Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Some Alabama lawmakers have decades of service to their credit

  A few Friday nights ago, a large throng of people gathered at The Club in Birmingham despite a torrential thunderstorm. The event was called Jubilee for Jabo. It was a commemoration of Jabo Waggoner’s 50 years of service in the Alabama Legislature.

  Jabo Waggoner, Jr. has made his mark in Alabama political history. He began his career in the Alabama House of Representatives in 1966, as a 29 year old freshman House member from Jefferson County. He served 30 years in the House. He has now represented Jefferson and Shelby Counties in the Alabama Senate for over 20 years. The speakers who lauded Jabo were former Gov. Bob Riley, former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom and Dr. Swaid N. Swaid. It could have included hundreds of friends who have served with Jabo over the years, yours truly included.

  The resounding theme was that Jabo is always calm and resolute with a friendly smile and greeting, who never meets a stranger and is always unpretentious and down to earth. He has met a lot of people over the years and seems to remember them all by name.

  He has set the record for legislative tenure for anyone in Alabama history from Jefferson County. He made it clear to everyone in attendance that night that he plans to add to that record. At 79 he is in great shape. He plans to run for reelection in 2018.

  The event was very well done. Former Secretary of State Beth Chapman did a marvelous job as the emcee. The Jefferson County Republican Party did a fantastic job. Amazingly there were over 500 people in attendance. Most people would hope that even a fraction of that number would attend their funeral. Jabo was gracious as normal and paid tribute to his beautiful wife of 57 years, Marilyn.

  There are more of my former legislative colleagues and friends who are also breaking records for seniority in the Alabama Senate.  State Sen. Jimmy Holley of Elba, who represents Coffee, Covington, Dale and Pike Counties in the Senate, served 20 years in the House before moving to the Senate in 1998. Jimmy and I sat together in the House for most of those 20 years. I never saw a more diligent or capable legislator than Jimmy Holley. He has now served 18 years in the Senate. He and his wife Marry are close. She is able to come to Montgomery with him. They enjoy their time with their two sons and grandchildren.

  Another icon in the Senate is Gerald Dial. He, like Jabo, has set some records for longevity in the legislature. Senator Dial has a combined 39 legislative years. He has served eight years in the House and 31 years in the Alabama Senate. He represents a sprawling district that covers the east Alabama counties of Cleburne, Chambers, Randolph and his home county of Clay. His wife, Faye, is always by his side. Like Jabo’s Marilyn and Jimmy’s Mary, she has been his anchor throughout the years.

  State Senator Hank Sanders has represented the good people of Selma, Dallas County and the Black Belt region as their Alabama State Senator for 34 years. This is a record surpassing prior Black Belt legends Walter Givham and Roland Cooper. Hank is an icon who chaired the powerful Finance and Taxation Committee during the Democrats' reign.

  State Senator Rodger Smitherman has represented Jefferson County in the Senate for 20 years. He is very effective and works across the aisle. He attended Jabo’s event even though they are philosophically opposite and of different parties. They have a deep respect for each other and work together for the good of Jefferson County.

  State Senator Vivian Figures has now represented Mobile in the Alabama Senate for close to 20 years. She followed her late husband Michael in 1997. She has had a distinguished career as a very respected and effective member of the state’s upper legislative chamber.

  Houston and Geneva’s popular State Senator Harri Ann Smith has now represented the Wiregrass well for 18 years.

  There are several lawmakers who have a couple of terms under their belt and have the potential to be legends, but may leave the Senate because of statewide aspirations. That list includes Del Marsh, Arthur Orr, Cam Ward, Bobby Singleton, Gerald Allen, Clyde Chambliss, Clay Scofield, Steve Livingston, Rusty Glover and Greg Reed. Sen. Trip Pittman could achieve greatness but has decided to call it quits in 2018.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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