Connie Rowe points out that a lot can happen in Alabama politics in 16 months.
Between January 2016 and April 2017, a jury convicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard of ethics violations, leading to his removal from office. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for the rest of his term. Gov. Robert Bentley resigned after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations.
So the Republican representative from Jasper isn’t quite ready to handicap the race to succeed House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, who announced Monday that he will not seek re-election to the chamber. The choice can’t take place until after the November 2022 elections and more than a year of drama on the state and national scene.
“If you take any 16-month period in the history of the Alabama House since I came in 2014, you can see a host of things happen,” she said. “What the body wants can change. Who expresses an interest in running can change.”
But potential candidates were emerging Tuesday within the majority Republican caucus. Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, the chair of the House Ways and Means Education committee, announced Tuesday he would seek the office.
“My goal as Speaker will be to collaborate with all members to set clear priorities, to make sure all voices are heard, to establish transparent processes, and then to aggressively pursue the enactment of policies related to the issues that matter the most to the citizens of our state,” he said in a statement.
Legislators say House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville and Rowe, the vice-chair of the House Republican Caucus, could also run.
A fourth, House Ways and Means General Fund chair Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said Tuesday he would back Poole for speaker.
“We have a good working relationship, and we’re good friends on top of that, besides being colleagues,” he said. “We just didn’t want to run against each other.”
In separate interviews Tuesday, Ledbetter and Rowe were noncommittal.
“We’ve got plenty of time for that,” Ledbetter said. “The main thing right now is to tell Mac how much we appreciate the job he’s done.”
Rowe said she was “greatly flattered” to be in the conversation, and said many of the named candidates had given her opportunities to be in leadership, which she appreciated.
“It’s really early,” she said. “I’m going to sit back and get through these special sessions. And see what happens.”
The outcome of the race will depend on several factors. The most important will be the outcome of the November 2022 state elections. Republicans appear all but certain to hold on to their supermajority in the House, but who gets elected could be pivotal. Between 15 and 20 of the 77 members of the House GOP caucus could retire or run for new offices before the election, shifting those numbers.
Newly elected representatives would likely favor a speaker who campaigned on their behalf. Hubbard worked for years recruiting Republican legislative candidates, who awarded him the gavel after the 2010 GOP landslide.
“Anybody running for speaker is going to have to be following the primary election and into the general election, and going and meeting with these candidates who are in the Republican primary and trying to help them in a general election, and communicating with them about what the Legislature is all about and pushing their agenda to them,” Clouse said.
Republicans may also have different ideas of what they want in a leader. The House GOP caucus selected McCutcheon, who worked as a hostage negotiator during his time in law enforcement, in part because he was a conciliator. That was a break with Hubbard’s style of leadership, which tended to be heavy-handed. While successfully pushing through most priority items for the GOP, McCutcheon was also willing to allow Democrats in the minority to speak to bills, sometimes at length.
Both Rowe and Clouse said some House Republicans want someone who pushes harder on bills of interest to the GOP, though Rowe said it was a “mixed bag.”
“Some people in the caucus would like to see us head back in the other direction as far as the power of the speaker to move things,” she said, adding “And then there are some people hoping we’re fortunate enough to have someone sit in the chair the same way Speaker McCutcheon did.”
That’s likely something the minority party wants, too. Democrats are unlikely to take over the House in November 2022; they would have to flip about 25 seats, and Republicans are almost certain to shore up their districts when the Legislature returns for reapportionment this fall.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, said Tuesday that while she and other Democrats disagreed over policy with McCutcheon, she did feel that he listened to them. McCutcheon was a co-sponsor of a Coleman amendment to remove racist language from the state constitution, which state voters approved last November.
“In our legislative body, we’ve done OK, working together,” Coleman said. “I hope we do not allow the national discourse to invade us in the Alabama Legislature and Alabama House of Representatives. I have a little worry because I’ve seen the national stuff that’s going on.”
But no one was making predictions Tuesday.
“Some things seem to naturally work themselves out,” said Rep. Chris Blackshear, R-Phenix City. “A lot of that will take care of its over time as we get closer to a decision we need to make.”
Clouse said he had discussed the situation with several representatives.
“The one thing I have emphasized to them is there’s a lot of water that’s going to go under the bridge in the next 16 months,” he said.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]