Alabama Sen. Tom Whatley, a Republican, is seeking re-election on Nov. 6 to continue representing District 27, which includes most of Auburn and parts of Lee County, as well as Russell and Tallapoosa counties.
Whatley is aiming for a third term; he was elected in November 2010. If chosen, his top priorities for the coming four-year term would include education and infrastructure development.
Last year, the Alabama Legislature passed the largest education budget ever, amounting to $6.6 billion. In that budget, $13 million was added to fund Pre-K programs, of which Whatley is proud, he said.
"That’s the big thing; we’ve had an increase in Pre-K every year I’ve been in the legislature, and I’ve supported that," he said. "We have seen an increase in the budget for education every year that I’ve been in the legislature, and we’ve had no proration ... Before I joined the Legislature, in the previous four years prior, three of those four years were prorated years, meaning the Legislature appropriated more money than it had. And the bad thing is they knew that going into it and they did it anyway. We have not done that."
He said the education budget has been able to increase as unemployment percentages have gone down.
Looking forward, Whatley would use a third term to focus more on research funding and development specific to Auburn University in an effort to "make sure we are a leader in certain areas," he said.
One of those areas is autonomous driving, for which the university does have an existing program.
"The more money we can fund that with, the more federal dollars we'll be able to get and also business and industry that will come here because of that," Whatley said. "By using some well-targeted research dollars that we know are going to attract business or industry to come to this area and invest their own personal money, then that in turn provides more tax base for our educational institutions and K-12."
Whatley also wants to prioritize infrastructure development by committing to getting some federal funding for infrastructure projects and better regulating how local dollars are spent.
"I am going to make sure that before we send any more money to Montgomery that we get a say in how that money is spent back here in Lee, Tallapoosa and Russell counties," he said. "I've told the highway director that I'm no longer in support of him just having blanket access of being able to run that department and spend this money. I want some guarantees that we're going to see that money flow back here."
As for health care, Whatley said he anticipates the legislature being able to meet Medicaid state funding needs next year, but as far as expanding Medicaid, that is not something the legislature will have authority to do.
"Medicaid expansion is something that is solely in the purview of the governor, so that's something the governor has to make a decision on, and right now, we've waited past the time where you can get the match money," he said. "So, we're looking at what the federal government did through President Trump, and if they come down with some community block grants, then that's something we'll have to take a look at and see how those are structured."
He said a bill that he passed last year has helped to expand health care to families with autistic children by allowing them to receive insurance coverage for applied behavioral therapy and that the legislature will have to continually address how to provide health care to rural areas whose hospitals are in decline or closing their doors.
"We've addressed that in the legislature the past two years. We've increased the ability for midwives to practice, so you have more choice in your health care there, and we've also dealt with additional responsibilities for nurse practitioners, giving them more ability to operate autonomously from doctors, still having a sponsoring medical doctor," Whatley said. "Those are areas that we’ll have to keep addressing and keep modifying in order to meet the health care needs of Alabama while also staying within our budget."
He encouraged constituents to reach out to him, saying that several bills he passed last year were a result of community members calling him and wanting to see change on certain issues.
"People contacted me and then we went to work on drafting legislation to address their issue," he said.
He can be found at tomwhatley.com, on social media and at his cell number, 334-559-3420.
"The best thing to do is just give me a call," he said. "I'll get back with you."
He said he is running for re-election to continue being a conservative voice for the district.
"I believe in less government, less government spending and more personal choices for the family," he said. "I'm going to be a person that looks at having less government in your life ... You can make the decisions better for how your family needs to live their life than the government can."