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Comic Power Grab Ends in Land of Dixie

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A sometimes comic power struggle that brought the Alabama Senate to a standstill for nearly a month ended Tuesday, leaving the Republican lieutenant governor free once more to go to the restroom without fear that Democrats would strip him of his duties while he was gone.

Under a compromise reached about 4 a.m. CST, Steve Windom, Alabama’s first Republican lieutenant governor this century, regained some--but not all--of the traditional powers exercised by his Democratic predecessors.

Among other things, the compromise requires Windom and the Democratic Senate president pro tem to work together on deciding which committee will consider each bill.

During a marathon session that ended in the compromise, Windom urinated into a jug under his lectern Sunday because he feared being replaced as presiding officer if he left even briefly.

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It became evident a deal was in the works Monday, when Windom finally left the podium while many Democratic senators were out of the room. He received applause when he returned, wiping his hands on a paper towel.

The turmoil began even before Windom took office, when Democratic Gov.-elect Donald Siegelman and the majority of Democrats in the Senate stripped Windom of almost all his powers. On Windom’s first day on March 2, he snatched them back by gaveling through new rules over howls of protest from the majority Democrats.

The Democrats responded with a boycott that used up one-third of the Legislature’s meeting days and prevented any bills from being considered, including the governor’s centerpiece plan to enact a lottery.

Siegelman’s allies then kept the Senate meeting in marathon sessions, forcing the chamber pot strategy.

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During the furor, Windom was subjected to threats of impeachment and accusations of criminal wrongdoing. At one point, the executive director of the Alabama GOP demanded Siegelman resign “to prevent further embarrassment.”

The fight left a widespread feeling of disgust.

“They have simply gone crazy,” the Birmingham News declared in an editorial Tuesday.

Members of the House, embarrassed by the upper chamber, printed buttons saying, “I’m in the House. I work.”

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