No surprises in organizational session

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The legislature completed its week-long organizational session last month with very little fanfare or controversy. They will get to work on substantive issues beginning with the Regular Session in March. Their work will be cut out for them. They are facing a General Fund Budget that has at least a $250 million deficit.

The legislature that organized for the quadrennium is overwhelmingly Republican. The House has 72 Republicans and 33 Democrats. The State Senate is even more dominated by Republicans. Three-fourths of the senators are Republican. The numbers are 26 to 8. This gives the GOP a carte blanche path to pass anything they desire with little or no opposition.

The lawmakers elected their leadership in the organizational session. More precisely, they re-elected their leadership. Both chambers selected the same men to be their presiding officers and the same lieutenants stayed in place.

State Sen. Del Marsh was elected President Pro Tem of the Senate for a second four-year term. Sen. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) was elected Senate Majority Leader. Veteran State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) will remain as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee.

The Budget Committee chairmen will remain the same. Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Baldwin County) will chair the Finance and Taxation Education Committee. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) will have the ominous chore of being chairman of the Finance and Taxation General Fund Budget setting committee.

Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) will be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Dick Brewbaker will chair the Education Committee and Sen. Jimmy Holley will chair the Governmental Affairs Committee.

State Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery will be the Democratic Minority Leader. Sen. Ross was concerned that the Rules of the Senate adopted during the session would be even more punitive to the Democrats. However, the Rules adopted by the Senate were about the same as the last four years.

The only surprise in the Senate was that Sen. Clay Scofield of Arab chose the opening day of the organizational session to propose marriage publicly. Fortunately, his girlfriend accepted his proposal.

Auburn Republican Mike Hubbard was overwhelmingly reelected to a second term as Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. Hubbard’s reelection is unprecedented. There has never been a scenario where someone has been under felony indictment and been reelected Speaker. He faces 23 counts of ethics law violations in his home county, probably in a trial later this year after the legislative session.

He seemed genuinely humbled by the 99 to 0 vote of the House members. The Democratic representatives in a nonpartisan display of unanimity voted for the Republican Speaker. Veteran Democrat House Leader, Marcel Black, summed up the pervasive reasoning for standing behind Hubbard with his statement, “In this country you are innocent until proven guilty.”

The House also reelected Rep. Victor Gaston (R-Mobile) as Speaker Pro-Tem. Rep. Mickey Hammon (R-Decatur) will remain as House Majority Leader. Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) remains as Chairman of the powerful agenda setting Rules Committee. Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) returns as Chairman of the Ways and Means General Fund Budget Committee. Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), who is considered a rising star in the legislature, will again chair the powerful Ways and Means Education Budget Committee. Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) will be Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Democrats have chosen Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) to a second term as their minority leader in the House. The House leadership as well as the Rules will remain the same as the past four years.

There is no doubt that the Republicans are in charge of the Legislative Branch, the same way that the GOP reigns over the Judicial and Executive Branches of state government.

What this translates into legislatively is that the GOP supermajority can do what it wants to. They can simply ignore the Democrats, which is essentially what they did the past four years. Simple majority votes – 53 in the House and 18 in the Senate – are easy. They can also garner two-thirds majorities with no problem. That means in the Senate they can vote cloture routinely and pass whatever they want without any Democratic member being able to object or even speak.

Speaking of Republicans, there is a spirited race for the GOP Party Chairmanship. The new chairperson will be a lady. Former State Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin of Shelby County and longtime Mobile County Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan are vying for the post. The election will be held on February 21st. Mrs. Lathan is expected to prevail due to her more than three decades of work in the state GOP vineyards.