As we begin this New Year of 2019, Alabama begins a new quadrennium in state government.
All of our Constitutional state officeholders begin their new four-year terms this month. Governor Kay Ivey will be sworn in for a four-year term on January 14. Also, being sworn in on Inauguration Day will be Will Ainsworth as Lt. Governor, John Merrill as Secretary of State, John McMillan as State Treasurer, Rick Pate as Agriculture Commissioner, Steve Marshall as Attorney General and Jim Ziegler will be sworn in for a second term as State Auditor. By the way, all of the above and indeed all statewide officeholders in Alabama are Republicans.
All 140 State Senators and State Representatives have already been sworn in for their four-year terms. Most of our legislators are also Republicans. There are 35 State Senators, 27 are Republican and only eight Democrats. The House is made up of 105 members. The partisan divide is 77 Republicans and 28 Democrats. Mac McCutcheon of Huntsville will be elected Speaker of the House in the organizational session next week and Del Marsh will be reelected President Pro Tem of the Senate. My belief is that we will have a successful and prosperous next four years in the Heart of Dixie.
Alabama is a magnificent state. We possess abundant natural resources such as waterways, rivers, flora and fauna, and mineral deposits. Water is one of Alabama’s most precious natural resources, and almost 10 percent of the freshwater resources of the continental U.S. flows through or originates in Alabama during its journey to the sea. A sixth of the state’s surface is covered by lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. We have plentiful rainfall, much higher than the nation’s average. The average annual rainfall in North Alabama is 50 inches. The average is 65 in South Alabama and along the coast.
Some of you may wonder why Alabama is called the “Heart of Dixie.” We are the Heart of Dixie because of banknotes issued by the Citizens Bank of Louisiana before the Civil War. They bore the French word “dix” meaning ten, and thus the South became known as Dixieland. With Alabama serving as the first Capital of the Confederacy, it was thus the Heart of Dixieland.
The early French influence in Alabama is still felt in Mobile, which is much older than the rest of the state. Mobile was the first permanent European settlement in the state, founded by the French even earlier than New Orleans, and more than 100 years before Alabama became a state in 1819.
Mobile was settled by the French, but the rest of our European ancestors came primarily from five states: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Ninety percent of the pre-Civil War white population of the state originated in one of these five states. Of the first 16 governors, 15 were born in one of those five states and of the 100 delegates at the Secession Convention in 1861, only 17 were native-born Alabamians, while 72 were born in one of the above five states.
When Alabama became a state in 1819, it accounted for 1.3 percent of the nation’s population. There was rapid growth during the next few decades as cotton and slavery dominated the antebellum economy and culture. By 1840, Alabama’s proportion of U.S. population was 3.5 percent.
However, Alabama’s proportion of the U.S. population has been in steady decline since the end of the Civil War. Today we account for only about 1.6 percent of the country’s people. My belief is that the trend will reverse in the next few years as we continue to grow with automobile and high-tech industries, especially in the Huntsville area.
Alabama has been castigated as a backwards state and less opportune for women leaders. However, I would suggest that with the beginning of this new quadrennium we may be leading the nation and more so-called progressive states with women leadership. We have just elected a female governor, Kay Ivey, and Katie Britt has been chosen to lead the Business Council of Alabama.
Legendary Legislator Pete Turnham of Auburn turned 99 on New Year’s Day. Mr. Pete represented Lee County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 40 years from 1958-1998. He brought a lot of bacon home to Auburn University. Happy Birthday Pete, and Happy New Year to you.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.