State's political parties battling for control
The State Senate has been nothing less than a boiling pot for the first three years of this quadrennium and this final year it will reach a zenith of tension and rancor.
The hostility and acrimony is severe and real and as a result very little will pass the upper chamber in this election year. Lines have been drawn in the sand and they are ready to move the battle lines out of the Statehouse and onto the election plateau to ultimately be fought out at the ballot box in November.
The war is really bigger than the players on the stage in the Senate. It is part of a bigger picture. It is the culmination of the maturation of the Republican Party in Alabama, but even larger and deeper than that is an epic battle over which special interests control state government.
The party battle is a subliminal or secondary war. However it is an important part of the conflict. There are currently 10 Republicans and 25 Democrats in the State Senate. If the election was held on party lines only and no names were on the ballot and only a party was voted on the numbers would be almost even. It is only because popular incumbent or entrenched Democrats are in certain seats that the numbers are skewed. When some of these incumbents retire their seats will go Republican. The GOP will try to retire some of them this year. They may be successful in a few.
In the organization of the Senate at the beginning of the quadrennium in 2003 six of the Democrats organized with the 10 Republicans to make a 16 member minority team. The vote to elect Lowell Barron president of the Senate was 19-16.
Nineteen Democrats voted for Barron and six Democrats voted with the Republicans. Ironically or maybe subconsciously all six turncoat Democrats are in Republican leaning districts. It will be interesting to see if the Republicans make an all out effort to beat these renegade Democratic friends at the ballot box.
The party battle is interesting but the bigger picture is the philosophical battle for control of the Senate. You begin with the assumption that the Senate is where the real control of state government lies. Then you add to the picture that pragmatically the real power lies in the purse strings of the special interests. This is true of every American democracy, whether it is the State Legislature or Congress. This is the way democracy works in a capitalistic society.
In Alabama the power and control is currently held by the Alabama Education Association and to a lesser degree by the plaintiff trial lawyers and State Employees Association, which allies and aligns with the AEA on which candidate to support and finance. Their adversary is big business. Spearheaded by the Business Council of Alabama and allied with the Farmers Federation and other business groups.
The pot will continue to boil throughout the session and in the coming months as the November election looms. The governor's race will attract all the attention of the public and media because it is the sexy race. However, the power and control of state government will be decided in the State Senate races between now and November, but the war will rage on fiercer and even more intensely between the November election, after it is determined which players will be on the stage, and the eventual vote to organize and elect a leader two months later in January of 2007.
Even though the lt. governor's role has been greatly diminished in the process it is still a part of the equation because by virtue of the state constitution the lt. governor presides over the Senate and still controls the gavel.
It is still uncertain as to who all the players will be in the race for this post that Lucy Baxley is vacating to run for governor. The Democrats are still hoping that Jim Folsom Jr. will be their standard bearer. Having served as governor and lt. governor and being blessed with a well-known political name is a golden ticket for this show.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers' column appears weekly in 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.