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

Inside Alabama Politics – November 6, 2020

No election drama in Alabama

For all the anxiety being felt across the country as states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and Georgia count votes at a creeping pace, the election in Alabama was relatively straightforward and drama free.

According to Secretary of State John Merrill, a total of 2,293,823 ballots were cast out of 3,708,804 registered voters. That means voter turnout was at 61.85%, far below the record of 76% from 1996 that many had predicted would be broken. Few voting mishaps were reported throughout the state. There were long and slow-moving lines in suburban Birmingham, particularly in Trussville and Vestavia. Merrill personally visited the Horizon Church voting place in Vestavia and ordered changes to check-in procedures to speed up the process. 

Also according to the Secretary of State’s office, the top Trump-voting counties were:

  1. Winston (90.37%)
  2. Cleburne (89.76%)
  3. Blount (89.57%)
  4. Marion (88.42%)
  5. Cullman (88.15%)

The top Biden voting counties were:

  1. Macon (81.45%)
  2. Greene (81.32%)
  3. Bullock (74.71%)
  4. Perry (73.81%)
  5. Lowndes (72.74%)

 

Marsh: Senate leadership discussion happening later this month

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh rocked the Alabama political world last week by telling The Anniston Star he would not be seeking a seventh term in 2022. (Kudos, by the way, to The Star for the big scoop). This week,  we asked Marsh, the Senate’s top leader since 2010, what that means for Senate leadership for the next two years.

His short answer: I don’t know yet. 

“I’m glad to serve as Pro Tem  if that’s what my colleagues want me to do,” he said. “I had made mention that sometime I would like to possibly step down and focus on some key pieces of legislation and we’re going to discuss that in November. We’ve got a caucus meeting and we’re just going to have an open discussion about what needs to take place. Of course, COVID messed things up a bit because obviously we had kind of a crazy session last session. I had some key legislation we had a chance to get into and we never got there.”

The 2020 session was severely shortened in response to Coronavirus precautions and many bills died. Inside Alabama Politics had previously reported that Marsh planned to step down as pro tem after the 2020 session and hand over the reins to Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper. However, the shortened session prevented Marsh from passing his priority legislation, including broadband internet expansion and an unreleased education reform package. 

Marsh said there are still questions about how COVID-19 will impact how much legislative work can get done in the 2021 session that starts Feb. 2.

“We made provisions for the press (to allow access in 2020), but we had a lot of lobbyists who were upset about the fact that they weren’t able to have access,” Marsh said. “When you get into big ticket items, controversial items, obviously you want people to be able to come in and voice (their opinions) and be involved in that process. So yeah, we have got to look at what accommodations can we make to make sure that if we go through the process, that people have a voice.”

He said if a vaccine is available by February, that will change the situation, but right now there is a lot of uncertainty.

“All I can tell you is, of course, it’s been my privilege to be pro tem, I’m very proud to have been elected unanimously by my colleagues to three terms,” Marsh said. “But at the same time, I’m looking forward, as I said, to discussing it with my colleagues, seeing what we think is best as we move forward and make a decision. But no decision has been made today.”

Unless there is a major move to oust him from the leadership position, which seems highly unlikely, it’s up to Marsh to give up the top spot in the Senate.

If he does, there could be a domino effect of leadership changes that could lead to committee chairmanship changes.

“The problem when you start making changes is, how far do the changes go?” Marsh said. “… Those are things you have to ask yourself because right now, things in the party in terms of the Senate are very stable… The last thing we want to do is create anything, an unstable situation. We don’t want to go through an entire reorganization, so those are discussions we have to have.”

As far as his legislative priorities in his last two sessions, Marsh still expects to bring education-related legislation.

“If you look at Alabama’s education standing, it is just problematic,” he said.

Marsh championed the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 to give parents more school choice and allow public money to follow some students to private schools.

“But if you look at the scores of those kids, they’re not greatly improved,” Marsh said. “So, what’s going on? We’re having those discussions to see the best actions to take to have the best success and make improvements.” 

Marsh said more also needs to be done on prison education.

“We’re not doing near a good enough job of vocational training for those coming out of prison,” he said. “So I think that’s an area we want to focus on, kind of improve that because if we bring down recidivism, obviously that is good for everybody.” 

Meanwhile, broadband access continues to be an equality issue, Mash said.

“I believe that’s one we’ve got to address and I think that people definitely want to address,” he said.

The 2021 Regular Session is scheduled to being Tuesday, Feb. 2.

State House security changes discussed

Speaking of the State House, there is an effort to change security forces there. Multiple sources told Alabama Daily News/Inside Alabama Politics that House members are driving a conversation about getting Alabama Law Enforcement Agency troopers to man the doors of the State House, a job currently done by a private security company.

“We’re just looking at all angles, we haven’t come up with anything, per se, but we are looking at everything,” Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, chairman of the House Internal Affairs Committee, told IAP on Tuesday. It’s the House that handles security for the second floor of the State House, where the public’s main entrance is located.

Wood said no one thing prompted the possible change, just the desire for better security and safety.

“… You know,  especially in the House, we always work late. Things like they are, want to make sure that our employees and our members are safe when they go to the car if it’s late at night or whatever so we’re just looking at all kinds of angles.”

Anyone who has recently entered the State House through either the Union Street or Washington Street entrances knows that the private security guards enforcing metal detector scans and sign-ins aren’t exactly an intimidating presence, ranking somewhere between mall cops and parking lot attendants. However, across the street from the State House, state troopers guard the main doors of the Capitol and screen members of the public who enter.  Troopers usually have a presence in the State House during legislative session and each chamber has its own security force upstairs.

The cost to put troopers in the State House wasn’t available, but is expected to be more than what is currently paid to a private company.

“When we take the cost of what we’re already paying, you’re not looking at that big a difference, there’s little bit,” Wood said.

In fiscal 2020, the Legislature paid DSI Security almost $202,700, according to state spending records. The company was paid nearly $221,000 in fiscal 2019.

On Thursday, Wood met with some of his colleagues at the State House, including Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, chairman of the Senate General Fund Committee.

Albritton said no decisions have been made and more legislators will likely be brought into the conversation.

Albritton put the cost at “north of $500,000,” and as high as $600,000, depending on where the troopers’ are on the state pay scale.

Wood said he’d like to see a change made before the 2021 session starts Feb. 2. Wood said that most of the current security staff is not armed and troopers would offer a higher level of protection to those in the State House.

Albritton seemed to agree.

“I think in most instances, there is comfort in seeing the state trooper and the sidearm,” he said.

Allow the Legislature to call its own special sessions?

Speaking of sessions, an Alabama lawmaker wants her colleagues in the Legislature to be able to call themselves into a special session, not just rely on the governor to do it.

The state constitution says that special sessions — those outside the normal 30-day regular session each year — may only be called by the governor, who sets the agenda of items to be debated and voted on during the 12-day special session. 

Section 122 of the constitution also says the governor can, “… convene the Legislature at the seat of government, or at a different place if, since their last adjournment, that shall have become dangerous from an enemy, insurrection, or other lawless outbreak, or from any infectious or contagious disease; and he shall state specifically in such proclamation each matter concerning which the action of that body is deemed necessary.”

Rep. Becky Nordgren’s House Bill 21, pre-filed for the 2021 session, says the Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House could convene the Legislature by a joint proclamation. “On the first day of the special session, each house shall adopt a resolution by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house affirming the convening of the Legislature, or the Legislature shall stand adjourned sine die.”

Nordgren’s bill requires a constitutional amendment voted on by Alabamians. The legislation does not impact the governor’s ability to call a special.

Nordgren, R-Gadsden, did not return requests for comment about her bill or what motivated it.

The 2020 regular session was significantly shortened  by concerns about COVID-19. The public’s access to the State House during the condensed session was also limited.

State House officials have said COVID-19 protocols will be in place for the 2021 session that starts Feb. 2 and access will again likely be limited. Inside Alabama Politics previously reported that leadership had previously shopped for an alternative site for lawmakers to meet, but didn’t find a good fit.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have expressed frustration and disappointment that Gov. Kay Ivey didn’t call them back to Montgomery this year to handle legislation that got punted in the regular because of COVID, including some economic development incentives that expire this year, COVID-19 liability protections for businesses and other groups and a clarification that federal relief funds related to COVID-19 to individuals and businesses are exempt from state income taxes. 

Asked for comment about the bill, a spokeswoman for Ivey said the administration is aware of it.

 

Graddick Out: Behind the scenes

Controversy swirls in Montgomery more often than hurricanes whirl onto Alabama beaches. Landfall is often made at the beleaguered state Bureau of Pardon and Paroles. Nowhere does the left become more strident, nowhere does the right become more stubborn. The play is for mortal stakes because the horned dilemma is a lethal one.

A study in 2017 claimed that a year in prison takes away two years of life. And 77 percent of offenders have recidivism after 5 years. Pardons and paroles are life and death, and nowhere is the dichotomy more evident than in Alabama’s Bureau.  

Charles Graddick on Monday announced his resignation as director of that troubled spot, effective Nov. 30 (Alabama Daily News / Inside Alabama Politics was the first to report this scoop ahead of the announcement). For his reasons for leaving, he cited having accomplished his goals of putting Pardons and Paroles on solid footing and feeling confident about the morale of the agency. 

However, according to several Inside Alabama Politics sources, there was much more to the story. 

Graddick took the job 13 months ago by the appointment of Gov. Kay Ivey, who had been granted by the Legislature the sole authority to hire (and fire) the Bureau’s director. It was somewhat of a surprising move because, as Inside Alabama Politics has previously reported, Graddick had been a vocal opponent of Attorney General Steve Marshall in the 2018 Republican primary. Sources tell IAP the two have hardly interacted, which is odd considering the nature of their offices. 

Graddick was presiding judge of Mobile’s 13th judicial circuit until he maxed out after nearly two decades. He continues to call himself Judge Graddick. The former judge, who is about to be the former director, has a lot of formers in his history. Former Mobile County DA, former Alabama AG, former Democrat nominee for governor, former Republican candidate for Supreme Court. He’s been there and done that.

He’s always been hardshell and irascible to the point of abrasive. Controversial to the extreme. He denies having said, as candidate for governor in 1986, that he thought murderers should be fried until their eyes pop out, which earned him the moniker of Charcoal Charlie. He denies he said it, with a knowing smile.

Ivey rebuilt the former Board of Pardons and Paroles into the Bureau of Pardons and Paroles for Graddick, placing the board under Graddick’s administration. When he took the Bureau job, progressive criminal justice organizations skittered and howled. It’s the kind of cacophony that is music to the Graddick ear. He promised that few paroles would be forthcoming. That is a promise he kept.

Graddick’s administration was in stark contrast to the former one. Outraged victims and media accused the former Board of a revolving door policy, and the final blow to came when it accidentally released a violent offender who murdered three people within three month of his release. In stepped Graddick who replaced, some claim, a “Get Outta Jail Free” policy with “Lock Em Up and Throw Away the Key.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and Alabama Appleseed swamped the newly leased, multimillion dollar Bureau building in east Montgomery with calls, cards, letters and rabid news releases.  Graddick withstood the onslaught heartily. As the clamor grew, though, it drew more and more attention from the governor’s office. After all, Graddick was brought on to stop the embarrassing deluge of negative news stories out of Pardons and Paroles, not add to it. And Ivey has enough problems in this realm trying to thread the needle on a prison construction plan that has many critics on the right and left. 

But Graddick’s stubbornness and general “bull in a China shop” management style were not the only reasons he was ultimately shown the door. For all the talk of boosted morale at the Bureau, sources tell IAP that a myriad of personnel issues have arisen under Graddick’s watch, including inter-office liaisons and misuse of state vehicles. One described the situation as a “time bomb” for the agency. Sources also say that the U.S. Justice Department recently signaled that if the Bureau didn’t start paroling prisoners forthwith and posthaste, the feds would force the state’s hands. And it would sue Alabama, in the person of AG Marshall, to boot and do it gladly. So the director, who cannot grant pardons but can impact the process, got the boot. 

The long and short of it is Graddick proved to be an ineffective agency manager. But an interesting name has emerged in the form of a possible replacement for Graddick.

Graddick’s 1986 gamechanging run for governor from his AG seat was against Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley. It was the days of George Wallace, a Democrat, and the Democrat Party ruled Supreme. But Wallace had been paralyzed by an assassin’s bullet while he ran for president in 1972. He was elected governor in 1982, but by 1986 he was too ill to run. It was the first state gubernatorial race in 25 years without the guvnah’s overwhelming presence.

Graddick claimed the conservative vote while Baxley, the party favorite, represented the liberal side. On election night, Graddick won the nomination by a scant few thousand votes. The Democrat nomination was the same as being elected governor. No Republican had won since Reconstruction, a century past.

The State Democratic Executive Committee concocted a ruse to take away the election from Graddick in favor of Baxley. To the party’s surprise, the Demorcat electorate turned on the party like a panther and elected a little known Republican, Guy Hunt. Alabama has been a red state, save a minor slip, since that day.

Here is the kicker. One name being bandied about for Graddick’s replacement is that of Ben Baxley, no relation to Bill Baxley, but a current assistant AG. It might be a long shot but it’s there nonetheless. 

The odds on favorite to lead Pardons and Paroles is State Sen. Cam Ward, current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a longtime advocate for prison reform and erstwhile candidate for State Supreme Court.

 

The curious process behind the latest Ethics Commission ruling

At its Oct. 7th meeting, the Alabama Ethics Commission voted to adopt an advisory opinion stating that Alabama’s PAC-to-PAC transfer ban prohibits a federal PAC from contributing to a state PAC. The question was brought by the Alabama Democratic Party, which wanted clarification on whether it could accept and use money from the Democratic National Committee or other federal PACs. Peck Fox, who spoke on behalf of the party, said they “don’t necessarily care” what the ruling would be, but they needed to be sure because federal PACs were attempting to contribute money to the ADP for GOTV purposes.

“Basically, we’re here just to ask for guidance so that we don’t end up in front of another body behind a bench and we really don’t want to be there,” Fox said, according to the meeting’s transcript.

The Attorney General’s office spoke in opposition of the Commission’s advisory opinion, arguing that it is unenforceable because the state would be prosecuting campaigns that received the money and not the source of the funds itself. And the state doesn’t have the jurisdiction to regulate federal PACS.

“If you’re punishing the PAC to PAC to PCC (Principal Campaign Committee), then you’re punishing the recipient of the money, right?” asked Clark Morris of the AG’s office. “So isn’t that the same thing as punishing someone who received the drugs from the drug dealing and charging them with distribution?”

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton disagreed with that analysis saying state law, which has been upheld by the 11th Circuit, is clear that PACs can give unlimited contributions to principal campaign committees.

Much has been made about the similarity of this situation compared to 2018 when the campaign of Attorney General Steve Marshall accepted contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Albritton and others argued should have been impermissible under the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act and specifically the PAC-to-PAC ban. The commission ultimately ruled that the contributions did not violate the law. Some have made hay of the situation saying the Commission is inconsistent for allowing the Marshall contributions but not allowing the Democratic Party’s. The Marshall situation involved a principle campaign committee and not a PAC, so the Commission’s rulings really aren’t inconsistent, and Marshall’s office arguing against it is certainly interesting, but all that is beside the point. Perhaps more attention should have been paid to the process for how the Commission arrived at its decision.

Albritton and Commission Chair Beverlye Brady were eager to move on to a vote on the advisory opinion. However, when Commission Vice Chairman John Plunk made a motion to approve the advisory opinion, there was no second offered from another commissioner. That meant the motion was dead.

Later in the meeting, the Commission went into executive session, as it always does, to discuss ethics complaints and the “matters relating to the character and reputation of certain public officials or employees as well as matters covered by the Grady Jury Secrecy Act,” as Brady put it. She also added that “no matters will be discussed which are outside the scope of the state guidelines permitting a meeting in executive session.”

Yet, after the Commission and Albritton returned from executive session, it immediately began consideration of the PAC-to-PAC advisory opinion and, after some additional discussion, voted 4-0 to adopt it, with Commissioner Stan McDonald recusing himself. Albritton made note of the fact that discussion of the opinion needed to happen in open session and not in secret, and he’s right.

Alabama’s Open Meetings Act does not allow public bodies to use executive sessions to discuss pending actions except in rare, limited circumstances involving written declarations that an exception is necessary. In fact the law requires an executive session to end once a pending matter is discussed.

The statute says “…if any deliberation begins among the members of the governmental body regarding what action to take relating to pending or threatened litigation based upon the advice of counsel, the executive session shall be concluded and the deliberation shall be conducted in the open portion of the meeting or the deliberation shall cease.” AL Code § 36-25A-7 (2016)

But, if the members didn’t discuss it in executive session, why did they immediately bring it back up for consideration once they returned?

Former Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, now a Commissioner, noted that she was “part of the problem” in the morning session and that she had reconsidered her position after doing some reading on the matter.

“After hearing the arguments of various interested parties, I felt like I did not feel secure in my position and I wanted the opportunity to look at the draft opinion again, and more particularly to look at some statutes and other material,” Stuart said. “I’ve had the opportunity to do so at this time and I’m now prepared to vote.”

Plunk was similar.

“There was a lot of back and forth between interested parties in this, and I think the commissioners may not have had a chance to fully analyze this since maybe I think the last thing we got maybe was as late as I reread the Eleventh Circuit case, and I think they were clear, as I remembered, that the act — part of the act that applies to PAC-to-PAC transfers is not unconstitutional, and so I’m really not sure why there’s still questions about it because I think it’s a — it’s clear that PAC-to-PAC transfers are illegal under the act.”

Did commissioners each of their own volition go and study up on the case without discussing it in executive session? It’s possible. But the timing and circumstances are curious.

UPDATE

IAP has received the following explanation from Albritton saying definitively that the matter was not discussed in executive session:

“The Opinion was not deliberated in executive session,” Albritton said in an email.   “Before we went into executive session, I asked the Chair if I could bring up the AO again once we reconvened in Open Session and she said yes.  I informed the Commission that I would do that and that we could only discuss it in Open Session.  They agreed.”

IAP reached out to Albritton to ask about the situation, including whether or not the commission discussed the pending opinion in executive session. He did not immediately respond.

Remember the Governor’s Gambling Commission?

The group tasked by Gov. Kay Ivey to find the “facts” on the financial impact of a possible lottery and expanded gaming in Alabama will have its report to her soon.

“It is almost complete, but there is some tidying up of some loose ends,” Todd Strange, chairman of the Study Group for Gambling Policy, told Alabama Daily News recently. He said the goal is to complete the report by Thanksgiving.

When Ivey created the Study Group for Gambling Policy via executive order in February, she gave it until the end of this year to report back to her. Besides a possible lottery, the group was to analyze a possible compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

“That’s all I want is the facts, not recommendations,” Ivey told reporters in February. “We just want the facts about how much money the state can expect to gain if we do a lottery or if we do expanded gaming or a compact and what the heck does a compact look like?”

Strange, the former Montgomery mayor, said the report includes about 35 pages of “the facts of the situation” and hundreds of pages of sources, cited documents and information from consultants.

“It’s a voluminous package,” Strange said. “…We delivered the facts and in some cases best practices that we saw around the United States.”

Strange said the group held public meetings via Zoom after March and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done and hopefully it’s what she wanted,” Strange said. “Hopefully the Legislature and eventually the people can have a document and information that will hopefully make a decision whether we go forward or whether we don’t.”

A lottery would require approval by Alabama voters. They voted down the option in 1999. Several proposals have been discussed in recent sessions, but never made it to final passage.

The 2021 legislative session starts Feb. 2.

Lobbyist on lobbyist fight

Keith Warren might be the most successful Montgomery lobbyist/operative you’ve never heard of. He runs Warren and Company, which holds  contracts to manage more than a dozen state oversight agencies, commissions and boards. The contracts make him executive director of the entities, all for a fee, of course. He’s a registered lobbyist for Warren & Company Inc.

In fiscal year 2020, Warren & Company was paid more than $1.25 million by these bodies, including the Alabama Athletic Commission, the Sickle Cell Oversight Commission, the Landscape Architect Exam Board, the Electrical Contractors Board, Auctioneers Board, Professional Geologists Board, the Massage Therapy Board, Marriage and Family Therapy Board, the Alabama Security Regulatory Board, according to state spending records. It’s almost a cookie cutter business. In fact, Warren uses the same email template for each entity, just switching out the logo for whichever one he’s doing business for at the time.

For some of these, Warren’s services are a major part of their budgets. The massage therapy board spent a total of nearly $228,000 in fiscal 2020, $132,000 of that going to Warren & Company for accounting and auditing services.

That is a lucrative business to be sure. The kind of thing that makes one ponder, “man, why didn’t I think of that?” But this year, someone did think to try to get themselves a piece of the pie. Well known Montgomery lobbyist Claire Austin got a contract to manage the state’s Home Medical Equipment Board, a contract Warren had previously held. Austin’s The Austin Group also got contracts with the Private Investigation Board and the Professional Bail Bonding Board, for all of which she was paid $86,873 in 2020, according to state spending records.

Not appreciating the step onto his turf, Warren sued the Home Medical Equipment Board and Austin in March, saying she’s not qualified under the state’s bid law to win the board’s contract for administrative and management work.

“The Austin Group failed to meet a mandatory and material specification in the request to bid because The Austin Group has not, was not, and is not a full-time management firm with a minimum of five  years’ experience as required in the bid specifications,” the lawsuit filed in Montgomery Circuit Court said. “The Austin Group intentionally concealed and affirmatively misled the Board as to The Austin Group’s non-compliance with the bid specifications. Plaintiffs request a declaratory judgment that the contract is void and a temporary  restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction enjoining the Defendants from  executing and/or performing their obligations under the contract.”

The lawsuit is ongoing, and Austin is being represented by the one and only Tommy Gallion, the wily and eclectic attorney who has handled his share of high profile cases. Gallion said Warren’s motives are financial and he had “corned the market on state boards” for more than a decade.

The old adage goes that politics is a contact sport. That’s not only true of the politicians themselves, but among the scores of politicos that make a living trying to pull the levers of government for their clients. Move onto another’s territory and you might receive a sharp elbow. Claire Austin experienced that in this situation. She of course has every right to compete for business in this town and it is hard to see how Warren’s lawsuit will hold up. It just goes to show how rough and tumble the insider game can sometimes be.

 

How the Montgomery tax referendum was passed

Like several new executive office holders, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed put his personal credibility on the line over a signature issue in his first year in office. In 1999, Gov. Don Siegelman went big with a state lottery plan. In 2003, Gov. Bob Riley tried to pass an ambitious tax reform plan. Both plans failed at the ballot box, and it is sometimes interesting to think about what the state would now be like if they hadn’t. 

But unlike the former governors, who had to make their cases to voters statewide, Mayor Reed’s local initiative prevailed. 

We speak of course about Amendment 382 – a 12 mills property tax hike on Montgomery County property owners earmarked to help the moribund and dilapidated Montgomery Public School System. Voters approved the tax hike by a 61-38 margin, which will result in an estimated $33 million a year more for schools. 

The final vote was a rout and a lone bright spot for Democrats in Alabama, as Doug Jones was crushed by Tommy Tuberville, and President Trump rolled up unprecedented percentages throughout the state. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box – the team Reed and Co. assembled felt like they were on shaky ground, and much behind the scenes finger pointing was happening for what many predicted would be a loss, or at best, a narrow win come election day. 

They were taking fire from a group affiliated with former ALFA consultant John Pudner, based in Auburn, and the message that Montgomery receives the same amount of funding as surrounding counties, and that a tax hike would lead to a further population exodus, seemed to be penetrating the local populace, especially on social media. 

Reed’s team did not let the crisis go to waste. They galvanized support among the business community, military officials and local elected officials to push back – and hard – against the “Auburn based group trying to tell Montgomery how to run our county.”

The final week featured press conferences, op-eds from former elected officials such as Sen. Dick Brewbaker, and even an appearance by former Mayor Todd Strange, who’s credibility with business establishment remains unblemished. 

And Reed injected himself into the argument, appearing in a TV spot that was in heavy rotation during college and pro football games in the final weekend. Reed’s favorability rating among the populace at large, and especially among  African American community which constitutes the majority of the vote in the count, is somewhere between “extremely enviable” and “through the dang roof,” according to someone familiar with the referendum’s polling. 

Reed carried the message to the public and the public delivered the goods. 

While this is a great triumph, the money doesn’t start flowing into public coffers until 2023 – coincidentally the same year Reed will be up for re-election. There may be a bit of a Caveat Emptor problem if there’s no significant improvement in the schools by then. Once citizens see the bills go up, they will certainly start asking what exactly they are paying for. 

Staffing up

Alabama elected three new members to its congressional delegation this week: Tommy Tuberville to the Senate, Jerry Carl to the House in AL-1 and Barry Moore to the House in AL-2. A third of the delegation turning over is a significant event for a group that was remarkably stable through most of the 2010s.

All three will have a lot to decide, including what kind of legislator they want to be. Some go to Washington to become messengers, or flame throwers, aiming to grow a social media following and to earn a presence on cable news talking about their favorite issues. Some work more behind the scenes to score legislative and appropriations victories that take more bipartisan cooperation. Some take the leadership route, working to be in the room on big decisions, while others park themselves in a seat for 20 years hoping to become a committee chairman. Much of this is dictated by what the voters in their state or district demand, and it will be interesting to see how this new group develops.

Their first big task is putting together a staff, and IAP has learned of several politicos being considered for key jobs in these new offices.

For Tuberville, the top names being discussed for the all important chief of staff are Ethan Zorfas and Stephen Boyd.

Zorfas pretty much ran the Tuberville campaign for the last year. He’s a principal at Axiom Strategies, which was the lead consulting firm on the race. He has ties to the Ted Cruz team having worked as deputy political director on Cruz’s presidential campaign. He has Capitol Hill experience, but on the House side having served as New Hampshire Congressman Frank Guinta’s chief of staff.

Boyd is a name well known to Alabama politicos, especially those in Washington, D.C. He currently works as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, a position President Trump appointed him to when Jeff Sessions was still Attorney General. Before that, Boyd spent seven years as Rep. Martha Roby’s chief of staff and, before that, worked for six years in Sessions’ Senate office in various roles, including communications director.

Tuberville is known to be big on trust, and Zorfas having worked alongside him for a while might seem to give him a leg up on the top job despite his lack of Alabama connections. Yet, the coach will certainly need someone who knows the Senate and can show him how to navigate the coming terrain effectively, and Boyd would be the obvious choice for that. In fact, there are few if any better suited for the job.

One other name being discussed for that job is Drew Hobson, who has hopped around the delegation and other DC agencies for a while.

Another key role for Tuberville’s Senate office will be the state director, which coordinates staff in Alabama and plans state travel. Sources tell IAP one name being discussed for that is current Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbettter of Rainsville. It may seem odd for a top leader in the Legislature to be considering a Senate staff job, but House Speaker Mac McCutcheon doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon and state director is a plum job.

or Jerry Carl, the two names being discussed for chief of staff are Chad Carlough and Seth Morrow. Morrow is outgoing Rep. Bradley Byrne‘s current chief of staff and most recently managed his Senate campaign. Carlough is Byrne’s former chief of staff, who left earlier this year to take a job affiliated with the Trump campaign. The job hopping could be a liability to Carlough. He likely wouldn’t be wanting to come back to the House if Trump fared better in the election and there were administration jobs. In contrast, Morrow has been a loyal Byrne soldier all along, staying on board to “sprint through the tape” as Byrne likes to say about his lame duck season. That said, it is Carl’s office, not Byrne’s, and Chad Carlough is said to have built a solid relationship with the incoming congressman. Word to IAP is Chad is likely to have the job. Zach Weidlich has been hired as Carl’s transition aide, so expect form him to have a role in the congressional office as well. Zach ran the Carl campaign and impressed a lot of people for helping Carl steer through a super competitive primary election. Many other Byrne staff are likely to remain on board, given the outgoing and incoming congressmen’ similar worldviews.

Don’t expect a lot of Rep. Martha Roby‘s current staff to remain in place for Barry Moore as he assumes office. Moore will fill his staff with those more bought into his style. Sources tell IAP that his chief of staff will be Shanna Teehan. She’s currently the vice president of communications at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but she is best known for her campaign and congressional work. Before CPB, Teehan worked on the Hill in multiple offices, including Sen. Luther Strange and Texas Congressman Kevin Brady. Alabama politicos will rememberer Teehan for her work in the Tea Party movement in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Moore will also need a district director, and one name being discussed is Bill Harris, current executive director of the Alabama Forestry Association. Harris knows the district well and also has congressional experience, having worked for Rep. Robert Aderholt some years back.

 

One bit of potpourri

Only one job announcement this issue: Will Califf has started with Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office. State House types know Will well as he has served as communications director and senior adviser to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh for several years. That experience will serve him well in the AGs office as he will take on more of a legislative liaison role. Wonder if the guards would even notice if he slipped through the doors and into the Senate chamber. Congrats, Will!

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

Name(Required)

Web Development By Infomedia