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Opinion | Legislative session begins

“Republicans dominate both chambers, overwhelmingly.”

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As the 2021 Regular Legislative Session begins, you will see new leadership in the state Senate. Republicans dominate both chambers, overwhelmingly. They have a supermajority 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.

The Senate president pro tem, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, decided in late November to step down from the all-powerful position. Marsh had announced a few months earlier that he would not run for re-election to his Senate seat in the 2022 elections. Many Montgomery insiders had foreseen this change in leadership for a while. The succession of state Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, to the leadership of the Senate post was expected, as was the ascension of Sen. Clay Scofield of Marshall County to the majority leader position.

Reed’s anointment to the omnipotent pro tem position is a natural transition for the Alabama Senate. He is a real leader and well-respected by his colleagues. This progression has been in the works for a while. Reed is a perfect choice to lead the Alabama Senate. He is very organized and meticulous with excellent planning and organizational skills.

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 Sen. Donnie Chesteen of Geneva and Houston counties 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 Sen. David Burkette left his Montgomery Senate seat last year, an open race to fill the seat began. Hatcher entered and led a six-person field with an impressive 48 percent. Second place finisher, veteran former state Rep. John Knight, could barely muster 20 percent. Hatcher finished Knight off in a December runoff.

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.

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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 Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, 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 change in the state voting laws that give Alabamians the opportunity to vote early, permanently. Daniels and England are young superstars to watch.

England gets his leadership abilities honestly. His father is legendary Tuscaloosa County circuit judge and former Alabama 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 Republican supermajority 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 — state Reps. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa. Clouse and Poole have chaired the House budget committees for nearly a decade. They do an excellent job. Both budgets originate in the House.

See you next week.

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Written By

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.

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