By Steve Flowers
As the 2021 Regular Legislative Session begins, you will see new leadership in the state Senate. Republicans dominate both chambers, overwhelmingly. They have a super majority and dominate all issues and the budgeting process. They acknowledge the handful of Democrats, but really never give them any say in decision making. Therefore, the leadership is determined within the Republican caucus.
President Pro Tem Del Marsh decided in late November to step down from the all-powerful position of President Pro Tem of the Senate. Marsh had announced a few months earlier that he would not run for reelection to his Anniston-based Senate Seat in the 2022 Elections. Many Montgomery insiders had foreseen this change in leadership for a while. The succession of state Senator Greg Reed of Jasper to the Pro Tem leadership of the Senate post was expected, as was the ascension of Senator Clay Scofield of Marshall County to the Majority Leader position.
Greg Reed’s anointment to the omnipotent President Pro Tem position is a natural transition for the Alabama Senate. He is a real leader and is well respected by his colleagues. This progression has been in the works for a while. Reed is a perfect choice to lead the Alabama State Senate. He is very organized and meticulous with excellent planning and organizational skills.
Senator Clay Scofield is one of the most likable people in the Senate. He is very jovial and friendly but deceptively effective. He is a young, prominent farmer from Sand Mountain, and he will be a great Majority Leader.
First-term State Senator Donnie Chesteen of Geneva/Houston is doing a yeoman’s job working to expand rural broadband in the state. He served eight years in the House before moving to the Senate in 2018.
The Democrats may have a superstar emerging in the Senate with Kirk Hatcher of Montgomery. Hatcher is in his first term in the Alabama House. When Senator David Burkette left the Montgomery Democratic Senate Seat last year, an open race to fill the seat began. Hatcher entered and led a six-person field with an impressive 48%. The second-place finisher, veteran former Representative John Knight, could barely muster 20%. Hatcher finished Knight off in a December runoff.
Kirk Hatcher joins his fellow Morehouse graduates, Mayor Steven Reed and Probate Judge J.C. Love, as the new, young leadership of Montgomery. This triumvirate cadre of leaders all grew up together in Montgomery. All three went off to Morehouse and came home to lead their city. They are an impressive threesome.
Democrats in the House and Senate would like to see early voting and absentee voting made easier in Alabama. However, their efforts to allow early voting or no-excuse absentee voting faces a dismal outlook in the GOP controlled legislature.
The state saw an amazing, record-breaking 318,000 absentee ballots cast in the November election. The previous record was 89,000. The rules were loosened by Secretary of State John Merrill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than a dozen counties opened courthouses on Saturday for people to cast in-person absentee ballots.
State Representative Chris England, who also chairs the Alabama Democratic Party, has opined that the long lines and extensive absentee ballot voting shows that people want opportunities to vote early. England and House Democratic Leader Anthony Daniels of Huntsville will push for permanent change in the state voting laws that give Alabamians the opportunity to vote early. Daniels and England are young superstars to watch.
Chris England gets his leadership abilities honestly. His father is legendary Tuscaloosa Circuit Judge and former State Supreme Court Justice and University of Alabama Trustee John England. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Chris is also a prominent Tuscaloosa lawyer in his own right.
The House leadership will remain intact and continue their well-organized operating procedures. Speaker Mac McCutcheon is mild-mannered, gentlemanly and well liked. He and the popular Republican Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter from DeKalb County work well together in organizing the super Republican Majority House of Representatives. Veteran Mobile Legislator Victor Gaston is steady as Pro Tem. The glue that holds the House together and makes it successful are the two Budget Chairmen, Steve Clouse of Ozark and Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa. Clouse and Poole have chaired the House Ways and Means Committees for almost a decade. They do an excellent job. Both budgets originate in the House.
See you next week.
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 www.steveflowers.us.