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Inside Alabama Politics – June 29, 2021 Parts One & Two

There’s a lot going on in the world of Alabama politics! So much, in fact, that we are splitting up the latest IAP into two parts. Scroll down for Part Two.


Thinking about special sessions


Another year, another summer spent speculating on when the Alabama Legislature might meet for a special session. Last year, Gov. Kay Ivey and legislative leaders ultimately decided not to have one, using executive authority to temporarily reauthorize economic development statutes and limit COVID-19 lawsuit liability and waiting until the Regular Session to codify those items. This time around, they probably won’t have that kind of flexibility.

What has to get done? For one, redrawing district lines for congressional, state school board and state legislative districts.  Also allocating $2.43 billion in federal COVID-19 funds and, possibly, passing some kind of prison bond deal.

First on redistricting, there’s really not much time to waste. All but a handful of state school board seats are on the ballot in 2022 and candidates are already running for districts that haven’t been updated. The problem, of course, is that the state doesn’t yet have the Census data it needs to finish the redistricting process.

So when might that finally happen? One of the leaders of the state committee redrawing congressional and legislative districts said he doesn’t expect a special session on new maps until late October or early November.

“We can’t start drawing until we can go in the computer and know where the people live,” Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, told Alabama Daily News. He’s co-chair of the Alabama Legislature’s Joint Reapportionment Committee, the panel charged with developing new maps for Alabama’s seven congressional districts, eight state school board seats, 35 State Senate seats and 105 seats in the House of Representatives.

Fifteen Republican governors including Ivey sent a letter recently to the U.S. Department of Commerce urging that the U.S. Census Bureau release redistricting data as soon as possible, saying further delays would hurt efforts to redraw congressional and legislative districts.

The letter addressed to Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo said the governors recognize the difficulties associated with completing the decennial Census during the coronavirus pandemic, which has postponed release of redistricting data until mid-August.

But the letter also said the ongoing delay puts states “in a nearly impossible situation to redraw lines prior to the 2022 election cycle” in U.S. House and state legislative districts.

Pringle said there could be differences between the initial numbers received in August and the final numbers expected in September.

Pringle said that he told Ivey that if she calls a special session on prisons in late August, that would work well for the redistricting committee to have meetings with lawmakers about their districts while they’re in session. Then, there would be public hearings in early September and final numbers later that month.

“I could see by late October or early November, we can probably have a special,” he said.

The qualifying deadline for 2022 races is Jan. 28.

The panel will allow for a 5% population difference between districts. In 2012, they tried to use a 1% variation.

“With 5%, we have a little more room to keep communities of interest intact, keep counties intact and not break up voting precincts,” Pringle said.

“…Once we pass the bill and it’s signed by the governor, candidates can figure out where they live,” he said. “But more importantly, the (county) registrars have to go in and start updating everybody’s voting information. They may not live in the same legislative district anymore. Every single voter has to be updated and all that has to be done in time for the secretary of state to order the district ballots…

“We’ve got to get our work done so everyone else can get their work done.”

Other issues

Special sessions may also be required on other pressing items. The Legislature and Ivey have $2.43 billion in federal money to allocate from the most recent COVID/stimulus package. Top staff from the Department. of Finance and the Legislative Services Agency have been working feverishly on a workable plan that Ivey and lawmakers can agree upon.

Another issue is prisons. Ivey’s plan to lease three new men’s prisons has all but fallen apart and lawmakers have been indicating for months that support would exist if the Legislature needed to pass some kind of bond issue for building new or renovating state-owned prisons. One question becomes how much speed matters to the Department of Justice and the federal court in terms of getting new prisons operational. In their official statements, both entities say new prisons are not the remedy to Alabama’s prison problems, but any measure of common sense indicates newer, state-of-the art facilities can help cut down on violence issues. If getting at least one new prison up and running in a hurry can help demonstrate to the feds that the state is serious about making progress, look for a lease option to be discussed as part of the plan. Starting completely over on a bond-and-build plan would set the state back at least two years in terms of design and construction. CoreCivic, which spent millions developing its prison plans for Elmore and Bibb counties, would not likely be interested in selling those plans to the state since their business model relies on long-term leases, not prison design.

Sources tell IAP that those latter two issues – prisons and federal stimulus – could be accomplished in one special session. Putting all of it into one special session could be problematic because you want the least amount of horse trading possible when redrawing district lines.


House Speaker: What happened, why it matters and what’s next


A funny thing happened on the way to reporting our big Inside Alabama Politics scoop this week that House Speaker Mac McCutcheon wouldn’t run again. Just as the three of us were literally reporting the story and calling around for reaction, the speaker emailed the entire House membership and within minutes the emails were flying around and the story was out. The Speaker said he wanted members to hear it from him (and presumably not from IAP) so he got his wish.

To be sure, rumors about McCutcheon’s imminent retirement have persisted for months, really ever since the final weeks of the last legislative session. After four terms in the House, a stint as Rules Chairman and five years as Speaker, McCutcheon has earned the right to put his feet up. In statements Monday, he said he wanted to enjoy retirement with his family. A few sources mentioned to IAP Monday that McCutcheon could be in line for an Ivey appointment to the Madison County Commission if current Commission Chairman Dale Strong wins the GOP nomination for the Congressional district Mo Brooks is leaving. That appointment would let McCutcheon stay home, but still be involved in politics in the fast-growing county.

In the State House, McCutcheon will probably always be remembered for being a steadying and calming presence in a state government leadership structure that had been rocked to its core. “Mac,” as he is colloquially known in the State House, made waves in his first speech to the body declaring that “the days of the imperial speakership are over.” That was, of course, in reference to former Speaker Mike Hubbard, who tended to preside over the House with a heavier hand to advance the Republican agenda. McCutcheon’s style has been much different, allowing much more robust – and sometimes seemingly endless – deliberation on issues on the floor and in the Caucus. While the new style was appreciated by many at the beginning, some have privately complained that the House could be a more tightly run ship. Through it all, the always-gentlemanly McCutcheon has remained well-liked by lawmakers and staff alike.

There was also a distinct sense in and around the House Republican Caucus that members were ready to turn the page toward a change in leadership in the next quadrennium. That’s to be expected. And none of this means McCutcheon’s work wielding the gavel is finished. He would still presumably preside over whatever special sessions Gov. Kay Ivey calls this fall plus the 2022 Regular Session that starts in January.

Now the question becomes who will vie to become the next Speaker of the House after the 2022 elections? Here are the names we are hearing at IAP/ADN.

Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville

It would certainly make sense for the current House Majority Leader to seek a one-rung promotion to the top job. After all, having previously won a caucus election and spending the last five years whipping votes, Ledbetter has demonstrated he knows how to do a headcount. Word is Ledbetter is definitely interested in the job and even expressed some dissatisfaction internally with McCutcheon down the stretch during the last session. Part of that could be distancing himself from the current speaker’s leadership in order to not be seen as the presumptive continuation of the current regime.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark

Clouse would be the veteran in this field of candidates, having served in the House for more than 25 years. That kind of tenure not only affords you a lot of political and legislative experience, it allows you to build relationships and do other members favors. Clouse has chaired House Ways and Means General Fund committee for the past seven years, an oftentimes thankless job but one that has allowed him to understand how the levers of government can be pulled to get things done. Clouse put his name in the hat for Speaker in 2016 and almost won the job, narrowly losing out to McCutcheon after multiple ballots. IAP understands he is now testing the waters again.

Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper

State House insiders have long whispered about the idea that Rowe could become Alabama’s first woman Speaker of the House. She has a reputation for being tough-as-nails on issues she cares about, while jovial and likable as a House colleague. If Speaker is not in the cards for her this time, IAP could easily see her moving up in House leadership, either as Rules Chairman, Majority Leader or General Fund chair.

Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa

You don’t get to be Ways and Means Education Committee Chairman after one term like Bill Poole did without your colleagues having respect for and confidence in you. Poole is known as one of the most thoughtful and talented members of the Legislature. Whenever there is a heavy lift, you can be sure Poole will be involved if not asked to lead the effort. For these reasons many have been left to wonder what Pool might want to do in the future. The race for the governor’s office appears to be crowded even a few terms out. Same for U.S. Senate. But pursuing the Speaker’s chair could be a good fit for Poole, allowing him to bring order to a fractured body and utilize the true influence of that role. And, if Poole decides to run, he’s the kind of candidate that could clear much of the field.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia

Known to be ambitious and measured with his words, no one would be surprised to see Jones run for Speaker. In fact, had you done a straw poll of State House insiders sometime in the last five years for who was most likely to be the next Speaker, Jones would have been at or near the top of the list. Serving as Rules Chairman affords members perhaps the best front row seat to actually managing the flow of legislation in the House. That path certainly served McCutcheon well. You get to do a lot of members favors by placing their bills on the agenda. At the same time, you end up with some mad at you for not placing their bills on the agenda. Jones’ path might not lay inside the House chamber. We previously reported Jones had some interest in a community college presidential role and there is always the judiciary. He could also be interested in a promotion to the upper chamber, given the next story on the list…


Holley calling it a career after 44 years in the Legislature

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

After more than four decades in office, Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, is not seeking reelection in 2022.

Holley, 76, said his health is the principal reason he’s retiring from state politics.

“My wife (Mary), she says we’ve contributed our fair-share of time,” Holley told IAP on Monday.

Holley often used a walker to get around the State House during the most recent legislative session.

Holley has spent more than half his life as a lawmaker. He’s in his sixth term in the Senate and prior to that served five terms in the House.

In that time, he earned the respect and appreciation of those in the State House.

“Sen. Jimmy Holley is an institution in the Alabama Senate, and our body will not be the same without him,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said in a statement to IAP Monday. “I appreciate the decades of service he has given to his district and to our state in his long tenure in the Senate, and I am grateful for the wisdom and experience he has shared with our membership. I have enjoyed learning from and working with him over the years, and I am thankful for his extensive service to the state of Alabama.”

Holley’s Senate District 31 includes Coffee, Covington and Pike counties and the northern portion of Dale County.

Holley said legislation to put minimum requirements on auto insurance, numerous bills limiting access to abortions, and expanding alcohol sales in the state are some of the highlights of his career.

Holley said he’s proud to have helped the state go from an “anti-business climate” to a business friendly one.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to really change our image to a pro-business state,” he said.

He’s also sponsored product liability and food safety bills — not always the flashiest bills, but important ones.

“I’ve found out over the years that good legislation is not necessarily the popular legislation,” Holley said.

He chairs the Senate Government Affairs Committee and has been a fixture on the General Fund budget committee. Holley is a retired Troy University administrator.

In 2017, Holley was one of the Senators behind a bill to create the Legislative Services Agency, putting the non-partisan professionals who provide legal, fiscal and bill-drafting services to lawmakers under one agency to make the Legislature more efficient.

“Sen. Holley fights hard for what he believes in, and he believes in the role of the Legislature and the people who give of themselves in support of it,” said Othni Lathram, director of the Legislative Services Agency. “He genuinely cares about the people who work in this building: our wellbeing, our professionalism, and our ability to get the job done.  As a several time chair of the Legislative Council he was focused on taking care of every staffer at every level.  He wanted each employee treated fairly, with respect, and with dignity and I never saw him act in a way short of that himself.”

Other longtime senators who have announced they won’t seek reelection include Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Jim McClendon, R-Springville.

Candidates seeking to run in 2022 have until late January to qualify.


Dayne Cutrell goes to Maynard

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Maynard Cooper & Gale has hired longtime Capitol Hill staffer Dayne Cutrell as a shareholder in the firm’s government and regulatory affairs practice. The outgoing chief of staff for Sen. Richard Shelby will serve as Director of Federal Affairs at Maynard and be based in Birmingham.

Cutrell has worked in Washington, D.C. for more than a decade and spent the last two years leading Shelby’s office as he was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s rarified air for even the most seasoned of political staffers and has certainly given Cutrell valuable institutional knowledge and experience for how the appropriations process works. Cutrell’s specific appropriations work came as he was a clerk, or top staffer, on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, known as CJS. There he managed an appropriations title worth $65 billion, which included funding for the Department of Commerce (Red Snapper); the Department of Justice (FBI expansion in Huntsville) and NASA (Marshall Space Flight Center).

“It is an honor to join a premier law firm headquartered in Alabama that has its sights set on the future,” Cutrell said in a press release. “I look forward to leveraging my experience to advance our clients’ strategic goals, provide counsel on how to navigate the ever-changing maze of federal bureaucracy and produce successful outcomes.”

As for Shelby’s office, IAP has learned that Watson Donald will soon start as chief of staff. Donald currently works in federal affairs for Alabama Power and has previously worked stints in Washington, D.C. With about a year and a half still left in office, Shelby’s (and Shelby’s staff’s) job becomes three fold: lock down funding for legacy projects in the current round of federal funding, coordinate an effective swan song tour that Shelby has earned and do the work of setting up the next generation of lawmakers and staffs to be successful at Alabama-related projects, particularly appropriations. These are jobs Donald and the current Shelby team are well suited for.


Moore brings on Bradley Jaye

In other Capitol Hill personnel news, Congressman Barry Moore has brought on Bradley Jaye as his new communications director. Jaye’s is a familiar name to Alabama Hill people and an experienced staffer. He worked for years in Jeff Sessions’ Senate office in both policy and communications roles and was comms director to Congressman Bradley Byrne during his final term and run for Senate.





Tim James getting serious?

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

A familiar name in Alabama Politics has surfaced in the conversation about the race for governor: Tim James. He is, of course, son of former two-term Alabama Gov. Fob James. He is also a successful businessman has run for governor twice before, in 2002 and 2010, both times in the GOP primary. It should be mentioned that James came close to winning that 2010 GOP primary, or at least making the runoff. He lost out to Robert Bentley by 170 some odd votes, and if he hadn’t, the race would have been quite different.

Perhaps it is a sense of coming that close before or perhaps it is a sense that there really is an opening for a legitimate candidate to challenge Gov. Kay Ivey from the right – we’d suggest it’s a little of both – but sources close to James’ thinking say he is seriously considering a run.

“Yes, he’s serious,” one source told IAP, adding that James has not made up his mind but that he sees an opening politically.

Part of that stems from this battleship brouhaha. In case you haven’t heard, former President Donald Trump reportedly wanted to host a July 4th rally at the USS Alabama in Mobile in support of his choice for U.S. Senate, Congressman Mo Brooks (the Alabama Republican Party tells IAP the rally was actually theirs and not meant for Brooks). That request was denied by the Battleship Commission on the grounds that the event was too partisan. The commission sought an Attorney General’s opinion on the matter, but dragged its feet to do so. (For what it’s worth the AG’s office eventually said the event wouldn’t have been illegal so long as the same opportunity is given to other groups). In any case, many are convinced that it was Kay Ivey herself that nixed the event, an assertion her office has flatly denied. That hasn’t stopped some in Trump world from blaming her and, if the rumors are true, seeking out a primary candidate to run against her. Now, it seems a little far fetched that the governor, herself up for reelection, would do anything to deny Trump something he wanted. It’s also a little silly to think that the former President of the United States would get involved in a gubernatorial primary. But, if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last ten years of Alabama and American politics, silly and far fetched are often the rule rather than the exception.

At the very least, there is a belief among some Trump and Brooks faithful that Trump really is mad and would support a candidate against Ivey. And, at the very least, James is considering putting himself in position to be that candidate.

Trump’s involvement notwithstanding, running against Ivey would be an uphill battle. She remains popular and her campaign messaging is targeted directly at the very conservative voters it takes to win primaries. Having run twice before and being the son of a two term governor, James brings automatic name recognition that is needed to compete. However, that also could come with baggage seeing as how Bradley Byrne spent millions beating him up over the bridge deal in the 2010 campaign. Those ads are probably the reason he wasn’t governor and there’s no reason to think Ivey wouldn’t revisit the issue this time around.

Will James ultimately pull the trigger? It remains to be seen. But the first serious challenger is giving the race a serious look and that’s news.

Jessica Taylor for Senate?

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

IAP first reported back in March that former Congressional candidate Jessica Taylor was considering a run for U.S. Senate. Those rumors have persisted in the months that followed prompting us to ask: is this going to happen?

“Countdown to Full-Throttle begins soon,” was the response from a source familiar with her plans.

So yeah, she’s running.

Taylor made a big splash running for Congress in the 2nd District with a unique campaign that utilized her youthful energy and role in starting the “conservative squad” of GOP women. She ultimately did not make the runoff but did establish herself as a familiar presence on Fox News and an effective fundraiser. Her candidacy would add a new element to an already interesting GOP primary.

Mathis considering State Auditor run

Sources tell IAP that Dr. Chad Mathis, a Birmingham physician who ran for Congress in 2014, is considering a run for State Auditor in 2022. Mathis is currently a fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute where he focuses on health policy. His candidacy for Congress briefly caught fire in 2014 as he stood out as an outsider in a field of mostly politicians. Gary Palmer would go on to win the election to replace former Congressman Spencer Bachus.

The race for Auditor could become one of the most crowded contests on the ballot in 2022, with State Rep. Andrew Sorrell and Birmingham pastor Stan Cooke already announced. State Auditor has the arguably the least responsibility of constitutional officers, but as a statewide race it allows candidates to put their name before voters and get a springboard for higher office.

Pendergrass gets a wink and a nod in HD88

House District 88 is shaping up to be one of the more interesting legislative contests for 2022. State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is running for reelection despite his legal and public relations troubles. He was finally indicted last week by Montgomery District Attorney Darryl Bailey over charges of theft, which confirmed that the DA intends to pursue the charge rather than let it go. Dismukes continues to deny the charges and says he’ll win in court. Still, the rap sheet does not inspire confidence among his legislative colleagues.

Perhaps that is why announced candidate Josh Pendergrass was seen shaking hands and rubbing elbows at the big House Republican Caucus fundraiser in Fort Payne last weekend. For Pendergrass to be an invited guest to such an event says a lot about the inroads he is making a month into his candidacy.

Other candidates are expected to announce, Prattville City Council President Jerry Starnes among them.

Merrill: No plans to seek office in 2022

By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Nearly three months after the scandal that sunk his U.S. Senate bid before it officially launched, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill reiterated that he’s not running for elected office in 2022.

Sources tell IAP that Merrill has been calling around to weigh support for a run next year, possibly for Public Service Commission.

Asked about it Tuesday, Merrill via text said, “I have not indicated that I have any interest in any office for 2022 at this point.”

In April, Merrill said he wouldn’t be a candidate for any office in 2022.

“Nothing has happened today that has changed that, as far as my position is concerned,” Merrill told IAP in a follow-up phone call Tuesday. “…I don’t have any plans today to seek the election to public office in 2022.”

Merrill was considering a U.S. Senate run next year, until the April outing of a three-year extramarital affair that ended in late 2020. He told the AP’s Kim Chandler then that he would not run for any elected office next year because of poor choices he made that have impacted his family.

Merrill said he has gotten encouragement from supporters to run for office in 2022, which he appreciates.

“But the people that do that, they don’t understand what I’ve been going through, to be honest with you,” Merrill said.

Merrill said he spent about a month at an out-of-state, faith-based rehab facility and is continuing counseling.

“I’ve been doing a number of things that honestly I should have been doing before,” Merrill said.

Merrill said he hasn’t given anyone reason to think he’d run next year.

“There are a lot of things that are important in the world, and being in elected office is one of them,” Merrill said. “But there are some things more important than that and those are the things I’m dealing with right now.”

Merrill, who is known for his presence on social media and for regular appearances at county GOP groups around the state, took a hiatus from both following the scandal. He’s recently returned to social media and the road.

Merrill has also made it known in speaking appearances and text messages with several IAP sources that he has repented and rededicated his life to Christ.

Merrill is in his second term as Secretary of State and served one term in the Alabama House.


Jeff Pitts leaving Matrix

Jeff Pitts, who had been with Matrix for almost 26 years, has decided to start his own consulting firm, Florida-based Canopy Partners.

Matrix Chairman Joe Perkins told IAP, “Jeff is an extremely capable professional and working with him for a quarter of a century has been a gift and a pleasure. I wish him well in his new endeavor, and I’m sure he will be successful.It is with some sadness that we say ‘goodbye’ to Jeff, but we wish him the best. Further, we anticipate that Matrix may have opportunities to partner with Jeff on projects in the future.”

Pitts is also recently engaged to Apryl Marie Fogel, recently been named as the indefinite host of the 12-3pm time slot on 93.1 Montgomery as Dan Morris heals from a major surgery to address jaw cancer.



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