The 2024 Legislative Session begins next week. It will be difficult to replicate the success of last year’s regular session. The 2023 year was a premier year for any first year of a quadrennium. Indeed, it may be one of the most momentous in state history. It was historic because of the vast amount of money available to be appropriated. When asked what grade I would give the legislative session at its conclusion, I gave it the highest I have ever given: B+. It would have gotten an A, but legislators were given such a leg up by having so much money to spend that it was like they were being able to take their finals as an open book exam. Last year’s Education Budget was an historic $11.5 billion. The $3 billion General Fund Budget was also record shattering.
The legislature granted $150 to $300 one-time tax rebates to all Alabama taxpayers. State employees and all educational employees, including all teachers, received a 2 percent percent cost of living raise.
The legislative leadership for the next three years of the quadrennium was established. In the State Senate, President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, Education Budget Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, and General Fund Budget Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Escambia, will be kingpins. In the House of Representatives, the key players will be Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Dekalb, and because of their positions, Education Budget Chairman Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, and General Fund Budget Chairman Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, and Rules Chairman Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, are leaders.
The bottom line big three leaders of the legislature are Greg Reed, Arthur Orr, and Nathaniel Ledbetter. Reed and Orr are veteran Senate leaders. Senator Reed, by virtue of being the leader of the Senate, is powerful. Senator Arthur Orr has settled in as a power to be reckoned with as the long-time veteran Chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee. He has written so many education budgets that he wields a lot of power with his pencil.
The new kid on the block in this triumvirate of power is first term Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter. Speaker Ledbetter may very well be the most powerful person in the Alabama Legislature. He has molded the House around him. His entire inner team of Garrett, Reynolds, and Lovvorn are all first year major committee chairmen, who are very loyal to Ledbetter, as are all of the other major committee chairmen and almost all of the Republicans in the House. He has also won the support and trust of the House Democrats. I have not seen this kind of bipartisan cooperation and harmony in the lower chamber in a long time, if ever.
Ledbetter’s down home, quiet, honest and compassionate leadership is paying dividends for the success of the legislature, as well as the state. Ledbetter has a loyalty among the 30 freshmen legislators never before seen. The reason is simple. He, along with his friend, the crafty, savvy, Huntsville political guru, Steve Raby, elected most of them. He and Raby raised most of their campaign money and crafted their campaigns. Folks don’t forget that kind of help, but their loyalty is also based on the fact they like and trust Ledbetter. He is sincerely interested in them. He wants the House to work and succeed because he wants the state to succeed. He also does not have a big ego. He is not driven by self-indulgence or gratification.
Nathaniel Ledbetter was born and raised in Dekalb County. He was first elected to the legislature in 2014. So, it has only been nine years ago that he was a freshman, like the ones he is leading. Ledbetter was elected Majority Leader of the House in 2017, only three years after his arrival. He worked very closely with his ally, former Speaker Mac McCutchen, for five years. He was the choice of McCutchen to succeed him as Speaker.
Before his election to the legislature, Ledbetter was also on the City Council and the Mayor of Rainsville. He is close friends with legendary Alabama lead singer Randy Owen. They both love their Sand Mountain home.
Nathaniel Ledbetter will continue with his calm, collected and reasonable leadership this year and the remainder of this quadrennium, and probably for years to come.
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.