A sit down with Rep. Mac Gipson: Legislator discusses gambling and other issues affecting Alabama

Melissa Parker and Mac Gipson - Photo by Marc Parker
Melissa Parker and Mac Gipson - Photo by Marc Parker

Prattville – A lifelong resident of Autauga County, H. Mac Gipson is serving a fourth term in the Alabama House of Representatives District 88 (which covers both Autauga and Elmore counties).

Gipson’s standing house committees include Education, Finance and Appropriations, the Education Committee, the Children’s First Joint Oversight Committee, and the Community Service Grant Joint Oversight Committee.

Other legislative affiliations are with the State Department of Youth Services Board, the Southern Growth Policies Board, Legislative Advisory Committee of the Southern Regional Education Board, and the Energy Council. Nationally, Gipson is a commissioner representing Alabama on the Education Commission of the States.

A U.S. Army veteran, Representative Gipson is the retired CEO of Gipson’s Auto Tire in Prattville and Millbrook. He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Prattville, American Legion Post 122, Autauga Cattleman’s Association, past president of the Prattville Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Tire Dealer’s Association, and vice-president of the Children’s First Board.

The Ranking Minority Member and his wife, Mary Lee, are the parents of four children: Mary Emerson Lowry, H. M. (Hoot) Gipson, III, Robert A. Gipson, and Jo Ella Gipson.

Gipson will face Montgomery attorney Paul Beckman in the November Republican primary to seek a fifth term in office. On Monday he sat down with Our Prattville to discuss current issues in the legislature.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): When will work begin on the budget?

Mac Gipson: Good question. Alabama is one of two states with two budgets. The money that flows in the Education budget is primarily income tax and sales tax. So, when you see the unemployment rate going up, they are not paying income tax and they are not buying things so that goes down.

I was hoping in two or three days we’d have February’s figures. But, whether they are going to wait to get a March figure or not, I don’t know. That means then about the 4th or 5th of April and that’s cutting it mighty close to be 30 days within the 120 calendar days this session.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Education has been in proration for a couple of years, right?

Mac Gipson: Yes and that’s what we’re trying to avoid. They’ve asked us to please give them as honest a budget as we could without being too overly optimistic. The one the governor gave us factored in the federal money and about a 2.4% growth in the Education Trust Fund, but we frankly don’t see that.

If February doesn’t show some improvement, we may have to factor in a slight decrease that could create a layoff situation. What we’re looking at now is possibly factoring in a zero-based budget where it will start a the prorated amount of this budget which is 7/6% lower than when we made the budget. So, if you had a zero-based budget it would be based on the lower prorated budget.

If they do that they’ll have to figure in some loss of teachers. We recently passed 180 instructional days plus a number of in-service days or teacher development days, so we could cut back on the teacher development days … in essence that is cutting teachers’ salaries. But, we’d rather do that and save jobs.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you anticipate any cuts in programs like Medicaid?

Mac Gipson: Medicaid is on the General Fund side. It’s worse … it’s $500 million short. They’re trying to get some money out of Congress for Medicaid. If they funded Medicaid and Corrections up to last year’s levels which had some stimulus money added, that would take about half of the General Fund. So you’d have to fund troopers, health, all other governmental agencies at about a 50% cut.

We had some stimulus money last year and gave Medicaid $500 million and now they are trying to get money from the Health Care Financing Administration, the federal agency who administers Medicaid. We’re already one of the lowest states in the nation with our Medicaid benefits. You hate to be pessimistic, but you have to deal with facts.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How do you feel about stimulus funds?

Mac Gipson: You know, if you go back to the 60s … and I’m old enough to remember forward from the early 50s, LBJ came out with the war on poverty. We’ve been fighting that war now for forty something years and spent trillions of dollars. But, we have created a dependent class of people.

What I’m worried about with stimulus funds is that we’re going to create a dependent class of states. All states are similar to Alabama and have to have a balanced budget. What the governors have started doing is looking to Congress to spend mine and your grandchildren and great grandchildren’s inheritance so to speak. So, it looks like to me we’d better start biting the bullet and cut where we have to cut.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Let’s talk about the bills you have in the legislature now.

Mac Gipson: I have four states’ rights bills. In other words, my bills are designed to set up a stepping-stone for a state challenge. I have a health care reform bill, which is basically what we call a health care nullification. The state would be able to challenge the federal government on the constitutionality of their health care reform bill.

I don’t know where in the constitution it requires the government to get into the health care business and there may be things in that bill that are blatantly unconstitutional. My bill dealing with health care nullification is a constitutional amendment that would require the people to vote on it. If they voted for it, then you have a state constitutional issue versus a federal issue.

I have a cap and trade bill that would require approval by the legislature before the EPA directed the state to do certain things. I’ve had some trouble with the power-generated companies on that one, so there is a hold on it while I work on the language.

Another bill I have is a firearms freedom act. If a manufacturer wanted to make ammunitions or firearms in Alabama and transported within the state, it would nullify the Interstate Commerce Act because you’d be traveling intrastate instead of interstate. The Interstate Commerce clause would not be coming into play.

I have a bill that would make the sheriff the supreme law officer in the county, which in Alabama they are. But, it goes further to say that if a federal officer wished to raid anyone’s computer, for instance, they’d first have to have the sheriff’s approval. In the event the sheriff would be heading the raid, they’d have to go to the attorney general for approval.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): All of these bills deal with states’ rights?

Mac Gipson: Yes, because what we are seeing with the current Washington feeling is that they are just running rough shod over the states in the passage of certain bills and we need some mechanism by which we can challenge them. I see the state legislators as the last line of defense if the snowball continues.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): You also have the graduated driver’s license bill, correct?

Mac Gipson: Yes, it tightens up the requirements for being licensed to drive. At age 16, there are certain restrictions that apply; cell phones are prohibited from use while behind the wheel, number of teen passengers would be restricted, and a curfew would be set at 10:00 PM on week nights and 11:00 PM on weekends.

I got this one to the Senate committee, but there are some senators who have a problem with it. They don’t want to limit the freedoms. But, it’s not designed to be punitive. It’s designed to give someone more educational experience behind the wheel before they get out to drive … and to protect them.

Frankly, I’ve had a lot of parents contact me and say they like the bill. They also say that they’re going to implement some of these things whether the bill is passed or not.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Would you support a bill that banned driving with handheld cell phones at any age?

Mac Gipson: I believe I voted for that bill that was introduced by the gentleman from St. Clair County. It is out of the House, but is in the same predicament mine is in. It’s in the Senate Judiciary Committee which is headed by Senator Smitherman and Roger Bedford … the two that have a problem with the bill.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Do you support charter schools?

Mac Gipson: Yes, I had a charter school bill in 2004 and my chairman let me bring it up in discussion. That was kind of a vehicle to promote discussion and get an improved bill.

The whole education family including Dr. Morton came down on it saying that a charter school was not a public school. It was the same argument that Dr. Hubbert has now. So we discussed it that day and carried it over, with never any intent to try to pass it out of committee, and I just kind of left the bill alone.

Then the governor decided he wanted charter schools and he got Mary Sue McClurkin to handle it as I was bogged down on my states’ rights bills. But, they found all kinds of problems with it pertaining to liability and other things.

The education family firmly believes that you would be taking money away from the public schools and you are taking a little away, but no more as if they were going to a Christian school or somewhere else.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I spoke with Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Johnson recently and he said that Alabama has always had charter schools in the form of Christian academies.

Mac Gipson: No, not as we understand what the definition is of charter schools. Most of where they are successful is in inner cities and poor counties probably need charter schools also. They have worked in larger cities such as Memphis and Houston.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): President Obama is supporting charter schools.

Mac Gipson: Yes he is supporting them and they had the money, but they’ve watered down the language.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How do you think Obama has been doing after his first year in office?

Mac Gipson: His intentions appear to be, from an old boy in the South, pretty socialistic. I’d love to see him succeed … I want him to succeed.

You know, Clinton came in a little bit to the left, but he made for a pretty damn good president. In all fairness, they balanced the budget. To me, it works pretty well when the president is of one party and Congress is of another. They had some problems in wanting to layoff federal workers, but generally it worked out well.

Judging from some of the meetings Obama has had with Republican members of Congress, he’s pretty headstrong on the health issue. But, the only thing that is going to pull us out of our doldrums is to create jobs. I saw something where it said that over the next ten years we needed 280,000 new jobs in Alabama.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Well, I have to ask you about the gambling legislation.

Mac Gipson: You know, I voted for the peoples’ right to vote for the lottery and it was defeated several years ago … haven’t had one since.

I felt the same way going into the bingo bill until I got to studying the bill. The casinos wanted an exemption from certain taxes and there was no way I could support the bill in its current form.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): How strong is the Choctaw lobby in Alabama?

Mac Gipson: They are pretty strong. You know, it’s like when I was a kid and Autauga County was dry. If you wanted a beer you had to cross the river.

In 1948 daddy was a steward in the Methodist Church and he was elected as a city councilman at large. He signed a petition to turn it wet and was kicked out of the Methodist Church. You had the preachers and the bootleggers working to keep it dry. They weren’t working for the same reasons, but both wanted the county to remain dry.

The bingo situation is similar to this. The Choctaws are working very hard to prevent it for their own reasons.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Is it your feeling the bingo bill will pass so that the people can vote on it?

Mac Gipson: The current bill will not … the substitute bill will be introduced this week.

I’m in Tourism and Travel in the House and last year I ran into Ronnie Gilley when he appeared before the committee. He wanted Country Crossing in Coffee County at that time. But, the financing started faltering and he realized that Houston County had a local bingo amendment so that’s why it was shifted to Houston instead.

I wonder how long Gilley will be able to sit there making no money with the restaurants closed. If it were to pass the legislature, the election is not until November. It would take 63 votes out of the House to pass and you’ve got 45 Republicans. We’ve said all along that it would be harder to pass the House than the Senate.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): Why do you think Governor Riley began shutting down casinos this late in his term?

Mac Gipson: I have no earthly idea … that question has been asked a hundred times. I read Bob Gambacurta’s column in the Independent pertaining to that issue and it said that Riley took Indian money with the idea that he would clean the bingo machines right out of Alabama … and as of last year he had not done it. So, you know, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): April 26 is the end of this session?

Mac Gipson: Yes, if we run the full 105 calendar days. You know, in this last year of a quadrennium, all of us would have loved not to have the gambling issue. We like to be very quiet and sedate.

We have the budget problems, but that budget will go into effect before the general election and after the primaries.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What do you think are the major issues right now facing Autauga and Elmore counties?

Mac Gipson: The biggest thing we have to do is to keep the quality of our schools up. We’ve got a good team in both counties.

We’re recruiting jobs in industry. Millbrook, however, is more interested in retail than industry. Prattville may want a plant, but they’d be pretty selective in what kind of plant it is.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): I read where Elmore County GOP mainstay Bill Harris is supporting Paul Beckman in the race against you in November. Will that hurt your campaign for re-election?

Mac Gipson: Well, I’m not considered by some people to be as far right as they think I should be. You have to run under your party banner … sometimes you wish you didn’t have to, but you do.

Philosophically, I’m center right, but once you’re elected you represent all of the people regardless of party. I try to be helpful, whatever folks need. It may sound trite, but I’m a public servant.

What I’m doing now is very similar to the automotive business. When people have problems they come to you and they want you to analyze them and to fix them in the most economical way.

Melissa Parker (Our Prattville): What was your family’s response when you told them you wanted to run again?

Mac Gipson: They were all right with it. After the last race it got a little ugly and I guess I was a little down … and said I wasn’t going to run. But then I was looking around and trying to find someone who I thought would work well with the team that we had put together and that was hard to do.

What I’ve seen in certain areas of the state, if you get someone in from the far right they are obstructionists and they can’t get anything done. You’ve got to be flexible to get things done.

Interview by Melissa Parker

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