MONTGOMERY — At various times Wednesday, there were several people waiting to see state Sen. Arthur Orr outside his office on the seventh floor of the Alabama House.
Some had appointments — he had about 30 on his schedule that began at 7:30 a.m. — and some did not.
"Is the senator in?" is a common question heard by his assistant.
Orr came to Montgomery in 2007 because he says he didn't like how he saw public money being spent here and wanted to do something about it.
Now, there are probably few people in this city who know more about the state's general fund budget or how tax dollars are doled out each year.
Orr, R-Decatur, is in his third year as chairman of the Senate's general fund committee, which makes him largely responsible for the budget that supports non-education agencies and state departments.
That responsibility makes him a popular guy. Lobbyists and state agency representatives lined up Wednesday to tell him what they want and need, whether it's money — it's often money — or a change in state law that will benefit them.
Chairing the general fund committee is probably the busiest job in the Senate, said the guy who did it for 16 years prior to Orr. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, had an appointment Wednesday with Orr to discuss the 2014 budget, which looks a bit brighter than in recent years if only because it has not significantly decreased from 2013's.
Bedford and Orr spar from time to time on the Senate floor, but Bedford pays Orr about the best compliment a lawmaker can hope for.
"I have a lot of respect for Arthur because he does take a thoughtful approach to a lot of the issues we deal with, including the general fund," Bedford said last week. "That said, we don't always agree. But, overall, I think he is honest and intelligent. We just come from different perspectives on priorities."
Orr was dishing out some of that honesty last week to those who wanted to talk about money and how they could get more of it. Gov. Robert Bentley recently unveiled his proposed 2014 budget, and now it is up to lawmakers to make changes. State agencies have a chance to make their case for why they need more money.
"I certainly don't have a problem saying ‘no,' " Orr said last week. "Sometimes, I've noticed that elected officials have a problem, when the revenue isn't there, to state the hard truth. We want to be supportive of everyone. But the reality is, there is only so much money to go around."
When state officials ask Orr for a few more million in 2014, he often asks them what they can be doing differently to get by on less.
"Nothing is too small," he said last week. One bill recently discussed in committee would save the state a mere $100,000. "That's where we are now."
But regardless of why someone wants to see him, Orr's policy in Montgomery is the same as at the local district office. He'll make time for them, even if it's only 15 minutes between other meetings.
He also makes a point to return every call and email — some are returned at 5 a.m. because he's a morning person — and to respond to any letter he receives.
"Sometimes you can help, sometimes you can't, but you at least owe people a response," he said.
Sometimes those conversations lead to pieces of proposed legislation. So far this session, Orr has filed 20 bills, more than almost any of his 33 colleagues in the Senate.
"I often tell people, this is one of those jobs where you can do as much as you want and try to work for positive change, or you can do as little as you want and just be an elected official," Orr said.
He can be a busy lawmaker, he said, thanks to his understanding wife and understanding employer. Orr works full time as an attorney for Decatur-based Cook's Pest Control.
Most of his legislation this year and in previous years focuses on either saving the state money or economic development. He's socially conservative as well as fiscally conservative, but tends not to carry bills on social issues, like abortion or gun rights. He said there are enough other lawmakers willing to work those bills.
"Arthur is more middle of the road; he is not with that tea party crowd," Bedford said.
But he still votes with the Republican supermajority, which is why Democrats want to run an opponent against him in 2014.
Morgan County GOP chairman Clay Marlow described Orr as "someone who will get things done."
"He has some good ideas and he's not afraid to present them and he'll discuss them with anyone who wants to discuss them," Marlow said. "That's another thing — he'll talk to you."
Some of Orr's more recent ideas include trying to save state dollars by privatizing its ABC stores and the hotels and golf courses at state parks.
"(Orr asks) ‘Can we do it another way and a better way to get the job done?' whether it's the economy or education," Marlow said.
Orr plans to run for a third term in 2014.
"Until I feel like I should be doing something else, I will keep doing this," he said. "I have a lot of people suggesting other offices, but right now, I am focused on the job at hand. There is a lot to do."
Orr was elected to his first term in the Legislature after a hotly contested race in 2006 against former Morgan County Probate Judge Bobby Day, who ran as a Democrat. The race was one of the most expensive state Senate races in Alabama that year. In 2010, he was uncontested.
Bill Webb, chair of the Morgan County Democratic Party, said last week that the party wants to run a candidate against Orr in 2014 but doesn't yet have one lined up.
Webb said he has known Orr professionally, personally and politically for years and that they are friends. Webb said Orr is an active lawmaker and he has agreed with him on some issues, like privatizing the ABC stores, but he is also part of a Republican shift in the state the Democrats are trying to fight.
"He is still going the conservative route in the Legislature," Webb said.
Still, Webb calls Orr a Christian who wants to help others.
He pointed to Orr's years spent in Haiti doing missionary work, in Nepal with the Peace Corps and then Bangladesh with Habitat for Humanity.
"These things are showing his humanity," Webb said. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he was a Democrat."
Officials in Morgan County probably wouldn't care much about Orr's party affiliation, as long as he keeps helping the area.
Marilyn Beck, president of Calhoun Community College, said Orr has been instrumental in several of her school's larger and more recent projects.
"It is really obvious to all of us how active Sen. Orr has been to the revitalization of downtown Decatur, including the Alabama Center for the Arts," Beck said.
Orr helped secure local and state funding for the $8.4 million center that opened last year.
A $10 million phase 2 recently was approved.
Orr also helped with the Alabama Robotics Technology Park, a partnership between Calhoun and Alabama Industrial Development and Training.
"He helped secure funding for the buildings there," Beck said.
Jeremy Nails, president of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, said Orr is a great ambassador for the area. He credited Orr with helping make it possible for Independence Tube to get tax credits so that it could rebuild its $37 million plant after it was destroyed during an April 2011 tornado.
Nails said Orr was interested in economic development before he became a lawmaker, but as a senator, he has been good at coming up with incentive deals that are attractive to both companies and the community.
"He has a great relationship with Gov. Bentley and that benefits all of us," Nails said.
Mary Sell can be reached at email@example.com.
Education: Bachelor's degree from Wake Forest University, law degree from the University of Alabama
Family: Wife, Amy, and children Jack, 11, and Anna, 18 months
Senate District 3: Morgan County, southeast Limestone County and south Madison County
Senate salary: Orr earns about $43,428 a year as a lawmaker. That's less than he's entitled to because he has declined cost-of-living raises and cut his own pay when state budgets were cut.
Bills filed by Sen. Arthur Orr this legislative session:
SB6: Would change state law so that if the legislative branch runs out of money before the end of the budget year, it cannot receive emergency appropriations like it did in 2012.
SB7: Would tighten a loophole that allows federal and state aid recipients to use taxpayer dollars for alcohol, cigarettes and other non-essential items.
SB96: The Major 21st Century Manufacturing Zone Act, approved by the Senate last week, would expand tax increment finance laws to include industrial sites capable of attracting more than $100 million in private investment.
SB97: The Scottsboro Boys Act would establish procedures in the state to offer posthumous pardons to convicted felons.
SB100: Lets the Legislature take unused general fund money back from state agencies and reallocate it to other agencies. It passed in the Senate last week.
SB101: Establishes an early graduation scholarship program to provide scholarship grants to students graduating from high school a semester or year early to attend two- or four-year colleges or vocational schools in Alabama.
SB102: Would allow members of certain state governmental agencies to participate in meetings electronically under the state's Open Meetings Act. Orr said this bill would save the state money by not having to reimburse people for their travel to Montgomery.
SB103: Would require that anyone who owes delinquent child support and has money taken directly out of their paychecks by the state Department of Human Resources would also have a portion of any bonuses more than $500 subject to deduction.
SB104: Would change the Alabama Constitution to revoke a section that says that, with some exceptions, members of the Legislature can't be arrested during the legislative session and that speech and debate during the session is privileged.
SB105: Would prohibit certain fraudulent conduct in obtaining public assistance under any state or federally funded public assistance program.
SB106: Would create the Alabama Prisoner Litigation Reform Act to establish guidelines and procedures for all civil lawsuits brought by state prisoners.
SB107: Would set up a state Transportation Infrastructure Bank to fund new road projects.
SB142: Would give local counties and municipalities the ability to spend money on infrastructure at federal military installations.
SB143: The $1.7 billion general fund budget lawmakers will be crafting.
SB145: Would amend current law regarding employer contributions for judicial retirement for probate judges and place the responsibility for contributions on counties.
SB146: Restricts nepotism in state government hiring.
SB170: Would increase the minimum mandatory sentence for a fourth DUI violation from 10 days to 90 days.
SB183: Establishes the Alabama False Claims Act, to provide a remedy for fraudulent claims in government programs.
SB196: Allows for privatizing the hotels and golf courses at Alabama's state parks.
SB204: Extends the available tax credits to farmers purchasing irrigation equipment.