When most of the BP settlement meant for the state’s Gulf Coast went to Montgomery instead, Coastal Alabama Partnership Executive Director Wiley Blankenship knew there was a problem.
“It was embarrassing to give us 10 cents on the dollar,” Blankenship said. “It’s just pathetic.”
Mobile and Baldwin counties lacked power in the state because none of the representatives were in positions in the Legislature that controlled money, Blankenship said. He set out to help change that.
“Look around the state,” he said. “Look in the senate. Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, Birmingham … there are two people from the south [who have those positions] and they’re in Dothan and Andalusia. There is nobody from Southwest Alabama.”
It was time, Blankenship said, to start looking at how people in the coastal counties get elected to state office. It was time to start “electing our people.”
CAP created an advocacy arm called the Coastal 150 to help identify those interested in improving the power dynamic in the Legislature as well as backing a coastal agenda. The group also created a Political Action Committee.
“At the first Coastal 150 meeting we had 70 people committed,” Blankenship said. “We launched in September with 22 people and within a few days we had 40 people. There are 72 now.”
The group is based on a similar one in Huntsville that helped “create a whole bunch of power,” Blankenship said.
“There’s no reason for the 150 in the name,” he said. “We just didn’t want to be called the Coastal 100.”
The group is growing toward Blankenship’s expectations, though, with a goal of reaching 150 members by March. The group’s legislative agenda should be completed this month, he said.
Blankenship expects to be at least a couple of years away from having the kind of leverage it would take to push an agenda.
The Coastal 150 sponsored a bourbon-tasting event last month called Bourbon By The Bay. Blankenship said about 170 people attended the event, which was designed to socialize and recruit new members.
“It was an event to bring members together,” Blankenship said. “We wanted to give folks an opportunity to mingle and get to know each other.”
The event also helped Coastal 150 raise money, he said.
“We were just getting started,” Blankenship said. “We needed to increase our budget to get off the ground.”