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Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron at the state legislator orientation at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday.
AP photo by Michelle Williams
Senate President Pro Tem Lowell Barron at the state legislator orientation at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday.

State Senate chief offered to step down

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

TUSCALOOSA - The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate, Lowell Barron, said Tuesday he and Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders offered to step down if it would unite Senate Democrats behind new leadership, but the offer wasn't accepted.

Barron's comment signaled that Senate Republicans may team with dissident Democrats to wrest control from Barron, D-Fyffe, giving the GOP a larger measure of power in the Senate despite its minority status.

The 35-member Senate has narrowly elected Barron as its top officer for the last eight years. But in the new Senate, a slim majority - 12 Republican senators and six Democrats - is calling for new leadership.

Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, expects Barron to be out when the new Senate meets Jan. 9 to elect its top officer for the next four years. He said the 12 Republicans and six Democrats are enough to elect a new president pro tem and set rules for determining committee membership and procedures.

"We're still solid. I've seen no movement at all," Waggoner said as the newly elected Legislature gathered at the University of Alabama for an orientation meeting.

In Waggoner's view, Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, "is the leading contender" for Barron's spot among the 12 Republicans and six Democrats.

"That could be possible," Preuitt said Tuesday.

Barron said he and Sanders, D-Selma, offered to give up their leadership posts if Preuitt and Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, who is also aligned with GOP senators, would agree not to seek leadership posts and allow all 23 Senate Democrats to come together under new leadership. But the offer was rejected.

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to bring Senate Democrats together and organize the Senate," Barron said.

Preuitt said it would take more than Barron and Sanders stepping aside because those two plus two of their allies, Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, and Senate budget committee Chairman Roger Bedford, D-Russeville, helped fund his and Holley's opponents in the Democratic primary.

"It's not just kissing and making up," Preuitt said.

Barron and Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. have been talking to some of the six dissident Democrats, trying to bring them over to the other 17 Democrats and organize the Senate around Democrats.

"I don't have any say on how the Senate is structured, but I feel I can facilitate the process by keeping the lines of communication open," Folsom said.

The behind-the-scenes negotiations involve seeing whether the 23 Senate Democrats could come together with someone other than Barron as their leader.

Organizing the Senate has been difficult after each of the last three elections. The Senate voted 18-17 in 1999 and 19-16 in 2003 to make Barron president pro tem. The president pro tem plays a major role in determining who serves on Senate committees and which committee considers each bill.

Because of the narrow votes for the leadership, the Senate has often argued over legislative process rather than debating issues.

House Speaker Seth Hammett, who has no opposition for a third term as House speaker, teased the Senate Tuesday about its feuding.

"I heard the other day an oxymoron - working Senate," Hammett said. The joke brought loud laughter from House members, but not senators.

Sen. Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, said he is hopeful both sides can reach a compromise and share leadership because the last eight years have shown that a sharply divided Senate doesn't work smoothly.

He said he would like to see a compromise that included Democrats heading some committees and Republicans chairing others.

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said the Senate Black Caucus has discussed having the president pro tem's job change annually or every two years and breaking up major Senate committees into smaller committees to create more leadership positions.

Barron said the idea is worth discussing, but the president pro tem's job should stay the same for four years. He said no one would suggest switching governors annually.

"Stability is important," he said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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