Ivey Boots Outspoken Member of SRC

Not only did Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reject state funding to reinstate Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast region, she also removed one of the state’s representative to the Southern Rail Commission.

Jerry Gehman, who had been appointed to the SRC in 2016 by former Governor Robert Bentley, had strongly supported the rail expansion.

His removal from the board is immediate, Ivey wrote in a letter to SRC Chairman John Spain.

Gehman said he wasn’t given a reason for his termination from the SRC, but it came a week after he strongly urged the governor to support the state’s providing $5.3 million for the rail expansion.

He told reporters in Alabama that he wasn’t surprised that Ivey had removed him. “There is no regret. I leave 100-percent or 110-percent of my energy and effort at the table. I’ve done everything I can for the people of Alabama,” Gehman said.

Gehman said he will continue to lobby for restoring Amtrak service to Mobile, Alabama.

“I’m going to speak out for it,” he said. “I hate for the Southern Rail Commission that this occurred, but from that perspective, I’m proud of the fact at least as an American that we can stand up and say here is an option like it or not we have a certain limited time. Now all Alabamians, I trust, know that there was an option on the table.”

However, Gehman said that given the tenor of Ivey’s comments in rejecting the state contribution to reviving Amtrak service, he is not optimistic that it will happen during her term.

In a statement issued at the time that Ivey rejected the funding, she said the service would result in some economic benefit, but reviving Amtrak “will have an outsized detrimental impact on other types of rail service.”

Gehman noted that neither Ivey nor anyone in her administration has consulted with the SRC about how to attract Amtrak service.

Ivey is running for reelection this year and her Democratic opponent, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, has been outspoken in his support for helping to fund an Amtrak service revival.

The revival of Amtrak service to the Gulf Coast suffered another setback when Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declined to support state funding of the service revival.

Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana collectively would have needed to provide $35 million in state funding for the service to match federal funds set aside for the project in the federal budget approved last spring.

Gehman also told reporters that Bryant had been involved with the SRC and had shown interest in the SRC’s work.

However, another Alabama representative to the SRC, Wiley Blankenship, said members of Ivey’s staff had met with the SRC numerous times.

“They’ve been more than accommodating and more than open to meet with us and talk with us,” Blankenship said. “I hope that the governor does not view statements by one commissioner to reflect on the whole.”

The SRC has 21 members, five of which are appointed by the governor of Alabama.

Although Gehman’s term didn’t expire until 2020, the terms of the four other Alabama representatives expire on July 31.

“The governor plans to review all of the appointments before making a decision,” said Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman when asked if any of the state’s SRC members would be reappointed.

Regardless of what Ivey decides, Alabama representative Claire Austin won’t be returning because she is a registered lobbyist and Ivey signed an order last year barring registered lobbyists from serving in executive branch positions.

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