Bentley makes visit to Atmore

Published 8:41 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gov. Robert Bentley served as the guest speaker at the 2012 GOP Spring Dinner.

Gov. Robert Bentley took a few hours away from the state legislative session Wednesday night to visit Atmore, where he served as the keynote speaker for the 2012 GOP spring dinner held at The Club on Alabama 21.

Following some time spent mingling with members of the local GOP, Bentley took the podium to give a brief synopsis of his views on current state issues and to field questions from the audience.

“I think I’ve had the privilege to shake most of your hands,” Bentley told the audience. “It’s good to see old friends and also to meet new friends.”

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Bentley spent the bulk of his time behind the microphone addressing major concerns for Alabama, such as jobs, education and funding, but also spoke about the general nature with which he said he strives to serve as governor.

“We are here for people,” Bentley said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re black or white or if they have any money. We’re supposed to love people and we’re supposed to care about them That’s what I want to do as your governor. I want to care about this state.”

Bentley also touched on the devastation Alabama suffered as the result of the deadly line of tornadoes that ripped across the southeast last April, and thanked Atmore residents for their prayers and the truckloads of relief materials that were sent to struggling areas.

“We went around the state and we visited the family of everyone who lost loved ones that we could find,” Bentley said. “It got to the point that it was almost like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I had heard so much and had seen so much it almost became hard to even read about. I just hope that as we serve the people of this state, we will be compassionate and love people.”

Bentley said another important struggle facing Alabamians in 2012 is the continually lagging job market.

“With the help of local businesses all around the state, in 2011 we were able to announce 17,328 new good, high-paying jobs for this state,” he said. “Our unemployment rate has dropped from 10 percent in July to 7.3 percent and I feel that next week, when it is readjusted, it will be down to 7.2 percent. We have dropped in our unemployment rate faster than any other state in the country.”

Bentley said he has spent time traveling the country and the world looking for new industry for Alabama and promised to continue in a tireless campaign for new business.

“The governor is the salesman for the state,” he said. “And so I always want to be a good salesman. Creating jobs is number one on our agenda and we’re going to continue to do that.”

While job creation may be priority number one for the Bentley administration, the governor said education is certainly number two.

“We are trying to make the education system better in Alabama,” Bentley said. “Our charter school bill will probably not pass and I don’t want people to think I think charter schools are the answer. They’re not. I didn’t even want to try but a few. But there’s nothing wrong with trying. If we don’t have charter schools what I’d like to have is flexibility at the local level. If you’re in a failing school and it continues to fail we need to fire the teachers, fire the principals and start all over. If something continues to go wrong, we’ve got to try something new.”

Bentley said, in addition to being strict on failing schools, those doing well should be rewarded.

“I love teachers,” he said. “And one of things that we’re going to do next year, if we have enough money in education, is give teachers a pay raise. If it were not for my teachers I wouldn’t be where I am today. We’re going to continue to support our public school teachers and our public schools.”

Following his speech, Bentley sat down with the Advance to speak more specifically about state issues, namely the current legislative session.

In response to whether or not he plans on vetoing the General Fund budget, should he receive it with only $418 million allocated for Medicaid, Bentley said he had not yet made a final decision.

“We need to wait and see how it will come out first,” he said. “Certainly we cannot operate with a $418 million Medicaid budget because all health care systems depend on Medicaid. It’s not just for poor people. The entire underpinning of our health care system is related to Medicaid. So I’m not going to say yet what I’m going to do, but we’re going to do the best we can to solve this and hopefully not have to go into special session. But whatever it takes, we’re going to solve the problem.”

Addressing issues local to Atmore residents, Bentley touched briefly on the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Escambia County Commission’s ongoing dispute over land currently held in federal trust by the Tribe.

I’ve read about and I’ve read about the court cases,” Bentley said. “And I don’t know how that’s going to come out. I really don’t.”

As the current legislative session begins to wind down, Bentley said some goals have been reached already in 2012, but many more mountains have yet to be climbed.

“The thing that I’m most disappointed in is the fact that we have not been able to get through a job stimulation bill when all Republicans and most Democrats said that the number one issue they had was to create jobs in this state. Today they failed to vote on the bill and it basically killed the bill. Now, there are some good things that have come out of the legislature this year, but we’ll have a good evaluation of that after another a week and a half. Everything is still very fluid. What we’re trying to do is to balance the budgets the best we possibly can without raising taxes.”