Inside Alabama Politics – May 28, 2021

Inside Alabama Politics – May 28, 2021

It was a slog, but we made it through the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 Regular Session. Don’t worry, they’ll be back.

We expect a minimum of three special sessions between now and the end of the year. They’ll need one to appropriate about $2.3 billion the state is getting from the federal government from the American Rescue Plan Act. That could happen in as soon as a month (more on that below). Should the last financing option for the state’s prison construction deal fall apart next week, the Legislature would need to meet to pass a bond deal. It’s possible those two issues could be combined into one special session. Then, of course, there’s redistricting. The most likely scenario there is one special session in mid-September for congressional and state school board districts and another a month or so later for state House and Senate districts, though it remains theoretically possible to get them all done in one special.

The big question is whether Gov. Kay Ivey will call a special session to deal with the issue of gambling. We remain doubtful after the issue fell apart so spectacularly in the regular session. It’s true that, after overplaying their hand a bit during the final negotiations, House Democrats came back to the table the last week of the session attempting to revive the bill. And it’s true that the House probably now has the votes to pass what was on the table at the end. But Ivey is going to need something stronger than soft commitments to stick her neck out to call a special session on gambling a year out of her bid for reelection. It could happen, but it isn’t likely. 

In any case, here’s your Inside Alabama Politics for Friday, May 28.

 

It’s campaign szn

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

This week marked the official start to the 2022 campaign season, at least for state offices. The Alabama Constitution allows candidates for state office to start raising money one year out of the next election and the Republican and Democratic primaries are May 24, 2022. That means every major PAC, donor and politically active corporation began receiving fundraising pitches this week. It also means we’ll start seeing more and more candidates announce their intention to run in the coming days and weeks. Several have put their hat in the ring early: Wes Allen for the open Secretary of State office, Rick Pate for reelection as Ag Commissioner, Marcus Paramour for the Pike County House seat Allen is vacating, Sen. Andrew Jones for reelection. A few have confirmed they won’t run again, including Sen. Jim McClendon and Rep. Mike Ball (more on him below). Expect a cavalcade of announcements over the next two weeks.

 

Kay Ivey

Gov. Kay Ivey is expected to officially announce for reelection on Wednesday, per sources close to her. There won’t be a big rally with a marching band and dancing bears, but rather a video launching her campaign and spelling out her case for reelection. Her message will be that, despite many positive outcomes during her years in office, there is still work to be done. That includes work on economic and workforce development that was impacted by the pandemic as well as resolving the prison situation for good. While the governor’s travel schedule will increase eventually, as a popular incumbent her most effective messaging could very well be campaigning by governing. Austin Chambers will again be the lead consultant on the campaign with Anne-Allen Hogan leading fundraising efforts. Something Else out of Dothan will again do the video production.

 

Will Ainsworth

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth will launch his reelection campaign on June 4 at an event on Lake Guntersville. It has become increasingly clear over the last few years that Ainsworth is aiming for the governor’s desk in the next cycle. He passed on both the last U.S. Senate race and the current one when he would have been highly competitive in either. Earlier this year he yielded to Ivey saying he would not run against her and, wisely, began working to help her in the Legislature to mend fences from a relationship that became frayed from pandemic criticism. He wants the top job and is well positioned to get it. Expect his announcement to contain the kind of conservative rhetoric that seeks to solidify that base for 2026. 

 

Steve Marshall  

Attorney General Steve Marshall will seek reelection in an announcement next week, sources close to him tell IAP. In a nod to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Marshall will use the same team he counted on in 2018 for his impressive victory in a super-competitive GOP primary. Jon Jones will lead the campaign as manager and consultant. Don’t look now, but Marshall himself could be a contender for that 2026 governor’s race. It doesn’t always get noticed in the Montgomery bubble, but Marshall does more media events around the state than anyone not named John Merrill. With no serious opposition, 2022 is an opportunity for Marshall to continue to build name recognition and carve out a conservative corner in the GOP base. 

 

John McMillan

Rumors have persisted for weeks that, for whatever reason, State Treasurer John McMillan would not seek another term. It’s unclear how the rumor got started but Inside Alabama Politics is happy to put it to rest. McMillan does plan on seeking reelection, he tells us, and we can expect an official announcement in July after the dust has settled from all these other announcements. McMillan is a well-respected and well-liked public servant and is a lock for reelection if he follows through with his plans. In an alternate reality, we could be looking at reelecting him governor this year. He briefly considered a run at the top job before the Bentley debacle.

 

What will Zeigler do?  

With his second term ending, State Auditor Jim Zeigler has everyone guessing what his next move will be. IAP previously speculated that he may run for Secretary of State, but that has become less likely in part because of the strong candidacy of Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy. Could he run for governor, challenging Ivey in a GOP primary? Absolutely. It’s no secret Zeigler has disagreed with many of her decisions. In fact, he has been the most persistent thorn in her paw the last four years on everything from the Mobile Bay Way to the prison construction project. It would be a long shot campaign considering Ivey’s popularity, but there’s no doubt Zeigler would make it interesting. 

Asked what he’s considering, Zeigler told ADN/IAP that an array of options are on the table, from governor to secretary of state to state house to his old stomping grounds at the Public Service Commission. He has until January 25, the last day of qualifying, to make up his mind. And don’t be surprised if he waits until then. 

“The last two elections cycles in which I ran, I decided and announced on the last day of qualifying,” Zeigler said. “When someone questioned me about that, I told them I was just announcing in alphabetical order.”

Interestingly, one name being floated to replace Zeigler as State Auditor is his wife, Jackie Zeigler, who currently serves on the State School Board. Wouldn’t that be something?

 

Katie Britt  

Will she or won’t she? That’s been the burning question for months. Of course she will. Just look at her Twitter feed! Also, as anyone with a LobbyLinx account could tell you, she recently de-registered as a lobbyist with the Alabama Ethics Commission. 

Look for Business Council of Alabama CEO Katie Boyd Britt to announce her run for the U.S. Senate in the next two weeks. She needs to get out there, but waiting until the second week of June would allow for the Memorial Day news hangover to subside and also allow other candidate announcements to clear out. Sources with knowledge of her decision making say Britt has grown more confident by the day that she can successfully compete in this Senate race that is far from settled. While Congressman Mo Brooks may be the frontrunner a year out, he has shown a tendency to swing at pitches in the dirt, including a most-recent skirmish with fellow candidate Lynda Blanchard. Pragmatic conservatives are thirsty for a candidate who speaks their language and who understands the stakes of the state losing more than 40 years of Senate seniority in one term. Sources tell IAP that FP1 is involved on the consulting side. They’re a top-shelf firm with well-travelled politicos like Rob Jesmer and Jon Downs who have consulted for other Senate campaigns like Jon Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Bill Hagerty and, of course, Tommy Tuberville. Paul Shashy, who most recently managed the Tuberville campaign, is said to be on board from the day-to-day campaign side. Look for Britt’s message to demonstrate her Wiregrass roots and reflect a positive view of Alabama’s future. 

 

Dismukes update

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

As reelection and retirement announcements have come in from state lawmakers the past several days, state politicos have kept a keen eye on Rep. Will Dismukes, the Republican from Prattville, to see what his future plans would be. It’s no secret that Dismukes, who represents House District 88, has faced a rough few years during his first term as a state lawmaker. He won his first term in a landslide election and briefly flirted with running for the U.S. Senate. He did announce a run for Congress in AL-2 before ultimately dropping out and endorsing fellow Prattvillian Jessica Taylor. His real trouble started in 2020 when he faced public criticism and calls for resignation for attending a birthday party honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who later co-founded the Ku Klux Klan. After that, he was charged with theft by the Montgomery County District Attorney and later turned himself in to police.

Despite the difficulties, Dismukes says he is running for reelection. 

“I am running for reelection and will work hard campaigning to serve the people for District 88 for four more years,” Dismukes said. “I have worked hard to stand up for my district time and time again and I will continue to do so once reelected. I promised to be a voice for the people and I feel I have done that and will work harder to do even more!”

Dismukes said on Thursday that a date for his grand jury trial surrounding the theft allegations had not been set yet but said it was a “politically motivated arrest.” Dismukes and his lawyers have continued to claim he is innocent.

According to his 2020 campaign finance report, Dismuke’s had about $15,000 in his account going into the fundraising year.

ADN previously reported that Joshua Pendergrass, a former communications director to Gov. Kay Ivey, is considering challenging Dismukes in the Republican primary. Another candidate being mentioned in political circles is Prattville City Council President Jerry Starnes. 

 

Enter the Rileys?

By Todd Stacy, Alabama Daily News 

On May 12, Yellowhammer’s Tim Howe tweeted out a fresh rumor: that Rob Riley, Birmingham attorney and son of former Gov. Bob Riley, is a potential candidate for U.S. Senate. It raised eyebrows in Alabama’s political circles mostly because the discussion on this Senate race has revolved around the same names for months. It turns out the rumor has something to it. 

IAP has learned that Rob Riley is seriously considering entering the race to replace Sen. Richard Shelby. Sources say that Rob has been fielding calls from power brokers around the state and in Washington D.C. who believe he would make a formidable candidate in the race. I spoke with Rob, who confirmed that he has had discussions with several people about the Senate race but has not yet made a decision as to whether or not he will enter the race.

His potential candidacy is interesting on a number of levels. His name gives him a leg up in terms of name recognition and, whereas there had been perceptible “Riley fatigue” after his second term ended, the former governor’s stature has aged well in the memories of voters after the mess that followed him. Rob would no doubt seek to occupy the same pragmatic conservative lane that Katie Britt would compete for, potentially splitting that vote. 

I’ll say this having worked for the former governor: no one campaigns tougher than the Rileys. There were many involved in the various campaigns from congress to the governor’s office, but Rob and his sister, Minda, ran the show. They are ultra competitive and relentless in a style of politics that would almost certainly shock the more recent entrants into the business. Rob may ultimately decide not to run, but if he does he will be competitive. 

 

What’s the plan with ‘Rescue Plan’ money?

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama budget makers and leaders are continuing to lay the groundwork for the distribution and spending of billions of federal dollars coming soon to the state.

The state this summer will start seeing some of the more than $4 billion allocated to it and local governments in the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan Act. And note that $4 billion doesn’t include nearly $2 billion going to K-12 schools in the Rescue Plan.

There was a phone call this week with some lawmakers and leaders from the Department of Finance and the fiscal division of the Legislative Services Agency on the distribution process.

“This is going to be an engaging, time-consuming, continual matter,” one lawmaker told IAP on Thursday said.

The Department of Finance has previously said the $1.9 trillion Rescue plan means for Alabama:

  • $2.1 billion earmarked for a state relief fund;
  • $192 million will go toward a state capital projects fund;
  • $417 million to metropolitan cities;
  • $362 million to non-metro municipalities; and
  • $951 million to counties.

For the state’s share, the money will be allocated in much the same process as the state’s General Fund budget, requiring approval from the Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey. 

But even before the money gets here, there’s a lot of work to do. Within the Rescue Plan are multiple funds and their distribution processes differ. Some have an application process and some are automatic payments, said Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Legislative Services Agency’s Fiscal Division. 

For one of the bigger pots, the Fiscal Recovery Fund, Finance has to apply to the U.S. Department of Treasury through an online portal, Fulford said. Counties and metro cities make their own applications. For nearly 400 smaller municipalities, their Fiscal Recovery Funds will flow through the Finance Department. 

Finance spokeswoman Jana Ingels told IAP that the department Monday received guidance on that distribution process. 

“The Department of Finance is working closely with the Alabama League of Municipalities to ensure the distribution happens as quickly and as smoothly as possible,” Ingels said in an email. “We appreciate the League’s assistance and the patience of our local governments.  We expect to open the applications for these funds in the very near future.  In the meantime, local governments may prepare to apply for the funds by reviewing the US Treasury pre-submission checklist found at https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/NEU_Checklist_for_Requesting_Initial_Payment.pdf.

“Both state and local fiscal recovery funds must be applied for in a single application to the U.S. Treasury.  As the local funds must be distributed within 30 days of receipt, we plan to request Alabama’s allocation once the local distribution process is fully set up.”  

“No city can receive more than 75% of their prior year budget,” Fulford said.

“When the state applies for its funds, the Treasury will consider it to be applying for those local funds as well and will start the 30-day countdown,” Fulford said. “Any funds not distributed to the cities within the 30 days will revert to Treasury. So, the Department of Finance is trying to make sure they have all of the city budget information before requesting the funds.”

The Rescue Plan money will come in two tranches, Fulford said. Half this year within 60 days of applying and the other half in May 2022. 

“We will definitely have multiple supplemental appropriation bills dealing with these funds,” Fulford said.

Ivey is the only one who can call a special session. If she doesn’t call one for the Rescue Plan money distribution, it will likely be a dominant issue in the 2022 regular session that starts in January.

Fulford notes that there’s no rush to spend the money, unlike last year’s CARES Act funding which had a spending deadline of less than a year.

The state will have until December 2024 to obligate the funds and until December 2026 to have the funds spent, Fulford said.

Still, one lawmaker told IAP state leaders want to get their act together to get ready for the funds.

“We don’t want to be sideswiped by ourselves by not being prepared.”

So far there’s no controversy in the discussions.

“This is going to be an engaging, time-consuming, continual matter,” the lawmaker said.

Official spending decisions will have to be made in a session. Sources say no dates for a special have been set for this issue. A special will be needed to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts later this year.

Meanwhile, one source said there’s “a bit of paranoia” among lawmakers about making spending suggestions.

Last spring, at the Ivey administration’s suggestion, legislative leadership put together a list of possible uses for the state’s federal CAREs money. Ivey later called out the Legislature for having a “wish list” for expenses unrelated to the pandemic that included a new State House.  

“We don’t want to get our heads handed to us by the governor saying, ‘Look at this list,’” the lawmaker said.

 

LifeTech Career Center to Reopen

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

LifeTech, a previously successful residential job-training center for the recently paroled, is expected to reopen later this summer. The center was shuttered last year in a controversial move by the then-leader of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. Now, new director Cam Ward says he expects a “soft opening” of the Thomasville center in late summer.

“We’re going to reopen it and Ingram State Technical College will have a campus in LifeTech,” Ward said on Wednesday. Ingram State Technical College provides job training to incarcerated adults. Prior to its closure, LifeTech had provided skills training to more than 6,300 offenders since 2006 and had a recidivism rate of 13%, less than half of the statewide recidivism rate.

The Alabama Community College System oversaw the educational aspect of the site and provided instructors. Both Ward and ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker disagreed with former BPP director Charlie Graddick’s efforts in 2019 to close the facility.

“The LIFE Tech Transition Center has provided vital services, education, and training for all those who have passed through its doors and we are grateful that under the leadership of Director Cam Ward the Center will soon reopen,” Baker told ADN in a written statement. “Ingram State is uniquely suited to serve the individuals making this important transition and our staff is eager to assist these individuals as they re-enter society and the workforce.”

In the 2022 education budget, Gov. Kay Ivey and lawmakers appropriated $2 million for LifeTech, the same amount it’s been funded in recent years.

“We need to provide the skills for inmates not to come back to prison,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. He’s chairman of the Senate education budget committee.

Ward also said Ingram State will have a presence in BPP’s five day reporting centers that offer reentry and rehabilitation programs.

“One thing we’re doing is increasing our education availability in those centers with Ingram State,” Ward said. The 2022 ETF has appropriated $1 million for those centers.  

 

Mike Ball unfiltered: Why he’s not running again and might leave the GOP

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

State Rep. Mike Ball said he is not planning to run for reelection in 2022 and may leave the Republican Party, possibly sometime next year. Ball, a Republican from Madison, told Alabama Daily News that after having been a public servant for nearly 50 years — first serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, then as a state trooper and investigator, and then in the Legislature for 20 years — Ball said he is ready to retire.

“I’m tired of fighting everyone else’s battles and I’m tired of being ignored by all these people who actually know less,” Ball said. “It’s like whoever can scream the loudest gets the most attention, it has nothing to do with truth.”

The difficulties and pushback he faced while trying to pass medical marijuana legislation and his ongoing battle to change the state’s grand jury secrecy laws, has also been a motivating factor of why he wants to get out of politics. “Politics is about doing what looks right, rather than what is right,” Ball said.

I guess this medical cannabis and this ethics issue are the two things that to me was about doing what is right and not what looks right, and I just don’t want to play the game no more.” Ball said he believes partisan politics is embedded in every level of government now and is considering leaving the Republican party to become independent because he has lost his “partisan zeal.” “People want to fit into the group so much that they stop thinking for themselves and I’m just not in that mode anymore.”

Ball said he has also faced being called a “RINO” or “Republican in name only,” after not having voted a similar way to other Republicans on conservative issues like gun rights and fighting for medical marijuana legalization. “I knew it was time to start doing this during this last session,” Ball said. “You had one of these hard liners that sent one of these emails that was mad because you don’t vote like they do on all your issues and they call you a RINO, and I started thinking yea, I like that. Rhinos are tough.”

Ball said he still hasn’t made up his mind if or when he would make the switch, but said it could be sometime next year, his last in the State House. A remaining goal that Ball would like to accomplish before he leaves the Legislature is pass his bill that would allow grand jury witnesses to discuss their testimony and experience with prosecutors. The bill passed the House this year but failed to get a final vote in the Senate before time ran out.

Ball didn’t say that he had any particular disgust for the Republican party and said the Democratic party is just as susceptible to playing party politics, but that partisan politics is so ingrained in the U.S. political system now and he doesn’t want to be a part of it.

“This kind of obsessive mindset that has seemed to permeate politics, and even the people in it, I probably think in Alabama right now, we probably have as reasonable and solid and fair-minded leadership that we’ve ever had, but even then, they have to pander to their respective extremes and you can’t govern from the extremes,” Ball said.

He did voice concern about how now that Alabama’s Republican party holds a supermajority in the state, it allows for more in-party fighting to occur and possibly more corruption. “In order for our process to work, we need to have checks and balances,” Ball said. “Our political parties exist to create checks and balances for the other party. And whenever one of them gets too powerful, they will have these internal party squabbles that will be just as intense as the other ones, and even more so because they are fighting for power.”

Ball also pointed to the Trump presidency as being one of the factors for the increase in partisanship in recent years. “The Trump phenomenon is a huge part of it, everywhere, even in Alabama,” Ball said. “I don’t think he’s the Devil, and I don’t think he’s the savior either. I think he’s a 21st century version of P.T. Barnum. And the suckers are the ones who love him and the ones who hate him.” Ball is currently a member of the Alabama Republican Party Executive committee and also chairs the House Ethics and Campaign Finance Committee.        

 

What’s to become of Bud’s and Jubilee?

By DAVID MOWERY

There’s one burning question on the mind of almost everyone in Montgomery: What is in store for the establishments operated by Bud Skinner, the recently departed lovably curmudgeonly owner of both Bud’s Bar and Jubilee Seafood? The bar and restaurant which at this point make up the heart of Old Cloverdale?

Rumors abound, and the ownership of the land and the establishments are two different things, both of which are sorta complicated. What will come as a shock to absolutely no one is that there are old money elements which own at least one of the properties, who are none too keen on giving up the income the rent provides – nor are they eager to jump into the restaurant or bar business. 

There was talk of Jud Blount, owner of Vintage Hospitality Group, stepping in and taking over Jubilee, but with two restaurants at the other end of Cloverdale, a fine dining Italian restaurant under heavy construction downtown in the old federal bank building and the Court Street Apartments project just underway, he decided that he is spread too thin to do Jubilee justice. 

The dirty little secret is that Bud was married to his job and dedicated all of his time and work energy to making Jubilee the best meal in town. Thus, it will be difficult for almost anyone to come in and live up to that name. If the property can be reopened as something else or a re-imagining remains to be seen. It’s possible Huntingdon College could purchase the building as it has several other properties in the area. In any case, Jubilee as we know and love it is probably gone for good. 

Tyler Bell, owner of El Rey, Leroy and several restaurants out in Los Angeles has been mentioned as a potential developer for the Jubilee/Kat N Harri’s building and even Bud’s bar, but IAP was unable to confirm or deny this rumor. Bell, an experienced and successful restaurateur could be just what the doctor ordered. Many others have expressed that the disaster of the middle section of the buildings on Fairview Ave. combined with the loss of Bud’s at one end and Jubilee at the other is a burgeoning crisis for property values. It remains to be see who will turn this crisis into an opportunity, but with the pandemic restrictions ending, and summer coming up, the right person or group could make a mint. 

 

Potpourri

Jeff Rabren recently left Regions Bank to start his own lobbying and economic development consulting firm. Rabren had been Senior Vice President of State Government Affairs & Economic Development for over ten years, a job that saw him directing the bank’s lobbying work in state capitals across the country as well as traveling internationally as part of the team that recruits industry to Alabama. That’s a lot of travel, especially for a father of three young children. In April, Rabren made the leap to strike out on his own starting Red Level Strategies. Given his universal respect in the political world, expect to see Jeff’s firm do very well. 

Sean Ross, Editor of Yellowhammer News, is leaving the online news business to return to the world of political communication. Ross will soon leave Yellowhammer to join Paul Shashy in his relatively new political consulting venture (See: Katie Britt blurb above). Sean is known as a hard worker and a talented writer and, while we are sad to see him leave the Capitol Press Corps, we have no doubt he and Paul will be successful. 

Lora McClendon has been hired on by PowerSouth as part of its governmental affairs team. McClendon had been working with the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and, prior to that, worked in Washington, D.C. for former Congressman Bradley Byrne. 

Brent Buchanan’s firm Cygnal continues to grow. The data and survey research firm recently picked up work on more than 20 US Senate, governor and congressional campaigns for 2022, including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and gun-famous Missouri US Senate Candidate Mark McCloskey.

Last time we published, we told you about Zac McCrary’s podcast. This time we bring news of an entry into the podcasting space by David Mowery, Chairman of Mowery Consulting Group. The show is an outgrowth of Mowery’s experience as a frequent cable news guest during the Moore-Jones battle of 2017.

“I wanted to continue that sort of thing, with my own twist. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself with time, and needed something outside of business and my family’s safety to focus on., Mowery said.

After nailing down the software to record remotely, and working out the kinks, last December Now More Than Ever had it’s first guest,  Republican Media Consultant Chris Mottola (who has an Alabama connection, having worked for both Congressmen Dickinson and Callahan in the 1980s). Check the podcast out at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/now-more-than-ever/id1507380827.