Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Checking out the cabinet

  Gov. Robert Bentley has garnered an excellent cabinet. Much like his predecessor Bob Riley, he has chosen and coaxed into service people who are serving to better the state and not themselves.

  Many, if not all, of Bentley’s appointments are financially independent, comfortably retired or career public servants uniquely and highly qualified to run the state agencies they will oversee. Bentley’s cabinet members are very similar to Riley’s cabinet. In fact, at least five of Bentley’s appointments are holdovers from Riley’s illustrious team.

  John Harrison has been reappointed as Banking Superintendent. He has been the state banking chief since 2005. He is a lifelong community banker and former Mayor of Luverne.

  Jim Ridling has been reappointed as Commissioner of Insurance. Ridling is perfectly suited for this post. He is a retired and former President and Chief Executive Officer of Southern Guaranty Insurance Company. He began his lifelong career in insurance with Fireman’s Fund in 1967. He is also a cofounder of a bank in Montgomery.

  Bentley has reappointed Tom Surtees to continue as Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. Surtees has enjoyed a successful career in human resources. He has held prominent posts with Citation Corp. and Stockhom Valves in Birmingham. He has also served as a member of both the Jefferson County Board of Education and the Pleasant Grove City Council.

  Nancy Bucker has been reappointed by Bentley to remain as Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources. She is very highly respected in her field as well as by the department personnel.

  Bentley kept another one of Riley’s people in his administration but changed his role. Art Faulkner was Homeland Security Director under Riley. He will be Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency under Bentley.

  Bentley chose highly qualified professionals to lead several other major departments. He selected some outstanding people who are experts in their fields to direct the National Guard, Mental Health and Children’s Affairs agencies. Major General Perry Smith has a distinguished military resume a mile long. He will be the Adjutant General and be in charge of the National Guard. Zelia Baughn will be Commissioner of Mental Health. She was formerly the Administrator of Psychiatry at UAB. Marquita Davis has the perfect resume for Commissioner of Children’s Affairs.

  Many consider the appointment of Speaker Seth Hammett as Director of the Alabama Development Office to be Bentley’s most stellar appointment. Hammett is perfectly suited for this very important industry recruiting post.

  Along with Hammett, Bentley chose two more former legislative colleagues to serve in his cabinet. Former Republican Representative Mac Gipson of Prattville will be Administrator of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.  Bentley chose Representative Spencer Collier of Bayou La Batre, who was probably his best friend in the legislature, to be the Director of Homeland Security.

  Gov. Bentley has also selected several of his closest lifetime friends to join his inner circle. His choice to head the burgeoning Medicaid Agency is physician Bob Mullins of Valley. Bentley and Mullins grew up together in Columbiana and have known each other virtually their entire lives. They even roomed together while in medical school. Mullins is eminently qualified to be Medicaid Commissioner. He has been a beloved family physician in Valley for nearly four decades and is a former President of the State Medical Association.

  Bentley chose another of his closest friends to be his Chief of Staff. Circuit Judge Chuck Malone of Tuscaloosa is the presiding judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit. He has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and jurist in his hometown of Tuscaloosa. He has been a judge for 10 years and has chosen to leave the bench to serve his best friend in Montgomery. Bentley and Malone are both active deacons together at the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa.

  Bentley has tapped a young but distinguished Birmingham lawyer with Finance Department experience, David Perry, for the very prominent position of Finance Director. Bentley has chosen successful businessman John Cooper of Huntsville to be the Director of the Department of Transportation. Popular Prattville Mayor, Jim Byard, will head the politically powerful ADECA.

  Dr. Bentley has chosen an exemplary cabinet and gotten off to an excellent start as governor.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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