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Hammett: This term is last

Alabama House Speaker Seth Hammett announced yesterday he is retiring from the Legislature and will not seek a record fourth term as speaker.

Hammett, D-Andalusia, took the House microphone in the closing seconds of the 2009 regular session Friday to announce his decision. In a speech described as both funny and poignant, he said, “Members I want to tell you here this afternoon a decision I have made…I’m not going to be a candidate for re-election in 2010. I want you to hear this directly from me and hear it here in this chamber. I want you to know to know this decision was hard for me to make. I made it in consultation with my family and it is one I’ve given very careful thought for the last several months

“The reason I would make this decision known at this time is because the election season is upon us. It begins June 1 and I think I need to make this decision known now. This is not the time to thank all the people I need to thank…I’m not going anywhere unless you all throw me out. I’ll still be speaker for the next 20 months. So you’ve still got some more flow charts to put up with and some items of substance to deal with.”

Hammett has served in the House since 1978 and has been speaker since January 1999. He and former Speaker Jimmy Clark are the only three-time speakers in Alabama history.

The 62-year-old speaker said he has served in the House for half his life and he’s ready for a change.

“After 31 years of service, I believe the time has come for me to step aside,” Hammett said. “My decision to leave is final.”

“I’ve always felt I would know when it was time to say enough is enough,” said Hammett, who is known for his ability to make peace and calm nerves in the politically divided House. In addition to serving as speaker, Hammett has been majority leader and speaker pro tem in his 31 years in the House.

Hammett had considered running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010 before announcing earlier this year that he would not enter the race. He said he has no plans to run for governor in the future but said, “I’m never going to say never.”

The speaker said he decided to announce his intentions at the end of the 2009 regular session to end speculation about his plans before fundraising begins next month for the 2010 elections. “I wanted to make this decision known because the political season will start in earnest the beginning of June and all involved deserve to know my intentions now,” he said.

During a news conference about 30 minutes after he made his announcement, Hammett was asked when he expects House members to start jockeying to run for speaker when he officially steps down in January 2011.

“About 29 minutes ago,” he said.

He would not say who he would like to replace him in the speaker’s chair.

“Some people try to name their successor. I’m not going to get involved in that,” Hammett said.

He said he plans to continue his job as economic development director for PowerSouth Energy Cooperative.

In 2006, he won 77 percent of the vote in Covington County in his bid for his current term of office,. It was a higher percentage of votes than he had received in any previous election.

“I am honored to serve the people of District 92 and I can never express enough appreciation to them for giving me the opportunity to be their representative in Montgomery,” Hammett said.

I intend to do the best possible job in continuing to represent them during my final 20 months as speaker.”