When the last unofficial totals from Tuesday’s general election were posted well into the night, a new day had dawned for the political order in north Alabama.
Gone was the solidly Democratic legislative delegation that had risen to a near pinnacle in the Legislature. Only one incumbent northwest Alabama Democrat — Sen. Roger Bedford — survived Tuesday’s Republican landslide.
Incumbent Rep. Marcel Black, of Tuscumbia, did not face opposition, but it is clear he won’t be the next speaker of the House, a position that would have given the region powerful new standing in the state.
Two Shoals Democrats hung on to win open seats — Rep. Tammy Irons, of Florence, claimed the District 1 Senate seat of Bobby Denton, who is retiring, and Greg Burdine claimed Irons’ House seat in a race decided by 210 votes.
“It was a change the scope of which I have not seen in my lifetime,” said Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama.
Only two Democrats — Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Public Service Commissioner Lucy Baxley — remain statewide officeholders and neither were on Tuesday’s ballot.
Stewart attributed the Republicans’ taking of the Legislature for the first time in 136 years, as well as every state constitutional office, to deep public dissatisfaction with the weak national economy and to the policies of President Obama.
“Things are not going well,” Stewart said. “The voters don’t like some of the legislation that’s been passed. This is a way to protest.”
Shannon Bridgmon, assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said Republicans were successful tying the national political mood to Alabama races.
“The incumbents were seen as complacent, out of touch and self-serving,” she said. “The House and Senate races drew on the 62 percent pay raise, and that was salient across the board.”
Stewart and Bridgmon differ slightly on the effect of Black’s exclusion from the House Speaker’s chair after the Republican victory.
“Marcel Black has been a very powerful and influential legislator,” said Stewart, a Hartselle native. “Now, we will have Mr. (Mike) Hubbard as speaker, presumably. That is a loss for northwest Alabama, which is the stronghold of the Democratic Party outside the Black Belt.”
Bridgmon, a Florence resident, said because Black had not claimed the Speaker’s post, the political effect will be minimal. But Bedford’s loss of powerful committee chairmanships will be noticed.
“Voters don’t necessarily consider legislative committee assignments or where their legislative assignments will be,” she said.
With Republicans in the majority in both legislative chambers, they will decide committee assignments, assume chairmanships and control the flow of legislation.
“With the incoming class of freshmen, it will be interesting to see how successfully they lobby for north Alabama’s interests in Montgomery,” Bridgmon said. “Republican power is not generally from this region of the state.”
Both agreed that Tuesday’s sweeping Republican victories — in the state and nationally — create a new playing field for state lawmakers that contains important lessons.
“On the average day, the average person rarely has an opportunity to vent or express their frustration,” Stewart said. “On Tuesday, they did so.”
“I think this will be a wake-up call in north Alabama, that this will not be politics as usual as we move forward,” Bridgmon said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.