House Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston, who is one of the longest-serving members of the Legislature having first been elected in 1982 to represent District 100 in Mobile County, will not seek reelection in 2022. Gaston joins Baldwin County legislators Steve McMillan of House District 95 and Harry Shiver of House District 64 in resigning next year upon the completion of their current terms. Together, they have more than 90 years of experience in the Legislature.
“Representing the citizens of West Mobile in the Alabama House has been my distinct honor and pleasure for the past 40 years, but the time has come to step off the public stage and pass the mantle of leadership to someone else,” Gaston said in a statement. “It is important to note that serving in this office for so many years was possible only because of the unconditional love, support and commitment given to me by my late wife of 46 years, Jean, and my sons, Hank and George.”
Prior to Gaston’s announcement, two candidates had already filed campaign paperwork for District 100 at the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, Republican Peter Kupfer and Democrat Nicholas Frazier. The filing deadline is Jan. 28, 2022. The statewide primary election is scheduled May 24.
Speaking to Lagniappe Tuesday, Gaston said although he hasn’t faced an election challenge since 1986, he has already heard from people who are interested in serving in his absence. But he believes the boundaries of his district, and likely all legislative districts in South Alabama, will change in the special session for reapportionment beginning Oct. 28.
“What is yet to be seen is whether Baldwin County will gain a district, and if so, who will lose a district,” Gaston said, noting Baldwin’s extraordinary growth over the past decade. “Because we won’t add a 106th district.”
Gaston encourages anyone who has an interest in public service to consider campaigning for the seat, but said the commitment can be demanding.
“I’ve seen good people that I served with who decided not to run again because of the pressures of the office or sometimes just because of the time commitment, but if you’re qualified to do it, you want to do it, and people want you to do it, you can do it,” he said.
Gaston was elected at a time when Republicans were the minority party in the Legislature. Upon initially taking office, Gaston was one of only 11 Republicans — eight state representatives and three state senators — who served in the 140-member Alabama Legislature.
“Every year since 1982 I watched as Republicans gained seats in the House and maybe by 2000 we had gotten up to 46 seats but I wasn’t sure we could get 53 for the majority,” Gaston recalled. “And then the next year we won that and then some. I expected it to happen in my life, but I didn’t expect to still be in the House when it happened. And so, as it turned out, it was surprising to me.”
Gaston said one of his proudest accomplishments as a legislator was helping to rein in the state budget and create a reserve fund to prevent proration. He said the resulting financial stability has opened more opportunities for economic development.
Among his legislative accomplishments, Gaston listed the passage of several reform measures that improved and strengthened Alabama’s higher education system and a bill that significantly reduced traffic fatalities and injuries by doubling speeding fines in road construction zones. Gaston said the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit he sponsored has boosted Alabama’s economy and ignited a wave of urban and rural renewal across the state. He also claims to have passed numerous bills and measures that helped the Alabama State Docks become “an important driver of the state’s economic engine.”
Gaston currently holds seats on the House Rules Committee and the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, which is tasked with appropriating roughly $2.5 billion to non-education state agencies annually. He also sits on the Transportation, Utilities, and Infrastructure and Mobile County Legislation committees.
An active and committed member of his party, Gaston was elected as a delegate to six Republican National Conventions between 1984 and 2004, and President Ronald Reagan appointed him as a member of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, a panel of private citizens tasked with selecting and honoring the nation’s top students in academics and the arts. President George H.W. Bush reappointed Gaston to the White House commission, which allowed him a dozen total years of service on the prestigious panel.
He is a former member of the executive committee of the Southern Legislative Conference, a former board member of the National Republican Legislators’ Association, and previously served on the legislative advisory council of the Southern Regional School Board.
Born in the Union Church community of Mobile County and raised on a family farm, Gaston earned a doctorate in education from Auburn University during a career as an educator in Mobile County public schools.
Gaston said he intends to sponsor or cosponsor several bills in his last legislative session in January, including one that would create a statewide database to include the names and information about people convicted of elder abuse.
“It is a more common problem than most people think and the elderly are some of our most vulnerable citizens,” Gaston said. “There are financial crimes, identity thefts, property crimes … there are repeat offenders and the database would help prevent some of it.”
Gaston is active in several nonprofit organizations and serves on the boards of Volunteers of America; Penelope House, a domestic violence shelter; Home of Grace for Women, an alcohol and drug treatment center; and AltaPointe, a South Alabama mental health center. He previously served on the boards of the 4-H Club Foundation and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
He expects to remain engaged in the community.
“It has been an honor to serve, and I’m happy I was able to do it for so long,” he said. “Really most of the credit goes to my family, but it is amazing I went so long without a contested election.”
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