Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Stellar group studying gambling in the state

  Another legislative session has passed and Alabama still has no lottery. Actually, the Alabama Legislature does not in itself have the authority to pass a state lottery; lawmakers can only authorize a ballot initiative to let you vote on a lottery. It requires a constitutional amendment.

  The lottery would pass in a vote in Alabama simply because Alabamians are tired of their money going out of state to Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. All of our surrounding Southern sister states have lotteries, and Alabamians are buying lottery tickets in those states, paving their roads, and educating their students. It would pass in Alabama in a unified, bipartisan vote. Alabamians who would not, or never have bought a lottery ticket, would vote for it, and those who must trek to our bordering states to buy them definitely would vote in favor. It is well known that the locations that sell the highest numbers of lottery tickets in Florida and Georgia are on the Alabama border.

  The lottery proposal this year was doomed from the beginning because Gov. Kay Ivey in her State-of-the-State Address announced that she was taking an interest in the issue and forming a study group to examine potential gambling policies for the state. Governor Ivey had never taken a position for or against gambling. Therefore, when she took to the stage for the State-of-the-State, it was apparent that she was finally weighing in on the issue.

  Well, folks, she did not just appoint any old study group; she quickly named a panel of Alabamians that are blue-chip, top of the charts, super Alabama leaders. This distinguished group is above reproach and has no ties to, or for that matter, no real interest in gambling. Most of them have probably never even bought a lottery ticket or pulled a slot machine lever. However, you can bet that this group will come up with a wise and prudent approach to how Alabama should address a gambling solution for our state.

  It will be chaired by former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange. He has been successful in business and government and is above reproach and well respected. Other members of this impressive group include Rey Almodovar of Huntsville, who founded and runs a major engineering firm in the Rocket City; Deborah Barnhart of Huntsville, who is the CEO emerita of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville; Walter Bell of Mobile is a former Alabama Commissioner of Insurance; Dr. Regina Benjamin of Mobile, who served as the 18th Surgeon General of the United States and before that was president of the Medical Association of Alabama; former State Treasurer and retired banker, Young Boozer, who is universally respected; Sam Cochran, who has been Mobile County’s sheriff since 2006; Liz Huntly, a widely respected attorney and child advocate in Birmingham; Carl Jamison of Tuscaloosa, a third-generation shareholder of one of Alabama’s largest and oldest public accounting firms; former Alabama Supreme Court Justice and Court of Appeals Judge Jim Main; and the legendary journalist, Phil Rawls, who recently retired as Alabama’s leading and most respected reporter – he covered Alabama government for the Associated Press for 35 years.

  Perhaps the most respected and accomplished member of this elite panel is Bishop Dr. Mike Watson. He is the Bishop in Residence at Canterbury Methodist Church in Birmingham and is serving as the Ecumenical Chairman of the Council of Bishops.  He founded several major Methodist churches in Dothan and Mobile. He is also the past president of the Mobile School Board. I have known Watson since our college days at the University of Alabama. I have never known a better man.

  You will probably see this study group’s recommendations on the top of Governor Ivey’s agenda when she gives the 2021 State-of-the-State address next February.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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