• 54°

Election-year emphasis will be on senate

By Staff
As mentioned last week, the race for 2006 campaign dollars begins this month. It is my belief that Political Action Committees, which are the largest contributors to state races, will concentrate their resources toward legislative and senate races. They will not ignore the governor's and lieutenant governor's races, but the large amount of funds spent on those races in the past will drift towards the pivotal state senate, which is where the power rests. 
The lieutenant governor's role has been stripped of its traditional power and it is unlikely that it will be restored. The senate likes the power previously granted the presiding officer prior to 1998. The lieutenant governor still will preside over the senate, but the power of the gavel has been diminished by the loss of appointment of committee assignments and the setting of the agenda. 
Also, the governor's office does not wield the immense power it had during the Wallace era. This current administration has been rendered helpless and irrelevant in the budget process. As the old saying goes, "those who have the gold make the rules." The legislature controls the state purse strings. Therefore, they control the power. This becomes even more evident when there is a Republican governor and a Democrat controlled Legislature as we have currently.
The lobbyists and those who control the PAC money want to put their money where it can do the most good. They understand the power that exists within the State Senate. They had rather put their trust in 35 state senators they know rather than one governor they don't, especially if that governor is an enigma and has no influence in the senate. 
If the Republican Party were smart, they would put all their resources and effort into winning senate races. On the surface it would appear that the ability to take control of the senate by the Republicans would be futile. The numbers are difficult at best.
There are now 25 Democrats to 10 Republicans. The party takeover may be insurmountable, but the philosophical switch is close and one or two seats will be crucial. 
There is a looming monumental battle for control of the senate. This struggle may not get the attention from the general electorate that the governor's race will get, but among the PACs, lobbyists, and Goat Hill observers, it will be the real war of 2006. It will be ongoing between now and the November 2006 elections, but the titanic skirmishing will be in full force between the November election and the organizational vote within the Senate in early January of 2007. 
Currently State Senate President Lowell Barron has control of the Senate. He wants to remain in power. As stated, there are currently 25 Democrats and 10 Republicans and the power struggle in the senate is ongoing. Some suggest that a coup could dethrone Barron before next term.
The 10 Republicans are solidly together and make up the core of the loyal opposition. There is an ever-present shifting of seven or eight Democrats who align with the minority Republicans. The organization vote of 2003 was 19-16, with six Democrats voting with the 10 Republicans.
It is unlikely that all 35 senators will return for the 2007 battle. The power of incumbency is enormous, however, things will change. Members of the senate are getting older, some are not in good health, one or two want to run statewide, and some will even get beaten.
All 10 Republicans seem safe and even if the are not, they are in ironclad Republican districts. Therefore, another Republican would replace them. The growing Republican trend has made at least 6-8 districts that Democrats are presently in – leaning Republican districts.
It is in these seats where Republicans may upset Democrats. However, it is these six seats that the renegade Democrats who vote with the Republicans sit. Democrats Holley, Mitchell, Roberts, Butler, Dial and Little are in Republican leaning districts. Therefore, a Republican victory in those districts does nothing for the Republican reorganization efforts. These six senators either consciously or subconsciously have made themselves Republicans for organization purposes. The more fertile ground for the GOP would be the Cullman district of Zeb Little, if he makes a statewide race, or the Mobile District of Democrat Gary Tanner who is in a swing district.
This drama could unfold as the real theater of the 2006 elections.   
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is a former legislator who writes a political column for newspapers in Alabama.