Population, political power rests in north Alabama

Published 11:02 am Monday, March 25, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Steve Flowers

Growing up as a teenager in the 1960’s, I served as a page in the Alabama Legislature. One day when I was around 13 years old, I was looking around the House of Representatives and it occurred to me that North Alabama, as well as the state’s largest county, Jefferson, was vastly underrepresented.  Even at that early age I knew that the U.S. Constitution required that all people be represented equally, and that the U.S. Constitution superseded our state Constitution.  Both Constitutions clearly state that the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alabama House of Representatives must be reapportioned every 10 years, and the representation should be based on one man, one vote.  In other words, all districts should be equally apportioned.  That is why the census is taken every ten years.

As a boy, I knew that the Birmingham area was home to about 20% of the state’s population, but certainly did not have a fifth of the House members.  The same was true of Huntsville and the other large cities in North Alabama.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

My county of Pike had 28,000 people and two representatives, while Madison and the City of Huntsville had 186,000 people yet they also had two representatives.  The most glaring malapportionment example would have to be in the late 1950s when Lowndes County with 2,000 voters and had one state senator.  Well folks, that ain’t quite fair.

Rural and Black Belt counties like Lowndes, which were overwhelmingly Black in population had no Black voters and were represented by white legislators, which were determined to keep Black people from voting and north Alabamians from gaining their fair share of representation.  Alabama’s archaic 1901 Constitution had written into law the malapportionment of North Alabama.  The Constitution was written by Black Belters and was very narrowly passed.  In fact, history reveals that it probably did not pass, as north Alabamians voted against it.  The south Alabamians essentially stole the election with fraudulent ballots.  It was so flagrant that in the aforementioned Lowndes County there were 2,000 registered voters yet 10,000 votes were recorded in favor of the 1901 Constitution.

The state was malapportioned at that time and enshrined into the Act.  However, with the population growth already occurring in Huntsville and north Alabama, it had grown severely imbalanced over the years. The legislature had simply ignored the constitutional mandate to reapportion itself every 10 years.  It was not until 1974 that the courts finally intervened and made the legislature reapportion.  That occurred because of the unconstitutional underrepresentation of Black voters.

I thought during that time why in the world would North Alabama white voters allow this travesty of misrepresentation to continue to exist.  My hypothesis is that the south Alabama Black Belters would use the race issue and demagogue so that the rural north Alabamians would be more interested in keeping Black people from voting than allowing their cousins and neighbors to vote.

Well, folks, I’m here to tell you the power advantage that South Alabama had in the Alabama legislature and state politics for over 100 years is gone. The political power in Alabama is all in North Alabama and rightfully so because that is where the population is in the state.  With the explosive growth of Huntsville and North Alabama, it is where all the money, roads, and power are going.  They may as well move the Capitol back to Huntsville where it was in the early days of statehood.

The proof is in the pudding.  Look at the realm of power in the legislature.  Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter is from Dekalb County. Budget Chairmen Danny Garrett and Rex Reynolds are from Trussville and Huntsville, respectively.  Minority Leader Anthony Daniels is from Huntsville.

In the Senate, the powerful Education Budget Chairman Arthur Orr is from Decatur. The President Pro Tem of the Senate Greg Reed is from Jasper. The Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner is from Vestavia. The Republican Majority Leader Steve Livingston is from Scottsboro.

All eight of the most powerful members of the legislature are from Birmingham north. The political power in Alabama is in North Alabama because the population is in North Alabama.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist.  His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers.  He served 16 years in the state legislature.  Steve may be reached at steve@steveflowers.us.