Alabama is about to hear a lot of them. In 2014, the entire state Legislature and most statewide offices are up for election; some candidates are already putting up billboards.
The Anniston Star has been keeping tabs on candidates’ promises. Not the promises from this year, but the ones made in 2010. At the end of the last statewide election year, The Star recorded some of the key pledges made by the winners in the 2010 elections — with a plan to check on those promises as time wore on.
Nobody won bigger in 2010 than Gov. Robert Bentley. While still a Republican back-bencher in the Legislature in 2009, Bentley laid out his plans for the state in a document titled “Putting Alabamians Back to Work.” The governor-to-be pledged to crack down on illegal immigration, promote small business and, most famously, to refuse a paycheck until Alabama reached a pre-recession level of employment. Many of those plans were later reiterated on Bentley’s campaign website.
Today, Bentley’s an incumbent governor, with more than $2 million in campaign funds and little opposition in sight. (Bentley’s primary opponent has $48 in the bank, and there’s no Democrat in the race yet.) The Star took a look to see how the governor did on his promises in his first term.
Bentley’s promise: "My goal as governor is to stimulate the creation of 250,000 new jobs in Alabama."
Result: When Bentley made the statement in December 2009, 1.9 million Alabamians were working, and 221,000 were drawing unemployment. The statewide unemployment rate was 10.5 percent.
Unemployment in October 2013 was 6.5 percent, with a little less than 2 million people working and about 138,000 people on unemployment, according to the Alabama Department of Labor’s most recent numbers. Going by the number of employed people alone, there are about 106,000 more jobs in Alabama now than there were when Bentley made his original statement.
Bentley's spokeswoman Rebekah Mason said the 250,000-jobs goal is just that — a goal. She noted that the governor has attracted a number of new industries, such as the Golden Dragon Copper Tubing plant planned for Thomasville, while working to replace jobs lost in industries affected by the April 2011 tornadoes.
"What we’re seeing is a positive trend in job creation, and we expect that trend to continue," she said.
Bentley’s Promise: “I will create a cabinet-level Director of Small Business to encourage the creation and expansion of small business in Alabama.”
Result: There's still no cabinet-level director of small business. Rosemary Elebash says that's just fine with her.
"I've had no issues that I couldn't have an audience about," said Elebash, director of the Alabama branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that represents small businesses.
Small business was a hot topic on the campaign trail in 2010, with many politicians saying mom-and-pop operations were the key to climbing out of the recession. Since then, the political passion for small-business initiatives seems to have cooled, and there's been no outcry for Bentley to fulfill his pledge of a cabinet-level director. Elebash said she's had no trouble getting access to cabinet members, such as the banking commissioner or the secretary of labor, who deal with small business issues.
Mason noted that the governor did appoint an adviser to “identify greatest needs of small businesses in Alabama.” That adviser was never in an official cabinet position.
Bentley’s promise: “I will not accept a salary until Alabama reaches full employment.”
Result: The no-salary pledge was a centerpiece of Bentley's 2010 campaign. For purposes of the pledge, Bentley has long defined "full employment" as an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent — a rate that would have been considered normal before the 2008 economic crash.
Unemployment in October 2013 was 6.5 percent, and so far the governor has not accepted a regular paycheck. He has $1,263 in reimbursement for travel expenses in fiscal 2013, according to state records, but hasn't drawn a dime of pay from the state in fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1. If he accepted a salary, Bentley would collect $121,000 per year.
Bentley’s promise: “I will also coordinate the State’s efforts with those of our Congressional delegation, as appropriate, to ensure that Alabama receives at least $1 back from the federal government for every dollar that our citizens pay in taxes of all kinds.”
Results: That promise was probably fulfilled long before Bentley made it. According to a 2007 study by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, Alabama gets $1.66 in federal aid for every dollar in federal taxes paid by residents of the state. While the numbers in the study are from 2005, nearly a decade old, the Tax Foundation analysis is the only comprehensive study done on the topic.
The level of poverty in a state appears to be the major factor in determining which states get more from the federal government than they pay out. Alabama has come out ahead in the state-and-federal exchange in every year from 1981 to 2005, the study shows.
Bentley’s promise: “I will propose budgets that increase the salaries of those on the front lines, in order to attract the most qualified individuals to join law enforcement.”
Result: Bentley technically fulfilled this promise, but he just managed to squeak it in.
The governor has little say in the pay for most police officers and deputies, who are paid by city and county governments. Still, some law enforcement officials, such as state troopers or Alabama Bureau of Investigations agents, are state employees, and state employees haven't seen a cost-of-living increase since 2008. Meanwhile, they've been asked to pay more for some benefits, effectively trimming their take-home paychecks.
"If you freeze us, it's almost like a cut," said Mac MacArthur, president of the Alabama State Employees Association.
A few months ago, Bentley did lift a long-standing freeze on merit-based pay increases for state employees. That could give state law enforcement officers a shot at a 5 percent pay increase each year — if they get good performance reviews.
Bentley’s promise: "“Establishing a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages would end the practice of ordering unnecessary, expensive tests simply to avoid lawsuits. It would also significantly reduce the role of trial lawyers in our medical system.”
Result: Bentley signed five smaller tort-reform bills into law in his first year in office, but the malpractice cap never happened.
"This issue has simply not been on the top list of priorities for the Governor," Mason wrote in an email.
Bentley’s promise: “As Governor, I will always encourage the creation of state health insurance exchanges to foster competition and lower cost. Special emphasis will be given to companies that will write high deductible insurance policies at a reasonable cost to link-up with health savings accounts.”
Result: That's right: Bentley originally endorsed the creation of statewide health care exchanges, something that also became a key element of the Affordable Care Act. Still, after the Supreme Court struck down the provision of Obamacare that required states to create those exchanges, Bentley announced that Alabama would not create one. At the time, the governor cited the projected $50 million cost of creating an exchange, though he has also said that blocking the exchanges is a way to resist implementation of the health care law.
Bentley did appoint a Health Insurance Exchange Commission, early in his term, to study the idea of creating an exchange. That commission in 2011 voted to recommend the creation of an exchange. But when Bentley announced a year later that he would not support the exchanges, some members of the commission said they agreed with that call. They cited the cost and the federal government’s vague instructions about certain aspects of running an exchange.
Mason said Bentley's proposed exchanges "held little similarity" to the exchanges created under Obamacare. Bentley's proposal, she said, was to allow insurance purchasing across state lines, while never requiring anyone to buy insurance.
Bentley’s promise: “As Governor, I would consider a pilot program for limited incorporation of vouchers and charter schools.”
Result: The governor did more than consider charter schools. In 2012, Republicans in the Legislature began an all-out push to create a system of charters, which are independently run schools that receive public funding. Lawmakers didn't realize how much opposition they'd get from school boards and superintendents across the state, many of whom were concerned that a charter system would siphon money away from traditional public schools. Well-connected in their own communities, school boards were able to turn up the heat on lawmakers at home, and the charter effort ground to a halt.
Bentley expressed support for a limited, experimental charter effort, but lawmakers never gave him a bill to sign.
Bentley’s promise: “I will work to ensure that classroom sizes are manageable, propose new after school tutoring initiatives and fine arts education, and fully fund K-12 and Pre-K ."
Result: "Fully funded" is a vague term, especially in Alabama, where education is funded through a separate state budget that draws its revenue from sales and income taxes, which fluctuate from year to year. But pre-K education advocates aren't complaining. In late 2012, pre-K proponents challenged state officials to expand the state's pre-kindergarten program to provide free pre-K to every 4-year-old in the state within 10 years. (At the time, only about 6 percent of 4-year-olds were in state-funded pre-K.) Proponents said the expansion could be done by increasing the state's expenditure on pre-K by $12.5 million every year for a decade. Bentley didn't commit to the full 10-year program, but did propose a $12.5 million increase in the 2014 budget. After negotiations in the Legislature, pre-K got a $9 million boost.
Bentley’s promise: “As Governor, I will work to implement schoolwide, performance-based incentives for faculty and staff where schools are meeting and exceeding high standards of learning. From the janitor to the principal, an entire school must pull together and compete for excellence.”
Result: Since 2010, there’s been little talk of schoolwide incentives for schools that perform well. In fact, earlier this year, the Legislature took a different approach, establishing a tax credit to help parents pull their children out of the state's lowest-performing schools. Bentley signed that bill, the Alabama Accountability Act, but also sought a two-year delay to help schools get ready to implement it. The Legislature overrode the governor and scrapped the delay.
Bentley’s promise: “I will ensure that abortion in Alabama is limited only to cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. I will oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion. As Governor, I will protect young girls from exploitation and statutory rape by requiring parental notification before a minor may obtain an abortion.”
Result: Nearly every conservative politician in Alabama pledges to end or ban abortion, but outright bans haven't fared well in federal courts. Bentley did sign a bill that imposes a wide range of new regulations on abortion clinics, a bill that abortion rights advocates have described as an attempt to drive clinics out of business. Mississippi's sole abortion clinic is fighting in court to prevent being shut down under a similar law. Alabama currently has five operating abortion clinics.
Bentley’s promise: “I believe the people of Alabama need to decide at the ballot box on a YES or NO vote whether to allow gambling or abolish all forms of gambling.”
Result: There has been no statewide vote on gambling since Bentley took office, nor has an amendment on gambling been proposed. Mason was quick to point out that the governor phrased the statement as a matter of opinion, not a promise to bring gambling to a vote. In a later email, she noted that an amendment would have to come from the Legislature.
Bentley’s promises: “I will seek a legal presumption that all illegal aliens are flight risks for bail purposes.”
“I will require all governmental agencies to participate in E-Verify.”
“I will require state contractors to participate in E- Verify in order to qualify for state contracts.”
“I will fine businesses that knowingly employ illegal aliens.”
“I will train law enforcement officials on immigration laws and ensure state officials turn over all illegal aliens arrested in Alabama to the federal government.”
Result: Bentley signed the Beason-Hammon Taxpayer Protection Act, a 2011 immigration bill that was widely touted as the toughest immigration law in the country. The law required police to stop or detain people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. It required K-12 schools to check students' immigration status. It also banned transporting, harboring or renting to illegal immigrants, and required businesses of any size to check the immigration status of their employees.
Many of those provisions were put on hold in federal court soon after the bill passed. Last month, the state reached a settlement with civil rights groups that gutted most of the law's more controversial provisions, including the requirement that schools check immigration status and the ban on renting to undocumented immigrants.
Bentley’s promise: “As Governor, I will form a statewide commission comprised of elected officials at all levels of government, as well as business, military, and community leaders to address current and long-term needs for infrastructure and community development near existing and expanding military installations. This commission will consider... BRAC growth, defense related non-BRAC growth, and future community growth when evaluating the individual circumstances.”
Result: In 2011, the Legislature created the Alabama Military Stabilization Foundation, a nonprofit group, to "enhance Alabama's military value." Since then, the group has proposed or endorsed a number of bills intended to make the state more attractive to the Department of Defense.
THE POLITICAL PROCESS
Bentley’s promise: "As Governor, I will propose an amendment to the Alabama State Constitution that requires the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to run for office on a single ticket, similar to the election process for the President and Vice President.”
Result: No such amendment has been filed. Mason said other issues, including the 2011 tornadoes, pushed the joint-ticket proposal to the bottom of the governor's priority list.
ETHICS AND TRANSPARENCY
Bentley’s promise: “I will eliminate the practice of awarding no-bid contracts to ensure that only the most qualified and competitive firms receive state contracts.”
Result: Bentley issued a memo earlier this year announcing that "it is the policy of my administration that all Requests for Proposal (RFP) for procurement of goods and services should be accomplished through an open and competitive process to the extent possible." Asked via email why it took the governor so long to issue the policy, Mason didn't directly respond to the question.
Bentley’s promise: “I will push legislation to make all political party funds transparent, whether it comes through party-affiliated foundations or donations to the parties themselves.”
Result: After the 2010 elections, the Legislature passed a new campaign finance reform bill that required candidates to file finance reports electronically. Those reports are posted to the Alabama Secretary of State's new campaign finance website, which allows users to search campaign finance records in a number of ways that weren't possible with the state's previous filing system.
Bentley’s promise: "I will require online reporting of all state spending and revenues.”
Result: A tool for tracking state spending — the online checkbook at open.alabama.gov — already existed when Bentley made the promise.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.