As the 2024 Regular Legislative Session began about three months ago, I had a column entitled “2024 Legislative Session Begins Next Week.”
In that column I highlighted the leadership of the Alabama House and Senate. I said there were three primary leaders, Sen. Greg Reed, Sen. Arthur Orr, and Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter. I went on to say the new kid on the block in this triumvirate of power is first term Speaker Ledbetter, who may very well be the most powerful person in the Alabama Legislature.
My prognosis of Ledbetter was confirmed, emphatically, in the first two weeks of the session, when he shepherded the comprehensive gambling, lottery and regulation of gaming out of the House of Representatives like gangbusters. This legislation was essentially the same package that Gov. Kay Ivey proposed two years ago but was unable to garner the votes for passage. It is a Constitutional Amendment, which requires 21 votes in the Senate and 63 votes in the House. In 2022, Ivey got 23 votes for passage in the Senate, but could not muster the votes in the House under Speaker Mac McCutcheon.
The gentleman from Dekalb County, Ledbetter, became Speaker of the House at the beginning of this quadrennium in January 2023. He has molded the House around him. He was instrumental in electing most of the new members. He has become the leader of the House, not through intimidation or strongarm tactics. The House members just like him, trust him and consider him their friend.
Ledbetter has close allies that hail from his neck of the woods who have become power players around him. Three, in particular, are Andy Whitt (R-Huntsville), Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville), who is the Chairman of the General Fund Ways and Means Committee, and Majority Leader Scott Stadthagen (R-Decatur). Rep. Stadthagen has become a real leader as the Republican Majority Leader. He is young and savvy and has a bright future, maybe statewide.
Ledbetter has won the support and trust of the House Democrats, also. I have not seen this kind of bipartisan cooperation and harmony in the lower chamber in a long time, if ever. Ledbetter’s down home, quiet, honest and compassionate leadership is paying big dividends for the success of the legislature.
His leadership on this gaming issue is one of the most remarkable performances of any Speaker I have ever seen, and I have seen some strong ones in my day. Speaker Joe McCorquodale was strong. He hailed from Clarke County in the southern part of the Black Belt. Ultimately, McCorquodale took his marching orders from Gov. George Wallace.
I served in the House under the leadership of another Black Belt Speaker, Jimmy Clark. He was a power and was known as the “Bear from Barbour.” He called most of the shots in the House.
Dekalb County actually had a Speaker of the House before Ledbetter. William Beck, a Fort Payne Lawyer, was Speaker under Gov. Big Jim Folsom from 1946 to 1949.
Ledbetter is his own man. He and his fellow House members are representing the vast majority of average Alabamians. They are listening to their constituents, who overwhelmingly want to vote on a lottery. They also know gambling exists everywhere in Alabama, and they believe it needs regulating, and they are also sick and tired of their dollars going to Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida to educate their children and pave their roads.
Ledbetter dispatched his lieutenants, Whitt and Chris Blackshear (R-Russell), to travel the state and get input from every angle, especially law enforcement. They talked with all 105 House members and got their input. Most importantly, they left all the lobbyists out of the crafting of their package. They omitted the Indian casino gambling lobbyists from the discussions. This group has a monopoly on gambling in Alabama and is the reason the lottery never gets to a vote of the people.
When Ledbetter’s gaming and lottery regulation package hit the floor of the House, it passed 70 to 32. This was an amazing feat, given the fact that the governor could not even get it out of Committee in the House two years ago. This is one of the most impressive displays of leadership I have ever seen from the Speaker of the House. Make no mistake about it, if Alabamians get the much sought after right-to-vote on a lottery and regulate gambling in the state, it is because of Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter.
See you next week.

Steve Flowers’ weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature.