Republican senators said the vote will make it harder for the
Republican governor to pass his campaign promises, especially a
second straight income tax cut. "I would think that would be dead," said Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale.
"We're disappointed," said Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo. "We
wanted to have a Senate that would be very family friendly -- low
taxes and pro-life."
Mitchem, an eight-term senator, said he intends to be a fair
presiding officer. "I want to do what I can to make sure every member of this Senate has a voice," he said. Mitchem, 68, plans to serve two years and then step down, with Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, to replace him.
During Riley's first term, he complained repeatedly about many
of his proposals being killed in Senate committees without getting
to the Senate floor for a debate. With Democrats holding 23 seats
and Republicans 12, Riley had hoped to put together a bipartisan
coalition, led by Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, that would give
Republicans their greatest power since Reconstruction, including
several committee chairmanships and a majority of the membership on
the Senate education budget committee.
Incoming Democratic Lt. Gov.
Paul Hubbert worked with Democrats to help get Mitchem in the
leadership role and retain more than 130 years of Democratic
control. Folsom, a former governor, said he wanted Democrats to be
united, but that won't mean problems for the Republican governor.
"A governor is the elected chief executive officer of this
state, and his proposals deserve an up-or-down vote," Folsom said
In a statement after the vote, Riley spokesman Jeff Emerson said
both sides in the Senate had promised to allow floor debate on the
governor's proposals rather than killing bills in committee.
"The governor has not asked the Senate to be a rubber stamp for
his agenda; just to debate it and vote on it. So Governor Riley is
looking forward to seeing his proposals come up for votes,"
Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyfee, who has been the president pro tem
for the last eight years, did not seek another term. He said the
Senate would operate much as it did during Riley's first term.
"He will get a fair hearing, but there will be no rubber stamp
for the governor," he said.
Preuitt, working with Riley, had been confident he would get the
votes of the 12 Republicans and seven Democrats who had fallen out
with Barron. His coalition fell apart when Smitherman and Sen. Phil
Shortly after the new Senate opened its organizational session
at noon, Preuitt dropped out of the race for president pro tem and
nominated a last-minute candidate, Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Midfield,
who had been one of his supporters. Mitchem defeated McClain 18-17,
with Mitchem's support coming entirely from Democrats and McClain
getting his from five Democrats and 12 Republicans.
Republicans demanded a majority of the seats on the Senate Finance
and Taxation-Education Budget Committee. Both said they thought
that would be bad for schools in their districts.
Smitherman, whose switch resulted in a leadership role, said he
was also concerned that Republicans wanted to cut the power of
Folsom when he takes office on Monday and becomes the Senate's
presiding officer, replacing Lucy Baxley. Baxley, who is recovering
from a stroke, did not attend the organizational session.
Riley's allies were furious about the switched Democratic votes.
"We've been lied to. Not only was it a lie, it was a tactical
lie" to mislead Republicans, Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery, said.
Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said Mitchem's election was a
victory for black senators. He said black senators served as
chairmen of eight of the Senate's 25 committees during the last
four years and likely would have dropped to two chairmanships under
Preuitt. "It's a great day for
Americans," he said.
The Senate did not appoint committees on Tuesday, but Sanders
said he hopes to repeat as chairman of the education budget
committee. Barron said he expects to be Rules Committee chairman
and anticipates Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, will head the
Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee.
Mitchem said Smitherman will chair the Judiciary Committee for two years and then Mitchem will take over the chairmanship when
Smitherman becomes president pro tem.