Mitchell: Redistricting could be problem for rural areas

Published 9:56 pm Thursday, October 14, 2010

State Sen. “Walking” Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, called for a voice in rural Alabama and addressed rising political tensions within the Senate at a luncheon for the Exchange Club on Thursday.

About 25 people attended and munched on cornbread and greens as Mitchell explained how the redesigning of districts, and the loss of “rural-oriented” senators, could leave farming communities in the lurch.

Every 10 years, the Legislature redesigns the boundaries of Alabama’s 35 districts based on city and town populations. If Mitchell’s district, which includes parts of six counties, is reformed to give greater attention to suburban areas such as Prattville, rural families may lose their political voices.

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“We need to protect our area,” Mitchell said in his speech after a prayer and the pledge of allegiance. “It’s so important that someone be in that seat who looks after the rural areas.”

Mitchell also said that this year left Alabama with a tight budget, after the “windfall” federal government stimulus ran out.

“It’s going to be a very taxing, difficult situation,” he said.

Mitchell alluded to his upcoming election, and a sense of frustration he said he experienced throughout the population of Pike County. He added that he felt a growing sense of partisanship within the Senate, with senators “trying to expose other senators.”

“In all my years of public service, the environment is the most strange I’ve ever seen,” he said. “There’s a degree of hostility, folks, that I’ve never seen before.”

As Exchange Club President Vitaly Voloshin looked on with a smile, Mitchell said he held a lot of pride for Troy and its residents, in the area that he’s served for dozens of years.

“It has been a real privilege to represent Pike County all this time,” he said.

At the end of his talk, Mitchell fielded a question about the 65 percent pay raise the Legislature had voted for itself and Senate officials.

He said the raise, which he called an “expense account,” went to costs that the state did not cover, including some hotel stays, gas and postage stamps.

He did not say if all of the money from the raise went to extra expenses.

Mitchell also answered a question about three amendments in the Senate. He knew the details about just one of the amendments, a $1-billion road fund that would receive $100 million a year for 10 years and would be funded by a $3 billion trust.

Voloshin, who is a math professor at Troy University, said members of the Exchange Club invited Mitchell to speak at their weekly luncheon because they were interested to learn more about their community. He also said they wanted to maintain the apolitical atmosphere that is fundamental to the character of their club.

“The Exchange Club is not a political organization, but we care about what’s going on,” he said. He also said that the club would host a Republican official next week, but he didn’t know yet whom the club members would elect to invite.