Last Monday night, curious residents and political supporters alike poured into Red Clay Brewing Company in Opelika for the 2022 legislative reception to see what recently elected state officials had to say about their upcoming tenures in office.
Returning state House of Representatives members Debbie Wood, Bob Fincher, and Joe Lovvorn, along with returning state senator Randy Price and newly elected state senator Jay Hovey were all on hand to talk up their recent political wins and plans for the next few years.
The freshly minted politicians all indicated a desire to put their districts first, but also to do what they believed was best for Alabama as a whole. Popular topics throughout the night included education, the general fund, and a proposed state lottery.
“When I vote, I have two things I think about: Number one, how does that effect my district, and the number two, how’s it going to effect the state of Alabama? How’s it going to effect the person in Muscle Shoals, or wherever?” Price said at one point in the evening. “The pieces of legislation that we draft and that come forth, Lee County will benefit. Whether its education, general fund, whatever it may be, those are the things that we’re looking for.”
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New kid on the senatorial block, Hovey, likewise stated his belief that his district should come first in his decision making process.
“My agenda is to do right by East Alabama, to do right by Russell, Lee, and Tallapoosa Counties,” Hovey said. “My family deserves to be represented by someone that is in touch with what’s going on, that listens to the community, and has a willingness to think ethically.”
Education was a big conversation point throughout the night with all five panelists having something to say on the matter.
Lovvorn has made education one of his top priorities since assuming office in 2016. He sits on both the Education Ways and Means committee, and the subcommittee on Higher Education.
“Debbie and I are fortunate enough to serve on the Education Budget, we allocate about $9 billion a year,” Lovvorn said. “I have 13 year-old and 15 year-old children, they’re 8th and 10th grade in public school. If I don’t leave it better for them, then I’m failing at this job.”
Wood took the time to mention the new aviation building coming to Auburn Regional Airport and its impact on local technical education. She pointed to a $3 million investment Lovvorn orchestrated to bring in the aviation building.
“We have tremendous capability to train mechanics and pilots here at home, because of where we’re located” she said. “We had all of this ability, but we needed a training facility.”
Hovey said once he was elected, his one big ask from senate leadership was that they let him sit on the Alabama Education Trust Fund.
“From my role on the city council I saw what it [Auburn University] did as the largest employer for Lee County and one of the largest economic drivers for East Alabama,” he said. “There are so many other aspects to an education budget and what it means to a community.”
While Price also acknowledged the need for education, he said one of his big concerns was the general fund.
“When you look at the amount of money that we have allocated tax wise that actually goes into education, and then you look at the amount of money that goes into the general fund, that’s where we are lacking,” Price said. “We’ve got to make sure over the next four years that we address the issues, to make sure that we keep our troopers on the roads and to take care of our roads. Those are the kinds of things that we got to make sure happens.”
Representative Fincher mentioned the lottery as a possible way to improve both education funding and the general fund here in the state.
“I would like to see us get a lottery in this state right now,” Fincher said. “And I would like to see that money shared between education and the general fund. I honestly think living where we do, we can see our money flowing over into Georgia by the fistfuls, and we are not a rich state that can afford to support education in Georgia.”
Price likewise wanted to use the lottery to help with improving the traffic issues on Alabama’s interstate system.
“We don’t need to pass an education lottery in the state of Alabama,” Price said. “I’m not saying there is anything wrong putting part of that money into education. But when the gaming thing comes up, and the people of Alabama, if you ever have a chance to vote on it, that money needs to be allocated, some of it, back into the general fund. Because if we do not do that, we will never have I-65 six-laned, we will never have I-85 six-laned.”