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Phillip Tutor: The meaning of Marsh’s decisions

Marsh

State Sen. Del Marsh addresses the crowd January 30 at Norwood Hodges Community Center in Golden Springs.

Unless you’re imprisoned or dead, you have choices. Where to live. What to do. Whom to marry. How to vote. Del Marsh, Alabama’s most powerful politician, has made his. And he’s checking out.

Not that way, obviously. “My health is fine,” he’s told The Star.  

But he is 64. And anyone within sniffing distance of that age can sympathize with him on this: “I’m just at a point in my life when I’m ready to do the things that I want to do.”

Aren’t we all.

Problem is, Marsh’s self-contraction is so profound that it’s become catnip for cynics and skeptics. He says he’s OK, health-wise, so let’s take his word. Nonetheless, consider what he’s giving up.

He’s relinquished his role as that body’s president pro tempore.

He’s selling the Hotel Finial on Quintard Avenue.

He may sell his portion of another downtown Anniston company that he co-owns.

Not long ago, Marsh’s political ambitions seemed limitless — and legitimate. Among most Republicans, at least, his sky had no ceiling. 

He could have been governor in 2018, but decided not to run against incumbent and fellow Republican Kay Ivey.

He interviewed with the Luv Guv, former Gov. Robert Bentley, when President Trump plucked Jeff Sessions from the U.S. Senate and named him attorney general. (Bentley chose Luther Strange.) 

He mulled a U.S. Senate electoral bid but avoided the fray. (The GOP nomination predictably went to the morally indefensible Roy Moore, and the seat went to Democrat Doug Jones.)

The state Senate’s president pro tem wields immense power; he or she lords over Alabama’s muscular upper chamber. Nothing reaches the Senate floor without president pro tem approval. That was Marsh, a literal king of Goat Hill.

When a backroom de-annexation bid threatened last winter to literally divide Anniston among racial lines, who moderated the community meetings

Not Calhoun County representatives in the state House, not members of the City Council, and not the Chamber of Commerce president. 

It instead was Marsh, who could have collapsed the whole affair with a wave of his presidential hand, but he wanted residents to at least discuss the issues long enveloping the city’s public schools and its future.

Political power attracts enemies, and Marsh has his. Some are fierce, their criticism well earned. His party affiliation offers only a partial shield. But in a state in which so many have recently run afoul of either the law or political ethics — Bentley, Moore, Mike Hubbard, Oliver Robinson — Marsh’s career path has been consistent, though undetermined.

Until now, of course. 

“I’m trying to get myself where I don’t have so many irons in the fire,” he told this newspaper this week. 

Which, if he’s sincere, is an admirable stance for a mid-60s husband whose money clip is bloated and interests are widespread. He doesn’t have to work. He doesn’t have to remain in politics. He could do nothing and be perfectly fine. But content? Likely not. 

Age is neither reversible nor irrelevant but isn’t the ultimate arbiter. Marsh is 64, which means what? Anything? Nick Saban, Alabama’s football coach, is 69. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama’s soon-to-be junior U.S. senator, is 66. U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, is 62. In a footrace between that quartet, Marsh is safe money.

Nevertheless, Marsh’s personal admonition to “do the things that I want to do” at this stage of his life resonates. The reasons are obvious.

If Marsh was the most powerful politician in Montgomery, Eli Henderson held the same unofficial title in Calhoun County. He died in August at age 83. Betty Carr, the titular queen of downtown Anniston, died in April at age 95. Jim Klinefelter, longtime leader of the county’s Democratic Party, died in October. He was 94. And this week, former Sheriff Larry Amerson died. He was 67.

Living life matters.

Marsh surely knows this. And he’s fortunate. He’s free to make his career choices, to plot his family’s path, without fretting over the financial details. It’s OK to be jealous of his freedom, as unobtainable as it is for so many of us.

Let’s meanwhile make another bet. Marsh may gradually recede from view when his term ends in 2022, staying true to his word. But he won’t stay hidden or reclusive. Politics, somehow, will lure him in again.  

 

Phillip Tutor — ptutor@annistonstar.com — is a Star columnist. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.