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Conservative coalition appears poised to control state Senate

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com· (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — A coalition of Senate conservative Democrats and Republicans is holding steady and appears likely to maintain its grip on the upper chamber’s power structure, area senators say.

“The coalition is solid as a rock and ready to go to work at noon on Tuesday,” said Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison.

Lawmakers will know then if the prediction holds true.

The Legislature will gather Tuesday for its organizational session, held once every four years to elect
a Senate president pro tem and speaker of the House of Representatives, establish operating rules and make legislative committee assignments.

This year, the key pre-session questions involve who will lead the Senate. While the House also elects its leader, current Speaker of the House Seth Hammett said he expects to be re-elected for a third term without opposition.

Senate leadership is not so simple.

Butler is one of the organizers of the Senate Leadership Group, a coalition of senators led by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega.

The group formed to stop attempts by former pro tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, to gain the key leadership position for a third term, to promote former Danville resident and Moulton native Preuitt as pro tem and to push for bipartisan leadership in the upper chamber.

Formation of the group followed years of Senate infighting.

Future role unclear

Butler would not say what role he might play in a Senate with Preuitt as the leader.

“Until we elect a pro tem, we will not know that kind of thing,” said Butler, who was a key figure in putting the leadership group together.

After the Senate selects the pro tem, the committee on assignments will decide committee chairmanships and give senators their committee assignments, a key factor in determining which bills get far enough in the process for a full Senate vote.

Gov. Bob Riley criticized the past Senate leadership structure, which he said rarely allowed bills he sponsored to get a vote in the full Senate.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he supports the decision of the Senate Republican caucus, which voted just before the end of December to join with the Preuitt group.

“I am going to honor my commitment to support the decision of the caucus,” Orr said.

As a new player in the Senate, Orr said, he is trying to learn his job, talking with people who have knowledge of the budget process and departments in state government.

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