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State senate feuding continues
GOP considers using more stalling tactics during next legislative session

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The last session of the Alabama Senate ended with a punch seen around the world. The next session is shaping up to be as tense.

Republicans and Democrats are still feuding, and GOP senators are talking about using stalling tactics like they did in the spring regular session.

“You are going to see more of the same. We are going to be very particular about the legislation that is considered and passed,” Senate Minority Leader Jabo Waggoner said.

The spring regular session lasted three months, but little passed the Senate other than the state budgets and a 61 percent legislative pay raise.

That’s because most days Republican senators stalled action to protest Senate operating rules the Democrats approved over the objections of Republicans.

Looking ahead to the next regular session starting Feb. 5, Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said the Senate is still divided.

That division was evident when Gov. Bob Riley announced Tuesday that he wouldn’t call a fall special session to consider legislation on ethics, property tax reappraisals and coastal insurance. The Republican governor said GOP legislators were ready, but he couldn’t get the cooperation of Democrats, even though many of them endorsed the same proposals during their 2006 elections.

Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said Riley didn’t try to bring Democrats on board because he never talked to him and others in leadership.

“I don’t think he ever intended to call a special session. He talked about it in the media, but he never talked to us. It sounds like a setup,” Little said.

Session-long feud

The last regular session featured a session-long feud between 18 Democratic senators who controlled the Senate and a minority of 12 Republicans and five dissident Democrats. Riley sided with the minority. Democratic Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. lined up with the majority.

The tension climaxed on June 7, the final day of the session, when Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, punched Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, in the head. The blow was captured by Alabama Public Television and replayed on newscasts around the world.

Since that session, one dissident Democrat, Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield, has gone over to the Democratic majority side, and another, Larry Means, D-Gadsden, has had a thaw in his relationship with the Democratic majority.

But the Democratic majority remains one vote short of the 21 needed to stop any GOP stalling tactic.

Little said Republican senators are trying to stall action in hopes it will create public frustration with the Democrat-controlled Legislature before the 2010 legislative elections.

“It’s another part of their plan to try to take over the Legislature,” he said.

Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said Republicans simply want the Democrats to change repressive rules that try to silence Republicans.

The Senate’s new operating rules allow 18 of the 35 senators to vote to redraw the boundaries of congressional districts without waiting until the next census, when it is normally done.

U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, has announced he will retire next year from the 2nd Congressional District that stretches from Dothan to Montgomery.

Potential redraw

Republicans have held that district since 1964, but Little said there’s “a possibility” the Legislature may try to redraw the district in February to make it more likely to elect a Democrat. Republicans, meanwhile, are preparing for battle to keep the district in the GOP ranks.

Democrats point out Republicans can’t holler too loud because the Republican-controlled Legislature in Texas did the same thing to Democrats in that state in 2003.

Not everyone is expecting the Alabama Senate’s 2008 session to be a repeat of 2007.

McClain, who recently switched sides, predicts the session may start out fractious, but eventually the Senate will get down to business. The six-term legislator’s reasoning is simple: Legislators who don’t do what their constituents want don’t get re-elected.

“People will settle down because time is running out and you can’t get it done by bickering,” he said.

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

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