Glad the Speaker’s back on Goat Hill

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 17, 2014

A few years ago, Andalusia’s Seth Hammett considered running for governor. But the longtime speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives was staring at a primary that was expected to include Jim Folsom Jr., whose name recognition is off the charts in Alabama, and Artur Davis.

The Speaker opted out of the race, which looked like a longshot at the time he needed to make a decision. Politics being a strange game, the 2010 gubernatorial race shaped up in a way no one expected.

Folsom decided not to run; Davis alienated the traditional African American power bases, and then-Ag Commissioner Ron Sparks emerged as the Democratic nominee.

An even stranger thing happened on the Republican side. The Alabama Education Association, still mad with Bradley Byrne over changes he made while chancellor of the two-year college system, got heavily involved in the GOP race and put their money on a candidate no one expected to make a showing. Then-Rep. Robert Bentley’s Alabama needs a doctor ads resonated with Alabamians, and what could have happened, did.

In many ways, Gov. Bentley was not prepared to take the helm of state government. But he has been wise enough to ask a very smart man to help him, twice.

First, Bentley asked our friend the Speaker to lead economic development efforts for the state. Bentley enjoys telling the story of his offer being turned down twice.

“I told Seth, ‘If you won’t do it, find me somebody,’ ” he said.

The third time Bentley asked, the Speaker agreed to take the job temporarily. It is a rare thing for a governor to ask someone whose career was in the opposite party for help, but Gov. Bentley was wise to do so. First, the Speaker is known as a meticulous organizer. Secondly, among the things Covington County’s native son did extremely well in Montgomery was build consensus.

Recently, Gov. Bentley asked for help again. This time, the Speaker has agreed to be chief of staff on an interim basis. Mum is the word on how long “interim” lasts.

If we’re lucky, it will last at least through the next legislative session. We need some Seth-Hammett-style consensus between the governor’s office and the legislature, and between the two very polarized parties. Even without knowing the outcome of this year’s legislative races, it is a sure bet that Montgomery could benefit from the Speaker’s knack for getting people to work together.

Since it wasn’t written in the cards for the Hammetts to move into the governor’s mansion, having the Speaker working in the governor’s office is perhaps the next best thing.

Sometimes, the news just makes you smile. This week, that story did.

Alabama owes Seth a debt of gratitude for his continued leadership. Count me among the first to say thanks.