Mitchell looking to lead senate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 8, 2003

The state senator who represents Pike County is a leading candidate to become president pro tempore of the Senate in Montgomery. Sen. Wendell Mitchell (D - Luverne) is mounting a challenge to Sen. Lowell Barron (D - Fyffe), who has held the Senate's top position for the past four years.

Though Barron claims he has the support needed to be reelected, Mitchell claims to have marshaled a substantial number of allies in the push to unseat Barron.

"We have 16 or 17 votes and it takes 18," he said. "We are trying very hard to get that extra member to support me and it all depends on the attitudes before the vote on Tuesday."

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Mitchell's supporters are comprised of the 10 Senate Republicans and several conservative Democrats. Mitchell said he would like to be elected to lead the Senate in order to give the agenda of Governor-elect Bob Riley a chance.

"I promised Governor Riley a chance to have his programs heard and [Barron] won't consider them. Everything he's said seems to infer that he won't give the governor a chance," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the objections to Riley's agenda are grounded in ideology and partisan labels, rather than in substantive objections to Riley's policies.

"A lot of the reason we don't have more support is because many Democrats claim to belong to the Democratic fold no matter what the issues. It doesn't appear to be about the policies. Philosophically, a lot of these guys line up with us," he said.

If Barron's numbers hold up and he is re-elected, Mitchell said that recriminations for the inter-party challenge were a possibility.

"There could be animosity if I'm not elected, but I can assure you, that if I win, there won't be any bad blood from me," he said.

Mitchell emphasized that his supporters were not betraying the party.

"We are a solid bunch of Democrats with many years of service. Jimmy Holley is on our team and he's been in the Senate for six terms. We're not some bunch of mavericks. We're solid Senators with great backgrounds and just want to do what's in the best interests of the state."

He also said the desire to work with Riley was far from a blank check to the governor.

Mitchell promised to oppose parts of Riley's agenda, but wanted to give him a chance to make his case.

"This is not some carte blanche being issued to Riley. I'll probably oppose some of his policies, but if Barron doesn't like some of Riley's policies, he should offer his own. I think that it's really refreshing that Riley wants to tackle some of Alabama's problems," he said.

The struggle will play itself out during the coming organizational session of the legislature, where Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley is also expected to seek to exert more muscle in the Senate and attempt to regain much of the power previously stripped from the office in 1999.

Stephen Stetson can be reached at