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Inside the Statehouse

 


The Alabama Legislature usually gets very little done during an election year session except passage of the budgets.

However, the Legislature may have to address issues pertaining to prison health care. A Federal judge has ruled that our prison mental health care is “horrendously inadequate.” This year the solution will probably be to simply add $30 to 50 million to the prison budget and kick the can down the road to the next quadrennium.

Our Medicaid agency funding is always a key issue. Medicaid now consumes more than a third of the General Fund budget. Using part of the BP Oil spill money will allow legislators to wait until next year to tackle this money eating monster.

Mental health or drug addiction issues will probably be pushed back until next year after elections, as will the gasoline tax issue. The gas tax was not been raised since 1992. The state’s gas tax is earmarked for roads and bridges. Business groups, county governments and legislative leaders, especially Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Legislators from Huntsville and other growth areas, are emphasizing the need for adequate transportation infrastructure.

The Trump administration is advocating for a national infrastructure initiative. If this comes to fruition in Washington, the state will have to act in order to match federal dollars.

The two budgets will not be difficult since both the General Fund and Education budgets are in better shape than normal, especially the Special Education Trust Fund budget. It is dependent on sales and income growth taxes and the economy is growing.

Teachers and state employees may receive a cost of living raise. Alabama state employees have not received a cost of living raise since 2009.

Speaking of the economy, Alabama has been blessed with two gigantic coups in the past few months. The landing of the new Toyota-Mazda plant near Huntsville was huge. In addition, the decision by the U.S. Defense Department to locate the F-35 lightning aircraft deployment to Maxwell/Gunter in Montgomery will translate into a significant boom to the River Region for years to come.

The January announcement that Alabama won the coveted Toyota-Mazda plant was tremendous. We beat out North Carolina for the $1.6 billion facility, which will be located at a Limestone County mega site adjacent to Huntsville.

Alabama currently has 57,000 residents employed in the automotive industry. Exports of Alabama made vehicles and parts total over $9 billion. We are now the number two state in America for automotive production. Community College Chancellor Jimmy Baker is moving in the right direction to prepare our young people for these opportunities in the state’s industrial expansion.

Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, battled mightily for the new automotive facility. He deserves kudos for the victory as does Montgomery mayor, Todd Strange, for landing the F-35 to Maxwell/Gunter. Our senior senator, Richard Shelby, was instrumental in both of these bonanzas behind the scenes.

Speaking of the legislature and their adjourning early for an election year, there will be 10 open Senate seats and 22 House seats with no incumbents. One of the most hotly contested state senate races will be in the Huntsville area. It will be an intra-party battle between Sam Givhan and Mary Scott Hunter. It is for the seat currently held by State Senator Bill Holtzclaw, who is not seeking reelection.

Ms. Hunter is a State School Board member, who is close to the BCA. Givhan is a lawyer and heads the Huntsville/Madison GOP. He has been endorsed by ALFA. It is fitting and proper that the Alabama Farmers Federation is backing young Sam Givhan. His grandfather was the legendary State Senator, Walter Givhan, who was a Black Belt planter and stalwart ally of the farmers.

State Representative, Mack Butler, is favored to win the Republican Gadsden area seat of retiring Senator Phil Williams.

The Wiregrass will see a battle royale between State Representative Donnie Chesteen and incumbent State Senator Harri Anne Smith.

The open Republican Senate seat of retiring State Senator Dick Brewbaker in Montgomery and Pike Road may be the best senate race in the state.

There are numerous powerful and popular incumbents, who will coast to reelection most with no opposition. That list includes Jabo Waggoner, Jimmy Holley, Jim McClendon, Cam Ward, Greg Reed, Steve Livingston, Clay Scofield, Shay Shelnutt, Clyde Chambliss, Billy Beasley, Bobby Singleton, Gerald Allen, Tom Whatley and Senate President, Del Marsh.

The leadership of the State Senate will return.

February 28, 2018

As the June primaries for our statewide races get closer, there is a lot of media attention and stories written about the power being wielded by special interests, PACs and big money. They focus on the large amount of cash and influence being bet on the horses for governor and the legislature.

The Business Council of Alabama and ALFA are getting prepared to protect their friends and allies and punish their enemies. These two powerful and money laden special interests will be players in the 2018 horse races. Surprisingly, these two pro-business organizations are not riding the same horses in a good many races, especially statewide.

Quietly behind the scenes is another power in Alabama politics, Milton McGregor. You can bet he is playing ball. McGregor’s influence is felt in decision making races in the state from governor to every legislative race. McGregor is the E.F. Hutton of Alabama politics. When he speaks people listen, and more importantly when he speaks politicians listen. He also transcends party. He supports people who are his friends regardless of political party.

He epitomizes the golden rule of politics. He is loyal to his friends. In a day when some people’s word is no good, McGregor’s is solid as a rock. In politics and business your word is your bond, and that is why McGregor is revered and respected by the majority of Alabama’s political folks.

If McGregor tells someone he is their friend and will support them, they know they can take it to the bank. There is a political maxim used by longtime political veterans who have been in the Legislature for years and have fought major battles over controversial issues – the type of battles where you have to get a good toehold and stakeout your position and stay put. Thus, the saying is analogous to being in a monumental battle where you get into a foxhole to survive. Therefore, if a politician says about another that he is someone I would want in my foxhole in a war they are talking about someone they would trust with their life. That saying has been used to describe McGregor on more than one occasion.

Most people assume that Milton McGregor’s only interest is gaming. However, he is invested in the Nursing Home industry, the real estate business and farming. He has been successful in each of these endeavors.

McGregor grew up in the Wiregrass. His family was very politically connected, so he got his love for politics honestly. McGregor idolized his older brother, Tom, who was a political icon in the Wiregrass. Tom McGregor was instrumental in electing the legendary George Andrews to Congress. In fact, Tom McGregor got Andrews elected to Congress while he was still overseas in the Navy. Andrews was elected to Congress in the 1940’s and served in Congress more than 20 years, became a power and is the reason Fort Rucker is located in Ozark/Enterprise. The elder McGregor was Andrews’ right-hand man for more than 20 years.

Milton McGregor loves politics, but he loves his wife of over 50 years, Pat, more than life. He is considered one of the most loyal family men in the state. Unlike many of his so-called religious and pious detractors, there has never been a hint of personal scandal around Milton McGregor.

His generosity is unlimited. There are stories about his allowing politicians to ride in his luxury airplanes, and they have. The truth is he is doing it more out of friendship rather than for personal gain or favoritism. There are ten times more occasions where he has given free use of his planes with his pilots to shuttle an indigent cancer patient to a hospital to save their life.

Milton reached the point financially, long ago, where he does not need any more money. He plays politics for the love of it. He has given more than $300 million to charities over the years. That is 300 million dollars more than the Indian casinos have given Alabamians.

My mama always said that you can tell who a real gentleman is by the way he treats the person less fortunate. Milton McGregor epitomizes this quality. He treats the lowest janitor in his racetracks with the same sincerity, warmness and dignity that he does to the wealthiest people in America whom he rubs shoulders with every day.

March 7, 2018

 

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