If you were a visitor to the House chamber at the Alabama State House Monday before last, and you were not aware of the local politics, you would not think the Republicans had won a supermajority three years earlier.
You might even wonder if any Republicans were present in the chamber as Democrat after Democrat went to the well of the House to speak their allotted 10 minutes without any repercussions.
While there was no lottery, gambling, prison fix or curbing of the governor’s powers, there were still some winners and, of course, losers.
With the aid of a few well-connected state government types from around Alabama, I offer you the winners and losers of the 2021 regular session.
Winner: State Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham
Although she is not exceptionally bright, she is outspoken and thus entertaining at times. If there is ever time House Democrats need to kill, Givan is typically the one you will see on the floor.
She tested the boundaries by speaking out against a resolution to support Israel on the last night of the session. She got away with it, too.
“Givan is a big winner in that she knows she can get away with just about ANYTHING,” one former lawmaker told Lagniappe.
Loser: Social conservative activists
The Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP) and Eagle Forum still carry a lot of sway in Montgomery, but not as much as they have in years past.
This year, they took losses with the passage of medical marijuana and several other alcohol-related bills.
On a positive note, they rallied enough support to hold off a gambling bill, but that victory could be short-lived if Gov. Kay Ivey calls a special session on gambling.
Co-winners: State Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, and State Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison
Speaking of medical marijuana, who would have thought marijuana would be legal in Alabama before gambling?
The duo of Melson and Ball have led the charge on medical marijuana, dating back the last few years.
It was thought to be a joke, having won the so-called Shroud Award for the deadest bill in 2013.
Ball even drew good-natured ribbing from one anti-medical marijuana lawmaker, who affectionately refers to Ball as “Marijuana Mike.”
Loser: Secretary of State John Merrill and his office’s legislative liaisons
Before we found out what many people around Montgomery suspected about John Merrill, Alabama’s secretary of state initially backed a no-excuse absentee ballot bill before he was against it.
Merrill deserved credit for a somewhat peaceful 2020 election. There were a few hiccups, but they paled in comparison to those our neighbors in the Peach State had to deal with.
Co-winners: State Sen. Roger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and the Alabama Education Association
Smitherman, the former president pro tempore of the Senate, conducted a master class on pushing a bill through the Legislature with the deck stacked against him.
Strategically, Smitherman shepherded a two-year delay to the Literacy Act’s accountability mechanism, which requires third graders to read at a third-grade level before they are promoted to the fourth grade.
On the last day of the session, Smitherman’s bill passed the House of Representatives when many in the Senate had been hoodwinked into thinking it would die in the House.
Rather than have Smitherman eat up the clock until he got his way on the Senate floor, his Republican colleagues gave him his way, assuming his bill would die in the House.
With the aid of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), it did not, and now its fate awaits Ivey.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the AEA is relevant in Alabama politics again.
Loser: State Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston
There is something almost tragic about the way Del Marsh is winding down his political career.
For the past few years, it seems like he has been on the losing side of many legislative fights.
He was denied an opportunity to run for U.S. Senate in 2017 because forces aligned with Luther Strange threatened to blackball consultants who accepted his business.
The end of the 2020 regular session had him conceding control of CARES Act funding to Ivey after her office humiliated a handful of lawmakers that presumably included Marsh for daring to suggest surplus CARES Act money go to building a new State House.
This year, Marsh took another “L” when the House failed to consider his comprehensive gambling bill on the floor.
Before the start of the session, Marsh had done something remarkable in getting the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and legacy dog track owners to agree on a gambling framework.
However, it stalled in the Senate, which contributed to its difficulties in the House.
Winner: Governor Kay Ivey
It’s clear Ivey has a lot of influence over the House of Representatives and its GOP leadership.
Why? No one has offered an acceptable reason, but you cannot help but notice Ivey’s fingerprints on everything the House is doing.
Primarily, bills to roll back executive authority at times of an emergency never even saw the light of day in the House of Representatives; the governor’s well-placed allies killed those bills before they had a chance.
Loser: Governor Kay Ivey
While Ivey’s ability to control the flow of legislation in the House of Representatives is impressive, she fell flat on her face on the prison issue.
Her go-it-alone approach and dismissiveness of the Alabama Legislature may have set her back on solving the problem now that she has to ask them to fund a fix as the Department of Justice is watching the state’s every move.
Winners: Dog and sweet potatoes
The Legislature made a bold step forward in the name of animal rights now that dogs can eat at restaurants in designated areas.
The bill was brought by State Rep. Steve McMillian, R-Foley, and was probably geared more for the tourist economy at the beaches.
Also, thanks to State Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, Alabama’s official vegetable is the sweet potato.
Any objections to that?
Loser: House and Senate relations
There seems to be no real working relationship between the House and the Senate.
As we saw early on, when the two bodies work in agreement, they can get bills and budgets done promptly.
However, gambling showed just how complicated things could be when the two entities are not on the same page.
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