Laying my hand on the Bible in Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Parker’s office less than 24 hours after beginning my second term in the Legislature, I was taken aback to realize four years had passed since my inaugural oath. Lawmakers take office at midnight following the elections, which were held on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
How had the years passed so quickly? How could it be possible a second term was beginning? Like other events in our lives, time seems to move more rapidly when we remain busy and enjoy what we are doing. Such could be said of my first term representing you in Alabama House District 17.
Rarely has there been a slow day in this position, as I devote my full time energies to this job. Serving in the Legislature is not a part time or secondary job for me. This is what I do almost around the clock and have done so since first taking office. Could I have made more money for my family over the last four years having full-time employment and serving as an elected official on the side? Certainly, but I honestly believe I would have been much less effective doing so.
So much has happened in this brief window. Before coming into office, I was made aware of efforts to quietly close the doors to Bevill State Community College in Hamilton. I cannot explain the number of hours invested in fighting back this effort not to mention the personal risks I took in doing so. Turning back the tide in this process was a monumental task—one not achievable without assistance from members of the Bevill State Community College Task Force, Hamilton Mayor Bob Page, the Hamilton City Council, City Attorney Scott Hunt and a few select others. The fact the campus doors remain open today is a testament to what unselfish motives and a unified team can achieve.
Working with Senator Garlan Gudger, we were able to remove the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed correctional facility from a closure list earlier this term. The facility would not be open today were in not for our efforts in Montgomery. The long term future of the facility is currently under review, as part of a massive repurposing plan being undertaken by Governor Kay Ivey. I certainly appreciate her willingness to work with the senator and me on the project.
I remember sitting in a meeting at the Winfield hospital as COVID-19 began to shut down the nation in March 2020. Projections were made by administration officials the hospital would no longer be able to make payroll beyond May 1, and the doors would be closed.
But with assistance from officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Montgomery and Congressman Robert Aderholt, we were able to secure several million dollars in grant money to save the healthcare facility and the numerous jobs impacted as a result thereof. I would remiss not to also extend my appreciation to Northwest Alabama Council of Local Governments Director Keith Jones and members of his team for assisting in the grant application process.
Similar efforts were made in Haleyville to maintain hospital operations at the Winston County facility. We partnered with Haleyville Mayor Ken Sunseri, the Haleyville City Council and City Attorney Jeff Mobley to bring this facility back from the brink. Our efforts also led us to work with the administration at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Hamilton. We were more limited in what services we could provide there, as it is a privately-owned institution. Regardless, we maintained contact and assisted in any manner possible.
When our hospitals needed access to more COVID testing kits or personal protective equipment, I personally made seven or eight trips to Montgomery to the Alabama Department of Public Health warehouse to collect and deliver these much-needed supplies to hospitals, physicians’ offices and private businesses across House District 17. This proved much more expeditious than having the facilities await the next scheduled delivery from the state warehouse. My constituents needed immediate assistance, and I felt it my job to provide it.
Throughout the day and night, I literally fielded hundreds of phone calls from constituents seeking assistance with jobless benefits. Numerous hard-working individuals were suddenly without work due to no fault of their own. But each still faced a mountain of mortgage and car payments, school clothes, utility costs, groceries and more. Many called my home in a sense of desperation and I am grateful the Good Lord had placed me in a position to help. In the end, I stopped counting the number of families I personally assisted when the number surpassed 400.
Our efforts have aided in bringing the Marion County Lake into the Hamilton City Limits as we pave the way for long term plans and expanded use for this facility. We have secured grant monies to extend access to public water across the district as well as highway grant funding to fund more than a dozen projects in House District 17.
Monies have distributed to schools in Lamar, Marion and Winston counties through our efforts, as I attempt to be a regular visitor to schools across the district. And speaking of the district, the boundaries of said district have now changed. Instead of serving all of Marion and portions of Lamar and Winston counties, House District 17 has been simplified. Not only is all of Marion County within the district, but so too is Lamar County. The only portion of Winston County remaining in the district is the corporate boundaries of the City of Haleyville. Municipal, school and civic leaders had made it clear they wanted the community returned to one unified house district, as opposed to being split into two. We managed to reach such agreements in Montgomery to bring a unified Haleyville to fruition.
I have walked the sidelines of countless football games in the district, managing to see each team play at one home game each of the last four seasons. I have attempted to do the same with volleyball and basketball games. I have been in attendance at many baseball and softball games. These can be more difficult as they are played during the months the Legislature is in session. I believe it is important for each community to see its lawmaker supporting our students and parents to see me being there for their children.
I have attended band concerts and school plays, county commission, city council and school board meetings in each community in an effort to remain abreast of local happenings while also using this time to meet with local elected officials. From the beginning of my term, I promised voters I would remain hard-working, transparent and accessible. I believe this mission has been achieved, as I do almost daily social media posts and make myself available in numerous ways at public events. Whether a voter wanted to offer a punch in face or a handshake of gratitude, I have been there to listen.
Word spread of my willingness to offer assistance and the number of phone calls and visits increased. I have been asked to assist with more unusual requests than one can imagine. Not every request was met, as some projects were beyond my legal capabilities. But I can assure you a concerted effort was made in each and every case.
There were no guarantees or certainties entering this office, and four years later, nothing has changed. People often need assistance and your local legislator is your nearest link to state government. In truth, I have been humbled and honored to fill this gap over the last term. Numerous times, I have made the following statement across the district: “If you love helping people, I have the best job in Alabama.’’ And from the bottom of my heart, I believe this to be true.
There are several requests I cannot discuss publicly, as doing so would break a confidence. But rest assured, I truly want to help. I want to be there for my constituents in their time of personal need. I do not take the honor bestowed upon me lightly. Serving in the Alabama House of Representatives has and continues to be one of the greatest honors of my life. I want to assure each person in House District 17 your faith has not been misplaced.
See complete story in the Journal Record.