Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Makeup of Alabama Legislature unlikely to change this year

  Republicans took control of federal offices and presidential races in 1964 in Alabama. It was referred to as the Goldwater Landslide. The Baxley-Graddick fiasco in 1986 was the game changer for the governorship. In the last 32 years, there have been eight governor’s races. Republicans have won all of them, with one exception. Don Siegelman was an interloper in 1998.

  During that same period, Alabamians have elected all Republicans to every secondary statewide office. There are six secondary constitutional offices. All six are held by Republicans. There are nine justices on the Alabama Supreme Court. There are also 10 judges on the Civil and Criminal Courts of Appeals. These 19 judges are all Republicans. If you add the three seats on the Public Service Commission to this list and include the governor, that is 29 state offices. All 29 are held by Republicans. In addition, we have seven seats in Congress. Six out of seven of our Congressional members are Republicans. Folks, that makes us a pretty Republican state. 

  However, inexplicably it was only eight years ago in 2010 that our state legislature changed from Democrat-controlled to majority Republican. When it changed, it really changed drastically. The final coup de gras was probably caused by the national Democrats electing Barack Obama president. 

  As I sat on television analyzing the dramatic results in 2010, it became obvious to me that the avalanche of voting Republican for legislative seats was erupting in North Alabama and especially the Tennessee Valley. This area of the state had continued to elect Democrats to state legislative seats. It was the last bastion of white Democratic voters. This allegiance and loyalty dated back to FDR and the New Deal. However, the election of Obama changed all that.

  The Republican legislative leadership led by former Speaker Mike Hubbard claimed credit for this Republican tidal wave engulfing and changing the Alabama Legislature. They did field good candidates; however, it was Barack Obama that put the final nail in the Democratic coffin in Alabama. Race and religion have always driven the vote in the Heart of Dixie.

  The southern two-thirds of the state had incrementally begun voting for GOP legislative candidates, especially in suburban districts. However, the northern tier of the state voted Republican with a vengeance, and it looks like they are not turning back.

  Regardless of the reason, our legislature is not only majority Republican, it is super-majority Republican. That means that over two-thirds of the members of the Senate and House are Republican.

  The Democrats are buoyed by Doug Jones historic victory in a Special U.S. Senate election in December. They have enthusiastically fielded a large slate of candidates for the legislature. Democrats believe that Jones’ win in suburban areas, especially Jefferson and Mobile, can be duplicated this year.

  That is doubtful. The Jones victory was an anomaly and an isolated dislike for Roy Moore. The Republicans will return with their majorities and more than likely their lock on a super-majority.

  Incumbency is a powerful advantage, and most of the incumbents are Republicans.

  A good many of the Alabama Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed for reelection.  Included in this list of incumbent state Senators who have been reelected by acclamation are veteran Senate Leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia; Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper; respected veteran Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee; Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur; Senator Clay Scofield, R-Marshall; Senator Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale; Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga. 

  Republican Senate leaders, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun; Jim McClendon, R-St. Clair; and Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro; only have taken opposition in the Republican primary and no Democratic opponent.

  Republican Senators Cam Ward, R-Alabaster and Tom Whatley, R-Lee, only have token Democratic opponents in very Republican districts.

  On the Democratic side, veteran state Senators Rodger Smitherman, Priscilla Dunn, Bobby Singleton, and Billy Beasley are running unopposed. Senator Hank Sanders of Selma, the longest-serving member of the Alabama Senate, decided to not seek a 10th term. Senator Sanders has become an icon in Alabama political history. He will be replaced by another Democrat, probably his daughter.

  Longtime Democratic House members Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, are retiring, and Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, is leaving the House to run for the Senate. (Craig Ford of Gadsden is leaving the House to run for the Senate as an Independent.) They are the last three white male Democrats in the House of Representatives. That leaves one white Democrat in the House, Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, and there will be one white Democrat in the Senate, Billy Beasley, D-Clayton. These two white Democrats will be dinosaurs in the legislature.

  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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