• 73°

Secretary of State John Merrill stops by Valley Kiwanis Club Wednesday

VALLEY — Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill was the guest speaker at Wednesday’s meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. The meeting took place in the family life center of Langdale Methodist Church to accommodate the large crowd, and Merrill recapped his six years in office and hinted that he might be running for the U.S. Senate next year.

Merrill was pleased to see a long-time friend in the crowd. The church’s music director, Gary Harris, was his band director at Cleburne County High School in Heflin. He said that Gary and his wife Linda were two of the best people anyone could be around in their formative years.

“You are fortunate to have them here in your community,” Merrill said. “There are people who are impactful on your life when you are growing up and help make you what you become when you grow up.”

Merrill said that he put 200,000 miles and four sets of tires on his car when he campaigned for the office of secretary of state in 2013-14. He cited three major concerns in that campaign: (1) elections and all matters related to them, (2) the incorporation of businesses and licenses and doing it in the most prompt and efficient manner possible and (3) handling international adoptions in the best way possible.

“This office affects the lives of Alabamians on a daily basis,” he said. “One area you all probably know about is the election division. We work extraordinary hard to make sure everyone who is eligible to vote participates.”

One way to get the word out about registering to vote and voter ID is to enlist Alabama celebrities to help out in ads. They include Nick Saban, Gus Malazahn, Charles Barkley, boxer Deontay Wilder, NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and radio stars Rick & Bubba.

Anyone who is eligible can register on their smart phone. “You don’t have to go to the courthouse anymore,” he said. “We can be more efficient and more effective.”

Since Merrill took office in January 2015, a total of 1,269,488 people have registered to vote. This brings the overall total of registered voters to more than 3.4 million people. More than 780,000 people have been removed from voter lists.

“They have either passed away, moved away or been put away,” Merrill said to some laughter, making the point that those who have died, moved out of the state or been incarcerated don’t need to be on the voting rolls. “The lists of voters we have today are the best this state has ever had, and I am very proud of that. You can be sure we are doing everything we possibly can to protect the vote. We want to make it easier for you to vote and harder for anyone to cheat. We have gone to people’s homes to give them a voter ID for free. We don’t have to do that, but we do as a public service.”

One of the first things Merrill did when he took office was to interview everyone who worked in the secretary of state’s office.

“I asked them why they came to work every day, and the kinds of goals they had,” he said. “We want people who are committed to providing a service to the people of Alabama. We want to ensure that the people who are paying our salaries are getting the maximum benefit from those of us who are here. We asked our team members to find new ways of serving the people.”

Merrill said that when he took office, it sometimes took businesses in the state between seven and nine months to get responses from the office.

“This office had not been prompt in getting this done for them,” he said. “We made a lot of changes to speed this up. Sometimes when you look behind the curtain there’s no wizard there. We quickly got this down to 40 days. We had 24 people leave in two years and replaced them with better people. A total of 36 people have left altogether. Nine of those people were promoted into other positions, but for 27 others it was time for them to go. I’m not into white collar welfare. Thirty percent of the workforce in our office is now gone.”

The secretary of state’s office, according to Merrill, has now gone 154 straight days of being up to date on filings.

“We are no longer operating at the speed of government. We are now operating at the speed of business,” he said.

To highlight and honor Alabama families, the first International Adoption Day Celebration was held on Jan. 29, 2014. Four more ceremonies have been held since then, on Feb. 5, 2016, Jan. 27, 2017, Jan. 29, 2018 and Jan. 25, 2019. These ceremonies highlight families in the state and help citizens understand the process and role of the secretary of state’s office.

“We are there to help people and not just to produce paperwork,” Merrill said.

There’s been speculation that Merrill may be a candidate for U.S. Senate in the March 3 Republican primary. The seat is presently held by Democrat Doug Jones.

“I will make an announcement the last week of this month on whether or not I will run,” he said. “I feel good about the response we have been getting on this. The week of June 24-28 we will have an announcement on what we’ll be doing. I need you to join me in working together to move Alabama forward and to make it the best it can be. I think Alabama is already the best place in the world to be, and I want it to be all it can be.”