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Author Archives: Steve Flowers

  1. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – June 13, 2014

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    The big news out of last week’s political primaries is that there was no news. The results of every race came down almost precisely as was predicted.

    The prevailing hypothesis among experts that there would be a low voter turnout was fulfilled. The turnout was around 20% statewide, as was expected.  The reason for the sparse voter participation was because there was very little reason to go vote. Most of the major statewide and constitutional races were decided before the first vote was cast.

    Our junior U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions is running unopposed for his fourth six-year term in Washington. Attorney General Luther Strange, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan all ran unopposed. As is the practice now, none of these four aforementioned gentlemen’s names even appeared on the ballot.

    Gov. Robert Bentley may as well have been running unopposed in his quest for the GOP nomination for a second term. Going into this year’s election cycle his polling numbers on reelectability, likeability and trustworthiness were stratospheric. Therefore, he received no significant opposition. He garnered an amazing 90% of the GOP primary vote for Governor. Those are pretty good numbers even against token opposition.

    On the Democratic side Parker Griffith won his newfound party’s nomination for Governor by a 63% to 37% margin. This sets the stage for a contest in the fall between two 72-year-old retired doctors.

    Kay Ivey won an impressive victory in her bid for a second term as Lt. Governor. Her 62% to 38% victory over challenger Stan Cooke in the Republican primary should propel her to victory in the fall.

    The lack of competition at the top of the ballot left the two inconsequential bureaucratic posts of Secretary of State and State Auditor as the best races to watch. It was expected that Tuscaloosa State Representative John Merrill would lead the ticket in the three man race for Secretary of State. He was able to outspend his two older opponents, Probate Judges Reese McKinney and Jim Perdue, by a two to one advantage. However, McKinney, the former Probate Judge of Montgomery County ran him neck and neck.

    Merrill received 40% to McKinney’s 39% with Perdue receiving 21%. Merrill and McKinney will faceoff in a July 15 runoff, which should be the best statewide race on the ballot that day.

    Perennial candidate Jim Ziegler parlayed his name recognition into almost winning the State Auditor nomination without a runoff with four men on the ticket. He received 47% of the vote. Ziegler will face another zany character, Dale Peterson, in the July 15 runoff. Peterson garnered 24% of the vote.

    Peterson’s wife, Kathy Peterson, ran a very close race to Jeremy Oden for Place 1 on the Public Service Commission. Despite being outspent almost ten to one, she only lost to Oden by 47% to 53%. Oden was appointed by Bentley two years ago. His victory last Tuesday assures him four more years on the PSC. There are no Democrats running.

    The same is true for Place 2 on the PSC. The winner of the runoff between Chip Beeker and Terry Dunn will be elected. Beeker led the ticket 39% to Dunn’s 33%. The other 28% of the vote went to challengers Jonathan Barbee and Phillip Brown. Their votes should gravitate to Beeker, since Dunn is the incumbent.

    The best race on the ballot was for the GOP nomination for the 6th District Congressional seat being vacated by the retirement of 20-year veteran Spencer Bachus. This suburban Birmingham area seat is rated in Washington as one of the most Republican seats in America.

    There were seven gentlemen vying for the seat in Washington. It was an expensive slugfest as is usually the case when there is an open congressional seat. State Representative Paul DeMarco impressively led the ticket. He garnered 33% of the vote and will be favored to win in the July 15 runoff.

    Surprisingly, longtime conservative think tank founder Gary Palmer finished second with 20% of the vote. Three other candidates each received approximately 15% of the primary vote. Gardendale State Senator Scott Beason, Orthopedic Surgeon Chad Mathis and businessman Will Brooke finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

    The winner of the July runoff between DeMarco and Palmer will go to Washington. The district will be the winner whichever one wins. Both of these guys are erudite gentlemen who are conservatives with class and dignity.

    See you next week.

  2. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – May 30, 2014

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    Believe it or not we are less than one week away from the 2014 Primary Elections. The Republican and Democratic primaries are next Tuesday. The turnout may be historically low. The reason is simple. There are no good statewide races on the ballot.

    The Governor’s race is usually a marquee event. However, Gov. Robert Bentley is essentially running unopposed. The same is true for Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Attorney General Luther Strange. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey has a viable opponent but Stan Cooke is running a grassroots campaign with no money in a race for an office where there are no issues, only name identification.

    Former Huntsville State Senator and Congressman Parker Griffith should garner the Democratic nomination for Governor. However, he will face long odds against a very popular incumbent in the fall. Even if Bentley was not unbeatable on his own, winning the GOP nomination for Governor is tantamount to election in Alabama.

    The most spirited statewide races will be for the inconsequential positions of Secretary of State and State Auditor. There are also two seats on the Public Service Commission up for grabs.

    The Secretary of State contest has drawn three quality opponents seeking this open position. Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue, former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney and Tuscaloosa State Rep. John Merrill are vying for the GOP nomination. This one will more than likely be decided in the July 15 runoff.

    Merrill should lead the ticket. He has run a very formidable initial statewide race. He started two years ago and has never stopped. He picked up the endorsements of most of the business groups and raised a lot of money for this obscure office. His television ads are the best seen in the state in quite a while.

    The Auditor’s race has four male GOP candidates. Republican incumbent Samantha Shaw has served two terms and cannot run again. One time PSC Commissioner and perennial candidate Jim Ziegler, former State Conservation Official Hobbie Sealy, Adam Thompson, who is a Secretary of State official and Shelby Countian Dale Peterson are running for an office that may eventually be abolished. Adam Thompson has lined up most of the business endorsements. He and Ziegler will be favored to make the July 15 runoff.

    Dale Peterson’s wife, Kathy, is challenging incumbent PSC member Jeremy Oden. Gov. Bentley appointed Oden two years ago. He should be easily elected to a full term on Tuesday.

    The best PSC race is for Place 2. There are four men seeking the GOP nomination. Jonathan Barbee, Phillip Brown and Chip Beeker are striving to remove first term commissioner, Terry Dunn who won the seat by accident four years ago and has had a bizarre ride. He has openly sided with Democratic anti coal groups in a pro coal state. The business groups have given tepid support to Beeker in this race.

    There will be pockets of moderate turnout around the state due to hotly contested local races. The best race will be for the open 6th District Congressional seat in suburban Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount Counties.

    There are also several good state Senate races to watch. The Senate seat in St. Clair and Talladega Counties was expected to be very close. However, private polling indicates that Dr. Jim McClendon may beat incumbent Jerry Fielding by as much as 60/40.

    AEA gave Garreth Moore $150,000 to run against popular incumbent Jimmy Holley in the South Alabama seat made up of Coffee, Covington, Dale and Pike Counties. Polls reveal Holley will win by 60/40 or more.

    Incumbent Democrat Mark Keahey dropped out of the Southwest Alabama Senate seat 22. There are a handful of GOP aspirants. Either Greg Albriton, Danny Joyner or Stephen Sexton is favored to prevail. This will be a pickup for the GOP in the State Senate.

    Todd Greeson looks to be edging out Steve Livingston in the open Northwest Alabama Senate seat made up of Jackson, DeKalb and Madison Counties.

    The open Senate seat in North Jefferson and Blount Counties has six GOP aspirants. Gayle Gear, Shay Shelmutt and Jim Murphree are the favorites fighting for a runoff spot.

    Most Goat Hill eyes are intensely watching East Alabama. Popular veteran lawmaker Gerald Dial is being challenged by Tim Sprayberry of Cleburne County. Polls are showing that challenger Andy Carter could beat incumbent State Senator Tom Whatley in the Lee County Senate seat. A lot of folks also will be following Speaker Mike Hubbard’s reelection contest. There has been a lot of money spent on both sides. Challenger Sandy Toomer is expected to make this race interesting.

    We will see next Tuesday.

  3. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – May 22, 2014

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    My early and continuous prognostication that this would be a lackluster political season has been justified. It may very well be the least interesting gubernatorial politicking year in memory.

    The fact that Gov. Robert Bentley is waltzing to reelection with essentially no opposition is the primary reason for the lack of activity. In addition, the offices of Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General and Treasurer are held by popular incumbent Republicans who have no significant opposition.

    Television stations, newspapers and radio stations are lamenting the loss in revenue. This lack of media exposure exacerbates the obvious lack of interest on the part of Alabama voters. Most Alabamians are probably not aware that our primaries are less than two weeks away.

    My prediction is that turnout on Primary Day, June 3, will be the lowest in history. It will not be a poor reflection of the electorate. It is just that there are no contests and therefore no media advertisements to spur our interests.

    As expected the only interesting race in the state is in Birmingham. The 6th Congressional District seat is open. Spencer Bachus has retired after 20 years in Congress. There is a bevy of good candidates seeking this congressional seat, which encompasses the suburbs of Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount Counties. It has been categorized in Washington as one of the most Republican districts in the nation.

    There are seven Republican men vying for the seat. They are raising and spending a lot of money. Therefore, this area will have the largest turnout in the state on June 3. It is more than likely that two of these gentlemen will wind up in a July 15 runoff. The winner of that primary runoff battle will go to Washington.

    State. Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood has run the most impressive campaign. He has raised the most money with a very diverse base of support. He has raised close to a million dollars from close to 1,000 different contributors. His average contribution has been $845 with 98% coming from Alabamians. He also appears to have the best grassroots support and social media presence.

    Wealthy businessman Will Brooke has raised and spent right at $600,000. He has the personal resources to double that easily through self-financing in the closing days. He has sophisticated advisors and pollsters who will tell him that if he spends another half million of his own money it will guarantee him a place in the runoff.

    He began his media presence with a controversial YouTube ad with him shooting high-powered guns into a copy of the Obama Care legislation. It was a little over the top and has been the subject of nationwide ridicule. The ad in my opinion backfired not only because it was weird and sensational, but it was designed to attract the bubba voter. However, the guns that Brooke uses look like those used by multi millionaire African safari hunters and exposed Brooke to blue-collar GOP voters as a silk-stocking Mountain Brook millionaire.

    The wildcard in the 6th District Congressional race is Gardendale State Senator Scott Beason. Beason began the race with the best name identification. He has served two terms in the State Senate and has been at the forefront of controversial high profile right wing issues like guns and immigration. He also ran against Bachus in 2012 and garnered some name identification. However, he has raised very little money and appears to have done very little campaigning. He should be the darling of the Tea Party. We will see if that is enough to carry him to victory. At last report he had only raised $15,000.

    Longtime Alabama Policy Institute leader, Gary Palmer, has run a good campaign and has excellent television ads. He has raised over $400,000 and should have a loyal hardcore following.

    Shelby County physician Dr. Chad Mathis has run an excellent and professional campaign. He has also raised and spent about $400,000. His media buy has been concentrated on conservative radio and social media.

    Polling indicates that Beason, DeMarco and Brooke are jockeying for the two spots in the runoff. We will see in less than two weeks.

    See you next week.

  4. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – May 14, 2014

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    In 1967 when Lurleen Wallace became governor, one of her first missions was a trip to Bryce Mental Hospital in her native Tuscaloosa. The conditions she saw at Alabama’s primary mental health facility were beyond deplorable. It was a heart wrenching and Damascus road experience for the demure and soft-spoken lady. However, she roared like a lion with determination to remedy this blight on the state. She implored her husband’s legislature to appropriate significant increases in the Mental Health Budget and she passed bond issues to relieve overcrowding.

    Our current Governor, Robert Bentley, also a Tuscaloosan, may have had a similar conversion experience a few months ago. Our state prisons are in a crisis situation. The ghastly horror stories that have come out this year surrounding our largest women’s prison facility have reverberated around the nation. We are teetering on the federal courts taking over our prisons. The population is well beyond what the courts view as basic human rights. The revelation at Julia Tutwiler Prison further exacerbated the crisis.

    Our kindly country doctor governor toured Tutwiler in early March and quietly said, “we are probably going to have to build some new prisons in my second term.” This is probably a foreshadow of what we will see in a second Bentley administration. You may see the Governor move from the right to the middle and moderate somewhat on the need for some new revenue for the beleaguered General Fund. It cost money to build prisons and as well as to simply perform the basic functions of state government.

    The General Fund has had no new revenue enhancement measures in 30 years. There are several benign measures that would be easy to tap. Our cigarette tax is the lowest in the southeast. A state lottery would pass overwhelmingly if the legislature would allow people to vote on it and there must be some creative ways to tax the Indian casinos that are hauling in millions of untaxed profits from low income Alabamians.

    Several other issues that have remained unresolved in this quadrennium will be the subject of debate during this year’s campaigns and will be at the forefront for the new legislature beginning next year. The 2015 legislature may again look at rewriting Alabama’s lengthy and cumbersome state constitution article by article. Our Alabama Constitution was written in 1901 and is the longest of any state with more than 800 amendments.

    Every election year candidates espouse one prevalent theme, “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” We are creating industrial jobs in Alabama. However, we are buying them with tax abatements. This is depleting tax dollars that would go towards education in the state. We may need to do more to help our small business owners who do not get any tax breaks. We also need to invest heavily in technical job training in the state.

    Education issues will be at the center of the spectrum of discussion next quadrennium. How do we improve education for students? Has this term’s legislature hurt education by lowering teachers’ salaries over the last four years? Have programs like the Alabama Accountability Act hurt public education in the state? Will charter schools be the next initiative mounted by conservatives?

    The most talked about issue this year was the Common Core issue. It was tabled and swept under the rug during this year’s legislative session. However, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be front and center when the new legislature convenes in 2015. It has been a hot topic of debate during this year’s legislative contests.

    Legislators will be asked again to decide whether to support the national Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. Gov. Bentley and the current legislative leadership are adamantly opposed to accepting this expansion. They say we cannot afford what we have now, much less more cost. It is doubtful that the Governor or a Republican legislature will change their position on this issue. We will see.

    See you next week.

  5. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – May 9, 2014

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    The 2014 Regular Legislative Session, which ended last month, was the last of the quadrennium. It ended on the same note it began on four years ago. This group of super majority Republican legislators has placed an indelible conservative stamp on Alabama state government.

    There has been no benchmark right wing social issue that has failed to be addressed. They began in the first year with what they proclaimed was the most pervasive anti illegal immigrant legislation in the country. It was quickly cast aside in a cursory federal court opinion as unconstitutional.

    Then came a far-reaching pro gun bill that was designed for the 1890’s Wild West. This year they passed an anti abortion bill, which the sponsors as well as any sixth grade civics student, should know is unconstitutional. It is not even close to being in line with Roe v. Wade.

    These theatrical panderings play well to Alabama’s conservative electorate. During the 1960’s Alabama legislators spent entire sessions passing meaningless resolutions espousing anti-segregation edicts. This group has taken a page from that era with their posturing. For example, they passed legislation stating Alabama does not have to comply with Obama Care. I am sure that will have a lot of influence in deterring a piece of federal legislation.  The last time I checked we were still a part of the United States so that same sixth grade civics student can instruct the legislature of Alabama that federal law supersedes state law.

    Well at least it makes for good politics. George Wallace was the master of it. These guys are novices. Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door by George. We want to send them a message.

    The problem with spending the entire legislative session passing popular but blatantly unconstitutional measures is that it cost money. At least George Wallace paid to send Washington a message. He was a progressive at heart. The state’s economy was not in the doldrums and Wallace passed tax increase measures to make up any shortfalls.

    To the contrary, this group is determined to not raise any new revenue. You have got to give them credit. They are consistent. They are as conservative on fiscal actions as they are on social issues.

    The State General Fund is in dire straits. That is the fund that has to pay to defend these measures. The General Fund has had no new money since 1983 when George Wallace was in the first year of his last term. Things like cars, gas, desks and computers have gone up a lot in 30 years yet the General Fund has had no increase in revenue.

    This fund, unlike the Education Trust Fund, cannot grow itself out of its dilemma because all of the growth taxes, which are primarily sales and income taxes, are earmarked for the Education Budget. Medicaid and prison costs have grown exponentially. These two money-eating monsters have driven the poor General Fund to the wall.

    Essentially, the Legislature has balanced both the State General Fund and Education Trust Fund on the backs of state employees and teachers during this quadrennium. Both of these groups have taken pay cuts over this four-year period. They were required to pay more for their health insurance and retirement benefits in the first year and have not had any pay increase to offset this loss in take home pay.

    There is one note of hypocrisy on the part of legislators when they say they are different than their Democratic predecessor majorities. They continue to put pork in the Education Budget to dole out in their districts just like they ridiculed the Democrats for doing in prior years.

    Some of these state senators are going to find out that some of these schoolteachers are not going to forget come Election Day. There are also a lot of retired schoolteachers who have not gotten a cost of living raise in four years either. These folks vote. We will see how mad they are in a few weeks.

    See you next week.

  6. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – May 2, 2014

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    Early on it appeared that the best political races of the year would be for legislative seats. Indeed, with this being a lackluster year for statewide contests there are some good senate races throughout the state to watch. Most of these hotly contested battles will be intraparty GOP squabbles.

    Senate District 11, which is composed primarily of St. Clair and Talladega Counties, may be the best race to watch. Incumbent State Sen. Jerry Fielding is being challenged by State Rep. Jim McClendon. Fielding is a former Talladega County Circuit Judge who retired from the bench after earning his judicial retirement and won this senate seat in 2010.

    Dr. Jim McClendon is a retired optometrist from Springville in St. Clair County. Dr. McClendon is a veteran House member who chairs the House Health Committee. However, more importantly, he chaired the Reapportionment Committee last year. By having the pencil that drew Senate lines he enhanced St. Clair County’s opportunity to have a senator. Both men will have ample campaign funds.

    There are several open Senate seats around the state that will attract a slew of aspirants. State Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale chose to run for the open 6th District Congressional seat of retiring 20-year veteran Spencer Bachus. Beason’s plunge into the congressional foray has left his seat available for a bevy of candidates.

    There are seven candidates seeking Beason’s Republican Senate seat. They are Shay Shelnut, Gayle Gear, Brett King, Adam Ritch, Joe Cochran, Jim Roberts and Jim Murphree. Murphree may be the best known. He has served in the House from Blount County and run several times.

    State Sen. Shad McGill opted to not run for reelection after one term. This Northeast Alabama seat is now Republican, primarily because it is probably the most religious region of the most religious state in America. Two men are vying for the seat. Businessman Steve Livingston is the owner of a local oil distributorship and a civic leader. He will be running against 15-year veteran House member Todd Greeson. Greeson should be favored because of a name identification advantage. However, he could be hampered by having ties to AEA. There could be a lot of pro-business and anti-AEA money shipped in from Montgomery to be beat Greeson in this brawl.

    Another freshman, Sen. Bryan Taylor, chose to not run for a second term. His suburban Montgomery district comprises the burgeoning bedroom counties of Autauga and Elmore.

    There are four folks vying for this open seat. Suzelle Josey of Deatsville is a former spokesperson for Chief Justice Roy Moore. She has run for the Senate before and built some name identification in the River Region. However her best calling card could be her tie to Roy Moore, just ask Dean Young in Baldwin County how potent that link can be in a crowded GOP primary.

    Two businessmen will be in the race. Harris Garner of Millbrook and Bill Harris of Prattville. Prattville City Councilman, Clyde Chambliss, could be formidable in this open Senate contest.

    The best chance for a GOP pickup will be in the northwest corner of the state. Senate District 1 encompasses Lauderdale and Limestone Counties. It is considered by some politicos as the last remaining bastian of white Democrats left in the State.

    Sen. Tammy Irons, a Democrat, may have seen the writing on the wall when she chose late not to run for reelection. The Republicans believe they can pick this seat up, especially with Irons out of the race.

    There are three Republicans hoping to take this seat for the GOP, small businessman Jonathan Berryhill, Dr. Tim Melson and Athens City Councilman Chris Seibert who is also a former University of Alabama football player.

    In the Wiregrass, Independent State Senator Harri Ann Smith will be opposed by Republican Melinda McClendon. However, Sen. Smith’s reelectability numbers are stratospheric.

    State Sen. Gerald Dial, who represents a sprawling East Alabama district, has a host of challengers but should prevail.

    All these races will be worth following.

    See you next week.

  7. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – April 27, 2014

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    A good many of you found last week’s historical column interesting. You seemed fascinated about the vast diversity regarding the folks who settled in South Alabama versus those who homesteaded North Alabama at the state’s origination.

    You found it even more interesting how close the secession from the Union vote was in 1861 with the vote falling in line with regional sentiment with South Alabamians for and North Alabamians against secession. However, the most enthralling passage was my brief mention of Winston County and its legendary stand to secede from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the union. This bold anomaly really piqued your interest. Therefore, this week I will expound on the in-depth details of the story of the “Free State of Winston.”

    Winston County is a quiet rural county of about 24,000 people. It is about 75 miles northwest of Birmingham. Its closest neighboring cities of any size are Jasper and Florence. It is nestled into the heart of Northwest Alabama. In fact the county newspaper in Haleyville is named the Northwest Alabamian.

    Like many rural counties in our state, there are a lot more trees than people. The William Bankhead National Forest encompasses most of Winston County. The county was named for Alabama’s Gov. John Winston. He served two terms as governor from 1853 to 1857.

    Winston was not from that neck of the woods. He was a slave-owner from Sumter County but a staunch Jacksonian Democrat who stood up to the railroad interests. With the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, the inevitable secessionist movement began. Lincoln’s platform as the newly minted Republican Party candidate was to abolish slavery.

    South Carolina was the first state to secede. They were soon followed by Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. Later Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas left the Union. These southern states became the Confederate States of America.

    Many reasons were given for seceding. However, the primary reason was that Lincoln planned to abolish slavery. The men who controlled these states’ political machinations did not want to give up their slaves.

    On April 12, 1861 shots were fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina. These shots were the beginning of the Civil War. Once the shots were fired, the last four states to join the Confederacy quickly seceded as well.

    When Virginia seceded, their western mountainous counties had no intention of leaving the Union so they formed their own state of West Virginia and stayed with the Union. A similar occurrence was festering in Alabama. The folks of North Alabama were similar to the mountain people of West Virginia. They did not have plantation style farming. They were small yeoman farmers who cultivated their own 40 acres with one mule. In short, they did not own nor did they need slaves. Therefore, they felt like they did not have a dog in the fight.

    These North Alabama counties did not care much about the slave issue nor secession. These folks in North Alabama had more in common with their neighbors and cousins to the north in Tennessee, which was the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy. These North Alabama hill farmers were very religious and extremely independent.

    Winston County epitomized this independent virtue. The hill people of Winston County owned no slaves, worked their own fields, went to church and did not want to be bothered. When Alabama held its secession convention in 1861, Winston County voted overwhelmingly for a 22-year-old schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats to be their delegate. Sheats and Winston County refused to sign the secession document. The residents of Winston County were proud of Sheats. They were in approval. The independent people of Winston County were not going to be pushed around. They saw Alabama’s secession from the Union as their rationale to secede from Alabama.

    The rest of Alabama and the Confederacy resented Winston County’s insubordination. However, the people of the Free State of Winston stood their ground. In July 1961, a meeting took place in Winston County at a place called Looney’s Tavern. They officially seceded from Alabama. However, the resolution was more of an act of neutrality. Winston County wanted more than anything to just be left alone. It was a call for neutrality where an estimated 3,000 people, almost the entire population of Winston County, attended the meeting.

    Today, if you travel through Winston County and drive by the courthouse in the town of Double Springs, you will see a statue of a Civil War soldier, half Union and half Confederate, commemorating the county’s divided loyalties during the war. The legacy of the Free State of Winston lives on.

    See you next week.

  8. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – April 18, 2014

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    When Alabama was being settled in the early 1800’s, our first settlers were diverse in their origins. Our river regions were the most desirable lands. Indeed this is where the Indians lived. They realized the importance of water and the abundant fishing for their sustenance besides the natural advantage offered by these waters. The river basins also offered the most fertile soil for cultivation.

    Among these river basins is a swath of land across the middle of the state that extends from Georgia to Mississippi. This area is known as the Black Belt. This region of our state is called the Black Belt because of the rich, black, luminous soil found there. This rich black soil is perfect for growing cotton. The people who settled the Black Belt were looking for new cotton lands. They had burned up their soil in the east coast of Virginia by planting the cash crop cotton continuously year after year. The soil they found in the Black Belt was much better than their worn out soil in the tidelands. Therefore, the people who settled in the Black Belt were primarily planters from Virginia and Georgia.

    These settlers were well educated and many had been leaders in their governments in those states. They were well heeled slave owners and became the cotton growing plantation owners of the Black Belt. They also usurped and wielded inordinate power in state political affairs for the next century, despite the fact that they were a distinct minority population wise.

    In contrast, the people who settled North Alabama were small farmers who migrated to the Tennessee Valley of North Alabama from North Carolina or simply moved down from the hill country of Tennessee. The land they settled on was not conducive to growing cotton. It was hilly and less fertile. These folks were not interested in being cotton farmers anyway. They were yeomen hill farmers who were happy to have 40 acres and a mule. They were fiercely independent and very religious. They did not need slaves like their neighbors to the south. Therefore, when the winds of division between the North and South began to blow in the 1850’s an obvious political difference between North and South Alabama arose.

    With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, along with the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery, the crucible decision of secession arose. Contrary to what most present day Alabamians think, it was not an easy unified decision that we should leave the Union. The obvious political cleavage between North and South Alabama was stark and measured. The folks in North Alabama did not own slaves and they figured they did not have a dog in that fight.

    A secession convention was held on January 7, 1861, in Montgomery. The vote was extremely close. There were 100 delegates. The vote was 54 to secede and 46 against secession. The vote fell along regional lines. The Black Belters from South Alabama were for creating a confederacy of southern states to protect their slave ownership and way of life. The hill farmers from North Alabama preferred to wait and see what their cousins from Tennessee were going to do because they had more in common with them. These North Alabamians voted against secession from the Union at this time.

    It was shortly after the secession convention that the majority of the good citizens of the northwest Alabama county of Winston met at Looney’s Tavern to determine their course of action regarding the advent of the war between the North and the South. These yeomen farmers of the hills were obviously reluctant to leave the Union for the cause of the planter and his slaves. In 1800 there were only 14 slave owners in Winston County.

    The legend of Winston County is that on July 4, 1861, at their meeting at Looney’s Tavern the good people of Winston County decided to secede from Alabama and remain in the Union. Thus, they basically ignored the Civil War the best they could. In their minds they never left the Union and remained free and independent from Alabama and the War Between the States. That is why they are known in Alabama political history and folklore as the “Free State of Winston.”

    See you next week.

  9. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – April 10, 2014

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    Alabama has seen its share of industrial recruitment coups in the past few years. In fact, 20 years ago the landing of Mercedes was the impetus that has catapulted us to the top of the nation in automobile manufacturing. Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai and the peripheral support manufacturing companies have placed us in the top three states in America when it comes to automobile manufacturing jobs.

    The announcement of the mammoth Airbus plant in Mobile will create over 1,000 jobs for the state. We will now build the largest airplanes in the world in the Heart of Dixie.

    However, when all is said and done, Alabama’s most important industry is still agriculture. The economic impact of Alabama’s agriculture, forestry and related industries is staggering. The total output and employment impact of agriculture and related industries was over $70 billion last year and accounts for over 580,000 jobs. Folks, that’s not just whistlin’ Dixie.

    These numbers are comprised of agricultural industries, which consist of crops, livestock, timber, fisheries and include any food and forest product manufacturing. The figures also include goods and services from any collateral businesses related to agribusiness as well as local labor.

    The reach of agriculture is amazing. On average, agricultural and forest products generate ten jobs per $1 million in direct sales. One out of every five jobs in the state is related to agriculture and forestry.

    Besides the economic impact, they also provide social benefits and ecosystem services that enhance the quality of life in Alabama but are not a part of the economic figures previously quoted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services reports the output and employment impacts of hunting, sport fishing and wildlife watching totals $3.6 billion and over 40,000 jobs.

    The largest agribusiness contributor in Alabama is poultry and eggs. It is number one and contributes $3.8 billion to our economy. It is followed by the cattle industry at $393 million. Surprisingly, greenhouses, nurseries and floriculture production come in third with $237 billion. The nursery business has grown exponentially in recent years, especially around Mobile. Cotton holds fourth place at $138 million, followed by soybeans at $123 million. Grain farming adds $117 million and catfish farming accounts for $108 million.

    To illuminate how big poultry and egg production is in Alabama, it accounts for 66% of the $4.8 billion total agribusiness sales in the state. It is followed by cattle at 8.4%, greenhouses and nurseries at 5.1%, Cotton at 3%, soybeans and other grains at 2.6% and peanuts at 2.1%.

    Forestry continues to be a mainstay of our agricultural economy. It also breeds our state leaders. Both Gov. Robert Bentley and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan grew up in families that made their livelihoods as sawmill owners. Bentley grew up working at a sawmill in Shelby County.  McMillan’s family ran a sawmill operation in Baldwin County.

    McMillan is doing an admirable job as Agriculture Commissioner. He grew up at a time when Baldwin County was a rural county known as the potato growing capital of Alabama. He remembers the days when Baldwin County schools would close to allow students to help harvest the potato crops.

    As boys, little did McMillan or Bentley know that their beloved home counties of Baldwin and Shelby would evolve into the fastest growing suburban bedroom areas in the state. Baldwin and Shelby counties are now two of the largest and most Republican counties in the state.

    McMillan oversees a department that is vitally important to Alabama. It is probably the third most significant constitutional office, superseded only by the governor and attorney general.

    Folks, to make a long story short, agriculture is still number one in Alabama.

    The Alabama Farmers Federation, led by President Jimmy Parnell and his astute political consultant Beth Chapman, is doing a good job of protecting Alabama farmers’ interest at the capitol. They are primarily focused on State Senate and House races since incumbent Gov. Robert Bentley and John McMillan have only token opposition.

    See you next week.

  10. Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers – April 4, 2014

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    The Gallup poll has come out with their ranking of the most conservative and most liberal states in America.

    Last year we were ranked as the most conservative in the country. We lost that mantle to Wyoming this year. In fact, we fell dramatically to number ten. In past years either Alabama or one of our sister southern Bible Belt states took home the title. This year the Western states made inroads into our group in the top ten rankings.

    The most conservative states are always located in the South and West, while the most liberal states are found on the East and West coasts. Thus the label that we like to bestow on Californians is that both they and their philosophy are from the left coast.

    Following number one Wyoming in order of conservatism are Mississippi, Idaho, Utah, Montana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and number ten Alabama.

    The ten most liberal states are Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, New York, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, California and New Jersey. Not surprisingly, the top ten liberal states all voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012, while all of the top ten conservative states voted for the Republican nominees in the past two presidential elections.

    This same Gallup poll ranked the states on their Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning propensities. As you might expect, the conservative states rank high as Republican havens and the liberal states rank high as Democratic enclaves. There are more Democratic-leaning states than Republican. That probably explains why Barack Obama is President.

    Wyoming, which was ranked the most conservative state, also came in as the most Republican state in the nation. We ranked number nine in the country in Republicanism. Our sister southern state of South Carolina likes to boast of being America’s most Republican state. However, they were ranked number ten, just behind us.

    The most Republican states in order are Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Idaho, Kansas, Alaska, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, Alabama and South Carolina. The most Democratic states are New York, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont, California, Illinois, Delaware, New Jersey and New Mexico.

    Gallup also ranked the states in order of who was the most and least religious. We came in third in the country when it comes to religion. The only two states more religious are the Mormon state of Utah and our sister Bible Belt state of Mississippi. In fact, Mississippi edged out Utah for number one.

    The ranking of the most religious states in America are Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Kentucky. The South dominates when it comes to religion. No wonder folks refer to us as the Bible Belt.

    The ten least religious states are Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Connecticut and Hawaii. You can safely say the people in the Northeast are not very religious.

    What this all tells you is that you do not have to be a profound intellectual political scientist to analyze American politics. If you live in the Midwest or South, you are likely to be a religious, conservative Republican. If you live in the Northeast or on the West Coast you are probably not very religious and you are a liberal Democrat.

    In the meantime, our Alabama legislature is determined to prove that they are the most conservative legislative body in America. As this year’s legislative session winds down they are finishing their four-year mission to rid the state of immigrants and abortions and making sure that folks can carry a gun anywhere they want.

    These strident and meaningless stream of ultra right wing initiatives are designed to placate Alabama’s conservative electorate. They may be passed with the intent to become Alabama law. However, they are automatically outlawed by the first federal court, usually after a cursory few hours of review.

    The anti-immigration measure passed the first year of the quadrennium was laughed out of court right away. This year’s anti-abortion bill is so blatantly unconstitutional that a sixth grade civic student would know that it will never be administered.

    This charade is great political year pandering. They also want the rest of the country to know that Wyoming and Mississippi are not more conservative than us. They figure we need to send them a message.

    See you next week.