Inside Alabama Politics – April 27, 2021

Inside Alabama Politics – April 27, 2021

Senate 2022 update

What once promised to be a crowded field for U.S. Senate in 2022 got significantly curtailed this month in just one day. First, Secretary of State John Merrill, who had his announcement all planned out for the next week, admitted to an affair and took himself out of contention (more on Merrill in a bit). Then, mere hours later, Congressman Mo Brooks announced that he had secured the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. That’s the kind of thing you’d ideally wait to announce after the shocking Merrill news had died down, but Team Mo didn’t have much of a choice for timing from Trump world.

The Merrill mess took away what could have been a decent contender in the GOP primary. Merrill certainly has detractors and they are all coming out of the woodwork now, but few deny he’s hardworking. Tenacity is too rare of a quality in modern politicians and you never know what could have happened in this long and drawn out campaign. The Trump endorsement, while relatively subdued given the news cycle, likely cleared the field of any other would-be candidates attempting to drive in the Trump lane.

The endorsement was certainly a blow to Lynda Blanchard, the only other announced candidate at the moment who has been seeking to portray herself as Trump blessed. That message could have worked right up until the point when Brooks and/or favorable PACs begin peppering the airwaves with the unequivocal endorsement of the MAGA man himself. She still has her money, though, and it will be interesting to see the direction she takes from here.

Besides Brooks, Merrill’s exit probably most benefited BCA President Katie Boyd Britt, who sources say is inching closer to announcing her candidacy. It’s not that Merrill and Britt would have shared the same lane ideologically or tonally, but both would appeal to those turned off by the idea of Mo Brooks as senator. The candidate who emerges as the best alternative to Brooks could have a real shot, and many believe Britt is the one to do it. In addition to making the rounds with local clubs and businesses, she has been meeting with multiple state and national consultants about the race, including those who specialize in Senate primaries. Nothing is in stone, but keep an eye on the Enterprise-native’s movement.

The one thing to keep in mind about this race is that it is going to be a long one. We won’t vote for more than a year, meaning the electorate really won’t engage until the first half of 2022. Until then it is going to be a political cage match, with each candidate scraping and clawing for every margin they can.

 

The skin of our teeth

Alabama dodged a major bullet Monday as numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed that the state will retain its seven congressional seats. The state had been on the proverbial bubble based on population estimates and many feared we would end up on the short end of the stick losing a seat to another state. That means we won’t have to spend the next five months speculating about which current members of the state’s congressional delegation would get drawn into each other’s districts.

In the end, Alabama’s Census numbers exceeded expectations. A few factoids:

  • Alabama’s total population is 5.03 million, up from 4.8 million in 2010;
  • The state’s growth rate was 5.2%, double the estimated 2.6% growth rate;
  • While positive, Alabama’s growth rate was less than the national average (7.1%) and the average of southern states (10.1%);
  • Alabama slipped from the 23rd most populous state to the 24th.

Keep in mind that, while this initial data from the 2020 Census brings welcome news, it does not include the district-level demographic data needed to draw congressional and legislative districts. Which brings us to the question of…

 

When will the election be?

Last month, Alabama Daily News reported that state lawmakers filed legislation to delay the 2022 election to allow more time to redraw legislative districts. Senate Bill 285 would change the primary election from the current date of May 24 to July 12, 2022. The runoff date would move from June 21 to Aug. 9. The state still hasn’t received Census data used to draw congressional, legislative and state school board districts. And, with the campaign season soon to get underway, the thinking was delaying the election would allow the Legislature time to draw and pass new districts before people started campaigning and raising money for seats that might change.

However, lawmakers now tell IAP that the plan to delay the election is dead, for now, and that the bill won’t move. Several in the GOP, including multiple members of the Alabama Congressional delegation, made the case to state lawmakers that delaying the election would only invite more trouble in the form of either primary or general election challenges. In the end, that argument won the day. Of course, the congressional districts were never really the problem.

With the knowledge that the state will maintain seven seats, map drawers can at least get started on the congressional districts in terms of how many we will have. Meanwhile, the state isn’t likely to get data needed for the state legislative districts until mid-August. Alabama campaign finance law allows lawmakers to begin raising money one year out of an election, so beginning May 24 of this year, lots of candidates are going to start asking for checks before even knowing what district they live in.

What is for certain is that redistricting will require a special session, perhaps even two: one for congressional and state school board seats and one for state legislative seats. Look for September as a likely time to get those done, sources say.

 

More on Merrill

Admit it, you had multiple text chains burning up among your political friends during the 48-hour John Merrill affair saga. In some of mine, the revelations went from “oh that can’t be true” to “wait, why would someone lie about that” to finally “oh my word, of course it’s true.” No one should revel in any public servant’s demise, and we certainly don’t. We do write about politics, though, and it’s hard to top the impact of a prominent politician admitting to a sordid affair.

After the initial shock of the affair and Merrill’s exit from the Senate race wore off, the obvious question that remained was would he be resigning from his office. Birmingham radio host Matt Murphy, a leading conservative voice for years, was  the first to publicly call for Merrill’s resignation. Other calls came later from Democrats, some of whom also called for an investigation into the matter. But Merrill maintains that he will not resign and, instead, will serve out the remainder of his term, which expires in January 2023.

While probably true, that represents the best case scenario for Merrill. There are other scenarios that lead to him exiting stage left well ahead of time. There will be investigations, if not by the Legislature then by state prosecutors. What will they investigate? Principally whether, in conducting and covering up this affair, Merrill used state resources or otherwise abused the power of his office. Were state resources used? Were personnel involved, including state security? These questions and many others like them will need answers. And so it is not too hard to imagine that Merrill, his paramour and his staff will be visited by those seeking answers in the near future.

Remember that former Gov. Robert Bentley essentially avoided more serious prosecution and almost certain impeachment by accepting a plea deal from state prosecutors that included him resigning from office. There is nothing to indicate that Merrill’s mess comes anywhere close to the level of Bentley’s, at least in terms of breaking the law and abusing power. Still, there could have been public improprieties and, if so, Merrill still has the resignation chip to cash in if he needs to. While some might think the decent thing to do is resign, legally speaking, it would be foolish before the next steps play out.

 

Let’s talk about earmarks

Whomever gets elected to the U.S. Senate in 2022 will of course be replacing longtime U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, whose work in steering appropriations to Alabama has reached legendary status. But this budget year he and other appropriators are going to have a tool they haven’t had in ten years: earmarks.

The term refers to specific expenditures lawmakers carve out, or “earmark,” on appropriations bills that eventually become law. It could be a road or bridge project, a medical research initiative or a military program. Earmarks were the way of Washington forever until, under the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner, the GOP effectively banned them beginning in 2011. This came after multiple instances of misuse of earmarks reached the national political discussion, including the so-called “bridge to nowhere” famously railed on by the late Sen. John McCain when he was running for president in 2008. The GOP eagerly banned them when they next returned to power, however many privately complained that without earmarks, Congress simply ceded its constitutional authority over the nation’s pursestrings to the executive branch. Of course, Congress would continue to pass appropriations bills, but without specifically writing into the law where certain monies were to go, executive agencies had a lot of spending leeway. Appropriators like Shelby had to get creative with report or spending guidance language and work closely with agencies to make sure certain projects were funded. Those complaints about the ban on earmarks grew more and more public over the years, including from Alabama’s own Congressman Mike Rogers, who as far back as 2014 began leading an effort to change the Republican Conference rules toward earmarks. He was never successful until earlier this year when GOP members voted to give earmarks another try. Of course, this change in policy came as Democrats took over both the Senate and the White House and promising to bring back earmarks, so the writing was on the wall.

Some in the GOP continue to oppose the idea, warning that it will once again lead to misuse. Congressman Mo Brooks is a vocal opponent of earmarks. Congressman Gary Palmer has spoken out against them before and so has Congressman Barry Moore.

It seems only Shelby, Rogers and Alabama’s lone House appropriator, Congressman Robert Aderholt, are openly enthusiastic about the policy change. Perhaps that comes from experience. Aderholt told ADN that there are a lot of misconceptions about earmarks in a recent interview. He’s been on the House Appropriations Committee since 1997.

“As long as there’s public transparency, there’s accountability. I think a lot of the times that people have gotten a negative impression of earmarks is when it’s done undercover,” Aderholt said. He described an old practice called “air drops” in which significant earmarks were added to an appropriations bill just before a vote for final passage when rank-and-file members had little time to decide how to vote. That won’t be the case under the new process, he said.

“My understanding is that these would be fully vetted and they would be put into the initial bill and then everybody knows what they’re voting on as they start through the process.”

That’s not the only change. The earmarks themselves won’t be called earmarks. They’ll be called Community Project Funding items and the name change is substantive. Members seeking project funding will have to submit proof of community support.

“Evidence would have to be submitted to the committee that there is support in the community, so it’s not just one or two people in the community or just the congressman just saying, ‘hey, this would be a great idea to do this,’ Aderholt said. It also prohibits any member from pursuing any personal financial interest through this community project funding. So there are a lot of safeguards that are in this from what I can see at this point.”

There are other misconceptions about earmarks. For one, bringing them back doesn’t add more money to the baseline of the appropriations bills. Those dollars, which are capped at 1% of discretionary spending, are simply divided up from what is already in the budget. And it’s not just appropriators who can request earmarks, but any member of Congress.

Of course, there are detractors. Aderholt’s neighbor to the north is one of the most vocal among them. One key reason Brooks opposes the return of earmarks is the way they were previously used by leadership as a way to keep order in Congress. It was a lot easier to keep rank-and-file congressmen from blowing up an appropriations bill to, say, defund Obamacare, when leadership could guarantee them spending projects earmarked in the bill. That tool went away in 2011 and brinksmanship only increased.

“My personal view on earmarks is relatively simple,” Brooks told ADN in a recent interview. “Earmarks are a way that leadership has of punishing people who vote for America as opposed to the special interest groups that are behind much of the legislation that flows to the United States Congress. Earmarks are a way of rewarding those people who vote with the leadership on bad legislation, and it’s a way of punishing those that don’t. And so I believe that earmarks corrupt the public policy debate by diminishing the will of congressmen and senators to do what’s right for our country.”

Like them or not, earmarks – or Community Project Funding – are back, and it will be interesting to see how Brooks and other opponents handle the process. Would principle keep them from requesting or taking earmarks for projects in their districts?

For Aderholt, an improved earmark process is much preferable to the legislative branch loaning out control of the pursestrings to the executive branch.

I think it would be good for our constituents because the bottom line is, and this really gets to the heart of this whole thing, the federal government is going to be spending money. The question is whether you have the administration to do it or whether it’s going to be members of Congress that represent that area decide where that funding goes,” Aderholt said.

 

What’s next on prisons

By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Gov. Kay Ivey‘s plans to lease three new mega-prisons took a hit last week when underwriter Barclays announced it would not participate in financing the deal. Like other financial institutions, the British bank is under political pressure to avoid financing private prisons and, though the Alabama project is a far cry from the problematic prison-for-profit model, the distinction doesn’t seem to matter to those applying the pressure. Just days before that announcement, CoreCivic, which is building two of the prisons, published an investors prospectus that diverged with what the state has been communicating publicly and, as the Department of Corrections clarified, the clear language of the contract.

It wasn’t the best week for the prison plan. However, sources close to the situation say Ivey and the ADOC are undeterred and will press forward on the project. Other finance options are still available, they say, and Barclays was just a bump in the road.

Still, it was significant that Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who chairs the House General Fund committee, publicly said that he thought it was time to move on from the contract process and give the Legislature another shot at passing a bond issue. In an interview with AL.com’s Mike Cason, Clouse made the case that, while the Legislature didn’t fully understand the scope of the prison problem in 2015 when it failed to adopt Bentley’s big prison plan, it certainly does understand it better now given the breadth and depth of press coverage. Clouse also pointed out that it would always be preferable in the long run to own the prisons outright rather than lease them. In response, Ivey told reporters she was open to any dialogue from the Legislature on the subject. Expect to hear just that – more dialogue – about the prison contract situation in the remaining days of the session and thereafter.

While many generally believe state-owned prisons would be preferable to leased ones, executive branch sources pointed out that nixing the contract process and starting over could have some negative results:

  • Pursuing a legislatively authorized bond issue would restart the clock and further delay the prisons actually getting built. They’d have to start over on hiring a project manager, putting out requests for proposals, etc., delaying construction by years; and;
  • Further delays could further exasperate the already tense situation with the Department of Justice and U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson;
  • The current contracts include companies paying for the maintenance of the prisons, a costly factor some lawmakers pay not be considering.

Speaking of the prison situation, state officials are still considering how it may use a currently empty, privately owned prison in west Alabama.

“The Perry County Correctional Facility remains of interest to the department, and we are exploring options for its use,” said interim Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kristi Simpson.

The proposed 2022 $7.6 billion education budget has a $2 million line item for educational programs at the facility.

Rep. Bill Poole, chairman of the House education budget committee, said that money is in anticipation that the facility is part of a potential prison package.

“I say that broadly,” Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, told the committee last week. “Everyone is aware that there are a lot of moving parts to that proposal right now.”

The $2 million request came from the Alabama Community College System. At an ACCS board meeting in December, officials said they were preparing for the state’s potential purchase of the site for prisoners with mental health issues and other special needs.

In 2019, lawmakers included language in the 2020 General Fund for ADOC to use a portion of its allocation to “include an amount to be used towards the purchase of the Perry County Correctional Center, and if purchased, to provide funding or matching funds necessary to upgrade or connect any utility service to the facility to make the facility operational.”

 

Legislative math: Medical Marijuana and gambling

With just five legislative days to go in the 2021 Regular Session, two of the biggest issues are coming down to the wire: medical marijuana and gambling. There are many factors that will determine the success or failure of these bills, not the least of which being the simple legislative math required to pass both. Let’s analyze them one at a time.

Medical Marijuana

To say Sen. Tim Melson‘s medical marijuana bill has been put through the wringer would be an understatement. A Senate committee, a Senate vote, two House committees and now headed to a debate and vote on the House floor. And that’s to say nothing of Melson’s work on the bill the previous two years. All that effort is now working in the bill’s favor. There is much more general awareness of the issue now than two years ago and, frankly, a lot less fear among conservatives. But will it be enough? Sources tell IAP that the bill is expected on the House floor Thursday for what promises to be a long and drawn out debate. Some conservatives are threatening a filibuster of the bill, arguing, like the Alabama Policy Institute has, that creating a new commission to regulate medical cannabis is an unnecessary expansion of government. It remains to be seen just how many members might actually use their time to slow down the bill. Remember: under House rules, any one member can only speak for ten minutes on a bill, so you’d need a pretty large group to slow it down significantly. The one factor that could delay the bill is an abundance of amendments or substitutes being considered because members get two ten-minute opportunities to speak on those. But they can also be defeated by a simple motion to table.

Assuming Senate Bill 46 actually gets a vote, keep in mind that it needs more than a simple majority. Until both budgets are passed and transmitted to the governor, the Alabama constitution requires the Legislature to proactively set aside budgets with a three-fifths vote to proceed on a bill. The budgets haven’t passed and won’t until the last day, so every bill must first clear the Budget Isolation Resolution hurdle. For the BIR, the rule is three-fifths of members present and voting. Of the 105 member House, there are currently two vacancies. So, if every member was in their seat and voting, 62 votes would be needed to allow medical marijuana to proceed. That number starts changing if members are absent or decide to “take a walk” during the vote. While that sounds like a high threshold, remember that House Democrats currently hold 27 seats. That means you’re likely starting with 27 yes votes, assuming no one is absent. From there Melson would need 35 Republicans to clear the BIR and pass his bill. That math is doable.

Gambling

Sen. Del Marsh‘s wide-ranging gambling proposal has had quite a journey this session, to include being killed then being revived from the dead with a new bill number and sponsor. It’s now Senate Bill 319 by Sen. Jim McClendon and it is ready for movement in the House of Representatives.

The legislative math on gambling is similar to medical marijuana, but for different reasons. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it also needs a three-fifths vote, but of members elected, not just voting. With two vacancies, that number is still 62, but that’s a firm total. It would not be changed by any members “taking a walk” or even just being absent for the day. Assuming the bill comes to the floor in some form similar to what passed the Senate, proponents would again have a good start with House Democrats. It might not get the full complement of 27, as surely Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, who represents Lowndes County, will attempt to get the White Hall casino added back into the bill. But, if unsuccessful, he might be the only House Democrat voting against it. So you’re back to needing 35 or 36 House Republicans for passage of the gambling package. That’s less than half the caucus. Again, that math is not insurmountable.

The House was always going to be the body that decided the success or failure of gambling and medical marijuana. Working against historical precedent, it is the House, and not the Senate, that has been the slower-moving, more deliberative body in recent years. With all the talk of filibusters and procedural chess, this is also worth mentioning: a contingent of lawmakers who support both the gambling package and medical marijuana are growing tired of what they see as foot-dragging and are ready to imposed consequences of their own if the bills don’t get a fair shot. One source told IAP these lawmakers would “shut everything down” if those measures don’t at least get a vote. So there’s that.

Short of offering a pass/fail prediction on either, we’ll wager this: if these bills pass it will be in part because the prevailing side has strong handle on how to use the rules to its advantage and how to truly count votes.

**update**

The state of play has changed regarding the state’s budgets. The Education Trust Fund has received final passage and been sent to the governor. the General Fund is awaiting a conference committee and could receive final passage Tuesday. Once that budget is passed and sent to the governor, the Budget Isolation Resolution will go away. Transmitting a bill isn’t instant, so it could be Tuesday afternoon or evening before the BIR requirement is lifted. That means passing Medical Marijuana will take a simple majority vote in the House. Assuming all 103 current members are present and voting, 52 votes will be needed to pass the bill. That number goes down if members are absent or chose not to vote. So, if 26 Democrats vote for the bill, only 26 more Republicans are needed for passage. That math is even more doable. Sources tell IAP that, while losing the BIR is positive for the bill’s chances, the trouble is getting the bill on the floor. House Rules Chairman Mike Jones is known for not being too keen on the bill but it will likely get a floor vote on Tuesday. If not, expect to see Melson and a group of fellow senators slow down every House bill that reaches the Senate in the final days.

 

Ed Henry is back and he has a PAC

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Remember Ed Henry? Of course you do. How could anyone forget?

The former two-term House member from Hartselle may have only been in office for a relatively short time, but he is remembered as one of the most colorful lawmakers of the modern era. Now, after pleading guilty in a health fraud case and receiving a pardon from former President Donald Trump, Henry is back to dabbling in politics.

Henry recently told Inside Alabama Politics / Alabama Daily News that the new Alabama Freedom political action committee is focused on putting “true conservatives” in the State House.

The Alabama Freedom PAC (https://www.alabamafreedompac.com) was registered with the Secretary of State last July.

Henry said the PAC is supported by people who are tired of candidates who pledge to be strong conservatives but as soon as they get to Montgomery “they succumb to the will of the power players in the state.” He pointed to the gas tax supported by Gov. Kay Ivey and GOP leadership in 2019, the first year of lawmakers’ current four-year term. He likened the PAC to a continuation of tea party efforts that began in 2008.

Henry said there are two motivating factors in Montgomery: Favor and fear.

“If you’re not in a position to be able to offer extreme favor, then you’re probably not going to get anything done, unless you can create fear,” he said.

Henry said that if the PAC got about 50,000 people to become monthly financial supporters with donations around $10, it could affect some State House races in 2022. He said the PAC will recruit candidates and offer training. It will also evaluate existing legislators.

“We’ve got so many pretenders in the State House right now and that’s really where we’re going to focus,” he said.

Ralph Long of Lauderdale County is the PAC chairman and said it wants limited government and responsible use of existing resources. Long said the goal is to have financial support for those politicians who don’t cave to special interests.

“We want guys and ladies to stand up in the Legislature and represent people back home to know that there are people that are going to spend money to make sure they (get re-elected),” Long said. “We want to have a source of money for men and women in the Legislature who stand up for their constituents.”

Taking aim at Republicans from the right is nothing new. Nationally, many tea party-like groups have successfully pushed Congressional Republicans to the right by threatening to primary and fund opponents of those who vote for things like appropriations legislation, the Farm Bill or other items that can be made to seem anti-conservative.

But Montgomery isn’t Washington and the Alabama Legislature easily ranks among the most conservative in the country. As such, some current Republican lawmakers are sure to take issue with Henry challenging their conservative bona fides.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon defended his members and their conservative record in a written statement to ADN.

“In just the past few sessions, the Alabama House has passed the strongest pro-life law in the nation, shielded Second Amendment gun rights from attack, mandated chemical castration for child molesters, and worked to protect long-standing monuments, memorials, and markers from the cancel culture mob,” McCutcheon said. “The Alabama House is likely the most conservative legislative body in the nation, and it’s a banner that we carry proudly.”

Earlier this month, Henry spoke at a Coffee County rally where congressmen Mo Brooks and Barry Moore also gave speeches. Henry often butted heads with GOP leadership when he was in the House and helped lead the call for the impeachment of former Gov. Robert Bentley.

Unrelated to his public office, Henry was sentenced in May 2019 to two years of probation for his role in a health care fraud case. He pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting theft of government property as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.  In January, Henry received a pardon from then-Present Donald Trump.

Separately, Henry has an ongoing federal lawsuit, filed in 2017, against the state over its grand jury secrecy laws, which Henry said violates witnesses’ First Amendment rights.

 

New podcast

For those who enjoy podcasts, there’s a new interesting political show from an Alabama-based politico that is making waves online. Zac McCrary, partner at the Montgomery-based Democratic polling firm ALG Research, recently started a new podcast: the Pro Politics Podcast, with McCrary interviewing successful people who work in and around politics. Despite only starting in February, the podcast has already been mentioned in Politico, the Washington Examiner and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Though McCrary’s firm works for President Joe Biden and numerous Democratic governors, senators, and members of Congress, his podcast guests include both Democrats and Republicans, as well as nonpartisan political pundits and media figures. Each week McCrary talks to prominent figures in politics about how they got their start in politics, memorable moments and inflection points in their careers and advice and insight to those interested in pursuing a career in politics.
Previous or upcoming guests include Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Obama 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina, Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, former LBJ aide and Carter Cabinet Secretary Joe Califano, DC political analyst Charlie Cook and many more from all backgrounds in politics.
Episodes are released weekly every Tuesday at 6 AM and are accessible on Apple podcasts as well as all other major podcast outlets. The podcast can be accessed at: http://propoliticspod.com/.

 

RIP Bud Skinner

By DAVID MOWERY

Today we mourn Bud Skinner, the legendary Montgomery restauranteur and bar owner who’s Jubilee Seafood and Bud’s Bar establishments have hosted more Alabama politicos than we could ever count. Bud died last week after apparent complications from COVID-19.

Everyone has a Bud story, or perhaps a dozen, and I can’t think of a better way to convey how meaningful his legacy is than by telling my own.

When I first moved to Montgomery, it was directly from a long sojourn in Mobile. On the coast. Best seafood, and right on the water. Pick your restaurant out on the causeway, and it will likely be better than anywhere you’ve been. 

I was also newly married. And broke. So half in jest, I refused to take my wife to Jubilee because she had ample time to visit me in Mobile and avail ourselves of the fruits of splendor available there. 

Then, as I was initiated into the rites of Montgomery, and the goings-on at the Legislature, I found myself occasionally getting dinner, or more likely going to a party with a large spread “put out by Bud.” Just who was this “Bud”? Surely the guy that owned and operated the best restaurant in town wasn’t this surly character in constant motion throughout the cramped quarters – stopping only occasionally to greet The Right People? Sure enough, it was. 

For approximately my next 10 meals there, I thought Bud hated me. And for the 10 after that I was sure of it, despite my ever-increasing party and check size. So I did what I always do in a situation like that: ignored him. I didn’t seek him out to try to let him know “hey we’re dropping some coin in here tonight, show some respect” – because there’s always someone dropping some coin in there, and more than you are. Bud didn’t care about that. What Bud cared about was getting everybody’s meal to them as hot off the pan as possible. Keeping the drinks as fresh and cold as possible. 

Eventually, I must have shown up enough, with enough of a cast of characters who knew him, that he got the scoop on “the tall kid” and we would exchange a passing hello. I still made sure never to get in his way when it was crowded. 

Over the next 12-13 years, I would have many an eventful time, and always an even better meal, at Jubilee, Kat N Harri’s and Bud’s. If life were a movie, this part would be the montage:

The Christmas Party Circuit – One year, I was sick all week, but I knew that was the only time I’d be able to get Bud’s fried quail, so I choked down some medicine and made an appearance. I was more concerned with my plate than my health. 

Eating at the bar with a friend, and Scott saying “Dave you want the usual?” – There’s something about being a guy who has a “Usual” in a place like Jubilee.  Going away parties and birthdays in the side room – for a time it seemed like that’s just what we did. My birthday. Wife’s birthday.  Friends’ birthdays. Friends moving. “We have the side room at Jubilee at 7.”

My phone ringing, I’m at an end of the season baseball party for one of my kids, and the person on the other end says “Perfect. I’m at dinner with the new owners of The Biscuits, and they need some help knowing whos’ who and what’s what in Montgomery. I told them to hire you, so come down here and have a bite with us.”

Getting on stage at Kat N Harri’s to sing “Werewolves of London” with the band for Clint Graves’ 40th birthday party. 

The Harlequins Spring Party. Never had Bud’s brisket before. Party is dying down, so I tell him how much I enjoyed it. He comes out with a plate of leftovers – “Take this home and heat it up for your boys for breakfast.”

The Victory Party for Rick Pate for commissioner of agriculture. 

Here’s where the music starts, and the movie comes back into sharp focus.

COVID-19 pandemic is upon us. Restaurants and bars are trying to figure out just what to do, and how to stay open, despite forced closings, mask orders, distancing and capacity requirements and everything else. 

It’s my wife’s birthday, and I haven’t set foot in a restaurant in six months. But what do you do for a birthday? You go to dinner at Jubilee. I call in a pick up order. Go to pick it up, and there’s four high tops against the wall across from the bar, one of which has a single occupant. I take a seat and wait for them to call my name. 

Bud comes through and asks me about how I’m doing. How my family is. How my business is. He allows as how they’re struggling, but they’re happy to have a base of customers and to be putting out the best product they can, despite the circumstances. We talk about the stress of owning a business – it’s hard even in the best of times. 

Bud says “Ya know something, David? I never thought I’d be a restaurateur.”

This was a little shocking to me, as it seems like it would be hard to stumble into being the best seafood joint in town, the hub of the political world, and a Montgomery institution. 

“Naw, the only thing I knew, is that I wasn’t gonna be able to work for someone else. I knew I wanted to work for myself, and I knew I’d be successful.”

That, my friends, is an epitaph worthy of our friend Bud Skinner. Rest In Peace, Bud. 

Potpourri

Scott Stone has been hired as Director at Strategic Impact, the firm founded and owned by GOP consultant Brad Shattuck. Stone has worked in Alabama politics for 15 years and had most recently been responsible for the reelection campaigns of House Republicans during the 2018 state elections that saw the GOP caucus pick up seats. Shattuck’s firm has been involved in the campaigns of Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth, Congressman Jerry Carl, and many State House and State Senate races.

Trace Zarr will soon be hired as Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Senior Services. Zarr has been with the Medical Association of Alabama for the past two years. He’ll replace Adam Thompson, who left a few months ago for a position with Americans For Prosperity.

Tripp Skipper and Paul Shashy have been hired on to consult for Madison County Commissioner Dale Strong for his run for Congress in the 5th District. At the moment, Strong is the only announced candidate for the open seat.

There are several moves and shakes inside Gov. Kay Ivey’s office. Annabel Roth has been hired as Director of Scheduling after the departure of Crandall Hinton to the private sector. Chase Espy is a new Associate Counsel in the governor’s legal office and Ericka McKay is now General Counsel at the Department of Commerce.

Congrats to all!

Did we miss your job announcement? Email todd@aldailynews.com and let us know.