Legislative race on forefront of 2010 elections

Published 8:01 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

By Staff
As the 2009 Regular Legislative Session comes to an end, we are approaching the end of the quadrennium. It is at this point that plans are beginning to be laid for the 2010 Alabama elections. There will be a special interest in the Legislative races. Even though we will have a hotly contested open Governor’s race, the battle for control of the Legislature will be at the forefront of the special interests money and attention.
With the census being taken concurrently with the elections, the legislative races take on even more importance because the Legislative majority dictates which Party has the pencil to draw the Legislative lines for the next decade. The Republicans will be pulling out all the stops to take control. However, they have a lot of ground to makeup. The Democrats have a sizable majority in both chambers. Nevertheless, they will make an all out effort.
I am often asked the question, if we are such a red Republican state on the national level then why is our Legislature so overwhelmingly Democratic? This inquiry is made often after a contentious Legislative Session where it is evident that the Democratic majority of both Houses thwarted every effort of our Republican Governor and the Republican Senators react like crybabies and stop any legislation from passing. Like schoolchildren they pout and filibuster and take their ball and go home.
In essence, we have a gridlock that is ridiculous to say the least. The Senate is a war zone of political acrimony. Anarchy, rancor, and discord are the order of the day. My answer to the question is that it is just a matter of time before the tide turns to red in the Alabama Legislature. It is an inevitable occurrence and the only question is when.
Astute political observers are looking into the State Legislative contests and especially control of the Senate. It is obvious that the Democratic majority, which exists today, will probably never occur again. This Democratic advantage is an anomaly that will cease to exist in the future. The Republican change is in motion and will dissolve the Democratic hold.
It is only because longtime conservative Democrats hold seats that will eventually go Republican when they retire. These incumbents have been in the seats for decades and the power of incumbency, with its fundraising and name identification advantages, has allowed them to keep their seats.
A good many Montgomery political prognosticators think that the Legislature flips in 2010. I disagree. I believe it occurs in 2014, but 2010 will see an incremental erosion. My guess is that the numbers get close after 2010.
The lineup will be more like 57 Democrats and 48 Republicans in the House. The Senate will be more like 19 Democrats and 16 Republicans. These razor thin majorities will mean that bipartisan coalitions will have to take control of organization and leadership.
After the census is taken in 2010, the results will not bode well for Democrats. It will reveal that Alabama suburbs are where the growth is occurring. It will be impossible to avoid drawing more Republican districts. At that time, incumbents will protect their own turf. They will put down their partisan differences and take the pencil and draw districts for their own self-preservation.
Afterwards, the leftover seats will be Republican. Thus, the 2014 elections will be the year the Legislature flips to Republican.
Even though there may be a Republican majority, the margin will be thin and basically break even. It may be 55 Republicans and 50 Democrats in the House and the Senate will probably be 19 to 16 Republican. The prevailing question is whether the Legislature flips in 2010 or 2014?
As the 2010 Legislative races begin to evolve, there have already been three prominent retirement announcements. Two veteran Democrats and one Republican have decided to retire. Selma State Senator Hank Sanders is stepping down after 28 years. He is one of the most powerful members of the Senate. His seat will be filled by a Democrat. The Dean of the Senate, Bobby Denton, is leaving after 32 years. His Tennessee Valley seat will probably stay Democratic. Walker County Senator Charles Bishop is not running for reelection. A Republican is favored to keep that seat. Therefore, these retirements will not affect the partisan makeup of the Senate.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 75 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.

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