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Will Legislature ‘flip’ this year?

In 1876 when the southern states wrestled free of the shackles of Reconstruction, one thing was certain. The South would not vote for any Republican. The harsh retribution bestowed on the southerners by the radical Republican Reconstruction dominance and occupation of the former confederate states was so severe that a fierce hatred was ingrained into the southern psyche that would eventually take generations to dissipate.

Alabama and her sister Deep South states became one party Democratic states as a result of Reconstruction. This total Democratic dominance lasted for close to a century. It was 88 years, from 1876 to 1964, before a Republican carried Alabama in a presidential contest. It was 100 years before we had a Republican U.S. senator and 106 years before we elected our first Republican governor in 1986. The last barrier to be broken is the Alabama Legislature. It has now been 136 years since Reconstruction and we have had a Democratic legislature the entire time. Both chambers, the House and Senate, have Democratic majorities as we enter the 2010 fall election.

The transformation of the South from a Yellow Dog Democratic region to a predominantly Republican enclave has been one of the most remarkable transitions in American political history. As late as 50 years ago in 1960 a young liberal Catholic Democrat from New England, John F. Kennedy, carried Alabama in the presidential election. At that time both of our U.S. senators were Democrats. Our governor and all our constitutional officers were Democrats. All 140 members of the legislature were Democrats. There was not one statewide Republican officeholder.

Since 1964 we have voted for a Republican for president in nine out of eleven of the last presidential elections. We have voted for a Democrat only once in 44 years. Both of our U.S. senators are Republicans. Five of our seven congressmen are Republican and five of our seven constitutional officeholders are Republican. Since Guy Hunt’s victory in 1986, a Republican has won five out of six of the last governor’s races.

The last vestige of Democratic advantage rests in the State Legislature. However, the transition has been incrementally moving forward. In the House of Representatives the numbers are 62 Democrats and 43 Republicans. This is a far cry from the year I entered the House in 1982. When I arrived you could count the number of Republicans in the 105 member body on one hand. Therefore, the question is will this be the year that the legislature flips to a majority Republican tribunal.

Many of our sister states have already made the transition. Most observers believe the Republican capture of the State House and Senate is inevitable. However, they disagree on the year. Most predict the capture comes in 2014 but the tea leaves portend the possibility of a takeover this year. It is a distinct possibility in both chambers but the fall of the Senate is most likely to happen this year for obvious reasons.

The numbers are closer in the Senate. The only reason the State Senate has not already changed is because there are conservative Democratic icons sitting in Republican seats.

It is very difficult to mount a campaign against an entrenched senator who has been bringing home the bacon for three decades, has household name identification, and is as conservative on social issues as any Republican in the State. There are at least four Democratic senators who fit this bill in seats that are in very Republican districts. When Wendell Mitchell, Tom Butler, Ted Little, and Lowell Barron retire their seats will probably fall to Republicans.

When this year’s census figures are revealed and digested it will be hard to draw lines that do not give the Republicans a majority of districts in the 2014 elections. The fastest growing counties like Shelby, St. Clair, Autauga, Elmore, Baldwin and Limestone are all Republican counties. It will be impossible to gerrymander these Republican bailiwicks away.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.