Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Tuscaloosa's political influence

  A while back, during Dr. Robert Bentley’s tenure as governor, I wrote a column entitled, “They May as Well Move the Capitol to Tuscaloosa.” Never before in Alabama history has a city had a sitting governor and the state’s senior U.S. Senator hail from that particular place. Even with the departure of Bentley as governor, the Druid City has an inordinate amount of presence in the state’s political sphere of influence.

  Senator Richard Shelby is in his 32nd year as our U.S. Senator. With that kind of seniority comes immense power in Washington. Shelby is Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and is easily one of the three most powerful U.S. Senators. 

  Secretary of State John Merrill is from Tuscaloosa. He served in the Alabama Legislature prior to winning statewide office.

  Scott Donaldson serves on the Alabama Court of Appeals. He was a Circuit Judge in Tuscaloosa prior to his move to the state court.

  Judge John England currently sits on the bench as a Tuscaloosa Circuit Judge. He has previously served on the Alabama Supreme Court. He is one of the most respected men in the state. Judge England’s son, Chris England, has represented Tuscaloosa in the Alabama House of Representatives very effectively for 11 years. Chris is not only a stellar legislator; he is a practicing lawyer and an expert on Alabama football, which he grew up watching.

  Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Hardy McCollum has been in his office for over 41 years. He is nearing the end of an unprecedented seventh six-year term. Hardy was first elected in 1976. Over the years, he has generally been considered the most popular political figure in Tuscaloosa County.

  State senator Gerald Allen has been representing his native Tuscaloosa County in the legislature for 24 years. He served 16 years in the State House prior to his election to the Alabama Senate eight years ago. He is considered one of the most conservative members of the Alabama Senate.

  Some folks believe that this time next year, Tuscaloosa may regain the governor’s office. Their very popular, 45-year old mayor, Walt Maddox, will likely be the Democratic standard-bearer in the 2018 governor’s race. Young Mr. Maddox is very popular in his hometown. He has been the historic city’s mayor since 2005, which means he was first elected at the ripe old age of 32.

  Although not Tuscaloosa’s, there are some influential powers that live nearby and represent them in the halls of Congress and the Alabama Senate. Congressman Robert Aderholt from Haleyville represents Tuscaloosa as well as outstanding Alabama Senators Greg Reed of Jasper and Bobby Singleton of Greensboro.

  Lastly but certainly not least, Tuscaloosa lays claim to the most popular and consensus brightest rising star in the Alabama Legislature. Alabama Representative Bill Poole is a crown jewel that Tuscaloosa can be very proud to call their own.

  Bill Poole is a lawyer by profession. His utmost priority is his devotion to his wife, Nicole, and his three children, Sally, William, and Whitman. The Pooles are active members of the First Methodist Church of Tuscaloosa. Bill earned his B.S. and law degrees from the University of Alabama and began his law practice in Tuscaloosa in 2004. This Republican District 63 encompasses primarily the city and suburbs of Tuscaloosa. Dr. Bentley was the Representative from this district prior to Poole. Tim Parker represented this district prior to Bentley.

  Poole came to the House with a large group of Republicans in 2010. He immediately became a leader of that group. The entire Alabama Legislature quickly recognized his potential. By the end of his first year in 2011, it was evident that Poole was clearly the star of that 34-member class. When you asked every veteran observer of Goat Hill about the class, the first name on the list was Bill Poole. He is liked and respected by members on both sides of the aisle.

  In only his second term, he became Chairman of the Ways and Means Education Budget Committee. When Mike Hubbard was removed as Speaker, it was a foregone conclusion that Poole was going to be Speaker. He turned down the post because he wanted to be able to spend time with his young family.

  At 38, the sky is the limit for Poole. However, folks in Tuscaloosa hope he stays put. For a city that is home to the University of Alabama, having the Chairman of the Education Budget Committee is a pretty good coup.

  Tuscaloosa was once the Capitol. Some would say essentially it is again. In fact, preliminary census estimations project that Tuscaloosa will exceed Montgomery in population by 2030.

  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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