1. Previewing the session – who’s saying what?
- With one day until the 2018 Regular Session begins, it’s preview story time and we’ve got you covered.
- Kim Chandler of the Associated Press lays out some of the key issues that are likely to crop up. I found the comments she got from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office on potential ethics law revisions particularly interesting.
- Brian Lyman of The Montgomery Advertiser has a legislative preview here. Given space limitations, his relatively lengthy discussion of budgets, prisons and day care licensing is well worth a read.
- Mike Cason of AL.com also has a legislative preview, and his includes Democrats’ agenda items like repealing the state sales tax on food and repealing the law protecting confederate monuments from demolition by local governments.
- Most of the issues are the same: how to fund prisons, what to do if Congress doesn’t pass CHIP funding (it will, by the way), will teachers and state employees see a pay raise, etc. But, each story is worth a read if you want a good understanding of what is likely to happen when the gavel drops on the 2018 Regular Session.
2. Campaign Finance – who’s raising what?
Candidates filed their monthly campaign finance reports last week, allowing Alabama politicos a peek into who has been raising what.
A few brief takeaways from the top constitutional offices…
- Gov. Kay Ivey continues to lead the pack with $2.06 million cash on hand. As YellowHammer News’ staff report notes, that is bolstered both by healthy fundraising and conservative campaign spending.
- Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle has the next highest amount at just under $1.2 million. Mobile State Senator Bill Hightower reported $619,869 cash on hand and Birmingham businessman Scott Dawson reported $363,315.
For Lt. Governor
- State Rep. Will Ainsworth reported the most campaign cash with $1.1 million. Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh was next with $711,295. State Senator Rusty Glover reports just $42,638 cash on hand.
For Attorney General
- Chess Bedsole has the most cash on hand with $639,869, thanks to a $300,000 loan last summer. Attorney General Steve Marshall has raised the most in the race and now sits with $510,549. Former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin ended the year with $323,317 and former Attorney General Troy King reported $227,748.
- I want to get more into the details of legislative race spending later, but one race worth pointing out is State Senate District 29, where incumbent Harri Anne Smith is being challenged by State Rep. Donnie Chesteen.
- Many were wondering if Smith would hang it up after a long career, especially when the popular and motivated Chesteen announced he would run. She has not been raising money, which is usually the surest sign of an impending retirement. But, last week she suddenly reported $200,000 in her campaign account, ostensibly from a personal loan.
- For his part, Chesteen reports about $95,000, having raised a healthy $40,000 each of the last two months. With qualifying for the GOP primary opening today, we will soon know whether Chesteen will face any challenge in the primary.
- Smith is running as an Independent, having lost the ability to run on the Republican ticket when she endorsed Democrat Bobby Bright over Republican Jay Love in the 2008 race for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District.
3. State School Board Makeover?
- Many in Montgomery and around the state are fed up with the disfunction at the Alabama State School Board and, leading in to the legislative session, some state lawmakers want to do something about it.
- Read Trish Powell Crain’s full story on AL.com.
- State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) has pre-filed legislation that would add exceptional teachers and students to the board as non-voting members. The current and former Alabama Teacher of the Year and delegates from Girls State and Boys State would make up the four non-voting seats.
- Collins’ bill would also require State School Board members to complete the same standard training required of local school board members.
- Rep. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) is going many steps further and proposing legislation to completely revamp Alabama’s school governance, getting rid of the current system of elected membership.
- Look for education policy issues like this to receive a good bit of attention when the Legislature convenes. While everyone is talking about how quiet the session is going to be, issues like school governance can become very dramatic. That’s because education has passionate advocates on all sides.
- I don’t blame lawmakers like Rep. Collins for being frustrated with school governance. Her legislation requiring a school letter grading system similar to Florida’s became law in 2012. This is the policy that seeks to make it easier for parents to understand their child’s school performance with simple letter grades. Yet, the State School Board dragged its feet for years to delay implementation of this duly-enacted law.
- It’s early yet, but the top entry for understatement of the year so far comes from State School Board Member Betty Peters, who candidly told Trish Powell Crain, “I think we have been our own worst enemy.”
4. Trump pitches DACA-for-Wall deal, defends mental fitness
- “We want the wall.” “We want DACA to happen.” “The wall’s going to happen or we’re not going to have DACA.”
- These three statements, made by President Trump as he spoke to reporters alongside top Congressional Republicans in Camp David late last week, illustrate the state of play around immigration politics in Congress at the moment. DACA refers to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is set to expire in March, leaving as many as 500,000 immigrants who arrived in the United States as children subject to deportation in the coming year.
- Senators James Langford (R-OK) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) are reportedly set to release legislation that would offer a path to permanent residency for childhood arrivals in exchange for beefed up security along the border with Mexico.
- Pairing border security, which Republicans perennially promise, with a real DACA fix, which Democrats desperately want, is the kind of commonsense compromise that many think Washington is incapable of in this era of tribal, zero sum politics.
- Such a legislative accomplishment would be a huge victory for the president and congressional leaders. Of course, Democrats know thisand may not make it easy for their political rivals in an election year.
Thou doth protest too much
- President Trump also attempted to defend himself from author Michael Wollf’s assertions of mental instability in his new book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”
- Taking to Twitter to lay out his intellectual bona fides, President Trump insisted he is “like, really smart” and a “very stable genius,” thank you very much.
- Who can blame the president for defending himself against such personal attacks, especially when the veracity of some of Wolff’s book is coming into question.
- Still, like the State School Board, Trump can be his own worst enemy in moments like this. Overreacting on Twitter just makes the story bigger and further overshadows winning accomplishments like tax reform.