Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Legislative races to watch

  Our antiquated 1901 Constitution was designed to give inordinate power to the Alabama Legislature. During the Wallace years, the King of Alabama politics himself usurped this power and controlled the legislature from the state's executive branch. Over the last couple of decades, the legislature has wrestled this power back and pretty much excluded the governor from their bailiwick. Governors Bob Riley and Robert Bentley were ostracized and pretty much ignored. Their proposed budgets were instantaneously tossed into the nearest trashcan.

  Legislative power is derived from controlling the state’s purse strings. Thus the old adage applies: “Those who have the gold set the rules.” The legislature has become like Congress in that incumbents are difficult to defeat. Therefore, the interest will be on the open Senate and House seats. Most of the Montgomery special interest money will be focused on these legislative races.

  Speaking of Montgomery, two open and most interesting Senate seats in the state will be in the Montgomery/River Region. One is currently in progress. Montgomery City Councilman David Burkette, Rep. John Knight, and Councilman Fred Bell are pursuing the Democratic seat vacated by Sen. Quinton Ross when he left to become president of Alabama State University. Burkette already bested Knight and Bell in a special election last month. A rebound race is set for June 5.

  The Republican Senate seat in the River Region held by Sen. Dick Brewbaker is up for grabs. This seat was expected to attract numerous well-known aspirants. However, when the dust settled at the qualifying deadline, two relatively unknown candidates were the only ones to qualify. Will Barfoot and Ronda Walker are pitted against each other in a race that is considered a tossup.

  The Etowah County/Gadsden area was considered one of the most Democratic areas of the state for generations. However, in recent years it has become one of the most Republican. State Representative Mack Butler should be favored as a Republican. Recent polling, however, indicates that veteran Democratic Rep. Craig Ford could make this a competitive race in the fall. He is running as an Independent. 

  Veteran State Senator Harri Ann Smith has represented the Wiregrass/Dothan area admirably for over two decades. She has been elected several times as an Independent. However, she has decided not to seek reelection. Her exit leaves State Representative Donnie Chesteen in the catbird seat to capture the position.

  Republican State Senator Paul Bussman, who represents Cullman and northwest Alabama, is a maverick and very independent. This independence makes him powerful. He will be reelected easily. 

  State Representative David Sessions is predicted to win the seat of Sen. Bill Hightower, who is running for governor.

  Most of the state Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed or have token opposition. Included in this list of incumbent state Senators are veteran Senate leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia; Senate President Del Marsh, R-Calhoun; Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper; veteran Senator Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee; as well as Senate leaders Arthur Orr, R-Decatur; Cam Ward, R-Alabaster; Clay Scofield, R-Marshall; Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga; Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro; Tom Whatley, R-Lee; and Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale. The Senate leadership will remain intact, as will the House leadership.

  Almost all of the House leaders are unopposed or have token opposition. This prominent list includes: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Madison; Budget Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark; Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa; Speaker Pro-tem Victor Gaston, R- Mobile; Rules Chairman, Mike Jones, R-Covington.

  In addition, there are numerous veteran lawmakers who will be reelected, including Lynn Greer, Mike Ball, Jim Carnes, Howard Sanderford, Kerry Rich, and Jimmy Martin; as well as rising leaders: Nathaniel Ledbetter, Kyle South, Connie Rowe, Tim Wadsworth, April Weaver, Paul Lee, Terri Collins, Danny Garrett, Dickie Drake, Chris Pringle, Randall Shedd, Allen Farley, Becky Nordgren, Mike Holmes, David Standridge, Dimitri Polizos, Reed Ingram and Chris Sells.

  Even though there are 22 open House seats and 10 open Senate Seats, the leadership of both chambers will remain the same.

  There are some competitive House seats that will be interesting. In the Pike/Dale County Seat 89, Pike Probate Judge Wes Allen is pitted against Troy City Council President Marcus Paramore. Tracy Estes is favored to replace retiring Mike Millican in Marion County. Alfa is going all out for Estes. David Wheeler is expected to capture the open House seat in Vestavia.

  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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