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Mitchell brings ‘seniority’ to Senate table

UPDATE, CORRECTION: In an article “Mitchell brings ‘seniority’ to Senate table,” in Friday’s edition of The Messenger, Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, is quoted saying he did not vote for the bill to give voters the authority to chose the legality of electronic bingo.

The vote, currently being investigated by the FBI, was cast in late March, just before Mitchell left the session and was hospitalized.

Mitchell said he was in the hospital during the intial interview. He was actually one of the bill’s supporters in that vote.

“I voted for the bill before I left,” Mitchell said Friday after the article’s publication. “I guess I had anticipated it passing the House and going back to the Senate all along.”

The Messenger apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.

Long-time State Senator “Walking” Wendell Mitchell has spent more than a quarter century in office. That experience, he said, is what he brings to the table with hopes of continuing that service for the next four years.

Mitchell, D-Luverne, is the only Democratic opponent on the District 30 Senate ticket. He will face the victor of the June 1 Republican primaries in Bryan Taylor, Ray Boles or Ken Barnett.

“I’m running again because I feel like I still have the ability and interest in helping people — not only people individually but our communities,” Mitchell said. “I’ve worked through the years to get in a position where I can deliver more services, more money and just general help to our communities. I feel like the next four years offers me a further opportunity to expand and continue that service.”

Mitchell said his seniority in the statehouse is exactly the platform he is running his campaign on.

Mitchell, who was in the hospital the last portion of the Legislative session, did not vote on the bill to allow voters to determine the legality of electronic bingo.

But, he said the issue is something that has never been clearly defined in court and needs to be before the Legislature takes further action.

“The courts have never put a final line on whether or not these electronic bingo operations are illegal or legal,” he said. “Gov. Riley claims they are illegal, but he doesn’t have any court basis to hang his hat on.”

Another key issue of the last Legislative session was the bill to implement charter schools in Alabama. That bill did not make it to the Senate, so Mitchell never had a say either way.

“The Charter school issue didn’t have much of a chance this time because the Legislature had not been exposed to that concept at all in the past,” he said. “I’m eager to hear more about charter schools. I’m not against charter schools. I’m just not sure I know enough about the history and success or lack of it to put that in Alabama’s program.”

Mitchell said he believes passing a balanced budget was one of the top accomplishments of this session.

“If the Legislature deserves a pat on the back, it certainly deserves one for the way it handled the budget,” Mitchell said. “When we first saw the budget numbers this last year, there was no way in the world we could balance it, but we did.”

Mitchell said that could be a challenge once again, but he is optimistic.

He said if economic conditions don’t improve, he believes Medicaid may be an area that has to be cut, as it is one of the state’s largest expenses.

Another issue that’s made its way into almost every session for the last several years is a bill to remove tax on groceries and prescription drugs.

In turn, it would make up for that lost revenue by eliminating income tax deductions on the state’s most wealthy residents.

While Mitchell said he would like to see those taxes eliminated, he doesn’t think punishing one sector is the way to make it happen.

As the election draws near, Mitchell said working with new senators is likely the biggest issue facing the next session.

“You don’t know what to expect when you’ve got a man or woman who’s never voted before,” Mitchell said.

“If 40 percent of the Senate (could) turnover, it makes it even more important some of us with senior experience be there to keep a continuity.”