CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual State of the State luncheon Friday, welcoming Cullman’s legislative delegation to speak on important issues it will address in the upcoming legislative session. Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview; Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope; Rep. Scott Stadthagan, R-Hartselle; and Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman each addressed the audience.
“College football is over and political football begins,” said Shedd. “It’s a rough and tumble sport sometimes, Montgomery is.”
Shedd said he anticipates the upcoming legislative session to be a difficult one as legislators take on several difficult and potentially confrontational issues. With primary elections taking place just one month into the session, Shedd warned of possible “grandstanding” and “headline grabbing” antics.
“We have the gambling issue that we’re already seeing commercials about. We have medical marijuana which can be a controversial issue in some people’s minds. We have to solve prison problems and reform,” he said.
Other issues Shedd mentioned are rural healthcare and Medicaid expansion, education and general fund budgets, and mental health. Shedd said he feels confident that despite the expected political distractions, the session will be a productive one.
He joked, “I watched the governor’s office go from chaos to (Governor) Kay Ivey. We still see good things happen during all the chaos in the Legislature. The legislative delegation will be looking for every opportunity we can find to bring home some extra money and some extra projects to our district.”
Harbison spoke more in-depth on the topic of medical marijuana.
“I’m interested to see what comes out of the final studies on that because if it helps people and gets them off of other prescription medication, me personally, I would be willing to entertain what helps people,” he said. “That’s what we are down there to do, is to help people do what’s best.”
Harbison touched on the topic of the lottery and what he referred to as the “monopoly” on gaming held by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
“Whatever we do with that,” he said, “it will be a constitutional amendment and the people will get the final vote to decide what they want to do.”
Harbison reminded those in his district to reach out to him to discuss ideas, concerns and legislation they would like to see addressed.
Stadthagan, who has been selected to be on the new Mental Health Committee created by Ivey, told guests, “The governor has created a committee for us to start addressing these issues and I’m excited. We are working with the Stepping Up program which helps people stay out of jail and give back to society and figure out what they need to get back to being normal people again.”
Gudger reflected on his first year in Montgomery before looking ahead to the next session.
“When you are a legislator in Montgomery, you are by yourself,” he said. “You do a lot of hard decisions. You try to educate yourself. You try to have discernment and try to produce as much wisdom by talking to people that you will be voting on, whatever the topic might be. Well, sometimes you feel alone.”
Gudger spoke of a day a text message from his mother came at the perfect time and with a valuable message, saying, “There was one time this last session when I was down pretty good,” he said. “Every once in a while, you can have a little self-pity at times and I was down, just needed to think and be alone by myself.”
He said he had been mentioned on “Saturday Night Live” and mentioned by several celebrities in tweets. Some people also inappropriately harassed his wife and children.
Gudger’s mother, Dot, sent a text: “Amor Fati.” It means love of fate.
“(It is) the Latin phrase that is, a mindset you take on for making the best of anything that happens. Treating each and every moment, no matter how challenging, as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only do what you are OK with but to love it and because of it, be better for it. So like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become the fuel for your potential,” he said.
“I’ve stood up for what I believe in,” he said. “I’ve got hammered and attacked, and my family has, but looking back, it’s been worth it because I did what I said I was going to do and I think our community and our district and Alabama is better for it.”
According to Gudger, he and the other members of the Cullman delegation have meetings planned for next week where they will sit down and discuss goals for the session. He is also focusing on transportation projects. In particular, he is pushing for funding for two projects.
On the topic of the lottery, Gudger said, “The two questions that need to be asked are, ‘Who is going to regulate and be on the board for the state gaming commission?’ and, ‘Where does the money go?’”
Gudger said he is against a gaming commission with only representatives from Poarch Creek. He wants to see a diverse group of representation.
He said he wants to see more being done to address mental illness and funding for more beds and resources for families and individuals affected by mental illness.
Regulation of e-cigarettes is another issue Gudger plans to tackle.
“You can go to any vape shop you see and it is not regulated and it is not licensed,” he said. “There’s no licensing, no regulations and no fees coming back into the state for the ABC to control them. Personally, I want to change that.”
The 2020 Legislative Session will begin in Montgomery Feb. 4.
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