Senate race is one to watch

Published 3:35 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2006

By Staff
Without a doubt, the marquee race on the ballot Nov. 7 is the governor's race. However probably just as important, as far as setting public policy for the next four years, is the battle for control of the thirty-five member Alabama State Senate.
The legislature controls the purse strings of state government and an accurate adage is that those that have the gold make the rules.
In bygone days George Wallace wielded immense power and he pretty much controlled the legislature. Also past lieutenant governors held the gavel and the even more significant power of being the titular head of the senate, appointing committees, and setting the agenda. This power was usurped eight years ago by the democratic dominated senate when Republican Steve Windom became lieutenant governor. However, it was not given back to Democrat Lucy Baxley when she became lieutenant governor. The senate liked the power they had garnered.
The power previously granted to the lieutenant governor now rests with the senate president. The post is now held by Senator Lowell Barron who wants to remain in power. His control has been tenuous and has been challenged by several coups of mixed combinations. There has been a consistent group of anti-Barron senators made up of the ten republicans and six renegade democrats. The final story of who will control the senate will be played out in the organizational session in January, but the first battle will be on November 7th when the players will be selected by the voters in their respective districts around the state.
Out of the thirty-five seats there are only a handful that are truly in play. Therefore the democrats will continue to dominate in numbers. Currently there are twenty-five democrats and ten republicans. The ten GOP seats are all safe and there are sixteen safe democratic senate seats where the senator has been committed to Barron.
These ten safe republican seats and sixteen safe democratic seats are pretty much in the bag. In addition, there are four more seats that are held by popular democrats that are really leaning republican districts but these four senators are too strong to beat. Therefore, they have only fielded weak GOP opponents.
The two best races in the state are in the southwest corner. Longtime Democratic Senator Pat Lindsey is being challenged by Republican lobbyist John McMillan. This will be a classic big business versus trial lawyer money clash. McMillan is the business candidate and Lindsey is the trial lawyer horse. Lindsey's years of doing favors for his sprawling rural district may payoff with another term.
My prediction is that when the dust settles the republicans will pick up two seats, making the numbers 23 to 12, which is not enough to make a difference. Who wins the governor's and lieutenant governor's races will have an impact, but the war for senate control will not be over on November 7th.  Instead the battle will rage on for two more months. It should be an interesting tug of war.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at <> .