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Opinion | Past prominent state legislators

The 2019 Legislative Session is now in the books. As each session is observed, it is apparent that primary, powerful, state senators control the flow and outcome of any and all legislative sessions.

Current Alabama State Senators Del Marsh, Jabo Waggoner, Greg Reed, and Arthur Orr wield immense influence.

This has been true throughout history.  The annals of political history reveal powerful state senators. Some of the most prominent include:  Roland Cooper, the “Wily Fox from Wilcox, Joe Goodwyn of Montgomery, Walter Givhan of Dallas County, Ryan DeGraffenreid, Sr. of Tuscaloosa and later his son, Ryan, Jr. also of Tuscaloosa. The legendary state senator Bob Wilson, Sr. of Jasper was powerful in his day.

Jimmy Clark of Barbour as a Senator and Speaker of the House, the legendary Rankin Fite of Marion County, a Senator and Speaker of the House, Joe McCorquodale of Clarke County,who was Speaker for over a decade, Pete Turnham and Bo Torbert of Lee County, Rick Manley of Marengo was brilliant,Lowell Barron of Fyffe, Roger Bedford of Russellville, and Hank Sanders of Selma would be on the list along with former Speaker of the House, Seth Hammett of Covington County.

However, as powerful as all of the aforementioned were, perhaps the title of “Most Powerful Legislator” should go to State Senator James Titus of Madison. Almost all of you are scratching your head and saying who in the world is James Titus?  Let me share with you the James Titus story and place in Alabama history.

When the Alabama territory was created by Congress in 1817, the Act provided that the new Legislature would be made up of members of the Mississippi Territorial Legislature, who resided in what was to become Alabama. There were ten men serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives and three in the Senate.  Before the new Legislature convened at St. Stephens in January, 1818, one of these senators had resigned and a second was unable to attend the session.  Only James Titus was present for that first legislative session.

Some men might have been reluctant to conduct business under the circumstances, but not James Titus.  He had not made the long journey from Huntsville to St. Stephens for nothing and he took his responsibilities seriously. He called the Senate to order, called the roll, organized the Senate, nominated and elected himself as presiding officer, voted on all bills and at the end of the day, made the motion to adjourn.  He was in essence a one-man senate.

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Folks, there have been powerful legislators in our colorful and illustrious political history, but none will ever have the power that Senator Titus had.

Speaking of powerful senators, our Senior U.S. Senator Richard Shelby has reached a pinnacle unsurpassed in Alabama political history. In March Senator Shelby passed the legendary Senator John Sparkman for length of service in the United States Senate from Alabama.  Shelby has now served 32-years and five months.  Sparkman’s record was 32 years and three months.

In my 2015 book, “Of Goats and Governors: Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories,” I have a chapter entitled Alabama’s three greatest U.S. Senators.  Senators Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby have been the greatest.However, if I were writing the chapter today, Shelby would be in a league of his own as Alabama’s most powerful senator in Alabama History.

Senators Hill and Sparkman were powerful and left a legacy.  Hill’s is in medical research and rural hospitals throughout the nation and Alabama. Sparkman was the father of the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and delivered hallmark legislation that afforded housing for Americans as Chairman of the Banking and Housing Committee.

Senator Shelby, over his 32-plus years in the Senate has chaired the U.S. Senate Banking Committee, Intelligence Committee, and Rules Committee. However, his current perch as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee is unparalleled.  Alabama has never had a Chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee, and more than likely never will again.

Meanwhile, the race for the 2020 U.S. Senate is developing very slowly. The Republican field is smaller than what was expected at this point. If someone is going to run they better go ahead and get going. The primaries are just around the corner in early March of next year.

The only serious announced candidates thus far are 1st District Congressman Bradley Byrne and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Although, within the next few weeks, Secretary of State John Merrill and former Chief Justice Roy Moore are expected to enter the GOP Field.  Their entry will change the dynamics of the race to replace Doug Jones.  

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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


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

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