The grandstanding and pandering lawmakers of the Alabama Legislature get most of the attention each year, but they shouldn’t. Because working behind the scenes, typically getting far less attention and not much credit, are a group of serious lawmakers who actually work to get the people’s business handled.
They build bipartisan coalitions, craft complicated legislation, work with a variety of state officials, lawyers, lobbyists and other lawmakers to make the wheels of Alabama’s government turn. Here’s a list of some of the best.
They’re presented 1 through 5, but they’re interchangeable, depending on time, place and circumstances.
5. Sen. Greg Reed
When you’re in a leadership position, particularly one as powerful as Senate President Pro Tem with a supermajority, the job is less about sponsoring legislation and more about managing the expectations, egos and insane ideas of your membership. Reed has mostly done that in his short time as Senate president, effectively and quietly shutting down some of his party’s crazier bills and helping to make sure that outnumbered Democrats have an opportunity for input.
A more reserved guy, Reed seems to be trying to shape the senate in his image – discouraging raucous arguments and leaving the more inflammatory (and worthless) bills in the basket. He’s not a magician, and he can’t stamp out everything, but Reed has attempted to make sure the senate operates effectively and fairly, and that it focuses on truly important issues, such economic development advances, broadband and infrastructure.
4. Rep. Anthony Daniels
It’s hard sometimes as the leader of the super-minority party in the House to get credit for accomplishments, because those accomplishments often aren’t passing major pieces of legislation. It’s blocking controversial bills. Inserting amendments that reduce the effect of bad bills. Negotiating with the other side to get bills passed, even if they don’t have your name on them. Daniels does all of that. And he’s also gathered a reputation as the most effective fundraiser and organizer in the Alabama Democratic Party leadership, pulling in money and support from all over the country in an effort to rebuild a struggling ADP.
On top of that, Daniels has served as a part-time coach, recruiter and strategist for his House delegation. But perhaps his most important contribution has been in building bridges with both business leaders and GOP leadership, helping to make sure Dems have a voice in major pieces of legislation and that Democratic must-haves, like minority inclusion, find their way into bills.
3. Sen. Clay Scofield
For each of the last five years, some publication in Alabama has praised the bipartisan effort to expand broadband access across the state. And inevitably, the stories praising those efforts all mention the same person – Clay Scofield.
Not many people realize the headache-inducing task that this has been, thanks in large part to the incompetency of previous state leaders, the lack of record keeping by pretty much anyone and the less-than-scrupulous manner in which many communications companies operate. Scofield has led the way pretty much from the start, and 2022 was perhaps his most successful year. After starting the Broadband Accessibility Fund through legislation in 2018, Scofield helped dish out tens of millions in grants and direct much-needed funding to some of the state’s most rural and underserved areas. And he somehow managed to do so
2. Rep. Jim Hill
There are no jobs more thankless or exhausting in the Alabama Legislature than the task of pushing through criminal justice reform – particularly reforms that go against the outdated, proven-ineffective norms that still dominate in Alabama. Hill has been a workhorse at that task, and it’s probably safe to say that no other lawmaker in the state could have accomplished what he has on the issue.
With ironclad conservative credentials and a professional history as a judge, Hill commands respect on the matter and his colleagues often defer to his wisdom. He never seems to take that respect for granted, nor does he abuse it. But he’s used it to transform Alabama’s criminal justice process in a number of meaningful ways. He’s also used his status, and his calm, thoughtful approach, on other legislation, and served as a voice of reason and experience in a legislature that’s lacking both.
1. Sen. Rodger Smitherman
When the 2022 legislative session was complete, there was one feat that stood out above the rest: pushing through a delay to Alabama’s Literacy Act, which would have held back thousands of the state’s 3rd-graders. The man behind the delay was Smitherman, who argued effectively that delaying the implementation of the Act was proper because COVID effects would create a logjam right now, putting unnecessary strain on elementary education – a strain the state wasn’t prepared to address or pay for.
Smitherman obviously had a lot of help – primarily from the AEA – but it was his negotiating skills and across-the-aisle relationships that made the deal go and overcome resistance from powerful lawmakers, including Gov. Kay Ivey, and others. Smitherman also was a key player in the fight over reapportionment, and on a number of other critical bills – fighting both for and against key legislation – and establishing himself as a key cog in the legislative process.