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New member profile: Kirkland a ‘true professional’ from Jackson County

Newly elected state Rep. Mike Kirkland, R-Scottsboro, says he treated campaigning like a job interview.

“I told voters I wanted to apply for a job with them and I would appreciate it if they felt like I had the qualifications, that they would hire me,” he told Alabama Daily News.

He got the job in May when he was among a handful of primary challengers to unseat incumbents. Kirkland defeated Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Bryant, with 51.6% of the vote.

His campaign was bolstered by endorsements and monetary support from some of the state’s largest political action committees, including the Business Council of Alabama and the Alabama Farmers Federation. Their support speaks to his decades of business and community experience. But it also likely had a bit to do with Hanes, who voted against the GOP- and BCA-backed gas tax and infrastructure plan in 2019 and was heavily critical of Gov. Kay Ivey during the pandemic.

“Mike Kirkland has spent his career in business and has an impressive grasp on the issues that impact the business community,” Helena Duncan, president and CEO of BCA, said in a statement to ADN. “BCA, along with other business groups, feel strongly that Mike will bring fresh ideas to the table to create more opportunities for employers to flourish.”

Kirkland is a Jackson County native with an MBA from the University of North Alabama. He’s worked for more than three decades at Vulcan Materials, first in sales and now administration. He hopes to use that experience in the State House. 

House members haven’t yet received their committee assignments, but Kirkland’s requested committees include the newly created Ports, Waterways, and Intermodal Transit Committee. At Vulcan, he had some experience shipping materials on the Tennessee River and said he’d like to see the state expand the ways goods are transported.

“Mike’s background and prior experience have well-equipped him to serve District 23 to the highest standards,” Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said. “He’s a true professional and I’m confident he will represent the best interest of his constituents with honesty and integrity here in Montgomery. It will be a privilege to serve with him in the House, and I look forward to addressing the needs of northeast Alabama with him.”

Kirkland credits his decades of volunteer work with multiple organizations as making him known to many voters. He’s on the Northeast Alabama Community College Foundation Board of Directors and the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments, as well as local rotary and chambers of commerce. He’s the past president of the Arc of Jackson County, which provides services to people with intellectual disabilities.

House District 23 includes almost all of Jackson County and Kirkland said that while campaigning, the economy was the No. 1 issue voters wanted to talk about.Now, Kirkland will take his industry and community experience to the Legislature, where he hopes to be part of a “cooperative effort to make the state better.”

Q & A with Rep. Mike Kirkland

Q: Yours was an interesting primary race. Can you talk about how you came to run against a two-term GOP incumbent?

“I’ve always been a volunteer and the county, the state, my little community, they’ve been good to me. I’ve led a good, productive life and I’ve worked hard to try to make it a better place. And I’ve always wanted to (run for office) and a lot of people over the years suggest that I do it. And I reached a point in my life where I felt like it was the right time and I felt like I could do a better job.”

Q: It is no secret that your predecessor upset some powerful groups in Montgomery and made a few enemies. Were you approached to run for this seat or did you come to that on your own?

A: “I came to that on my own. There was a period of time several years ago where I thought I was going to run and actually had some people supporting a run, but then decided the time wasn’t right. Between my wife and my family, we decided now was the right time.”

Q: You got some financial support and I think probably a lot of word of mouth support from the Business Council of Alabama and other groups. And I think some of that support was generated because they were upset with your predecessor and his criticism of the gas tax increase and Gov. Ivey. And she made an appearance with you right before the primary that you used in an ad to show your relationship. How key was that support to your winning?

A: I know there were a couple of points in time where I was at a chamber of commerce event in Scottsboro and Gov. Ivey was there and she walked by, shook my hand. Then there was a time (at a community college), there was a photographer made of us together.

“I felt like everybody supported the incumbent, frankly, and I felt like I had to get above that. I’m not aware of any overt word of mouth or anything like that from the governor. But I do appreciate the fact that Gov. Ivey took the time to shake my hand and speak with me a couple of times that we had those chances to chat.”

Q: You won the primary by 243 votes. You mentioned you felt like the incumbent had a lot of support. How did you win, what was your message?

A: “I just approached it as wanting to work for the people, and it kind of went from there.“… Hard work and determination, for lack of a better word. I went to the areas where (Hanes) was ahead and I was behind and I worked harder there than the areas where I was ahead. We knocked on doors. I know that sounds old fashioned. It would surprise you how many people still like you to knock on their door and talk to them in person.”

Q: In some of your campaign materials, you said you’d make sure Jackson County got its fair share of road funding. Has that not happened previously?

A: “To your earlier point about making enemies, I think that sometimes makes it hard to get things done.”

Q: You have an MBA and more than 30 years of industry experience. How will that help you in the State House? How’s that going to influence your decisions and priorities?

A: “I’ve worked as a plant manager, I’ve worked in sales. I’ve developed budgets. So the finance side should help me out when we’re having budget meetings. Being in the construction industry as a supplier for 36, I know a little bit about what it takes to build things. …I’ve been active with concrete industries and asphalt pavement and associated building contractors, general contractors, so I have quite a bit of experience there and that should help me when I’m looking at doing development projects and trying to bring projects to my district.”

Q: You’ve mentioned economic development a few times. I wanted to ask what you think the biggest issue in your district is — is it economic development?

A: We need more jobs and we need more quality jobs. I saw a statistic here last month that said 40% of the people were having trouble paying their electric bills. The inflationary spiral is really what’s put everybody into a tailspin right now.

“In years past, we’d have several people per day coming in, looking for a job. Now, we’re not seeing people come in to look for jobs because there are plenty of jobs out there and we don’t have enough people to fill them.

“Education is going to be key, inevitably. …We have to educate and give our kids and grandkids a quality education and prepare them for a decent future.

“… In addition to that, I think you have to invest in retraining folks who are middle aged and have been doing one thing their entire life and (need to) do something else.”

Q: To your west, Madison County has seen tremendous growth in recent years. Are there opportunities to get some of that growth, or more of it, in Jackson County?

A: “We have people moving into Jackson County as the growth in Huntsville spreads eastward as well as westward.

“…Our economic development authority, our local leaders do a fantastic job of keeping Jackson County in the minds of some of these industries. I’ve sat in on several meetings along those lines and I believe the future looks bright for Jackson County. But we can’t just rest on our laurels.”

Q: You’ve said that you want to support schools and teachers to make sure that they have the resources they need to teach students. What does that look like? Is it more money?

A: If there needs to be more money, I’m certainly willing to look at it. You know, I think we need to maybe go back to some of those core curriculum requirements: reading, writing, arithmetic, that kind of thing. … We can add more curriculum as long as what we’re doing with the core curriculum.

“… There’s a fair amount of economically distressed people in parts of our county who receive free and reduced lunches. A kid’s got to have something in his stomach before he can learn. If we need to spend more money on Head Start programs or free meals, I’m certainly for it.”

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