Jones known for hard work, fairness

Published 12:13 am Saturday, May 7, 2016

“It’s like ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.’ He’s literally been there all day. And he has been so respectful and even-handed to every single speaker …”

That was most of the content of a text message sent from a North Alabama friend watching the prison debate unfold on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on April 28th. The observer was, of course, speaking of our own Rep. Mike Jones Jr., who managed the legislation in the House.

The proposal, which in its original form would have closed 13 of the state’s 15 prisons and provided for the construction of four large facilities, sailed through the Senate with little discussion. By the time it made its way to the House floor, legislators were worried about jobs at each of the current facilities, as well as utilities contracts that were already in place with local governments near those facilities.

And our Mr. Jones proved to truly be a “gentleman from Covington,” listening to all concerns. In the six years he’s been in Montgomery, he’s earned a reputation as a hard worker; as someone who studies hard; who never votes for legislation he hasn’t read; and someone who’s fair. He always checks with local leaders and business owners before voting on legislation that affects them. I have personally talked with many of them, and read the text messages sent from the House floor which prove it.

Even as he was managing the prison legislation through seven long hours of debate, another debacle was unfolding. Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, managed to get the signatures needed to begin impeachment proceedings against Gov. Robert Bentley, a process that ultimately will fall to Mike to manage. He briefly left the floor to answer reporters’ questions, and got back to work on the matter at hand: prisons. The House ultimately approved the prison legislation, but with an amendment, which sent members of the House and Senate to a conference committee to work out the differences in the versions.

On Thursday, the last day of this year’s regular session, a new version of the bill was sent back to each branch. It passed the Senate, but the final version – which Mike says truly was better legislation than he started with – never got a vote in the House.

It might have had something to do with the accountability measures written into the final draft, which required anyone submitting a proposal for one of the prison projects to disclose the names of all lobbyists, attorneys, or other professionals or professional firms hired or retained by the person or entity on or after Jan. 1, 2014. It also required the names of all current or past elected officials or family members associated with the person or entity submitting the proposal to be disclosed. The governor, and the Department of Corrections, both of whom helped draft the legislation, agreed to the language. Every taxpayer in Alabama should thank members of the conference committee for including that rare level of transparency, and should wonder why it effectively killed the legislation. (The accountability language is on page 27 of the bill as amended. Download here 178049-5).

The gentleman from Covington concedes he was feeling less than gentlemanly when the session ended on that note. It’s highly likely we’ll see him return to this fight another day; if the legislature doesn’t address the problems, the state’s headed for major trouble with the feds for the conditions in overcrowded prisons.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jones is at work on the other task with which his fellow legislators have entrusted him: chairing the impeachment process as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He’s given committee members 30 days to research and study possible procedures, which aren’t spelled out in Alabama law. His own homework on the issue is at least a foot thick, he said Friday.

It’s likely that most local constituents don’t realize how hard Mike works at his state job. In the current state of state political affairs, his work ethic and approach are needed and appreciated.

Amen, and amen.


Michele Gerlach is publisher of The Star-News.