Senate candidate writes ‘challenge’ check

Published 9:48 pm Thursday, October 21, 2010

State senate candidate Bryan Taylor and about 10 others gathered in the square Thursday to present an oversized check worth more than $10.6 million.

The check was signed to Senator Wendell Mitchell and “other Montgomery Legislators” who accepted a 62 percent pay raise – the $10.6 million was the total raise among all of the legislators since 2007.

The check was a joke, but Taylor’s challenge to his opponent wasn’t – that Mitchell should disclose his expenses.

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“It’s a salary,” Taylor said of the raise, which is referred to as an expense account or expense allowance. “They’re treating it like a salary.”

Taylor, who is the Republican challeger for the state senate seat, did not actually contact Mitchell in a direct challenge, Mitchell said in a phone interview.

Taylor also said he would call for a repeal of the pay raise if he were elected, and carried several copies of a proposed bill that would ban the use of expense accounts for personal use.

It would also require a separate bank account for the expense allowances and a monthly expense report, in addition to the repeal.

At a luncheon at the Exchange Club beforehand, Taylor gave a speech that centered on corruption in Montgomery, and his plans to clean it out.

“The only way to change the legislature is to change the people who run the legislature,” he said.

During his time as the Policy Director in Governor Bob Riley’s office, Taylor said he saw the effects of corruption, but none so profound as the signing of gambling bill SB380.

As he left the signing, he said, “I just saw the most corrupt thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

That night, he complained to his wife Jessica, who reminded him, hey, that’s politics.

At the luncheon, Taylor said the lack of ethics fueling the state legislature is not government as usual, and shouldn’t be ignored.

“What’s going on in Montgomery has been going on for decades,” he said. “It’s way past politics now.”

He also mentioned an episode of ABC Nightline, which aired Wednesday, about state legislative corruption. The episode included information about Alabama’s recent bingo scandal.

“It’s a black eye, but it’s also a wake-up call,” he said. “Because we haven’t been able to get anything done on ethics.”

Unlike Mitchell, who met with the Exchange Club the week before and said he never mentioned his opponent by name, Taylor dug at the senator’s “man of the people” image. Taylor said it was he, and not Mitchell, who had the support of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and added that the key to economic development in Alabama is ethics reform.

“Our reputation for ethics is directly correlated to our ability for economic development,” he said. “We’ve got to do hard work cleaning up government … There’s a laundry list of things we need to do. I’m interested in going up there and doing them.”

In a Q-and-A after his talk, Taylor alluded to the $10 million tab from state legislators’ expense accounts and said he supported a ban of lobbyist contributions to political campaigns.

He also said he supported term limits, including his own. Career politicians, he said, suffer from electorate disconnect and operate from a system based on seniority.

“I’m a huge supporter on term limits,” he said. “I campaign it wherever I go.”

After the lunch, Exchange Club President Vitaly Voloshin said hosting the opponents back-to-back gave members a chance to make up their own minds about the candidates, their views and the implications of the election in light of recent news about corruption in state government.

“We’ve exchanged ideas and solutions, and now everybody has to make his or her own choice,” he said. “It’s important to learn the issues directly from the candidate.”