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GOP, Dems eye changes in political leadership

Most pundits and polls didn’t predict it, but Alabama is headed for a political change with the turnover of both houses of the state Legislature to Republican control.

“I never thought I’d wake up the day after election day as the second longest tenured white Democrat in the state Senate,” joked Marc Keahey, who won re-election to his second term — his first full term — on Tuesday night.

But Keahey said that while the change in political power is historic — this marks the first time in 136 years that Republicans will hold a majority in the House and Senate — the change will also be peaceful.

“Democracy is about peaceful changes,” he said. “We’ll live with the swing in power.”

Escambia County Republican party Chairman Jeff Peacock said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the Republican sweep on Tuesday night. Republicans won all of the major statewide offices as well as the majority of seats in the Legislature.

“I was hopeful that we would win a majority,” Peacock said. “I didn’t think we would get to a point where we would dominate.”

Peacock said he believes a number of things led to the GOP elections. “There was a very strong Republican tide nationally,” he said. “We benefitted from that. Also, I think there is a general fatigue of the activities going on in Montgomery, with the corruption issues and the failure of Democrats to pass substantial ethics reform.”

Four lawmakers — two Democrats, a Republican and an independent — were indicted a month before the election on charges of accepting bribes for their votes on a gambling bill.

One of those indicted, independent Harri Anne Smith — a former Republican — did win re-election Tuesday night.

Other longtime Democrats lost their seats, including seven-time lawmaker Lowell Barron, a leader in the Senate.

Keahey agreed that the national move toward Republican candidates had a “trickle-down” effect in Alabama.

But, he said, “the Alabama Democratic party has done a good job representing the interests of this state. Washington has gotten way off track. Alabama’s been the lowest taxed state for 136 years with the Democrats in power.”

But Peacock also said that now that Republicans have control of the state Legislature, they will be looked at as the responsible party when it comes to what gets done in Montgomery.

Keahey agreed.

“There’s going to be some tough decisions this next year,” Keahey said. “I would much rather not be in the minority party, but there’s a burden that’s placed on the majority party.”

And Keahey said he expects to be able to work with both sides of the aisle in the coming session.

“My voting record is about as conservative as Republicans,” he said. “We’ve all worked together. Some votes we will lose 18-17, some we will win 8-17.”

Locally, the Republican party saw its first elected officials in Escambia County history. Sherry Digmon and Cindy Jackson were both elected to the county board of education.