March 29, 2023 - Marshall County and Enterprise Emerging as Alabama Political Breeding Grounds.

Over the years, certain counties in Alabama have bred an inordinate number of governors and state political leaders.  

The three most prominent enclaves, historically, have been Tuscaloosa, Barbour and Cullman.  In the earlier years of statehood Tuscaloosa was the most heralded county.  They have continued, intermittently, throughout the years.  The most prominent senator in Alabama history, Richard Shelby, who retired after 36 years in the Senate calls Tuscaloosa home.  Indeed, the state capital was in Tuscaloosa one time in the early years.  They have had a fairly recent governor in Dr. Robert Bentley.

Barbour County is called the “Home of Governors” and for a good reason.  They have had more governors than any county in state history.  This sparsely populated Black Belt county has had six governors hail from there.  George Wallace is, of course, the most prominent Barbour County Governor but they also have Chauncy Sparks, John Gill Shorter, William Jelks, Braxton Bragg Comer and Jere Beasley.

Barbour County and Tuscaloosa both claim Lurleen Wallace. She was born and raised in Northport in Tuscaloosa County, but married George Wallace and moved to Barbour County.  This split county claim of governors also applies to legendary Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom.  Big Jim was born and raised in Coffee County near Elba but moved to Cullman as a young man.  So, Cullman gets bragging rights since he lived in Cullman when he was first elected in 1946. Cullman has indeed come on strong in the past few decades.  They have had two governors in recent years, Jim Folsom, Jr. and Guy Hunt.

Today, we have two counties emerging as hotbeds for breeding state political leaders. Coffee County is percolating with political success.  More particularly the growing City of Enterprise. Our new U.S. Senator, Katie Boyd Britt, was born and raised in Enterprise.  She is only 40.  The Congressman from the second district, Barry Moore, is from Enterprise although Dothan, Montgomery and Elmore County have more population in that Congressional District.  Moore is only 56.  A rising popular star in the State House of Representatives, Rhett Marquis, 48, is from the Boll Weevil City.  Enterprise is the home of the new state senator from that southeast Alabama hub.  Josh Carnley just took the seat of retiring legend, Jimmy Holley, thus keeping that seat in Coffee County.  Carnley is a Coffee County farmer and insurance broker.  Enterprise has a very good Mayor in William “Bill” Cooper. He has been in city politics for a good while. Coffee County also dominates all the judicial posts in this circuit. All three circuit judges hail from Coffee County, in Enterprise. Sonny Reagan, Jeff Kelley and Shannon Clark are all relatively young. The new District Attorney, James Tarbox, is very young. Jimmy Baker, who is Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System hails from Coffee County and lives in Enterprise. Enterprise has always laid claim to Ft. Rucker, which has been the impetus of their growth, but they are emerging as a political powerhouse.

The other county that is set to be called an Alabama political spawning ground powerhouse is Marshall County.  They currently have a cadre of the state’s most powerful and promising Alabama leaders. The most prominent is 41 year old Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, who may be our next governor.  State Senator Clay Scofield of Marshall County is only 42 and is Majority Leader of the State Senate.  Attorney General Steve Marshall, 57, is in his second term as Attorney General. It is rare that two of the state’s highest ranking officials, Will Ainsworth and Steve Marshall, are both from the same county.

There are two rising stars in the Alabama House of Representatives from Marshall County. Young Wes Kitchens, an emerging leader in the House is from Marshall. Also, the youngest member of the House of Representatives, Brock Colvin, has just been elected at the ripe old age of 26 and is catching people’s eyes on Goat Hill.

Enterprise and Marshall County are emerging as new political breeding grounds for Alabama politicians.

See you next week.

March 22, 2023 - 2026 Governor’s Race Has Begun

Alabama’s original 1901 Constitution had a law whereby the governor could only serve one four-year term and not succeed themselves.  In 1968, the law was changed and since then the governor and all other constitutional offices in the state can now serve two consecutive terms.  

This one term and you are done, made for a very interesting, anticipated, and competitive governor’s race every four years. They could begin four years in advance in earnest, and they would begin.

Since Kay Ivey will be serving her second elected term, she cannot run four years from now.  Therefore, we have setting up an ole timey open governor’s race in 2026, and it has already begun.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth has already been running for four years, and has ramped up a reelection game plan for his next four years as Lt. Governor. He will be tough to beat.

Ainsworth was elected Lt. Governor in 2018 at the ripe old age of 36.  He began running for governor the day after he won the GOP Primary that year – even before he was inaugurated in January 2019.  I have never seen anyone in recent years as dedicated and focused on grabbing the brass ring of Alabama politics as young Will Ainsworth.  He is almost as dedicated as George Wallace. 

Wallace’s whole world and every part of his being was dedicated to being elected Governor of Alabama. He campaigned seven days a week, 12 hours a day and hardly saw or cared for his family for four years.  He campaigned relentlessly.  His devotion paid off with a victory in 1962 and subsequent conquests later. 

Young Will Ainsworth does not have this total devotion, nor should he or anyone else.  Ainsworth is a devoted family man.  His family and church come first.  Being governor is not his God. He is the ultimate father to his twin sons, Hunter and Hays, and his daughter, Abbie.  He and his wife Kendall are committed to loving and caring for their children.  They go to all ball games and church and school related events with them in Guntersville.  At the State-of-the-State Address four years ago, he had his two sons with him.  They have impeccable manners.  They looked me right in the eye with a smile and firm handshake and said, “Nice to meet you, Mr. Flowers.”  One of the boys was with Will when he spoke at the Trump rally in the summer of 2021.  Will had been to his son’s ballgame in Cullman that morning and he brought him to the rally.

When Will spoke at the Mid-Alabama Republican Club in Vestavia last July, his daughter was with him.  Ainsworth is campaigning all over the state.  He is at ribbon cuttings and Chambers of Commerce events from Dothan to Huntsville.

He hails from Sand Mountain in vote rich North Alabama. His father has done well financially. However, his mama has instilled in Will the desire to serve in politics.  She is very astute and active politically and more gregarious than Will’s father. 

There are others lining up to run who do not fear Ainsworth nor his family’s money. Interestingly, the two major potential threats to Ainsworth in the four-year away governor’s race, are from North Alabama.  Attorney General Steve Marshall and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle would make a strong threat to Ainsworth’s perceived front runner status.  

Ironically, Steve Marshall and Will Ainsworth are both from Marshall County.  If the Attorney General makes the move, he would be a viable candidate.  He won his second term in this year’s GOP Primary, impressively.  He has to move up or sideways or out.  An intra county race would be interesting.  Marshall bears watching.

Tommy Battle, the Mayor of Huntsville, would be the most formidable candidate that Ainsworth could face. However, I do not think Battle is interested in running. Being the Mayor of Huntsville is probably a better job than being Governor of Alabama.  

However, the biggest obstacle in Ainsworth’s run for governor may be someone you have ever heard of. There are probably some rich folks sitting back privately contemplating a run for governor. That unknown rich person may be the one to watch. We will see. 

Four years seems a long way off, but the 2026 Governor’s Race has begun. 

See you next week.

March 15, 2023 - Disgraced, Fraudulent Criminal Con Man Donald Watkins Blogs From Prison

I am old and old-fashioned.  I have been writing this column on Alabama government and political history for 20 years, and it appears weekly in more than 60 newspapers.  Folks believe what they read in their local papers because local editors and journalists they trust act as a filter to provide them with the truth.  

But technology has created a whole new breed of internet publications where lying is the standard and not the exception.  One deranged person can sit in a dark room and pump out vicious lies and fabrications without any evidence – and there is no local editor standing up for the truth.  I believe in the First Amendment to our Constitution, but having a website should not be a license to lie and slander people.

I do not pay much attention to the so-called “internet bloggers,” but the outlandish lies of one such blogger has gotten my attention.  A convicted criminal named Donald Watkins has been blogging scurrilous, vicious, outlandish lies about some of our state’s and nation’s most outstanding leaders and companies.  Watkins is posting these lies to the internet while serving a Federal prison sentence under the jurisdiction of the Federal penal system.

Donald Watkins was born in a world of privilege, the son of Dr. Levi Watkins, the President of Alabama State University. While Donald presented himself as a multi-millionaire, high-rolling investor, court documents show he swindled friends, celebrities, and an FDIC-insured bank out of more than $15 million.  In 2019, a federal court sent Watkins and his son, Donald Watkins, Jr., to federal prison.

Federal records show Watkins represented he was selling stock in an energy company called Masada and claimed he was the majority shareholder in the company.  Watkins did not own any of the company stock.  He claimed the company was associated with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Martin Luther King III.  Both testified they had no connection with the company.

The vast majority of you have never heard of Donald Watkins.  Some of you may remember him as the lawyer who helped Eric Ramsey attack the Auburn Football program landing the school on NCAA probation.  He later defended other high-profile criminals, like himself. 

But basketball legend Charles Barkley will remember Watkins as the man who swindled him out of more than $6 million.  Federal records show that Watkins and his son took money from investors and channeled that money to pay for extravagant lifestyles. Records show Watkins, Sr. used the money to pay back taxes, alimony, living expenses for his girlfriend, and for his own private jet.  It is easy to see why a jury of hard-working, honest folks found him guilty on ten counts in a New York minute.

Watkins and his son were convicted in federal court, and Watkins was found guilty on all ten counts brought against him.  He was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay more than $14 million in restitution. He was sued for defamation, for lying about someone, and ordered to pay $1.5 million to those he harmed.  But from a prison cell, Watkins continued to attack those he harmed, always claiming to be the victim and not the villain.  Watkins claims he was railroaded as he continues spreading his lies across the digital landscape.

He blames scores of people for conspiring against him, including the Alabama Supreme Court, Federal judges, Federal prosecutors, and the leadership of some of Alabama’s major corporations.  Watkins even has the audacity to accuse Senator Richard Shelby of some unspecified scheme to send Watkins to jail.

In 2017, Alabama businessman Joe Perkins sued Watkins for defamation.  A circuit court ruled in Perkins’s favor and awarded a judgment against Watkins of $1.5 million. Watkins appealed all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and on February 27, the highest court in the land unceremoniously refused to hear Watkins’s ridiculous appeal.

So, why don’t more of Watkins’s victims sue him for his lies?  As the old saying goes, you can’t get blood from a turnip.  He owes his victims more than $15 million today.  He is in such a deep hole that he cannot be stopped by more lawsuits.

Freedom of speech is one of the hallmarks of America’s creed.  But that freedom in the hands of a proven liar and brazen, arrogant, non-repentant federal prisoner is not what our forefathers envisioned when they enshrined the First Amendment. This Blogger is a threat to society and deserves further jail time.

See you next week.

March 8, 2023 - Five Seats on the Alabama Supreme Court Up for Election in 2024

Next year is a big year nationally. It is a Presidential year. However, it is a down or off year for Alabama. We, like several other southern states, have our big election year in non-presidential years. We elected our Governor and other constitutional offices and our entire legislature last year in 2022.

However, since we have staggered six year terms for our State Judges, we have an inordinate number of seats on our Supreme Court up for election next year. We have nine members of our State Supreme Court. All nine are Republicans.

Even though our Supreme Court is elected, we have a surprisingly wise and very qualified state high tribunal. All nine are well-qualified and well-rounded, yet very Republican and very conservative. We are a very Republican and very conservative sate. Therefore, these nine judges are reflective of the Heart of Dixie. 

Even though there are five seats up for election, there is only one opening, Chief Justice Tom Parker is precluded from running for a six-year term. He is 72 and our state laws mandate that someone cannot run for a judgeship after they reach the age of 70.

Popular and younger jurists hold the other four seats. Three of the four will seek reelection and will win easily even if they draw opposition. These three incumbents are Will Sellers, Jay Mitchell and Tommy Bryan. The fourth, Sarah Stewart, is opting to run for the Chief Justice post that Tom Parker is vacating.

Justice Will Sellers probably will not draw an opponent. He is perfectly suited for the State Supreme Court. His resume reads as though he was born for the job. He was a successful tax attorney in his hometown of Montgomery. He graduated from the University of Alabama Law School and has a Masters of Law Degree in Taxation from New York University. His Tax Law expertise is invaluable to his colleagues on the Court. Will has a keen political mind in addition to his legal prowess. He and his wife, Lee Grant Sellers, are Governor Kay Ivey’s closest friends and confidantes. Will has sworn Governor Ivey into office at both her Inaugurations. Justice Sellers also pens a monthly column on historical events.

Justice Tommy Bryan is up for another six-year term. This popular incumbent jurist will be reelected without opposition. He hails from rural South Alabama – Brantley in Crenshaw County to be exact. He was first elected in 2012 and reelected to a second six-year term in 2018. Therefore, he will be seeking his third six-year term in 2024. He previously served eight years on the Court of Civil Appeals. He and his lovely wife Pam have two adult children. Tommy and Pam are very active members of the First Baptist Church of Montgomery

Judge Jay Mitchell is the tallest member of the Supreme Court. He stands a good 6 feet 8 inches. He also stands tall with integrity and wit. He is an affable fellow and is finishing his first six-year term on the high court. He will easily win election to his second term, probably unopposed. He graduated from Birmingham Southern College where he starred in basketball. He graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. He and his wife Elizabeth reside in Homewood with their four children. Jay Mitchell is only 46. He is not only the tallest member of the Court but also the youngest.

Justice Sarah Stewart is opting to leave her safe seat as an associate justice to seek election as Chief Justice next year. She has already announced and is actively running. More times than not the early bird gets the worm. Justice Stewart served 13 years as a Mobile Circuit Court Judge prior to going on to the Supreme Court.

Judge Chris McCool, who is an associate justice on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, is favored to win Justice Stewart’s seat. You can bet your bottom dollar he will not be outworked.

Even though there are five seats up for reelection on the high court, there will be very little change when the dust settles This is a good court, and they have an excellent collegial working relationship. 

The 2024 elections have begun.

See you next week.

March 1, 2023 - It is Time for Alabamians to Reap Lottery Dollars

The gala and festivities of the gubernatorial swearing in are all wrapped up. Governor Kay Ivey has been sworn in for another four year term. The legislators, all 140, are all sworn in soon after the general election victories in November. Therefore, they all are ready to get down to business.

The Regular Session begins next week. This inaugural first year Regular Session has historically been the year when major controversial substantive issues are addressed. Legislators will not face election for four more years and Governor Ivey is term limited and will probably never face voters of Alabama again. Therefore, this first year is when the tough challenges will be tackled.

Usually there is some urgent pressing financial problems facing the governor and legislature. However, as this new quadrennium begins, the state coffers are in pretty good shape. A lot of credit for this financial stability can be credited to wise and prudent budgeting by past legislative budget committee leaders, who for the most part are all back in command in both chambers.

An issue that should be addressed is the garnering of gaming dollars that Alabamians are spending on lottery tickets and sports betting in surrounding states. We need to keep this money in state for our educational and Medicaid funding rather than giving our money to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Georgia has benefitted from an education lottery for close to 30 years. Alabamians, to a large degree, have paid for a good many Georgia students free college education over the last three decades. It is well known and documented that the most lottery tickets sold in the states of Florida and Georgia are sold at locations on the Alabama border. Alabama television stations consistently interview Alabamians at these state border locations. These Alabama folks are frustrated to say the least that they have had to drive hundreds of miles to give their money to our sister states. They know that we are not that much richer than Florida or Georgia to be able to subsidize their state governments and educate their children.

Mississippi has every kind of gambling imaginable. They fund a good portion of their state finances on their casinos. Thousands of Alabamians flock to these casinos every year to help Mississippi surpass us in rankings. Mississippi has moved out of the 50th spot in several categories, thanks primarily to gaming dollars, which Alabamians have contributed to, significantly.

Folks, when one of these major power ball, jackpot lotteries occur where there are billions of dollars to be won, my email lights up with inquiries as to why they cannot participate with a convenience store in Alabama. They ask, “why is my money going out of state? Why am I in a line and traffic jam on the Florida/Georgia border?”  My present response is, “Talk with your state representative or state senator. All they have to do is simply vote to let you vote on the issue.”

In order for Alabama to participate, it cannot be accomplished by a simple legislative act. It takes a Constitutional Act that must be voted on and approved by a vote of the people. A Constitutional Amendment needs 21 votes in the 35 member State Senate and 63 votes in the 105 member State House of Representatives.

The State Senate returns almost intact. Governor Ivey had a comprehensive gaming measure that passed in the Senate last year. Therefore, the votes are probably there for passage in the upper body. The governor was only a few votes short in the House. There are several new faces in that chamber. The governor will need to get behind this issue with both feet. A Special Session may be needed to highlight the gravitas and importance of garnering gaming dollars for Alabama. We are only one of five states that get no revenue from gaming.

As a former legislator, I would have a hard time coming home and telling my constituents that I voted against giving them the right to vote on an important constitutional amendment that could raise a lot of money for the state. You can bet your bottom dollar that if a lottery/gaming referendum is placed on the ballot, it will pass in a New York minute. Even the most conservative folks in our state would vote for it, if for only one reason – they are sick and tired of Alabamians’ money going to our neighboring states.

See you next week.

February 22, 2023 - Three Great Alabama Preachers

Many of you may be surprised to know that politicians and preachers are often friends while on earth. They actually run in the same circles in their communities as well as around the state. It has been my pleasure to have known a good many Godly ministers.

During my lifetime here in our beloved state of Alabama, there have been some outstanding ministers, but three men stand out as legendary and will go down in the annals of Alabama history as the three greatest preachers of this generation. All three were Alabama born and bred.  They had to have been born and chosen for their calling.  Just to be in their presence makes you feel special.  They are truly men of God.  They are also true southern gentlemen with a keen sense of humility.  These three ministers are Methodist Minister John Ed Mathison, Methodist Minister Karl Stegall, and Baptist Minister Buddy Gray.

I will begin with the youngest first. Buddy Gray has been the pastor of the mega Baptist Church in Hoover – Hunter Street Baptist Church – for nearly 36 years.  Buddy Gray built this mountain of a church in the heart of Hoover.  He is beloved by his throng of congregates.  He exudes love and humility.

Buddy Gray grew up in Prattville.  He knew at 16 that God was calling him to the ministry.  He started preaching at rural churches and along the way he served as youth pastor at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in the 1970’s.  Hunter Street was in a dying section with an attendance of 120.  Soon after they called Buddy to be their minister, he had the foresight to see that his church needed to be in Hoover, the fastest growing suburban area of Jefferson County.

Today, 36 years later, Buddy’s vision is a sprawling landmark campus with a congregation of 4,500 active members.  It is one of the largest and most prosperous churches in Alabama. Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention refer to Hunter Street Baptist Church as one of the greatest churches in America.

During his career, Buddy Gray has served at the state and national level of the Baptist Convention including two one-year reigns as President of the Alabama Baptist State Convention. He and his wife, Tricia, have been a true team in the evangelical building of this great church.

Dr. John Ed Mathison of Montgomery has rightfully been referred to as one of the greatest preachers in the history of the State of Alabama. He was born a Methodist minister.  His father was a legendary Methodist minister, and his brother is a legend in his own right as a Methodist minister.

John Ed served 36 years as Senior Minister of Frazer Methodist Church in Montgomery.  Under his leadership, Frazer grew from 400 members to 9,000 and had the largest Sunday School attendance for any Methodist church in America.  At the time of John Ed’s retirement in June 2008, Frazer had eight Sunday morning worship services and its services were televised nationwide reaching about 40 million homes.

John Ed has been a sterling athlete over his lifetime.  He was an all-state high school basketball player and an outstanding basketball player at Huntington College.  He was consistently ranked #1 in his age division in tennis in Alabama and is in the Alabama Tennis Hall of Fame.  He continues to write. I am proud to say that for the last decade his column and mine have been adjacent to each other in the Montgomery Independent.

Dr. Karl Stegall is a legend within the Alabama Methodist Church hierarchy. He is one of the best known and most loved Methodist ministers to serve in Alabama over the past 50 years.  Stegall served with distinction at four separate Methodist churches in Alabama. He culminated his ministerial career as pastor of the First Methodist Church of Montgomery. He served as senior minister of this great traditional Methodist church in Cloverdale for 24 years.

Dr. Stegall remains extremely involved in Montgomery Civic affairs.  He is an erudite gentleman with impeccable class and manners.  He has the most melodious Black Belt southern accent.  He is an avid sports fan and a great Alabama historian.  He has a myriad of talents and uses them all.  He has been a confidante and minister to a great many Alabama governors and Montgomery business leaders.

These three gentlemen are without a doubt three of the greatest ministers in Alabama of this century.  I am proud to call them friends.

See you next week.

February 15, 2023 - Our Congressional Delegation Has Garnered Good Committee Assignments

For the past several decades, Alabama’s power has been centered around the U.S. Senate – primarily because of Richard Shelby’s immense power and influence. During Senator Shelby’s 36-year tenure, he chaired the Intelligence, Banking and Rules Committees. However, he became immensely powerful his last six years as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Shelby practically moved Washington to Alabama when it came to bringing home procured earmarked funds to the Heart of Dixie. We received more federal funding than any state in America. National publications labeled Shelby the Greatest Pork King in federal history, surpassing the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Less we forget, Shelby also had a very respected and tenured wingman in Senator Jeff Sessions, who served with distinction for 20 years in the Senate. They were a great team.

In the halls of congress, and especially in the U.S. Senate, seniority equates into power and we had it. However, we who follow Alabama politics have been cautioning you that our day of reckoning would arrive in January 2023, when Richard Shelby retired from the Senate and that day has arrived. Alabama will never be able to raid the federal vault like Shelby has done. Fortunately, as he was walking out the door, he brought so much largesse home with him that it will take other states 10 years to catchup.

Under the U.S. Senate seniority system, it will take young Katie Britt about 10 years before she will have any impact and influence in the Senate. Katie Britt took office with zero years seniority and that places her 99th in seniority status in the U.S. Senate. Our senior U.S. Senator, Tommy Tuberville, has two years seniority. That places him 89th in seniority in the 100-member senate.

However, we have several members of our U.S. House delegation who are garnering some seniority and are emerging as powerful members of the lower body. Therefore, for at least the next decade, our power in Washington will be in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jefferson/Shelby 6th District Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) has been instrumental in helping to garner extremely good committee assignments for our six Republican members of Congress. Palmer, who is a quiet, policy issues congressman, was the founder and leader of the Alabama Policy Institute prior to going to Congress. Therefore, it was apropos that he would gravitate to the 30-member Republican Party Steering Committee. This committee has emerged as a powerful entity in the past decade. They essentially chose the House Committee Assignments along with Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Congressman Gary Palmer will serve as Chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee. He will also retain his position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. This committee has jurisdiction over healthcare, which is vital to UAB – the heart and soul of the 6th District.

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) is our senior Congressman. He got to Washington at a very young age. He is now only 57 years old and has 28 years seniority. He is one of the cardinals on the House Appropriations Committee and is now chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Resources. This committee will be very important to Alabama because of the biomedical research going on in Birmingham and Huntsville. If the Republicans maintain their majority into 2025, Aderholt is in line to become Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Saks/Anniston) has emerged as Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee. This is a very important coup for Alabama and an impressive appointment for Mike Rogers. The U.S. Military has a very large footprint and importance in the Heart of Dixie. Defense dollars dominate Alabama’s economy.

In addition to Rogers, two of our newest members of Congress have scored seats on the Armed Services Committee – Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) and Representative Dale Strong (R-Huntsville). Both Carl and Strong are bright stalwart stars for our congressional delegation. They have also become close friends and allies.

In addition to garnering a seat on the Armed Services Committee, Jerry Carl has been placed on the Appropriations Committee. He will be a workhorse for his coastal Alabama district.

Freshman Congressman Dale Strong’s appointment to the Armed Services Committee is a great feather for Strong given the importance of the Redstone Arsenal and the immense amount of defense dollars in Huntsville.

Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) landed an appointment to the prestigious Judiciary Committee.

Alabama’s lone congressional Democrat, Representative Terri Sewell, will retain her position as Chief Deputy Whip within the Democratic caucus. Sewell will also continue to serve on the powerful and prestigious House Ways and Means Committee.

The paradigm of our power in Washington has moved to the U.S. House of Representatives.

See you next week.

February 8, 2023 - Alabama Making Strides in Broadband Expansion

If you took a nighttime plane ride across much of the rural South in the early 1900s, you would see nothing but darkness on the ground below because electricity at the time was centered mainly around highly populated areas.

But through federal, state and private sector partnerships, electricity was brought to rural America to light up homes and power the products many of us today take for granted. Life without access to electricity is tough for most of us to even imagine but there was a time not too long ago when many simply did not have it. The same is true today of high-speed internet access.

Unfortunately, many homes, businesses, and communities in Alabama and across the country, do not have access to this essential 21st century necessity due to lack of broadband infrastructure – which you can think of as the highway that connects individuals and businesses to internet providers.

But there’s good news for Alabama. While states across the country are scrambling to build out the infrastructure needed to provide their residences with access to high-speed internet, Alabama is serving as an example of how to do it the right way.

Over the past few years, Alabama has been ambitious – and innovative – in the way that it has set the state up to deal with the buildout of broadband infrastructure. Governor Kay Ivey, the state legislature, and groups such as the Alabama Rural Broadband Coalition, which includes organizations ranging from Alabama Power to the Alabama Hospital Association, deserve a lot of credit for the success the state is currently seeing on broadband.  Along with Governor Ivey, State Senator Clay Schofield of Marshall County, and State Representative Randall Shedd of Blount/Cullman Counties deserve accolades for their involvement with this expansion of broadband in our state.

To name a few steps the state has taken, in 2017, Governor Ivey issued an executive order establishing the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) as the state agency to oversee broadband planning and expansion.

Since 2018, Alabama has invested $64.1 million in state funding through grant awards supporting 100 projects through the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund. The state has committed to over $300 million more in state and federal funding for broadband expansion.

In November 2021, ADECA established a new Alabama Digital Expansion Division, which was created through the Connect Alabama Act of 2021. This act also created the Alabama Digital Expansion Authority to work with ADECA to oversee broadband expansion in the state.

In December 2021, ADECA released the Alabama Broadband Map and Alabama Connectivity Plan to guide the state’s efforts and recommend strategies to expand broadband. The map included months of collaborative work and the participation of 57 internet service providers to give a clear and accurate picture of broadband availability in the state down to the address level.

Recently, Governor Ivey awarded a multi-million dollar grant to fund a “middle-mile” broadband network to make statewide broadband service availability a more attainable goal throughout Alabama.

The grantee – Fiber Utility Network – will use existing fiber infrastructure and new infrastructure to create a middle mile network that includes almost 3,000 miles of fiber – including approximately 1,089 miles from electric co-ops, more than 1,000 miles leased from Alabama Power, and more than 500 miles that will need to be constructed. This is a big deal for the state, as more than 300 Alabama cities and towns with populations of less than 10,000 are within 10 miles of the planned path.

As late as last week, a crowning coup to our broadband expansion occurred when it was announced that the U.S. Treasury has approved $191.8 million to go toward expanding broadband in the state. This grant will connect 55,000 households and businesses to broadband.

Expanding broadband infrastructure so that all Alabamians have access to essential, high-speed internet is no easy task. It takes time, effort, financial investment and the collaboration of both state and local elected officials, private sector groups and others to successfully build out of the infrastructure needed to get Alabamians connected.

I believe that our state leaders and business community have been able to do that and have set up Alabama as a model for how to get it right when delivering broadband access to its citizens.

See you next week.

February 1, 2023 - Shelby’s Last Hurrah Will Benefit Alabamians for Generations

Richard Shelby’s last week as our United States Senator was poetically amazing.

The nation watched as he gave his farewell address to the Senate.  His speech was followed by a tribute from his longtime friend Senator Patrick Leahey.  Senator Shelby  and Senator Leahey from Vermont are best friends and co-chaired the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee together for their final six-year terms, which ended January 3, 2023. They walked out together after a lasting three decade partnership. 

The national media made note of the fact that Leahey, a Democrat, and Shelby, a Republican, were the last vestiges of bipartisanship in Congress.  They worked together congruently to get things done for the nation and yes primarily for the states they represented.  Shelby, who served 36 years as our senator, retired at 88 last month.

To say that he went out with a bang would be a dramatic understatement.  As he was making his farewell adieu speech, he and Leahey were crafting their final federal budget. The budget was passed the next day, two days before Christmas. When the experts discerned the 4,000 plus page document, it revealed that Richard Shelby had again played Santa Claus to the people of Alabama.  He not only brought most of the money from Washington to Alabama, practically speaking he brought the entire North Pole and Rudolph and all of the reindeer to the Heart of Dixie as he was walking out the door of the U.S. Senate.

The national media dubbed Shelby the “Greatest King” of earmarked procured money for their state in history. Indeed, the amount of federal dollars Senator Shelby brought home to our state as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee is historical. He probably surpassed the previous “King of Pork” for their state, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

In his last hurrah, Senator Shelby appropriated a mind boggling $660 million of extra earmarked dollars to our state.  Folks, that is quite an amazingly, unfathomable, incomprehensible, Christmas gift for our state.

As I was exchanging Christmas greetings with a state senator who is a close friend, I commented about Shelby’s departing $660 million Christmas gift to the state.  He quietly commented, “Flowers, that is over 25 percent of our entire state General Fund Budget.”  However, if you dig deeper into the federal budget that Shelby passed, his $660 million is also met with upgrades of funds Shelby allocated in previous years to amount to $4 billion.  That is more than the entire State of Alabama’s annual budget. Every part of Alabama was showered with Shelby’s gifts, which will make generational changes to our state.

In Huntsville alone Shelby has played a pivotal role in shaping this Tennessee Valley area into the science, space, and technology capital of the south, if not the nation. In his final hurrah, the Huntsville Redstone area received funds for Army research weaponry, a space launch system, nuclear thermal propulsion for the Marshall Space Flight Center, construction of a new FBI Headquarters, which Shelby moved from Washington to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and several other new buildings at the Redstone Arsenal.

Shelby earmarked a great deal of federal money for his home area of Tuscaloosa including millions for new buildings and education centers for the University of Alabama, funds for a new bridge, and millions for the Tuscaloosa airport.

He took care of the Montgomery/Wiregrass area, which is military laden for years to come.  This area received multi-millions in new money for Ft. Rucker for flight training and Air Surface Missiles, along with millions for the Hellfire missiles made in Troy.

There is over a billion dollars going to UAB for biomedical research and new buildings. Shelby has been instrumental in transforming UAB into one of the most pronounced medical research institutions in the nation.

He took care of Mobile for generations to come.  There are millions of earmarked funds going to the Port City.  In addition, Shelby completed his mission of building Alabama a new deeper and wider Port with a $200 million dollar appropriation for the Alabama State Port Authority.

In my 2015 book, Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Alabama Political Stories, I have a chapter entitled “Alabama’s Three Greatest Senators, John Sparkman, Lister Hill and Richard Shelby.  If I were writing that book today, Richard Shelby would be alone as Alabama’s greatest United States Senator by far.

See you next week.

January 25, 2023 - Legislature Organizes for Quadrennium

The legislature had their every four year organizational session earlier this month.  It is exactly what the title states, they are organizing for the next quadrennium of lawmaking.  They officially chose their leadership and adopted the rules for the two chambers.

The 105 member House of Representatives and 35 member State Senate are elected for four-year terms the same as the governor and other constitutional offices.  However, unlike the governor who was sworn in on Monday, January 16, which is as set out in the state constitution, the legislature takes office the day after they are elected in November.

The state House of Representatives will have 77 Republicans and 28 Democrats.  That is a veto proof, bulldozer shoving, anything you want supermajority.  The Democrats have very little say with those overwhelming numbers.  

Two days after they were elected in November the 77 member Republican majority met in a private caucus meeting in Montgomery and selected their leadership.  Therefore, the vote for Speaker of the House two weeks ago was simply a formality.  The House has chosen Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter to be the Speaker of the House.  Speaker Ledbetter hails from Rainsville in DeKalb County.  He is a former Mayor of Rainsville.  He has only been in the House of Representatives for eight years, having been first elected in 2014.  He was chosen to be the majority leader in the House in his freshman year.  He was close to the former Speaker McCutcheon and he served on both the powerful agenda setting Rules Committee, as well as the Ways and Means Education Budget Writing Committee.  

Representative Chris Pringle of Mobile has been chosen to be Speaker Pro Tem of the House, which is the second highest position within the body.  He has served previously for 16 years in the House from the Port City.  He succeeds fellow Mobilian Victor Gaston in this post.

There are two young stalwarts, who will be serving in Republican Party positions within the House.  Representative Scott Stadthagen of Decatur will be the new House Majority Leader.  Representative Wes Kitchens of Arab will serve as the Republican Leadership Caucus Vice Chair.  Representative Debbie Wood from the Valley will serve as the Republican Caucus Secretary/Treasurer.  The three most powerful posts in the House are the chairmanships of the two money committees and the agenda setting Rules Committee.

Representative Danny Garrett of Trussville in Jefferson County will continue to Chair the Ways and Means Education Budget Committee.  Representative Rex Reynolds of Huntsville will be the General Fund Ways and Means Chairman.  Reynolds replaces longtime Ways and Means Chairman Steve Clouse of Ozark.  Representative Joe Lovvorn of Auburn will be the new Rules Committee Chairman.  Representative Jim Hill of St. Clair will chair Judiciary.  He is a former circuit Judge and a veteran of the House. All of these House leadership positions are held by Republicans.  To the victor goes the spoils.

The Democrats have a veteran and sterling team heading their Caucus Leadership in the House.  Anthony Daniels of Huntsville will be the Democratic Minority Leader.  Barbara Drummond of Mobile will be the Caucus Chair.  Mary Moore of Birmingham will be the Vice Chair and Kelvin Lawrence of Hayneville will be Secretary/Treasurer of the Democratic Caucus.

The 35 member Alabama State Senate returns almost intact with their continuity and quality leadership.  They will dominate and provide a stable State of Ship to help lead the state.  Republicans control this upper chamber to the same degree that the GOP members do in the House.  Republicans outnumber Democrats 28 to 7 in the Senate.

State Senator Jabo Waggoner of Jefferson County begins his 50th year in the legislature.  This is a state record.  He is definitely destined for the state history books.  Jabo will continue to Chair the powerful Rules Committee.

Greg Reed of Walker County will be Pro Tem of the Senate again.  The Majority Leader will again be Clay Scofield of Marshall County.  The two money committee chairmen will continue to be in charge of how the state revenues are spent.  Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur will chair Finance and Taxation/Education.  Senator Greg Albritton of Escambia will chair Finance and Taxation/General Fund.  These two men will be very powerful.  Popular state Senator Will Barfoot of Pike Road will chair Judiciary in the Senate. Senator Clyde Chambliss of Prattville has become a stalwart leader in the Senate. He will be Majority Whip. Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth presides over the Senate.

The Regular Session begins in early March.

See you next week.