When Gov. Kay Ivey ascended to the highest political office in Alabama, taking over the governor’s chair from the disgraced Robert Bentley, she promised she’d do her best to “steady the ship of state,” and so far she’s been true to her word. Ivey, in her first few days of office, made huge political and personnel strides to do just that. One recent action by Ivey, though, is putting that thus-far promising tenure in danger. Instead of “steadying the ship of state,” Gov. Ivey’s hiring of former state Sen. Bryan Taylor as her general counsel and legal adviser has the potential to rock the Capitol boat.
Taylor isn’t new to Alabama politics. In fact, he’s old, bad news. Taylor, a Prattville Republican who serves in the Alabama National Guard, is a political relic of former Gov. Bob Riley’s administration, for which he unsuccessfully attempted to rout all gambling from the state, particularly by the Poarch Creek Indians. That legal failure, in and of itself, plus Taylor’s desire to be known as an “Indian fighter,” as Millbrook Mayor Al Kelley has pointed out, are enough to disqualify Taylor from a top position in the Ivey administration. A spokesperson for Ivey has said “[The governor] appointed Bryan because she feels he is an excellent lawyer, excellent.” It certainly doesn’t look that way to me.
After his time as a Riley-appointed “Indian fighter,” Taylor was elected to the state Senate in 2010 in the “Storming of the State House,” which saw the GOP take control of state government for the first time in over a century. In his Senate tenure, Taylor had a decidedly mixed record. He was a major author of the ethics law that eventually led to the conviction of a few of his Republican colleagues, but the law had technical flaws that are still being worked out by state policymakers.
And then there’s Taylor’s campaign finance fiasco, which is still hurting Alabama’s bottom line.
Since Alabama first passed a campaign finance law in 1988, and particularly since the GOP took control of state politics in 2010, the Legislature has attempted to “solve” issues of enforcing the regulations on election fundraising and spending. In 2013, for example, Bryan Taylor and the Republican majority in Montgomery “fixed” the Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) by amending it to remove the $500 cap on political donations from corporations. That 2013 update to the law — sponsored and spearheaded by then-Sen. Taylor — was also supposed to add stiff penalties for candidates for office who filed late or inaccurate reports of their campaign donations or expenditures. Emphasis on “supposed to.”
Spoiler alert: As I outlined in a previous column, it didn’t work.
Instead of clarifying and closing the details and loopholes of the original FCPA, the 2013 update muddied the waters even further. The December following the 2013 language’s passage, Attorney General Luther Strange issued an opinion advising then-Secretary of State Jim Bennett he (Bennett), despite serving as Alabama’s top election official, didn’t have legal standing to assess fees to candidates when they violated the campaign finance law.
Essentially, the law as written by Taylor and his colleagues didn’t authorize anyone to collect these fees — a perfect storm for candidates across the state to bend and break the law at their own whim. Because of that inability to collect fees when politicians violate the law, Taylor’s statutory shortcomings have cost the state tens — if not hundreds — of thousands. Sadly, though, when it comes to Taylor, not even his legislative blunders are his biggest problem.
The real issue with Taylor and his new job as Gov. Ivey’s top lawyer is his disdain, dislike and outright legal opposition to the free press.
Over time, Taylor has shown a penchant for stifling the press — even filing a defamation suit against one media outlet and sending a cease and desist letter to another.
Following his Senate term, Taylor chose not to run for re-election, saying he would focus on his family and his private-sector career. Instead, Taylor would seek a job as the head of the state’s ethics commission and sue a media outlet when it stood in his way.
After online news outlet Alabama Political Reporter, my former employer, wrote an article in 2014 headlined “Shadowy conduct of the man who would be ethics chief,” Taylor asked for a complete retraction of many of the story’s claims. When APR’s owners, Bill and Susan Britt, refused (the article is still up), Taylor eventually filed suit, beginning a legal battle that has cost the Britts tens of thousands in lawyer’s fees.
Taylor’s suit claimed Alabama Political Reporter aimed to “[D]o substantial harm to Taylor’s personal, business, professional and political reputation in order to interfere with or undermine Taylor’s potential candidacy for the position of State Ethics Director and/or maliciously to impair his livelihood as an attorney or otherwise cause harm to his business or profession; and/or to inflict embarrassment, humiliation, and emotional distress on Taylor.”
That wasn’t the first or last of Taylor’s clashes with the media, either. On another occasion, he sent a cease and desist letter to Rickey Stokes News, threatening legal action unless a full retraction was issued.
“Please consider this email a demand that you pull down or correct your story,” Taylor wrote. “If you do not, I may consider exercising whatever legal rights I have to correct the record for your readers. I will give you until 3 p.m. today to send me your response.”
Stokes, like APR, did not yield to Taylor’s unreasonable demands.
As for Ivey’s hiring of Taylor — an ineffective lawyer and legislator, and an overeager litigant — according to Alabama Political Reporter a spokesperson for the governor has said she was not aware of the suit and plans to speak with the former senator about it.
“Governor Ivey was not aware of the situation. However, she is now after making a commitment to him. She plans to have a conversation with him soon,” the spokesperson said.
For Taylor’s part, he’s asked that the suit be sealed by a judge, and a gag order be issued so APR can no longer publicly comment on the topic. I hope the judge considering that request and Gov. Ivey both see through Taylor’s temper-tantrum tactics and recognize him for what he is: a distraction from steadying the ship of state, a tinker Taylor soldier spectacle.