Last week, Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, announced he would not seek another term in the House of Representatives, signaling a new speaker would preside over the lower chamber beginning in 2023.
That is a long way away if you consider that not only are the House members voting in that election not yet elected, but with that coming in the 2022 general election, the lines determining the districts of those members voting in that election have yet to be drawn.
There is a lot that must happen before this election can take place.
But that has not stopped two candidates from announcing their intentions to seek the post, which is arguably more powerful than the governor.
Immediately following the McCutcheon announcement, State House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, declared they would be candidates for the position.
Poole withdrew two days later, but he could be clearing the way for another candidate. Speculation has suggested State Reps. Connie Rowe, R-Jasper, and Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.
Given these early and perhaps premature announcements, could there be divisions in an already (sometimes) disorderly environment in the Alabama House chamber?
Not only will the Alabama Legislature have to meet for the 2022 regular session, set to begin next January, but there could also be a number of special sessions.
A near certainty of being on the Legislature’s docket for the remainder of 2021 is a special session called by Gov. Kay Ivey to deal with reapportionment once the new Census data is made available.
There is also the annually unresolved issue of Alabama’s prisons, which might require a special session given Ivey’s inability to execute a lease-build proposal because of the lack of financing available for the so-called for-profit prisons.
Not only will members of the Alabama House of Representatives be facing down their elections, but they will also be told to take a series of tough votes on controversial issues, including reapportionment and prison funding, and they will be lobbied to support a candidate for a speaker’s race that is well over a year away.
What could go wrong?
With the unceremonious departure of Mike Hubbard from the speakership in 2016, Republican members chose a speaker in McCutcheon with a gentler management style than the hard-charging “storming the State House” Hubbard.
However, that approach has had an impact on the culture of the chamber. If you were an outsider and happened upon the Alabama House of Representatives near the end of the 2021 regular session, one might think the Democrats were in control of the floor.
That environment has caused some grumbles from Republican rank and file, especially as State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, ended the 2021 session proclaiming no one but “Dumplicans” care about the fate of Israel in a floor speech just moments before adjourning sine die.
Another consequence is a shift in the traditional roles of each of the two chambers.
Traditionally, the House of Representatives was the free-wheeling body, passing lots of bills and sending them to the more deliberative Senate, where things grind to a halt.
However, in recent years, a very proactive Senate has sent bills downstairs to the lower chamber, where they would go to die.
“Oops, we ran out of time. We’ll try again next year,” would be the explanation for a failure to pass anything significant on gambling, prisons, executive power, etc.
A more disciplined House of Representatives would be willing to invoke cloture petitions and not allow a crafty Democrat House caucus to dictate the ebb and flow of the chamber.
The speaker’s race will tell us the elected membership’s preference for the character of the House. Understandably, in the post-Hubbard era, a more reserved approach seemed appropriate.
For freshman members who came after Hubbard, they campaigned on getting things done to improve the quality of life of their constituents.
What do they have to show for those first four years thus far?
An increase in the gas tax, medical marijuana and an abortion ban seems to be the signature accomplishments of the quadrennium.
Is that enough to tout during a campaign?
A lot will take place over the next year and a half legislatively. With a backdrop of the natural friction in a race to be one of the state’s most powerful elected officials and a lame-duck speaker at the helm, will the Alabama Legislature get what it needs to get accomplished?
Perhaps more important than anything is the looming legal action from the Justice Department regarding alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment stemming from the abysmal Alabama Department of Corrections’ prison system.
Legislative action will be required. The disparate factions working against a legislative solution will be those ideologically opposed to any new prison construction, those who represent districts with economies relying upon existing facilities that would be eliminated, and those ideologically opposed to the state incurring debt to build prisons.
How will the Legislature overcome that if, behind the scenes, there is a leadership war raging for the next 18 months?
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