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Speaker says record third term may be enough

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — Three times may be enough for House Speaker Seth Hammett, who was sworn in last week to a record-tying third four-year term as speaker.

The 60-year-old Hammett, D-Andalusia, said he would never “say never” but said he might be ready to let someone else take over the speaker’s chair when his term runs out in four years.

“There are other qualified people that will need a chance to do this. I’m not going to serve as speaker forever,” Hammett said shortly after being sworn in during last week’s organizational session.

Gubernatorial candidate?

Hammett’s name is sometimes mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2010 in what will be a wide open governor’s race because Republican Gov. Bob Riley will be finishing his second consecutive term and by state law will not be allowed to run for re-election.

Enjoying his 103-0 election to a third term as speaker last week, Hammett said it was way too early for him to think about running for governor. Hammett, known for his consensus building style as leader of the House, had considered running for governor in 2006 but decided against the race, saying he wanted to concentrate on being speaker and representing the people in his South Alabama House district.

“Four years is forever in politics,” said Hammett, who has served in the House for 28 years. He said he would probably consider his political future in a couple of years.

“I’m just humbled and honored to be elected speaker for a third time,” Hammett said.

University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart said Hammett’s success in winning three elections to speaker without opposition in the often contentious House has been “remarkable,” but said the speaker might find the going much tougher in a statewide political race. He pointed out that Albert Brewer, the lieutenant governor who became governor when Lurleen Wallace died in 1968, is the only House speaker to become governor in recent Alabama history.

“He’s an extremely qualified person, but I think when one’s been in the Legislature for so long they get type cast. There’s not a good record of people moving from long legislative careers into governorships,” Stewart said.

Hammett ties the late Jimmy Clark of Eufaula as the only Alabama speakers to serve three consecutive three-year terms.

“He’s a good people person and he relates well to his constituency, primarily the House Democrats, without being abrasive,” Stewart said.

Accessible, caring

One longtime legislative observer, the Rev. Dan Ireland, said Hammett cares about people and has an attitude that has made him a successful speaker.

“He’s accessible. He wants to talk about things. He has expertise at building relationships between people,” said Ireland, who often lobbies the House and Senate on moral and religious issues and is considered by some to be the unofficial chaplain of the Legislature. Ireland attends funerals whenever a legislator, former legislator or family member dies.

“Seth’s always there too,” he said.

In recent years, Hammett’s ability to be a peacemaker has been challenged as the House has become more partisan, with votes often dividing along political lines. The Democrats hold a 61-43 margin in the House, but Republicans have enough votes to stop legislation.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, criticized Hammett last week for taking him off of a key budget committee and for reducing the number of Republicans on three important committees.

“I don’t think he’s quite as fair to both sides as people would like to think,” Hubbard said. Hubbard said he thinks Hammett was re-elected speaker partly because he was successful in raising money to help the campaigns of incumbent legislators.

Hammett said presiding over the House has gotten more difficult as the body has gotten more partisan.

“I just try to abide by the rules and make sure all sides of an issue get heard,” he said, saying that includes making sure Republicans have an opportunity to push their agenda.

Rep. John Robinson, D-Scottsboro, said Hammett’s secret to success is his integrity.

“If he tells you something you never have to question it. That’s a rare trait in this day and time,” Robinson said.

A Republican lawmaker, state Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores, said Hammett is partisan and favors Democrats “but I think he’s made attempts to be fair.” McMillan said Hammett has “kept a line of communications open” with Republicans.

Another veteran legislator, Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said the speaker has a lot of power in the House and that some past speakers have used that power to push their own agendas.

“He could do that, but he does not. He gives the other side a fair shake,” Knight said. “People know that if they come to the House with a good bill they are going to get a hearing on it.

Alabama House Speaker
Seth Hammett

  • Political party: Democrat

  • Date of birth: June 24, 1946 (60)

  • Hometown: Andalusia

  • Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Auburn University.

  • Professional experience: Director of economic development for Alabama Electric Cooperative, former banker, retired president Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia.

  • Political experience: Beginning third term as speaker of the House. Has served 28 years as member of House.

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