Same song second verse in Legislature

Published 12:18 am Wednesday, May 2, 2007

By By Steve Flowers
In observing the ebb and flow of the Legislature during this first session of this four-year cycle, it occurs to me that things are very much status quo and basically a mirror image of the previous quadrennium. It is pretty much the same song, second verse.
The House works in precision predictable form like a fine tuned luxury automobile. The undeterred Speaker Seth Hammett sits perched in the chair orchestrating the machinations of the House like a maestro conductor. Hammett in his 29th year in the House and his record 9th year as Speaker has his ship in order. Hammett is deliberate, methodical, and very organized.
A stroll up to the 6th floor home of the Senate reveals quite a different show. The scene is basically the same as it has been for the past eight years. It reminds you of the famous line from an Abbott and Costello comedy, "Who's On First". There is constant disarray and arguments. The slim 18-17 majority is always obvious. The tension and discord make for good humor but little productivity.
The new Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem is doing a good job under the circumstances. Mitchem is well liked and respected. He has been in the Senate for over 30 years. He knows the ropes. He is amiable, mild mannered, and a master compromiser. He is a conciliator. The Democrats could not have picked a more perfect compromise leader as Pro Tem.
It is frustrating to the minority Republicans in the House and Senate that both Seth Hammett and Hinton Mitchem have impeccable conservative credentials and voting records that mirror any Republican in either chamber. Their conservative pedigrees are above reproach on both social and business issues. It is frustrating that they cannot truthfully refer to Hammett or Mitchem as liberal.
There is sadly lacking an element of camaraderie or compromise in the Senate. Most Senators tenaciously cling to their original organizational banners and try to thwart the tenuous majority. They resort to partisan and petty bickering and backstabbing.
The Senate is so embroiled in acrimony that you want to throw them a biography of either Henry Clay or Thomas Jefferson so that maybe one or two would pick them up and read a few lines and at least create some level of interest in the art of compromise and civility.
Thankfully the chaos does not turn into anarchy because quietly sitting next to the Lt. Governor and always in charge with his rule book is the venerable 81-year old Secretary of the Senate, McDowell Lee. Mr. Mac is the ultimate authority on the Senate rules. He has basically been in charge of the Senate since 1963. He is recognized as the premier expert authority on parliamentary procedure in the Capitol. He is an encyclopedia on the rules of procedure and the ultimate authority on the Senate rules.
The fiery red head runs a tight ship in the Senate, which he has essentially run for 44 years. State Senators and Lt. Governors have come and gone, but McDowell Lee has remained the one constant and is today's stabilizing force.
Lee has his roots in Barbour County, which is the home of Governors. He was George Wallace's campaign manager for Governor in 1958. He served in the Legislature and Wallace was instrumental in making him Secretary of the Senate in 1963. Lee has relished that position and made it a powerful post. He has made himself invaluable, revered, and feared because of his knowledge of the rules. He has trained every Lt. Governor and presiding officer of the Senate for over four decades. Many consider him the foremost authority in the United States on state legislative procedure. He is probably the most powerful senate secretary in the nation. He may well be the highest paid in the country also. His is paid $270,836.00 a year.
There was speculation that he might retire this year, but given the turbulence, combativeness, and discord in the present Senate it is good that he did not. Mr. Mac is the one stabilizing factor in the upper chamber. He is extremely firm and a stickler for the rules, but he is also extremely fair. Both Republicans and Democrats respect him. His interpretations and rulings are totally bipartisan and correct. His has lived a lot of Alabama political history and has seen it develop from an inside front row seat. McDowell Lee is a living institution in Alabama political lore.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at <> .

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