Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Behind the Senate curtain

  We are at the end of the third regular legislative session of this quadrennium. They are closing in on the culmination of their four-year terms.

  This is the first Republican majority legislature in modern Alabama history. The Republicans not only have a majority, they sport a super majority. That means that the remaining Democratic minority is incapable of stopping or even slowing down any GOP initiatives or budgets in either the House or Senate. Republicans own a commanding 66 to 39 advantage in the House. They have an even more lordly control of the House of Lords. They have an omnipotent 24 to 11 ownership of the Senate.

  They have truly flexed their muscle and their will in their first three years of leadership. They have totally dictated parliamentary procedure, protocol and power. Any dissident Democrats have been relegated to road kill.

  Both the House and Senate have displayed incredible discipline. They have adhered to the directives of their leaders. They have dispensed with issues with very little debate and expediently focused on the task at hand. You could sum up their performance by saying what they lack in deliberation they make up in conservatism. This super majority Republican clan that makes up the legislature is super conservative. A good many of the freshman are small businessmen who understand how to meet a payroll and make ends meet.

  Who are the leaders of the legislature, and where are they from? The Senate is led by Del Marsh of Anniston. Marsh is President Pro Tem and presides over the Senate. He is in his 15th year in the Senate and is a business owner.

  Arthur Orr of Decatur is Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee. This has been a tough assignment given the plight of the beleaguered General Fund during his tenure.

  Marsh and Orr look a lot alike. They are like the Bobbsey Twins. Both are very handsome with movie star good looks and like most movie stars they are both extremely short.

  The major cog in the Senate Republican leadership is veteran Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills. Jabo not only serves as Deputy Pro Tem, he also chairs the powerful Senate Rules Committee. He has been in the legislature longer than anybody in the history of Jefferson County. He was first elected in 1966. Folks, that was over 46 years ago. He was just 30 when he was first elected. Therefore, he is now only in his mid 70s. He is the ultimate conciliator. He reaches across the aisle with his amiable personality and dispels a good bit of partisan acrimony and discord.

  Trip Pittman is a big, gregarious, very likeable senator from burgeoning, suburban Baldwin County. Pittman towers over most of his colleagues. He chairs the very important Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. As Chairman of the panel that writes the Education Budget he has been an integral part of this Republican majority’s dismantling of the power of the Alabama Education Association. In three years they have taken back control of education from the once invincible AEA.

  Two veteran legislators, who were powerful as Democrats, have transferred their power and knowledge into the GOP fold. Jimmy Holley and Gerald Dial have both been fixtures in the legislature for close to four decades.

  Jimmy Holley is from Elba. His home county of Coffee and surrounding counties have benefited immensely from his expertise, seniority and diligence.

  The same is true of Gerald Dial from Lineville. His east Alabama district is well represented by his years of experience. Dial is one of the authors of the Reapportionment Plan that passed the Senate last year.

  Senator Roger Bedford is one of the last remaining white Democrats in the Senate. He is an icon and will be an effective and powerful player no matter what position he finds himself in. He is the leader of the loyal opposition. He currently finds himself a voice in the wilderness. He has been forced into a minority role along with other former Democratic leaders. He, along with Hank Sanders of Selma, Vivian Figures of Mobile, Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham and Quinton Ross of Montgomery, ran the Senate for years. These veteran Democrats are now simply backbenchers with a lot of experience.

  We will look at the House leadership makeup next week.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in more than 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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