Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

IDEAS & ISSUES: What to Expect from Alabama's Current Crop of Legislators

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

IDEAS & ISSUES: What to Expect from Alabama's Current Crop of Legislators

Article excerpt

Members of the Alabama Legislature are the key policymakers for this state. This is why, in the State Constitution, the legislative article comes before those of the executive and judicial branches. To better prepare ourselves to understand the kinds of policies that will be made during the next few years we need to know more about the men and women who were chosen as our state senators and representatives on Nov. 4.

District challenges

State legislative elections are now over until 2018. Right? Probably, but not necessarily. A short time ago the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments challenging the districts used in the Nov. 4 balloting. Plaintiffs allege that the architects of the districts unfairly concentrated African-Americans in districts where they were already in the majority to prevent them from being able to join together with whites in other districts to elect legislators who share their more liberal political views.

If the Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, new elections would ultimately be needed from revised districts. The candidates in those new districts could either be handpicked by party bosses or nominated by the voters in primaries. One of the first giant missteps by the Alabama Democratic Party came in 1983 when party elites picked the Democratic nominees. Almost assuredly Alabama Republicans would not repeat this monumental error. The present districts were approved by the U.S. Justice Department when preclearance was still required.

GOP gains

The legislative elections conducted earlier this month added to the gains made in 2010 which brought the GOP to majority status for the first time in 136 years. When the Legislature next convenes, Republicans will occupy 68.6 percent of House seats (72), while Democrats will have only 31.4 percent (33).

In the Senate the Republican majority will be either 74.3 percent (26 seats) to 25.7 percent (the latter figure including one Independent) or 77.1 percent (27 seats) of 35 total positions. (The race involving veteran Democratic senator Roger Bedford was so close as to trigger a recount.) If the Bedford deficit holds the GOP will have picked up three Senate seats. In the House Republicans have gained six seats.

Ethnic identity

Since the continuation of the Republican super-majority was pretty much taken for granted prior to Nov. 4 there were other variables related to the composition of the new Legislature which received equal or possibly even more attention. Among the minority Democrats, whites are now even more of a minority. Out of the 33 House Democrats, only four are white males; just two are white females. In contrast, the 27-member

African-American Democratic group is made up of 17 males and 10 females.

In the Senate there will be one or two white Democrats (again, depending on the ultimate outcome of the Bedford race), both male, and seven African-American Democrats, four males and three female. …

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