By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Rep. Jamie Kiel is the new Republican representative for House District 18, a seat previously held by Democrat Johnny Mack Morrow for 18 years until he ran for the state Senate last year.
Kiel’s district includes portions of Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties in Northwest Alabama along both the Tennessee and Mississippi state lines.
A native of Tharptown and a graduate of Russellville High School, Kiel started his own equipment company more than 20 years ago. Kiel Equipment now does business in three states selling and leasing mowers, tractors, and other equipment.
Even as a new member of the Legislature, Kiel was able to gain influential committee assignments, including the House Insurance Committee, the State Government Committee, and the Ways and Means Education Committee. Kiel told Alabama Daily News that since he has three children in Alabama schools and his wife and parents are educators, education issues are one of his top priorities.
Kiel believes that, since the economy is growing, it is more important than ever to make sure education dollars are properly distributed to the areas that really need them. He said he supports the continuation of the Alabama Reading Initiative and thinks more emphasis should be placed on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math classes.
8 Questions with Rep. Jamie Kiel
Caroline Beck: So tell me what first made you want to get into politics? Was there any one moment that made you decide to run?
Rep. Jamie Kiel: I have always been interested in state politics and have followed it closely since I was a child. I still love to read about Alabama history. I have been a business owner for 23 years. In my business, and every business, it is necessary to be efficient and cut costs where possible to remain profitable. I believe that government can be run the same way. Instead of just complaining about government waste, I decided to try to make our state better by applying these business principles that I have learned during my business career.
CB: What is one thing that your constituents would be surprised to know about you?
JK: I was music director at my church for 20 years. I still love to sing. I also play piano and guitar.
CB: What is your favorite thing to do in your down time?
JK: I try to prioritize my family, church, business and my political office. I enjoy doing what my wife and three girls like to do. I help coach my daughter’s basketball teams. They are very active at school with sports, robotics and student government and I try to be involved in that as much as possible. We enjoy traveling together and recently enjoyed playing in the snow in Breckenridge, Colo. Road trips are my favorite!
CB: What is something about your district that many people living outside of it don’t know?
JK: My district is the only district that borders both Mississippi and Tennessee. It is home to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, a first class museum that displays the many ways Alabama music has effected music internationally. Rattlesnake Saloon is recognized in many publications as one of the most unique dining experiences in the world. It features an underground restaurant, horseback riding and hiking. Visitors have traveled from all 50 states and 30 foreign countries to experience this unique locale. Also, people from across the nation travel to Red Bay to visit Tiffin Motorhomes to tour the factory and to have their first class motorhomes serviced.
CB: What is your favorite thing about your district?
JK: I love the people and the communities, churches and organizations they make up. I knocked on thousands of doors while campaigning and met thousands of people. It verified what I already knew: This is a great place to live and raise children.
CB: What are the top issues that you are the most passionate about tackling in your first term?
JK: Education is a particular interest because I have three children in school. My parents and wife are also educators. I want to make sure that our education tax dollars are going to the classroom where they can be most effective. I have also hit the ground running on economic development, making key contacts with business leaders to make sure that our economy stays strong. Our district is ideally situated — location, workforce, availability of local incentives — to lure manufacturing suppliers to our area when the Mazda/Toyota plant is open in Huntsville.
CB: Are there any bills that you have your eye on or that have already been discussed so far?
JK: I’ve spent the majority of the first 90 days of my term studying the education budget and preparing for those discussions. I feel like making sure our education tax dollars are spent wisely is the best way I can serve the state right now. I will probably have some local bills coming later.
CB: I know you are a part of the Ways and Means Education Committee and the presentation on the education budget just happened recently, do you have an particular thoughts about what was shared at that meeting? Are you satisfied with what was proposed on the budget?
JK: Our education budget is going to be the largest in history! Over $7 billion. It is easy to budget when the economy is down and the budget is tight. You just pay for the essentials. The challenge comes when the economy is booming and revenue is up. That’s what we face this year. I want to be sure that we appropriate those dollars properly. It is not a time to start a lot of new programs because the economy — and thus tax revenue — is cyclical.
Thankfully, the Rolling Reserve Act and proper budgeting have saved our state from the threat of proration that plagued our education system for many years. There will be down years and we don’t want to cut programs later on that we start now. We should make sure that the programs that are working are well funded and cut the ones that are not. I think that the renewed focus on the Alabama Reading Initiative is important. We should also continue to grow AMSTI, Alabama’s program that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) so that our kids have all the opportunities that other kids in America have.