Hammett served state well

Published 11:52 pm Friday, April 23, 2010

Editor’s note: From time to time, we reprint the opinions expressed by other newspapers in Alabama. As the 2010 legislative session drew to a close, a number of nice editorials been written about our own Seth Hammett. This one is from The Montgomery Advertiser.

The Alabama Legislature completed its 2010 regular session Thursday in what is likely to be the final political hurrah for House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia, who is not seeking re-election. The Alabama House won’t be the same without him.

Barring an unexpected special session later this year or a return to politics — which he said recently won’t happen — Hammett has presided over the House for the last time.

Hammett has served in the Legislature for the past 32 years, and for the past 12 years has been the presiding officer of the House. During that time, his considerable leadership skills have set the House apart from the more contentious Senate.

While senators managed to put aside some of their differences this year, in the first three years of the current legislative quadrennium the House was by far the more productive of the two chambers.

Hammett gives the credit to his fellow House members, saying they allowed him to have the authority to lead. That is true, but House members would not have given such authority to him unless he first showed a willingness to be fair and to work with both sides of the political aisle.

There have been embarrassing situations during his tenure, of course, such as the time a House member voted the machines of absent members in order to pass a bill that would have repealed the state’s tax on groceries. (The Senate did not pass it.) But for the most part, Hammett’s time as speaker has compared very favorably with the time in office of his predecessors in the House and his contemporaries in the Senate.

One place that Hammett has distinguished himself from his counterparts in the Senate was in showing a willingness to work with Republican Gov. Bob Riley.

While they came down on different sides of many issues, Riley and Hammett managed to set aside partisanship to work together on such things as industrial development and improving education.

Frankly, it should not be remarkable that a Republican governor and a Democratic speaker have managed to come together to address major issues of substance to improve the state. That should be the norm.

But Alabama politics in recent years has been marked by so much personal vitriol and overly charged partisanship that it is worth noting when two people from different political camps can work together for the good of the state.

Hammett’s successor as speaker is very much up in the air. It could depend in large measure on the results of the primary and general elections and how that changes the makeup of the House.

But Alabamians should hope that whoever takes the helm of the House recognizes that the state is best served by a speaker who believes in fairness and who can put aside partisanship when it’s best for the public.