introductory phone call and two meetings in Washington, D.C., Tuberville finally pulled the trigger to hire him.

To be sure, once Boyd became a candidate for the job, there were several (probably in the dozens) of Alabama and D.C. influencers who contacted Tuberville to communicate how he was the right fit for the job. But, without the initial overtures, the soon-to-be senator may have never been aware of who the “home run” hire was. Now firmly back in Tuberville’s orbit, Skipper can now serve as a conduit to other individuals and organizations who might not be close with coach but want to be.

Senator bringing back bill to change state emergency order extensions

By CAROLINE BECK Alabama Daily News

A bill that would allow the state Legislature a say in extending state emergency orders, like the ones put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic, will be re-filed in the 2021 legislative session.

Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, told Alabama Daily News that he plans on bringing again the bill that would limit state emergency orders to 14 days and require legislative approval for extensions.

“I think we need it to be democratic process instead of a one-man show and a one-man ultimatum,” Whatley said.

Currently, state law says the governor can issue a state of emergency for up to 60 days. A series of public health orders from the state health officer and emergency orders from the governor began in March in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The current order, which requires everyone to wear a face mask in public spaces expires on Dec. 11.

Whatley’s proposed bill says that if the Legislature is not in session, an extension can be approved by a joint proclamation by the senate president pro tem and the speaker of the house.

This same bill was proposed during this year’s regular legislative session but wasn’t considered due to the pandemic-related limits on what lawmakers would take action on, focusing on the state’s budgets and local bills.

Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, told ADN he plans on supporting the bill again because it offers more checks and balances to the emergency order process while still ensuring help gets to Alabamians in an efficient manner.

“There are safeguards in place where it wouldn’t just be an end date specified but there would be some oversight to it by a different branch of government other than just the executive branch,” Barfoot said.

Whatley’s bill also requires the governor and secretary of state to sign off on any state health order the state health officer creates.

Whatley says since the governor is an elected official, unlike the state health officer, they are beholden to the public.

“I just think we need to have a process of how they go into place,” Whatley said. “No matter what they are, no matter how restrictive they are, or non-restrictive they are. They need to have a place where the public is involved and has some recourse in the matter.”

The state health officer for decades has been selected by the State Committee of Public Health. That committee, by state law, is largely made up of leadership of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, the professional association of physicians.

Many state lawmakers have come out against the state-wide mask mandate and have urged Ivey to not close businesses down like what happened earlier this year with the stay-at-home order, but Ivey has given no signal that she would install such an order again.

Whatley said this bill is not a criticism of any of the current emergency or health orders in place.

“This bill doesn’t have anything to do with one particular personality or person,” Whatley said. “This bill has to do with basic rights of democracy and the people of Alabama.”

Ivey press secretary Gina Maiola told ADN that Ivey did not have an opinion on the bill so far.

“As with any piece of legislation, we will watch the process play out, offer input if needed and review any bill that reaches the governor’s desk,” Maiola said.

Ivey will have to sign off on the bill if it passes the Legislature.

The 2021 regular legislative session is scheduled to begin Feb. 2.


Bill would prohibit payments to groups that turn out voters

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A lawmaker from north Alabama wants to close what he says is a loophole in state law that allows groups to be paid for turning out voters.

“I don’t think any person or any organization should profit from someone else voting,” Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said. “It was already illegal to pay somebody to vote, it just wasn’t illegal to pay an organization to get somebody to vote.”

Kiel’s House Bill 70, pre-filed for the 2021 legislative session, specifies that individuals and groups can’t make payments “on a per voter basis” to other individuals or groups, including churches.

In October, the Associated Press reported that the “New South Souls to the Polls Initiative” was paying churches a $6 contribution “for each documented early vote” to cover the expenses for outreach and transportation to help people vote early by absentee ballot.

The effort was organized by former state senator Hank Sanders, a Democrat from Selma. He said the $6 is intended to compensate groups for transportation, outreach and time to help people vote early and was not tied to how a person will vote.

“It says specifically no person can be paid to vote. This is not about paying anybody to vote. It’s about trying to encourage people,” Sanders told the AP.

The monetary amount is inconsequential to the idea of paying for voter efforts, Kiel said.

“It doesn’t matter, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, we should be voting because it’s our civic responsibility not because somebody paid us to do that,” he said.

The New South Coalition is a predominately Black political group that is dedicated to the “progressive ideals of freedom, justice and democracy.” Sanders said the effort is being run by the New South Alliance LLC, an entity dedicated to get-out-the-vote efforts.

Secretary of State John Merrill told the AP that the $6 payments were legal as long as they weren’t tied to voting for particular candidates.

“It’s not illegal,” he said. “It’s certainly not a best practice.”

Merrill this week told IAP this week that his office supports legislation that strengthens the electoral process and increases credibility. He said he heard from several lawmakers about the New South situation.

“This is the first piece of legislation I’ve seen related to that, but I don’t anticipate it will be the last one,” Merrill said.

Merrill said his office is working on more than 20 pieces of legislation for the 2021 session and he expects to roll them out soon.

The session begins Feb. 2.


Hatcher catches fire in SD26 Special Election

The little talked about and little voted in special Democratic primary for Senate District 26 held on Nov. 17 produced a runoff between new and old world Montgomery – former longtime State Rep. John Knight, who once ruled the roost among Capital City lawmakers, and new State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, who is still in his first term but rapidly making a name for himself as a young dynamic leader. 

Astute readers will remember that this special election was brought about after the resignation under duress of Senator David “Coach” Burkette – but only after he was elected in a special election held on the same day as the special general election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones, all the way back in *checks notes* December 2017. Let’s just say that A LOT of water has passed under the political bridge since Alabama was the epicenter of that episode of As America Burns. 

What does that have to do with the runoff coming up on Dec. 15? Just that three years is a lifetime in politics. Knight may have lost to Burkette, but it didn’t stop him from spending the next two and half years trying to unseat the Coach, in more ways than one. 

The surprise to most political observers in the primary was the relative strength of Hatcher against the field. He won 48% of the vote, falling just short of an outright win. Knight, on the other hand, won just 21%. Hatcher appears to have enlisted Joe M. Reed, brother to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed and son of longtime Alabama Democratic Conference chair and longer-time Knight rival (hated) Joe L. Reed as a campaign consultant. Hatcher also leads the field in the money primary. In the primary portion of the race, he also received $25,000 from Charles Barkley, $2,500 from Republican lobbying firm Swatek, Bryan and Vaughn, and $1,000 from trial lawyers and $500 from the Alabama Beer Wholesalers Association. 

Just this week, Hatcher was endorsed by the Alabama Association of Realtors, who offered $20,000 to his cause. That’s a big deal for a few reasons. For one, under their current leadership, the Realtors are known for keeping their powder dry until it matters. They clearly see a future with Hatcher and you can expect more of the business community to follow suit. It also shows that Hatcher’s support is becoming more diverse, while Knight’s once broad base, especially monetarily, has eroded. 

For his part, Knight also received $1,000 from trial lawyers and $500 from AWBA, but his largest contribution appears to be $5,000 from Boll Weevil Strategies, LLC – a consulting firm registered to former Alabama Democratic Party ED Bradley Davidson. 

Only about 5,000 voters participated in the primary, so expect an extremely low turnout affair to choose who Montgomery’s newest Senator will be. And expect the winner to be Hatcher, barring any unforeseen changes.


Alabama lawmakers’ pay increasing in 2021

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Members of the Alabama Legislature will get a 3.76% raise on Jan.1, bringing the 140 lawmakers’ annual pay to $51,734.

With the $1,873 increase, legislators’ pay has increased by $8,885 since 2015 when a constitutional amendment went into effect tying their salaries to the state’s median household income.

Next year’s pay bump reflects the 2019 median household income, according to the Alabama Department of Personnel. That means any COVID-19-caused decrease in household income this year could show up in lawmakers’ pay in 2022.

The 2012 voter-approved amendment was initially a pay cut for many lawmakers, putting their salaries at $42,849 in 2015. Since then, they’ve had five raises and one slight pay decrease.

Republicans who pushed the constitutional amendment said it would save the state money and take politics out of their pay. If the state prospers, they get paid more; if it doesn’t, they don’t.

Alabama’s lawmakers are considered a “hybrid” legislature – not full-time, but more than part-time. They do most of their legislating during a regular session once a year, meeting usually three days a week for 15 weeks. The 2020 session was cut short by Coronavirus precautions.

Lawmakers don’t earn more during sessions, but they are compensated for travel costs.

The amendment allows most lawmakers to be reimbursed more for travel to and from Montgomery.


Just for fun

It seems governors have always been questioned over their use of state aircraft. As recently noted in The Art of Alabama Politics, former Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom was no different, but he also had some fun with it along the way.

See complete post below.

[cmsmasters_html shortcode_id=”g0jddoo1p”]PGRpdiBpZD0iZmItcm9vdCI+PC9kaXY+CjxzY3JpcHQgYXN5bmMgZGVmZXIgY3Jvc3NvcmlnaW49ImFub255bW91cyIgc3JjPSJodHRwczovL2Nvbm5lY3QuZmFjZWJvb2submV0L2VuX1VTL3Nkay5qcyN4ZmJtbD0xJnZlcnNpb249djkuMCIgbm9uY2U9Ikhxc1ZKRXBWIj48L3NjcmlwdD4=[/cmsmasters_html]

[cmsmasters_html shortcode_id=”linj3090z”]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[/cmsmasters_html]

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia