Divided Senate votes 18-17 on when to quit work
By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — The new Alabama Senate is so sharply divided that it split 18-to-17 Tuesday over a simple issue — whether or not it was time to quit work.
With the adjournment vote, the Senate ended its organizational session, which began a week ago with the same 18-17 vote to elect Sen. Hinton Mitchem, D-Union Grove, as president pro tem.
Republicans and a few dissident Democrats are upset about the Senate's operating rules and committee assignments that the Democratic majority made during the organizational session, and they are promising lots of stalling tactics when the Legislature returns for its regular session March 6.
"I don't see that we have any choice," said Sen. Steve French, R-Birmingham.
Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., who returned to the Senate chair Tuesday that he first occupied 20 years ago, said there is no question the newly elected Senate is split 18-17, but he plans to talk to all members between now and March to try to develop a good working relationship.
"I'm hopeful that things will get better," he said.
The House also wrapped up its organizational session Tuesday, but without any of the hard feelings being exhibited in the Senate.
In the Senate, Mitchem put together a coalition of 18 Democrats to win the pro tem's position Jan. 9. He was opposed by the Senate's 12 Republicans and five dissident Democrats, who had hoped to make Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, the president pro tem.
On Tuesday, Mitchem joined three other Democratic Senate leaders and Folsom to make the committee assignments and appoint committee chairmen.
Mitchem called it the fairest committee assignments he had seen in many years. "We've given a lot of people the ability to participate in the committee process," he said.
But Republicans, who make up one-third of the 35-member Senate, were upset that they got assigned only one-fourth of the seats on some major Senate committees.
Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said the heavier number of Democrats on some committees resulted from commitments his side had to make to get the 18 votes to elect Mitchem.
"We were in a heavy political battle and commitments had to be made," he said.
But he noted that along with Republicans getting one-third of the membership on many committees, some of the dissident Democrats also were named committee chairmen.
Preuitt said he got appointed chairman of the Senate Small Business and Economic Development Committee, but he said that committee rarely has any bills to consider.
Preuitt, a former chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, expects his side to use the Senate's rules to tie up the chamber when lawmakers return in March unless they can get changes.
"It's going to be a long four years," he predicted.
On the majority side, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said stalling tactics by the minority will only hurt Republican Gov. Bob Riley's efforts to pass his campaign platform.
In the Senate's new rules, approved 19-16 last week, the number of votes needed to cut off a filibuster on the state budgets and on congressional and legislative redistricting bills has been reduced from 21 to 18.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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