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Inside Alabama Politics – September 7, 2021

‘Getting close’ on a prison deal

Regular readers of Inside Alabama Politics may notice that this headline is quite similar to the one in the last edition when we reported the details of draft legislation for a state prison construction plan. “Close” being a relative term, that is still how sources involved in meetings between the Ivey administration and legislative leaders describe the status of the negotiations.

Still, a few things have happened since our last report. The Department of Finance officially asked exactly how much American Rescue Plan Act funding the state can use for prison construction and renovation. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office were able to mark up an actual bill and get feedback from the rank-and-file about what’s passable and what’s not. And a Daily News / Cygnal poll showed that a strong majority of Republican voters supported the basics of what the plan does. All that points to progress in getting those involved closer to a solid deal.

Alabama’s state prisons are underfunded and overcrowded, creating a dangerous situation for prison guards and inmates. The state is facing a federal lawsuit over the poor condition of Alabama’s prisons. Do you support or oppose Governor Ivey and state lawmakers using federal funds and a long term state bond to build new prisons and renovate old ones?

Strongly support28.1%
Somewhat support34.7%
Total support62.8%
Somewhat oppose8.2%%
Strongly disapprove7.6%
Total disapprove15.8%
Neither support of oppose14.5%

The biggest bugaboo in the negotiations has been the overall price tag. After all, while the polling was positive, the question did not test a potential price tag. What happens to that number if you also mention that the plan will cost $2 billion? $3 billion? $4 billion? The answer is probably quite a bit, which is why negotiators have sought to keep that number in check. One way to do that will be scaling back a bit from the previous plan and working through carefully separated phases.

The first phase will be to construct two new prisons: a male prison in Elmore County and a male prison in Escambia County. This phase will also include the purchase of the Perry County Correctional Facility to use as a joint Department of Corrections / Bureau of Pardons and Paroles venture to facilitate work release and other rehabilitative and re-entry efforts. According to sources involved, the price tag for this plan will be under $1 billion, with around $400 million of that coming from the federal government and the rest coming from a state bond. That’s a lot easier to sell to conservative lawmakers and a lot harder to demagogue than, say, a $3 billion plan. The second phase will include the construction of a women’s prison in Elmore County, then renovations of existing prisons in Barbour, Bullock, Jefferson and Limestone counties. However, there is optimism that this phase, or at least the renovations, can be paid for through the regular budgeting process and therefore not add to the overall price tag. The third phase, if needed, would be the construction of a fourth prison.

Sources involved tell IAP that an announcement on a deal could come as soon as this week. Much will depend on a discussions between lawmakers when the House and Senate Republican caucuses meet in Montgomery this week. Timing on a special session is still being negotiated but one could be called by the end of the month. That would allow shovels to hit dirt on construction of at least one new facility by early 2022.

Some way-too-early questions to ask going into a special: Will Democrats be on board given the general party opposition to the state’s handling of the prison issue? Will enough Republicans support the deal to pass it without votes from Democrats? Is the inclusion of the Perry County Correctional facility enough to mollify Senate Democrats who would potentially spike the package? If not, what other criminal justice reform items might be included in a call to bring on Democratic support?

We may know by month’s end.

How PACs are faring entering the cycle

Alabama is now three months into the 2022 campaign cycle in terms of fundraising for candidates for state  office. The law allows state candidates to begin fundraising one year out of an election and the Republican and Democratic primaries are May 24, 2022.

Political action committees always play an influential role in elections. While dozens of trade associations and interest groups work hard to lobby lawmakers during the legislative session, there’s no better way to show your appreciation than a campaign contribution. Of course, the opposite is true, too. Some incumbents that voted against certain bills might get little more than a lump of coal in their stocking or, even worse, see their opponent receive a contribution.

Now is a good time of year to analyze where PACs stand money wise and who might be best prepared to wield influence in the 2022 election cycle.

Right now, the PAC with the most resources is the Alabama Education Association’s Voice of Alabama Teachers for Education PAC with $4.5 million. Much has been whispered around the State House about AEA’s return to prominence after wandering in the post-Hubbert wilderness for a few years. While it will never likely again be the singular dominant force in Alabama politics it was for 40 some odd years, AEA can certainly wield influence again and showing it has resources to spread around is a big part of that. Aside from a $10,000 check to Montgomery State House candidate Kenyatte Hassell, AEA has yet to open its war chest. It will be interesting to see what happens when it does. Years ago, it was taboo for Republicans to take campaign money from the teachers union. In fact, it could be serious trouble in a primary campaign if you did. That no longer seems to be the case, as many Republicans have accepted AEA contributions in recent cycles. How that affects education issues like school choice and accountability will also be interesting to watch.

After AEA, LION PAC registers the most resources with $2.9 million. Loyal IAP readers may remember we first reported on LION PAC’s existence in the January 2019 edition. This new PAC was set up by some of the state’s most prominent companies as a way to pool resources and support candidates who need help from nontraditional sources or potentially go after candidates who need going after. The companies contributing resources are Alabama Power, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Protective Life and PowerSouth. The group hasn’t invested in campaigns as of yet, and sources tell IAP that may or may not happen this cycle. But, posting that strong of a number shows everyone involved in Alabama politics that the big boys are ready to go should they feel the need to get involved. There are likely more resources from where those came.

The Alabama Realtor’s PAC has $2.1 million cash on hand, an impressive number that becomes even more so when you consider it has been among the most active spending more than $546,000 this year already. During the month of August, the Realtors began contributing to incumbent reelection campaigns to the tune of $1,000 and $2,500. In just a few cycles, CEO Jeremy Walker has turned the Realtors into a prominent force in state and federal politics.

The Business Council of Alabama’s Progress PAC shows $1.3 million in the bank at the moment. That number is likely to increase next month after the group’s Evening for Progress fundraising dinner with former House Speaker John Boehner. BCA hasn’t contributed to legislative candidates as of yet, but it has done the first round of statewide incumbent contributions. Gov. Kay Ivey got $50,000, while Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and Attorney General Steve Marshall got $25,000 each.

Builders PAC, managed by the Alabama Homebuilders Association, has an impressive $1.8 million in the bank. It has yet to fully engage its resources either, with its only contributions going to special election candidates April Weaver and Kenneth Paschal, and local candidates Mobile City Councilman Ben Reynolds and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

The Friends of Retirees and Employees PAC, managed by the Alabama Retired State Employees Association, registers $1 million in the bank. The group has yet to spend any real resources on campaigns yet this cycle.

The Alabama Farmers Federation FARM PAC has just short of $1 million on hand. The Federation is one of the few Alabama organizations that has a significant lobbying presence in both Washington, D.C. and Montgomery. ALFA played a key role in Alabama’s last federal campaign, going in early for now-Sen. Tommy Tuberville and giving him a boost when he really needed it. Now another state cycle is at hand. The group has yet to begin contributing to legislative candidates, with its lone check going to State Rep. Kenneth Pascal for July’s special election. Beyond contributions, ALFA is perhaps best known for its ability to activate a vast grassroots network county-by-county to support candidates it likes.

EduPAC, and education-focused PAC affiliated with the University of Alabama, has $909,064 in the bank. They have been active contributing $5000 and $1000 checks to incumbents for reelection campaigns.

Alabama Hospital Association PAC has $882,115 in the bank, while the Alabama Medical Association PAC has $478,793. Those two PACs could be interesting to watch given the way many officials have acted and spoken out during the COVID-19 pandemic. BankPAC, managed by the Alabama Bankers Association has $705,169 in the bank, the Alabama Trucking Association PAC has $525,193, Alabama Power Company Employees State PAC has $484,418, the Retailers Association’s PAC has $422,383 and the Forestry Association’s FOREPAC has $371,428.

Also of note is the trial lawyers’ TRIAL PAC, which has $101,882. It has been among the most active with $383,249 spent this year so far, including $45,000 to Ainsworth, $12,500 to Ivey and $16,500 to Senate Judiciary Chairman Tom Whatley, R-Auburn.



Will James make a run for gov? Will Blanchard?

One of more persistent rumors over the last few months is that either or both Tim James and Lynda Blanchard are poised to enter the governor’s race and challenge Kay Ivey in the GOP primary. For James, IAP previously reported on his itch to take another swing at governor after coming up short twice before. James himself has been mum, but sources close to him say he’s nearing to a decision and leaning toward doing it. For Blanchard, the decision is a bit more complicated. It means ending her U.S. Senate campaign and switching races, which is oftentimes seen as something opportunistic politicians do. It is also a tacit acknowledgement that her campaign for Senate has not gone well. The big rumor was that former President Donald Trump was going to drop an endorsement for Blanchard over Ivey during the Cullman rally in retaliation for his perceived grievance over the USS Alabama brouhaha. That obviously didn’t happen and Ivey took photos with Trump at the airport. The rumors never made a lot of sense, more just wishful thinking from interested parties, which is why IAP didn’t report them beforehand. It is still possible, especially given Trump’s involvement in seemingly random races all over the country, including most recently backing longtime Michigan Rep. Fred Upton’s primary opponent.

Conventional wisdom is that both candidates could easily self fund, which they would need to. It is difficult to see how the money folks in Alabama would turn against the incumbent right now. Ivey has $1.9 million in the bank and that number would grow significantly if an opponent announced. Our recent polling showed that, while Ivey remains popular, she’s still short of the 50% mark for reelection, making her somewhat vulnerable. A well-funded opponent could make it a race and, with 34% undecided, you never know what could happen. And yet, of those undecideds Ivey need only win over a fourth of them to secure reelection, according to the poll. For an incumbent in a good economy, the odds are strong. Will James and/or Blanchard bet against the house?

If the Republican primary election for Governor were held today, and you had to make a choice, who would you vote for?

Kay Ivey41.5%
Tim James3.5%
Jim Zeigler8.8%
Dean Odle3.1%
Someone else9.2%



More Pitts & Perkins drama

In the July 28 edition of Inside Alabama Politics, we reported that Matrix, LLC founder and Chairman Joe Perkins is suing his former CEO, Jeff Pitts, and three other former employees for fraud, unjust enrichment conversion, intentional interference with business relations, civil conspiracy and violation of the Alabama Trade Secrets Act. Perkins alleges that Pitts and others secretly steered business to another firm they had quietly set up and that they stole intellectual property when leaving Matrix.

Now, Pitts is counter suing Perkins. The complaint accuses Perkins of tortious interference with business relationships, abuse of process, defamation and racketeering.

The story Pitts tells in the lawsuit is much different than Perkins’ account. Pitts says Perkins dragged his feet in the process of handing over Matrix upon his retirement. Pitts says he informed Perkins of his plans to form another company in Florida and that the two agreed to allow that new company to take Matrix’s Florida clients. Pitts then alleges multiple instances of Perkins working to undermine the new company, Canopy, by warning existing or potential clients not to do business with it, spreading a rumor that Pitts was under investigation by authorities and even working to gain control of Canopy’s Facebook and GoDaddy accounts. Pitts also says that Perkins, through an attorney, asked for a settlement of $4.5 million and a non-disclosure agreement, which he amounts to extortion. He claims the failure to comply with this “extortion scheme” is what led Perkins to file suit back in July.

Here’s an excerpt from the lawsuit:

“In the weeks following the July 2 letter, Mr. Perkins issued multiple threats of economic and reputational harm to Mr. Pitts and Client A if Mr. Perkins’ terms were not agreed to by August 1, 2021. Specifically, Mr. Perkins threatened to release confidential materials to competitors and the media in order to damage the brands of both Canopy and Client A. Mr. Perkins also threatened to file multiple lawsuits accusing Mr. Pitts and Client A of illegal activities. However, Mr. Perkins always indicated that if all of his demands were met, including a one-time wired cash payment of $4.5 million by August 1, he would refrain from these acts.” 

The lawsuit also accuses Perkins of stirring up media reports in Florida that Pitts was involved in a political scandal in the Sunshine State. In August, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Pitts and other former Matrix employees were the source of $550,000 of campaign money used for deceptive purposes against Florida law. Two people, including a former lawmaker turned political consultants, have already been charged by state prosecutors. The story, which you can read HERE, certainly paints Pitts and the others in a negative light. Perkins is quoted and the lawsuit is referenced multiple times.

With the kind of accusations that are being hurled from both sides, this has the potential to be one monster court case. Will it make it that far? Will cooler heads prevail and a settlement be reached before then? That seems unlikely. The ram has touched the wall and both sides seem to be digging in their heels.


Counties ask for $10M reimbursement from state for county jail strains

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is asking for a $10 million reimbursement from the state for the increased strain on county jails taking care of state inmates.

The association approved a resolution last week requesting Gov. Kay Ivey and the state Legislature to “retroactively reimburse county governments for their extended care of an increased number of State-responsible inmates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a consequence of the Alabama Department of Corrections’ decision to drastically reduce its intake activities in 2020 and 2021.”

The reimbursement amount is for the time from Jan. 1, 2021 to July 31, 2021 and accounts for all counties, Abby Fitzpatrick, director of communication and engagement for the association, told Alabama Daily News.

The $10 million estimate is based on the reimbursement rate of $28 per inmate per day that the Alabama Department of Corrections used in paying counties in 2020 through state CARES Act funds, Fitzpatrick said.

County officials have been advocating for more resources to take care of state inmates for many years and the problem has only gotten worse since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the association says.

In its most recent report on county jail impact, the association estimates that there has been an increase of 6,000 state inmates in jails from 2014 to 2020.

The report also says that state inmates cost county jails and their sheriffs’ departments $544 million in fiscal year 2020, an increase of about $123 million from 2014.

Senate General Fund committee chair Greg Albritton, R-Range, told ADN that he understands the strain put on counties by the pandemic, but that it can be felt in many other areas of government as well.

“Anything that comes from the counties is something that we must consider, but reality sets in too and between the other issues we’ve got pending and the cries for money and whose it is tremendous,” Albritton said.

The ADOC temporarily blocked the transfer of new prisoners into state prisons at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 for 30 days and then opened the shuttered Draper Correctional facility as a quarantine intake facility to help slowly transfer county jail inmates into prisons.

Most of the state inmates in county jails are probation and parole violators who are being penalized for technical violations under the “dips” and “dunks” statute created by a 2015 law meant to ease state prison crowding and save money.

The Legislature passed a bill earlier this year to reduce the amount of time violators would serve in county jails and compensate selected jails more for holding state inmates.

That law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2022 but Albritton, the bill’s sponsor, said work is progressing on getting that process in place.

“Right now there are negotiations going on to find the right path to get contracts with the appropriate people that can handle them and to get those payments started,” Albritton said. “It’s not done yet but at least they’re talking.”

The association also passed another resolution urging unity among Alabamians to work together in the fight against COVID-19 as the delta variant is causing drastic increases in hospitalizations in the state.

“In light of the recent resurgence of COVID-19, county officials felt it important to call attention to a few of the virus-specific issues continuing to plague our county governments and our state as a whole,” ACCA Executive Director Sonny Brasfield said in a press release.



Connie Rowe moving upstairs?

State Rep. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper,  has been an up and comer since first being elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014. Many have speculated on her future prospects as the political winds have shifted lately. Might she run for Speaker, becoming the first woman to wield the gavel? Maybe Majority Leader or Rules Chairman instead? For someone widely respected, the possibilities are many.

Yet, it seems Rowe is taking a less predictable path. Sources tell Inside Alabama Politics that the Jasper Republican will soon take a position as Senior Adviser for Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth. It’s an arrangement both sides see as win-win. For Ainsworth, he picks up a popular lawmaker with a wealth of knowledge and savvy political judgement. For Rowe, she more than doubles her salary and sets her self up with the odds on favorite to become governor in five years.

Ainsworth’s current chief of staff, Judy Miller, will soon be retiring and current Deputy Chief of Staff Jess Skaggs is set to fill her shoes.

The move should happen before the Jan. 28 candidate filing deadline, meaning Rowe’s House seat will likely be on the ballot in 2022. That only accentuates the significant amount of change taking place in the House of Representatives. Speaker Mac McCutcheon is retiring after 2022. Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole has moved to the Executive Branch. Rules Committee Chairman Mike Jones is running for Senate. Depending on how the Speaker’s race turns out, either or both of the Ways and Means Education and Majority Leader positions will change. That’s to say nothing of the more than a dozen other incumbents not running for reelection.

The House will look very different in 2023.

Updated chart of who’s running and who’s not


DistrictIncumbent2022 StatusAnnounced candidates
1Tim MelsonRunningJohn Sutherland (R)
2Tom ButlerRunningKim Caudle Lewis (D), Bill Holtzclaw (R)
3Arthur OrrRunning
4Garlan GudgerRunning
5Greg ReedRunning
6Larry StuttsRunning
7Sam GivhanRunningKorey Wilson (D)
8Steve LivingstonRunning
9Clay ScofieldRunning
10Andrew JonesRunning
11Jim McClendonOpen SeatLance Bell (R), Michael Wright (R)
12Del MarshOpen SeatKeith Kelley (R), Wendy Ghee Draper (R), Wayne Willis (R), Danny McCullars (D)
13Randy PriceRunningJohn Allen Coker (R)
14April WeaverRunning
15Dan RobertsRunningBrian Christine (R)
16Jabo WaggonerRunning
17Shay ShelnuttRunningMike Dunn (R)
18Rodger SmithermanRunning
19Priscilla DunnOpen SeatMerika Coleman (D), Louise Alexander (D)
20Linda Coleman-MadisonRunningRodney Huntley (D)
21Gerald AllenRunningLisa Ward (D)
22Greg AlbrittonRunningStephen Sexton (R)
23Malika Sanders-FortierOpen SeatDarrio Melton (D), Michael Nimmer (R), Hank Sanders (D), Thayer Bear Spencer, (D) Robert Stewart (D)
24Bobby SingletonRunning
25Will BarfootRunning
26Kirk HatcherRunning
27Tom WhatleyRunningJay Hovey (R), Sherri Reese (D)
28Billy BeasleyRunningFrank "Chris" Lee (D)
29Donnie ChesteenRunningNathan Mathis (D)
30Clyde ChamblissRunning
31Jimmy HolleyOpen SeatMike Jones (R), Josh Carnley (R), Norman Horton
32Chris ElliottRunning
33Vivian FiguresRunningPete Riehm (R)
34Jack WilliamsRunning
35David SessionsRunning



DistrictIncumbent2022 StatusAnnounced candidates
1Phillip PettusRunningMaurice McCaney (R)
2Lynn GreerOpen seatJason Spencer Black, (R), Kimberly Butler (R), Ben Harrison (R), Terrance Irelan (R)
3Andrew SorrellOpen SeatSusan Bentley (D), Wesley Thompson (D). Fred Joly (R), Kerry Underwood (R)
4Parker MooreRunningPatrick Johnson (R), Sheila Banister (R)
5Danny CrawfordRunning
6Andy WhittRunning
7Proncey RobertsonRunningErnie Yarbrough (R), Moses Jones Jr. (D)
8Terri CollinsRunning
9Scott StadthagenRunning
10Mike BallOpen SeatDavid Cole (R), Marilyn Lands (D)
11Randall SheddRunning
12Corey HarbisonRunningJames C. Fields Jr. (D)
13Connie RoweOpen SeatGreg Barnes (R), Keith Davis (R), Christopher Dozier (R), Charles Waits (R), Matt Woods (R)
14Tim WadsworthRunningCory Franks (R), Tom Fredricks (R)
15Allen FarleyOpen SeatLeigh Hulsey (R), Richard Rouco (D), Brad Tompkins (R)
16Kyle SouthRunning
17Tracy EstesRunning
18Jamie KielRunning
19Laura HallRunning
20Howard SanderfordOpen SeatJames D. Brown (R), Frances Taylor (R), Angela McClure (R), James Lomax (R)
21Rex ReynoldsRunning
22Ritchie WhortonRunning
23Tommy HanesRunningMike Kirkland (R)
24Nathaniel LedbetterRunningDon Stout (R)
25Mac McCutcheonOpen SeatBuck Clemons (R), Mallory Hagan (D), Phillip Rigsby (R)
26Kerry RichOpen seatBen Alford (D), Brock Colvin (R), Annette Holcomb (R), Todd Mitchem (R)
27Wes KitchensRunningHerb Neu (D)
28Gil IsbellRunningMack Butler (R)
29Becky NordgrenOpen SeatMark Gidley (R), Jamie Grant (R)
30Craig LipscombRunning
31Mike HolmesOpen seatR.T. Barksdale (R), Chadwick Smith (R), Troy Stubbs (R)
32Barbara BoydRunningEvan Jackson (R)
33Ben RobbinsRunningFred Crum Sr. (D)
34David StandridgeRunning
35Steve HurstRunning
36Randy WoodRunning
37Bob FincherRunning
38Debbie WoodRunningMicah Messer (R)
39Ginny ShaverRunningBrent Rhodes (R)
40K.L. BrownOpen SeatGayla Blanton (R), Julie Borrelli (R), Katie Exum (R), Pam Howard (D), Bill Lester (R), Bill McAdams (R), Chad Robertson (R), Jakob Williamson (D)
41Corley EllisRunningChris Nelson (D)
42Van SmithRunning
43Arnold MooneyRunningPrince Cleveland (D)
44Danny GarrettRunning
45Dickie DrakeRunningSusan Dubose (R)
46David FaulknerRunning
47David WheelerOpen SeatChristian Coleman (D), Jim Toomey (D), Republican yet to be named
48Jim CarnsRunningWilliam Wentowski (R)
49Russell BedsoleRunningMichael Hart (R)
50Jim HillRunning
51Allen TreadawayRunning
52John RogersRunningLaTanya Millhouse (D)
53Anthony DanielsRunning
54Neil RaffertyRunningBritt Blalock (D), Edward Maddox (D)
55Rod ScottRunningTravis Hendrix (D), Phyllis Oden-Jones (D), Fred "Coach" Plump (D), Antwon Womack (D)
56Louise AlexanderOpen SeatTereshia Huffman (D), Cleo King (D), Jesse Matthews (D), Ontario Tillman (D)
57Merika ColemanOpen SeatKevin Dunn (D), Danielle Matthews (D), Charles Ray Winston III (D), Delor Baumann (R)
58Rolanda HollisRunning
59Mary MooreRunning
60Juandalynn GivanRunningNina Taylor (D)
61Rodney SullivanOpen SeatRon Bolton (R), Kimberly Madison (R)
62Rich WingoOpen SeatBrenda Cephus (D) Bill Lamb (R)
63Cynthia AlmondRunningSamual Adams (D)
64Harry ShiverOpen SeatAngelo Jacob Fermo (R), Donna Givens (R)
65Brett EasterbrookRunningDee Ann Campbell (R), Marcus Caster (D)
66Alan BakerRunning
67Prince ChestnutRunningLaurine Pettway (D), Jarmal Jabbar Sanders (R)
68Thomas JacksonRunningFred Kelley (R)
69Kelvin LawrenceRunningKarla Knight Maddox (R)
70Chris EnglandRunning
71AJ McCampbellRunning
72Ralph HowardRunningCurtis Travis (D)
73Kenneth PaschalRunning
74Charlotte MeadowsRunningMalcolm Calhoun (D), Phillip Ensler (D)
75Reed IngramRunning
76Penni McClammyRunning
77Tashina MorrisRunning
78Kenyatte HassellRunning
79Joe LovvornRunning
80Chris BlackshearRunning
81Ed OliverRunning
82Pebblin WarrenRunningTerrence Johnson (D), Lennora Tia Pierrot (R)
83Jeremy GrayRunning
84Berry ForteRunning
85Dexter GrimsleyRunningPayne Henderson (R)
86Paul LeeRunning
87Jeff SorrellsRunningEric E. Johnson (R)
88Will DismukesRunningWill Dismukes (R), Jerry Starnes (R)
89Wes AllenOpen SeatMarcus Paramore (R)
90Chris SellsRunning
91Rhett MarquesRunningLes Hogan (R)
92Mike Jones, Jr.Open SeatSteve Hubbard (D), Greg White (R), Matthew Hammett (R)
93Steve ClouseRunning
94Joe FaustRunningJennifer Fidler (R)
95Steve McMillanOpen SeatFrances Holk-Jones (R),   Richard Brackner(D), Michael Ludvigsen (R), Reginald Pulliam (R)
96Matt SimpsonRunningDanielle Duggar (R)
97Adline ClarkeRunning
98Napoleon BracyRunning
99Sam JonesRunningLevi Wright Jr. (D)
100Victor GastonOpen SeatPete Kupfer (R), Joe Piggot (R), Mark Shirley (R)
101Chris PringleRunning
102Shane StringerRunning
103Barbara DrummondRunning
104Margie WilcoxRunning
105Chip BrownRunning



ALDOT contracts with attorney on I-65 wreck

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

The Alabama Department of Transportation has hired an attorney to represent it in any matters related to the June wreck on I-65 that killed 10 people, including nine children.

The department has a proposed contract for up to $500,000 with Birmingham firm Porterfield, Harper, Mills, Motlow and Ireland. That doesn’t mean the firm will be paid that much. Proposed contracts for legal fees list a capped amount, not the actual cost.

Tony Harris, government affairs manager for ALDOT, told Alabama Daily News the department has not been sued. He wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of litigation against the department.

The families of crash victims and one survivor last month sued two trucking companies whose semis were involved in the fiery multi-vehicle wreck near Greenville.

An initial report from the National Highway Safety Board last month said the wreck happened after a tractor-trailer truck slammed into vehicles that had slowed down because of minor crashes on the rain-slicked highway.

Eight of the victims were children in a van from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch. The driver, Candice Gulley, survived but two of her own children and two nephews did not. Gulley filed a federal lawsuit, along with other families of victims.

The suit claims the trucks weren’t outfitted with anti-crash safety technology and that drivers were going too fast, distracted or following too closely, the Associated Press reported.

Harris said ALDOT’s attorney may communicate with parties in the pending lawsuit.

“We needed someone to coordinate with those parties to the extent necessary,” he said.

The contract is on the Thursday agenda of the Legislative Contract Review Committee.


Review: Dino’s or the Bar Formerly Known as Bud’s 


After attending the soft opening, or The Cheers Class Reunion last week, word came down from on high that tonight was the night. Like Paul Newman in The Color of Money, the Chicken Sandwich Is Back. 

If you have not been in Bud’s since the pandemic forced it closed in 2020, some changes have been made. It is noticeably brighter, cleaner, and generally more of a pleasant and welcoming neighborhood bar than its previous incarnation. Don’t get me wrong. There was a need for a home for Lawyers Who Smoke and The Lobbyists Who Smoke, Too, alcoholics who have to be home before 8 as a condition of their parole, and the various harmless ne’re do wells and Area Men who inhabit local watering holes. But Tyler Bell’s reimagining of the place is definitely an improvement. 

It has new TVs, the Jukebox is gone and the bathrooms are both clean and currently have doors (on hinges!). The vibe is a little more East Atlanta Village and a little less Johnny Zip’s. 

The main thing, though, is that Bubba Burch is behind the bar. He knows everybody’s name and silently chuckles at their game. He knows why you’re there whether it’s because you can’t face your family without 3-4 strong drinks, you’d be fired from any job that wasn’t with the government, or you’re hanging out with your buddies doing that thing where everybody is telling a wilder story, riffing off what the other guy said and feeling 40 year old White Dad Energetic. Joining Bubba are Emily Martin and Todd Snow. Emily has had stints at Vintage Year and LeRoy, but political types will remember her late father, the legendary photographer Dave Martin, and her mother, Jamie Martin, who was a photographer for AP and in the Bentley administration. Many Montgomery politicos know Todd from his days pouring drinks at Pine Bar. 

The menu has been improved. There’s a chef. The buns are buttered and thick. The chicken is pounded thin and tender. The pickle chips are thicker and actually crunchy. The onion rings are deeper fried or somehow prepared so they have some crunch, and the onion doesn’t come unmoored from its breaded shell and end up slopping down your face and onto your shirt. 

There are several new menu items. The corn dog looks really interesting as does the hot soft pretzel. We had both the spicy fried cheese curds and the loaded fries. Both served with ranch dressing, the fries are thick and square cut and covered with melted cheese that is coagulated and gooey, but neither comes off in one piece as you try for a normal human sized bite, nor drips like standard issue Mexican restaurant queso. 

A quick note on cheese curds. In life, the vast majority of foodstuffs that have an oddly strong regional appeal but are scarcely found elsewhere are that way for a reason. They’re not good enough to reach a critical mass to spread to areas that don’t have an ancestral agricultural reason for their popularity. Like white barbecue sauce, or moonshine. 

Cheese curds are not one of those things, and I don’t appreciate those [explicative] in Wisconsin keeping them from the rest of us for so long. They are essentially fried blobs of cheese, but really more like the chicken nugget to a mozzarella stick’s chicken tender. You didn’t know they could came in Flavor Crystal form and now that you do, you’re probably going to want to get on a first name basis with your cardiologist and cadge a digitalis prescription from your general practitioner. 

All in all the establishment previously referred to as Bud’s has risen Phoenix like from the cigarette ashes of its incarnation of yore. It is a fine neighborhood eatery, a cool bar, a sports bar, a college watering hole, and home to the best bartender on Planet Montgomery. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. I don’t remember the first day I met Dave Burch, but I remember what was on the stereo. It was the first time I heard “Ode To LA” by The Raveonettes. With the TouchTunes getting the Heave Ho, Bubba is in charge of the music, and so you’re going to get a little edgier fare than Toby Keith and some dude’s idea of a good time being playing 6 Widespread songs in a row. Maybe every once in a while he’ll let Todd Stacy belt out “Neon Moon.”

But I bet if I asked him nice, he’d put on my favorite album. “Spanish Rocketship” by Buster Poindexter. 

Go visit Dino’s. You’ll be glad you did.




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