January 18, 2023 - Inauguration Day

The Inauguration of our Alabama Constitutional officials was Monday.  Our state constitution calls for the inauguration to be held on the third Monday in January.  As you would expect and as Almanac’s suggest, it is usually a cold day.  Over the years I have had countless folks harken back to their high school band experiences of marching in the Inaugural Parade, especially ladies who had been majorettes.  They had to march and twirl a baton in 20 degree weather with skimpy, legless, bathing suit style attire.  It left them with a lasting indelible memory of an Alabama Gubernatorial Inauguration.

Mind you, I was not there, but every old timer who has talked politics with me over the years and who have seen a good many inaugurations, will remark that the January 1963 George Wallace initial inauguration as governor was the coldest.  There was a lot of frost bite that day.  However, the inaugural address from George C. Wallace was hot and heavy.  That was the day that Wallace threw down the gauntlet and declared “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” That was exactly 60 years ago.  

A lot has changed since that day.  It was during the Wallace era that the Civil Rights movement changed the political landscape of the nation and especially in the south. Wallace was an integral part of that historical era.  He watched it all unfold from his Goat Hill office overlooking Dexter Avenue and he was the reason for a lot of the bloodshed.  Every time I see an inauguration on the Capitol steps, I reminisce about the history that has been made in that block of Dexter Avenue in Montgomery.

The men who wrote Alabama’s overtly racist 1901 Constitution and the crowd that howled in defiance as Wallace made his 1963 declaration, would marvel at the change and diversity of today’s Alabama.  It is poetic and ironic that this year’s Inauguration Day, January 16, 2023, was on the same day as Martin Luther King Day, a state and national holiday.

Kay Ivey grew up in the heart of the Wallace Era in Wilcox County.  She cut her political teeth campaigning for the Wallaces.  She was especially involved with Lurleen Wallace’s 1966 governor’s race when she was a student at Auburn University.  After Auburn she worked for a while in Banking and teaching in Mobile.  She began her Montgomery career as the reading clerk in the Alabama House of Representatives under the tutelage of Speaker Joe McCorquodale.  Black Belters, like McCorquodale, controlled the House and the Senate.  Kay Ivey’s melodious, pronounced Black Belt accent drew folks’ attention to her reading even the most mundane legalese for hours on end.  She later became associated with the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.  As their Public Relations and Governmental Affairs Director, she learned the legislative process.  She entered the political arena in 2002, when she was elected State Treasurer.  She served eight years in that post.  She was then elected Lt. Governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014.  In the middle of her second term, she became Governor after Dr. Robert Bentley vacated the governor’s office.  She served out the last 18 months of his term and was elected in her own right as Governor of Alabama in 2018.  She was reelected, overwhelmingly, last year.  If Kay Ivey finishes out this four year term she will have been Governor of Alabama longer than anyone else besides George C. Wallace.  She is the first woman to be elected as a Republican.  She is the second female governor, the first being her idol, Lurleen Wallace, 56 years ago.

Also inaugurated with Governor Kay Ivey were Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth, Attorney General Steve Marshall, State Treasurer Young Boozer, Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate, Secretary of State Wes Allen, and State Auditor Andrew Sorrell.

Jeremy Oden and Chip Becker were sworn in for four-year terms on the Public Service Commission.  

Two Supreme Court Justices, Kelli Wise and Greg Cook, were sworn in for six-year terms in a special investiture last Friday.  Justice Kelli Wise was sworn in for her third term.  She has served 12 years on the Supreme Court and was on the State Court of Criminal Appeals for a decade prior to being elected to the high court.  Justice Greg Cook was sworn in for his initial term on the high tribunal.  He is a well-qualified and conservative jurist, who will fit in well on the Supreme Court.

It was a big day in Alabama politics.

See you next week.

January 11, 2023 - Women Rule in Alabama Politics

For many years, Alabama has been ridiculed in national publications for having fewer women in political leadership positions than other assumed to be progressive states.  States like Colorado, New York and California were lauded for having an inordinate number of females in public office.  Well, folks, take a cursory look around at Alabama’s political landscape, and it is a new day in the Heart of Dixie, and unlike the above mentioned liberal states our slate of women leaders are conservative Republicans.

Our top two most powerful leaders in the state are Governor Kay Ivey and U.S. Senator Katie Britt.  If you include PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh into the mix, then the three most powerful and popular political leaders in the Heart of Dixie are women Republicans. You can eat your heart out Colorado.

This day did not just happen.  These three women have been on the scene and the horizon for a while, and arose the old fashioned way by rising through and within the system to get to the top of the class.

Kay Ivey was a student leader at Auburn.  She spent a decade or more working with the legislature as the lobbyist for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education; then ran for and was elected State Treasurer and served eight years.  She then was elected Lt. Governor where she served six years.  She has been governor, now, for almost six years.  

Twinkle Cavanaugh has been on a leadership track since her high school years in Montgomery.  She became Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party at a young age and has been President of the Public Service Commission for over a decade.  She is the hardest working political figure in office in Alabama with a hardcore grassroots organization.

Katie Britt also won our U.S. Senate seat the old fashioned way.  She worked hard and built a statewide grassroots organization that will hold her in good stead for years to come.

All three of these ladies are conservative, yet rational and reasonable leaders.  They are exemplary of Southern grace, yet decisive and disciplined and dignified.  They are people we can be proud of and excellent role models.  All three are Alabama born and bred and know the folks of Alabama. All three are closely aligned with and have proudly been supported by Alabama’s premier and most powerful and respected political organization, the Alabama Farmers Federation (Alfa).

Currently, two of the most prominent jurists on the Alabama State Supreme Court are females.  Justices Kelli Wise and Sarah Stewart grace the Court.  I can see our Supreme Court in Alabama, as well as the United States Supreme Court, being majority female in future years.  The majority of law students and graduates throughout the country are female.  Women will dominate this profession in the next decade, if not already.

The State Senate has two very prominent female leaders.  The most powerful and proficient is veteran Mobile State Senator Vivian Figures.  Senator April Weaver from Bibb/Shelby is on a fast track in the Alabama Senate.

Another sign of women taking their rightful place in the Alabama Legislature is the takeover of Republican House Seats in the Shelby and Baldwin County Republican suburban districts. There were five new Republican women in these two Republican bastions that all took seats previously held by older men.  Susan Dubose and Leigh Hulsey will be joining three females from Baldwin County. All three of the Baldwin County GOP seats will be held by female Republicans including Jennifer Fidler, Donna Givens, and Frances Holk-Jones. Representative Cynthia Almond (R-Tuscaloosa), a relative newcomer, is a star on the horizon.

Three of the most prominent leaders in the House of Representatives are women. Representative Margie Wilcox of Mobile is in a leadership position. Representative Ginny Shaver of Cherokee County works extensively on family and adoption issues. Representative Terri Collins of Morgan County is the education guru in the Alabama House.

Speaking of education, our Alabama State Board is currently made up of eight female members and only one man. This eight to one female majority really becomes nine to one because Governor Kay Ivey serves as ex officiate Chairman of the Board of Education.

So, folks, as you can see, women rule in Alabama politics and my guess is that this trend will not diminish in years to come.

See you next week.

January 4, 2023 - Two New U.S. Senators for Alabama

Richard Shelby walked out of the U.S. Senate this week after 36 years.  Walking out with him is almost all of Alabama’s seniority and power in Washington.

Seniority equates into power in the Halls of Congress, especially in the Senate. National publications have illustrated the fact that Alabama has benefited more than all 50 states from federal earmarked funds due to one man, Richard Shelby.

It will be impossible to replace Shelby.  His legacy will last for generations, especially in Huntsville, Birmingham, all defense facilities in Alabama, and the new docks he built in Mobile. There has been no senator that brought more federal dollars to their state, unless it was Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

You would think that we would be what some say, “up the creek without a paddle.”  We are a state that depends on federal defense dollars, and we have zero seniority in the U.S. Senate.  Our senior Senator, Tommy Tuberville, has two years seniority and our junior Senator, Katie Britt, has zero years.  That probably makes us 50th in seniority in the senate.  

However, I contend that our freshman senators, Tuberville and Britt, are the best and right choices for this time. First of all, they will work together as a team.  They like each other and deeper than that, Tuberville’s people covertly and almost overtly campaigned for Katie Boyd Britt.  She well knows that and appreciates it.

Primarily, Tuberville’s and Katie Britt’s personalities will prevail to Alabama’s advantage.  They both have larger than life gregarious, vivacious, winning personalities and in a 100-member body, this is admired, respected, and appreciated.  You have some pretty big personalities and egos in that 100 member elite chamber.

Shelby has shared with me in past years that you can recognize the prima donnas and show horses, who are running for president, immediately. Then there are those that want to be a long term, effective workhorse senator for their state.  The first group immediately starts looking for a TV camera to get in front of.  The second group are finding their offices, making friends, building a solid staff and jockeying for committee assignments that help them be effective for their state.  

Katie Britt Boyd will be greeted and treated like a rockstar.  She is young and looks even younger than she is.  She is a very articulate and attractive media subject.  However, if you know Katie, she will not be swayed by this allure from the national media.  She is grounded and has already made inroads with the senate GOP establishment leadership and will be rewarded with surprisingly powerful committee assignments.  She will settle in to being in Washington as a Senator for Alabama rather than a show horse.

Tuberville is now our senior U.S. Senator.  When he ran and won two years ago, most of us thought it was a whim, something he wanted to do in his later years.  When you first meet him, you can gather that he is a very patriotic fellow.  He is doing this for the right reason.  He truly wants to serve his country.

Tuberville, from the get-go, fell in love with politics.  He campaigned. Especially, one-on-one.  But, when he got to the senate, it has been like Katie bar the door.  Folks, he likes it and the other Republican senators like him.  He has really fit in.  He has the brightest, happiest contented smile on his face.  He looks 10 years younger than his 68 years.  He is always around his GOP senate buddies.  He votes totally with the Republican caucus and does not seek fanfare.  He knows the golden rule of politics, “Your word is your bond,” and, “You dance with those who brung you.”  

He knew the Alabama Farmers’ Federation (Alfa) was an integral part of his election.  His first allegiance was to gravitate to committees that could help Alabama farmers as well as Alabama military veterans.  He has put together a good staff.  It will not surprise me if Coach runs for another six year term in 2026.  

The aforementioned Alfa Farmers’ Federation is the most important lobbying group in the state with our two U.S. Senators.  Alfa early and ardently supported both Tommy Tuberville and Katie Boyd Britt.  Their endorsement of Britt and Tuberville were pivotal and instrumental to their wins.  Both know it.

Another young man named Paul Shashy was an integral part of both Britt’s and Tuberville’s campaigns.

We may be in better shape in the senate than some think.

See you next week.

December 28, 2022 - Richard Shelby Coming Home

Our iconic Senior United States Senator, Richard Shelby, will walk out of the Senate chambers in Washington, D.C. next week and come home to retirement in Tuscaloosa.  History will reveal Senator Shelby as Alabama’s greatest U.S. Senator, especially when it comes to bringing home the bacon to the Heart of Dixie.  To say Shelby is the greatest is saying a mouthful, because we have had some great ones.  Shelby will rest along with the likes of John Bankhead, John Sparkman, Lister Hill, and Howell Heflin.  He has served longer in the Senate than any Alabamian in state history – 36 years.  He served eight years in Congress before beginning his senate tenure in 1986.

Many of you have perceived, and correctly so, that I admire and appreciate the accomplishments of Senator Shelby.  A good many of you will be glad to see me stop writing such glowing things about him.  Over the years many of you have accused me of actually being his press secretary.  My favorite restaurant is the historic Bright Star in Bessemer.  A good many Tuscaloosans, especially older ones, Shelby’s contemporaries and friends and neighbors drive up to eat at the Bright Star.  Invariably, they will ask me to come over to their table to visit.  They always say,  “you sure do like Richard Shelby.”

Many of them are familiar with the fact that we are also friends.  We have, indeed, been political friends and confidantes for close to four decades.  This does not take away from the fact that in my humble opinion, he is Alabama’s greatest Senator.  The facts speak for themselves.

In Washington, Shelby is considered royalty with omnipotent power.  He is treated like a king.  Shelby has served in the Senate alongside eight different presidents.  He has been more powerful than the last three.  He has controlled the federal purse strings.  Therefore, national political pundits know the political golden rule, ‘those that have the gold make the rules.  Presidents, congressional leaders, and especially powerful lobbyists, treat Shelby with deference akin to royalty.  When he enters a room, people stare and stand up.  This is especially true when he enters any famous Washington restaurant.  The maître de has assigned him the best table.  When he enters the fine dining establishment, every head turns to see which million dollar a year lobbyist has been bestowed the honor of dining and visiting with the king, Richard Shelby.  Other lobbyists will reserve a table next to him to simply be able to say they sat next to him.

However, when Shelby comes home to Tuscaloosa next month to the home he and his wife Annette have shared in the Druid City for over 50 years, his peers and neighbors will just call him Dick Shelby.  “A setting sun sets off very little heat,” and a “prophet is not recognized in his own country,” “familiarity breeds contempt,” and “Alabama is just a big front porch,”  all of these admonitions will ring true for ole Shelby.  However, I do not think he will mind.  Even though he has lived his life as a public person – eight years in the state senate, eight years in congress and 36 years in the U.S. Senate – he is a private person and really enjoys his time with Annette.  He will very much enjoy his anonymity.

This coming home to rest in obscurity has played out throughout the years with our Washington giants. Old timers in Jackson County say that the legendary, powerful, Tennessee Valley Congressman, Bob Jones, in his retirement would go into a restaurant to eat in Scottsboro by himself and nobody would hardly know him.

I was friends with Senator Howell Heflin, who we all called “Judge.”  After 18 years in the Senate, Judge came home to the Quad Cities.  He would ask me to come up to visit with him and talk politics, which I gladly did.  We would go to breakfast or early lunch at a downtown restaurant, which doubled as a coffee club gathering place in Tuscumbia.  We would walk in, and they would nod, and he would speak, but they would not make a fuss over the former, powerful, U.S. Senator.  In fact, I am not sure some of them even knew who he was.  Tuscaloosa is a bigger place than Scottsboro or Tuscumbia, so Shelby will be private.

In the meantime, Alabamians will soon begin to realize what immense power Shelby had in Washington.

See you next week.

December 21, 2022 - The McMillan’s of Baldwin County

Alabama has a treasured history of famous political families.  Many of the legacies are of father and son dynasties.  The most prominent being the famous and powerful Bankheads of Jasper, which included a U.S. Senator, John Hollis Bankhead, and sons, Senator John H. Bankhead and Speaker of the U.S. House William Bankhead.  

There is a long line of fathers and sons who both served in the state senate.  We have had one father-son governor legacy.  James E. “Big Jim” Folsom, was governor in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  His son, Jim Folsom, Jr., was governor in the 1990’s. Little Jim was literally born in the Governor’s Mansion during his daddy, Big Jim’s first term as governor, 1946-1950.

During this generation there are two brothers from Baldwin County, who have made history.  John and Steve McMillan have left a mark on Alabama political history.  Decades from now, people will look at these twin brothers and say they have contributed a lot to Alabama.  Yes, John and Steve are twins, both born on July 6, 1941.

Steve and John McMillan have deep family roots in Baldwin County.  Before Alabama was even a state their ancestors settled in the Stockton Community near Bay Minette, which is where they call home.  Their family is in the timber business.

Steve represented his home area in the Alabama House of Representatives for 43 years.  The Baldwin County we see today as the fastest growing suburban county in the state was not the same Baldwin County they were born into 81 years ago.  It was a large, sparsely populated, agricultural county.  As fourth graders we would read that it was the potato growing county of the state.  John remembers getting out of school for almost a month in the fall to help harvest potatoes when he was in high school.

John and Steve’s ancestors were not only the early leaders of Baldwin County but also of the state.  Their great grandfather, John Murphy, was Governor of Alabama.  John was named for him.

John M. McMillan, Sr., John and Steve’s father, was an outstanding civic and church leader and also served 30 years on the Baldwin County school board

Our current John Murphy McMillan graduated from high school in Bay Minette then went to Rhodes College in Memphis where he graduated with honors. 

John was serving as county commissioner when he was elected to the state legislature in 1974.  He was reelected in 1978.  However, two years later, Governor Fob James chose John to serve in Fob’s cabinet as Alabama’s Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources.  It was under his watch that the state created the Alabama Trust Fund, a plan that saved all revenues from leases on offshore oil operations.  This fund has grown from the original investment of just over $400 million to a sum approaching $4 billion.

In 1985, John McMillan became the Chief Executive Officer of the Alabama Forestry Association.  He served as head of that powerful statewide association for 20 years.  In 2010, John was elected the 29th State Agriculture Commissioner.  He was reelected, overwhelmingly in 2014.  Thus, serving eight successful years from 2011-2019 in this very important statewide office.

In 2018, he was elected Alabama State Treasurer.  He served successfully in this post through late 2021, when he left to become the head of the newly created Cannabis Commission.

Steve McMillan, being John’s twin brother, had pretty much the same childhood as John.  They grew up together in Stockton and worked on their uncle’s farm and family sawmill.  Steve went on to Auburn University where he graduated with honors.  He came back home and started a real estate business, along with overseeing their family timberland.

When John became Conservation Director, Steve was elected to the House seat John vacated.  Steve served in that seat for 43 years. Steve was quiet effective voice for his beloved Baldwin County. He passed away in April.  

Steve was a very diligent and well prepared legislator.  He was extremely conservative and was always on the side of the business community.  He was dignified, but if you got to know him, very witty.  He was not flamboyant and would seldom go to the well and speak.  Yet, when he did, people listened.  He exuded class and epitomized the term gentleman.

The McMillan brothers of Baldwin County have made their mark on Alabama Political history.

See you next week.

December 14, 2022 - Two Jefferson County Legends Retire

As we begin to celebrate the Christmas season and close out 2022, allow me to share the story of two great Jefferson County/Alabama political legends.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Mike Bolin, is retiring at the end of the year from the state’s highest judicial tribunal.  Judge Bolin is a young 72 and would not have retired and would have sought and been elected to another six-year term if it were not for an antiquated state law that disallows someone running for a judgeship in the state after age 70.  Justice Bolin is one of the most popular and well-respected judges in Alabama.

He is a big man, physically and figuratively.  He is beloved throughout the state, but especially in his native Jefferson County. Mike Bolin was born in and is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County.  He attended elementary and high school in Homewood, and graduated from Shades Valley High School in 1966, with honors.  He stayed in Homewood for college graduated from Samford University with a degree in Business Administration in 1970.  He then continued on and got his law degree from Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law.  He graduated from law school in 1973.  He was on the Dean’s list and was associate editor of the Law Review.

Judge Bolin was a practicing attorney in Birmingham from 1973 through 1988.  In 1988 he was first elected Probate Judge of Jefferson County.  He was reelected Probate Judge of Alabama’s largest County in 1994, and again in 2020.  He served in that position until his election to the Alabama Supreme Court in January 2004.  He began serving on the Supreme Court in January 2005.  Thus, at the end of his tenure in six weeks, he will have served 18 years on the high court.

Justice Bolin and his wife Rosemary have one daughter, Leigh Anne. Mike Bolin is known and respected for his integrity, humility, and kindness.

Another Jefferson County legend, Tony Petelos, retired from public service last year.  Tony is a lifelong resident of Jefferson County and is a real American and Alabama success story. Tony Petelos has carved out a niche in Jefferson County and Alabama political history.

His parents are first generation immigrants.  His family fled Greece when Mussolini and later Hitler invaded and decimated Greece.  His father fought in the Greek Army and then later became a member of the United States Army.  Tony is the youngest of nine children.  He had five siblings born in Greece, one died in the war.  His father made it to the United States in 1947.  His mother arrived in 1950.  They had four sons born in America.  Tony is the youngest.  His father and mother settled in Ensley.  Tony’s father was in the construction business and became quite successful.  Tony and his three older brothers joined their father in the family business.  He earned his college degree at UAB while working during the day.  He met his wife Teresa while both were studying at UAB.  She became a Jefferson County Circuit Judge and served 18 years on the bench.

Tony began his political career in 1986.  He defeated an incumbent and became one of only 14 Republicans in the 105 member House of Representatives.  He was reelected in 1990 and again in 1994.  In 1997, after 11 years in the House, Governor Fob James named Tony Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources for the State of Alabama.  He was reappointed Human Resources Commissioner by Governor Don Siegelman in 1998 and served through 2001.  

In 2004, Tony Petelos was elected Mayor of the City of Hoover, one of the state’s largest cities.  He served eight years as mayor and earned a reputation as one of the state’s premier municipal administrators.  In 2011, the Jefferson County government was in chaos to say the least.  The County Commission lured Tony away from Hoover to be the Administrator of Jefferson County’s government.  He cleaned up the corruption and financial problems and spent 10 years in that position.  He retired about this time last year at 69.  He and his wife, Judge Petelos, are doing well.  They live in the same home they have lived in for the last 24 years in Hoover.  They have two adult daughters, who they are very proud of.  Tony’s story is a great Alabama political success story.

Happy Holidays.

December 7, 2022 - Some Legislative Leaders Retire and Pass Away

Allow me to share the stories of three of my favorite legislative colleagues. Two of these gentlemen are retiring from the Alabama House of Representatives this year, and one passed away in April.  

Representative Victor Gaston of Mobile and Representative Howard Sanderford of Huntsville are going home.  A third legend and true gentleman, Steve McMillan of Baldwin County, passed away during the last session in April.

Representative Victor Gaston is Speaker Pro Tem of the House.  Victor is retiring after 40 years in the legislature.  He decided that at age 79 and having spent half of his entire life in the legislature, that the timing was right to end his career and not run for reelection.  Gaston, who was an educator by profession and also has family timber interests, lost the love of his life, Jean, only two years ago.  They were married for 46-years and were very close.  You can tell he misses her immensely.  His two sons, Hank and George, have been helpful to him.

Victor was first elected to the House in 1982.  In that year, he was only one of eight Republicans in the 105 member House.  His district is an affluent silk stocking area of Mobile, and one of the few areas that voted Republican in local races in that era.

He serves as a deacon of the Springhill Baptist Church.  Additionally, he is active in Mobile with the Penelope House, Home of Grace for Women and the Mobile Mental Health Center. Besides serving as Pro Tem in the legislature, he has been active with the American Legislative Exchange Council and is on the State Building Commission.

Victor and I came to the House as freshmen together in 1982, and became and remain good friends.  I like to give my friends nicknames, I dubbed him, “To the Victor goes the spoils.”  He is a formal person and seemed to enjoy the frivolity of the term.  Also in our class were Spencer Bachus, Beth Marietta Lyons, and Mo Brooks to name a few.

My friend Howard Sanderford came to the Alabama House of Representatives in January of 1989.  We became fast friends.  He succeeded my friend, Steve Hettinger, who became mayor of Huntsville.  Howard has represented the 20th District which is comprised of southeast Huntsville.  He was elected to this very Republican district seven times and has served a total of 33 years.  He was a true blue business Republican, who was perfect for that district.  He represented his people well with class and distinction.  Howard was an accountant by profession and had a successful career with IBM, retired early, and was able to serve in the legislature with ample time and without the need for the renumeration.  

He is a devoted family man.  Howard and his wife Dot are very close.  She accompanied him to Montgomery most of the time during his 33 years in the legislature.  They are active members of the First Baptist Church of Huntsville.  At 87 Howard felt like it was time to retire from his second career.

Our friend, Representative Steve McMillan of Baldwin County, passed away at 80 in April after a tough bout with cancer.  Steve was a great man and great legislator.  He was a quiet yet very friendly gentleman.  Steve served with distinction for 43 years in the House of Representatives.  He was a very diligent and well prepared legislator.  He was extremely conservative in a dignified way.  He was not flamboyant and would seldom go to the well and speak.  Yet, when he did, people listened.  He was well-respected and knew what he was talking about.  He exuded class and epitomized the term gentleman. Steve is survived by his wife Gayle, two sons, and six grandchildren.

The House is losing a lot of experience and leadership with the loss of Steve McMillan and Victor Gaston, and Howard Sanderford.  

Coupled with the decision by Speaker of the House, Mac McCutcheon, to not seek reelection, this will leave a void in the Speaker and Pro Tem posts in the House.  In addition, the House is losing veterans Mike Ball (R-Huntsville), Allen Farley (R-Jefferson), L.L. Brown (R-Jacksonville) and Harry Shiver (R-Baldwin).

The state and many of us will miss these folks.

See you next week.

November 30, 2022 - Alabama’s Big 10 Mayors Are Influential

Students of Alabama political history will rightly remember the 2022 midterm election. This election saw the majority of Alabama voters cast their ballots for Katie Britt, who will be the first woman elected to represent Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Governor Kay Ivey easily coasted to victory to gain her second full term in office, continuing her reign as the first Republican woman to serve as Governor. Republicans from the top of the ballot on down cemented their control of the state government by huge margins.

On top of all this, I suspect that students of Alabama politics will also note 2022 as the year that a new political force emerged on the scene. For the first time this cycle, the Alabama Big 10 Mayors – as the name suggests, the mayors of the state’s ten biggest cities – flexed their political muscle and put their support behind the Aniah’s Law constitutional amendment, which received a staggering 1,018,004 “yes” votes, more than any other item on the ballot.

For those who are not aware of this emerging new group, the mayors of Alabama’s ten biggest cities joined together to use their collective influence to advocate for public policy positions that they believe will make Alabama a safer, more prosperous state.

If you happen to live in the metro areas of Birmingham, Huntsville, Madison, Mobile, Montgomery, Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Dothan, Hoover or Decatur – you live in the orbit of this group’s sphere of influence.

While these mayors have been meeting regularly for several years to discuss issues like crime, infrastructure, and economic development, this election cycle marks the first time they have weighed in on electoral politics. Through a focus on local media, these mayors were able to ensure that this popular proposal stayed top-of-mind for Alabama voters. In fact, the late push against the referendum from both the far left and far right of the political spectrum was likely a reaction to the media coverage and public support that these mayors generated.

Their advantage is not just in the media. They are a bipartisan group, with credibility on both the right and left sides of the aisle. They are popular, and many are serving their third or even fourth terms. They are geographically diverse, with representation from Huntsville to Mobile to the Wiregrass. Finally, they represent a whole lot of Alabamians – approximately 75% percent of the state lives in one of their metro areas.

As our state works to attract new residents and grapple with brain drain, policymakers would do well to listen to what these mayors have to say. It is clear that the future of Alabama depends on successful cities that can attract and retain the types of people who work in our booming space, medical research, and advanced manufacturing industries. Ignoring our cities is a recipe for decreasing competitiveness across the state.

If you think we are a rural, small town state you are mistaken.  In case you missed my earlier statement, a clear three-fourths of all Alabamians now live in one of our 10 major cities in the state.  

Most of the real governing in the state is done by mayors.  Being mayor of a city is where the rubber meets the road.  It is the governmental constant where everyday problems are resolved.  

The gentlemen who comprise the group of the Big 10 mayors are hardworking, true public servants.  They are doing their job day-in-and-day-out without fanfare and without an eye towards moving up statewide or to Washington.  They love their cities and are governing them well.  

Representing the largest cities in Alabama, the Big 10 mayors include Auburn Mayor Ron Anders, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling, Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba, Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Madison Mayor Paul Finley, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed, and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.  

It is interesting and noteworthy that two of the Big 10 cities are suburban enclaves of two of our large metropolitan areas. Hoover is one of the largest cities in the state and is an outgrowth of Birmingham.  If census trends continue the next 10 years the same as the last, Hoover may be a larger city than Birmingham.  It more than likely will be in 20 years.

However, if those same trends stay in place Huntsville will continue to be Alabama’s largest city.  One of the most revealing things to note is that Madison, a suburb of Huntsville, is one of the 10 largest cities in Alabama.

The Big 10 Mayors should have a big story for a long time to come.

See you next week.

November 23, 2022 - All Politics Is No Longer Local

The legendary Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, is credited with coining the slogan, “all politics is local.”  He quoted it often and lived it.  

The old Boston machine Democratic politician went home to his Irish neighborhood every week.  He knew everyone in his blue collar district.  He knew who was kin to whom.  He knew their names, birthdays, parents, grandparents, and children.  He did favors, made sure their mail was delivered, lost Social Security checks were found, and even made sure that potholes were fixed and streetlights replaced.  He lived the saying, “all politics is local.”

He also worked in Washington in an era of bipartisanship.  They worked and socialized with each other regardless of party affiliation to get things done.  It was well known that Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan were best friends and drinking buddies when Reagan was the Republican President and O’Neill was Speaker.  That is why Reagan was so successful as President.  He had O’Neill as a friend.  

It was certainly a different day in Washington than today.  Democrats and Republicans now not only do not work together, they do not even talk to each other.  They despise and denounce each other more than Reagan and O’Neill hated and denounced the Russians.  

For years, in my column as well as in college classrooms, lectures and speeches around the state, I have declared the cornerstone of political theory, “all politics is local,” as a truism.  However, as we end this 2022 election year and begin the 2024 presidential election campaign, I am changing my song and dance.

My theory now is that all politics is no longer local.  All politics today is national.  It is all partisan based and derived from national and Washington politics.  Folks are either in the Republican tribe or the Democratic tribe and it applies nationally, and especially in Alabama.  

Seventy-five years ago, Alabama was a rural state.  Alabama voters were much more interested in the sheriff’s race than presidential races.  In fact, Alabamians very seldom even voted in presidential contests.  There were more votes cast in an off year Democratic primary for sheriff and governor than in presidential years.  That has changed dramatically.  Alabama is a more urban state than rural.  Today, Alabamians follow national congressional and presidential politics and could not care less who is the sheriff of their urban county.

In the just completed Jefferson County Sheriff’s race, it was a Democrat vs Republican contest.  Personalities were irrelevant.  The Democrat, Pettway, won because he was Democrat.  Hudson lost because he was a Republican.  They could have been named Jones and Smith rather than Pettway and Hudson and neither campaigned and the results would have been the same.

This 2022 election confirmed and solidified the fact that Alabama is a Ruby Red hardcore Republican state in statewide elections. Twenty-three out of 23 statewide elected offices are held by Republicans.

The three candidates, Kay Ivey, Katie Britt and Wes Allen, who each had a Democrat opponent got 66% of the vote.  The Republicans, who had only Libertarian opposition, like Rick Pate, Young Boozer and Will Ainsworth, got 84%.  Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth got the most votes, about 960,000.  He also got the most votes of any contested candidate in 2018.  This will hold him in good stead as he eyes the 2026 governor’s race.

The Democratic Party is dead and irrelevant on the state level in the Heart of Dixie.  Everybody with walking around sense knows this.  That is why no serious candidate will run as a Democrat.  Some idealistic Democrats will write me and lament that the Alabama Democratic Party leadership is inept.  My reply is that it is irrelevant whether you have a Democratic Party office in Alabama or not, the result of Alabama races is going to be the same, all politics is national, now.  The vote is driven from Washington.  

The same is true of the Alabama Republican Party. It does not matter who is the Chairman of the Alabama GOP, the GOP vote in Alabama will be the same.  In fact the current GOP Chairman is a butterfly farmer and his butterflies probably know more about Alabama politics than he does.  

Folks, Alabama is in the Republican tribe, make no doubt about it.  Our largest metropolitan counties of Jefferson and Montgomery are in the Democratic column.

As I have said for the past 20 years, if Mickey Mouse is the Republican candidate for President, he will carry Alabama even if he does not campaign or spend any money here and the same applies to the governor’s race.  Why?  Because all politics today is national.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 16, 2022 - Jo Bonner Inaugurated as President of USA

Jo Bonner was officially sworn in as the fourth president of the University of South Alabama on September 23, 2022.

The University of South Alabama is the crown jewel and flagship of the Alabama Gulf Coast.  It is a sprawling, manicured, beautiful and functional modern campus.  It is currently the third largest university in the state.  Under the leadership of President Jo Bonner, it will grow and prosper to where within the next decade it will be thought of as one of our premier “Big Three” major flagship universities along with the University of Alabama and Auburn University.

Its location as the only major university in the populous metropolitan Mobile/Baldwin growth area of our state, coupled with having the University of South Alabama Medical School and Center on the campus, portends for exponential growth and prosperity for the University of South Alabama.

The prosperity for USA is assured by the selection of Josiah R. Bonner, Jr. as President.  Over the next decade, he will be thought of in the same terms and same breath as the legendary founding President of USA, Frederick Whiddon, who oversaw the first 35 years of USA.

There has never been a more perfect selection to be the leader of a major university in our state than the appointment of Jo Bonner as President of USA.  His knowledge of the business, civic, and social community of the Mobile/Baldwin area is unique.  Through his decade of service as their congressman, he is an integral part of the Mobile community.  

He left Congress with the highest regard and admiration. He was so well respected by his congressional colleagues that he was Chairman of the U.S. House Ethics Committee.  You can be assured that there is no university president, lobbyist, or board of trustee member who can walk the halls of Congress and bring home the bacon from the limitless federal trough than Josiah Bonner, Jr.  You can also rest assured that there is no university president in the state that has the clout and reverence on Goat Hill in Montgomery than Josiah Bonner, Jr.  This is a very unique and perfect blend for prosperity and growth for USA.

It is well known in political circles that Jo Bonner is Governor Kay Ivey’s closest confidante.  He served as her Chief of Staff for four years. Their families go back as friends and relatives in Wilcox County for generations.  Jo Bonner’s father, the first Josiah Bonner was Probate Judge of Wilcox County.  Jo is the baby of the family, a good 15 years younger than his brother, Jim, who grew up as friends and in school together with Governor Kay Ivey.  Jo’s sister, Judy, and Senator Jeff Sessions were in school together in grades K-12, then Jo came much later.

The aforementioned sister, Judy Bonner, was President of the University of Alabama.  Never before in Alabama’s history has there been two siblings be president of major universities in Alabama.

Jo Bonner actually became President of USA in January.  The official inaugural event was September 23.  It was a magnificent program. Governor Ivey gave the keynote address.  She beamed with pride as she talked about her “little brother” from Wilcox County.  Dr. Jack Hawkins the 30 year Chancellor of the Troy University System gave a brilliant address.  He spoke for all of the university presidents in the state as the Dean of University Presidents.  

Jo Bonner’s family was recognized, beginning with his sister, President Judy Bonner.  His wife, Janee, along with his two outstanding children, son Robin and daughter Lee, were in attendance.

The Inaugural Event was held in the magnificent Mitchell Center.  The Mitchell family have been major benefactors to USA.  Mrs. Arlene Mitchell is Chairman of the Board of Trustees.  Another Board of Trustees member is Dr. Steve Stokes, a radiology oncologist from Dothan. He and his wife Angela have been generous donors to USA, also.  Stokes Hall is the newest dorm on campus.  

It was truly fitting that Jo Bonner had a throng of political dignitaries attend his Inaugural Event.  It was like a political gathering of Who’s Who in Alabama politics visiting on the floor of the Mitchell Center prior to Jo’s inauguration.  The list of attendees is too long to enumerate.  However, in addition to Governor Ivey was Mac McCutchen, John McMillan, John Merrill, Bobby Singleton, Vivian Figures, Young Boozer, Bill Poole, Twinkle Cavanaugh, Sandy Stimpson, Will and Liz Filmore, Cathy Randall, Gordon and Ellen Stone, Jim Purcell, Victor Gaston, Chip Brown, Margie Wilcox, Alan Baker, and Judge Sarah Stewart, just to name a few.

They were all there to honor a man who is revered and respected in Alabama – Josiah “Jo” Bonner.