North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

February 22, 2013

Steve Flowers: Legislature working under new voting districts

By Steve Flowers
North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — This week marks the end of the first one-fifth of 2013. There are a potpourri of political happenings that have occurred recently, which we will discuss today.

We are entering the opening days of the 2013 regular session of the legislature. Just prior to the beginning of the session, Alabama received acknowledgement from the U.S. Department of Justice that under the auspices of the Voting Rights Act, the new legislative districts drawn last year have been approved.

The legislature drew new congressional lines in 2011, which were also approved by the Justice Department. They were actually enacted and our congressional delegation ran in their new districts in the 2012 elections. Legislators will run in their newly minted and approved districts in next year’s elections. These legislative and congressional districts were redrawn by a GOP legislative majority for the first time in more than a century.

This is much better than in bygone days. The Alabama Legislature amazingly and brazenly ignored the Alabama and U.S. Constitutions for 60 years from 1901 to 1962 without reapportioning itself. In fact, they did not do it then. The federal courts stepped in and did it. This allowed for a pretty malapportioned legislature for six decades.

The current GOP legislature was more than fair to the African American community. They actually increased the number of African American districts by one.

Prior to the beginning of the session, state Sen. Jerry Fielding of Sylacauga switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Fielding had been a respected Talladega County circuit judge for over a decade prior to being elected to the state senate in 2010. The new reapportionment plan made his district more GOP leaning. Fielding’s move increased the Republican Senate majority to 24 to 11.

Fielding was one of a handful of white Democrats left in the state Senate. His departure leaves only four white Democrats. They are an endangered species. The remaining four dinosaurs are Roger Bedford-Russellville, Billy Beasley-Clayton, Tammy Irons-Florence and Marc Keahey-Grove Hill.

The state legislature is abysmally low in female representation. The Senate is made up of 30 males and 5 females. The House has 91 males and a paltry 14 females. However, this is not the case in the U.S. Congress. The 2012 elections saw the ranks of females increase dramatically. There are now 20 women in the U.S. Senate and a record 78 women in the House.

Even though Alabama has lagged behind the nation when it comes to women in the legislature, we have been electing women to statewide office since the 1950s. We were way ahead of the curve by electing women to the offices of secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor. Women have dominated those offices for decades. However, Young Boozer captured the treasurer’s office in 2010 and will run for reelection in 2014.  He will more than likely be reelected if he is even opposed.

Tuscaloosa state Rep. John Merrill may very well win the secretary of state post in 2014. Merrill is popular, hard working, soft spoken and organized. He is 48 and in his first term in the House of Representatives. He is a former SGA president at the University of Alabama.

Speaking of women and the University of Alabama, Dr. Judy Bonner, 65, became the first female president at the Capstone in the school’s 181-year history. She is the older sister of U.S. Representative Jo Bonner (R-Mobile).

Meanwhile in GOP party politics, Bill Armistead prevailed as chairman of the party despite big name opposition. Armistead was re-elected chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for another two year term. He fended off a challenge from Matt Fridy, who is a 36-year-old Shelby County GOP activist. Armistead was also opposed by a formidable lot, including Gov. Robert Bentley, Speaker Mike Hubbard and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey. It appears these big name politicians do not have much influence over the party people.

After the embarrassing defeat, Bentley sent a congratulatory note to Armistead telling him that he looked forward to meeting and working with him. For his part, Armistead promised to “mend fences” in an effort to unite the party. They all appeared to kiss and make up, at least on the surface.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.