By definition, Gov. Kay Ivey is Alabama’s most prominent and empowered elected official. But let’s be honest. If Alabama’s top Republicans had sought the party’s nomination, Ivey would be jobless. Plus, a handful of long-time GOP figures are either in jail, indicted or no longer in politics, and the Alabama Education Association’s Statehouse influence isn’t what it used to be.
In other words, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, sits securely alongside Ivey’s throne above Alabama’s Republican-dominated state government.
That’s not a new development. His re-election this week as Senate president pro tempore -- by a unanimous 32-0 vote of his fellow senators -- places him in rarefied air in Montgomery. This will be his third consecutive term as the upper chamber’s captain. Put another way, Marsh is the only Republican to serve as president pro tem since the GOP grabbed the Senate reins in 2010.
He’s worked with multiple governors, he’s remained relatively solid amid the state Legislature’s chronic affliction with corruption and turmoil -- see: Robert Bentley; see: Micky Hammon; see: Oliver Robinson; see: Roy Moore -- and he’s positioned himself to seek higher office should he decide the time is right. He’s even withstood the criticism over his support of the controversial Alabama Accountability Act.
Whether Marsh runs for governor or seeks the Republican nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Birmingham, in 2020 remain unanswered questions. (Bet on the Senate run.) For now, our interest is less on the political future of this high-ranking Anniston politician and more on what his leadership should accomplish in this legislative session.
Easy it would be, and perhaps appropriate, to diminish Marsh’s first two terms as Senate president because of the Legislature’s failings of the last eight years. The results of his leadership aren’t without fault. Yet, savvy followers of Alabama politics well know that the state House and state Senate are different animals, and each is prone to spasms of dysfunction. Those convulsions are what allow the Legislature to struggle with the basic necessities of state government -- such as passing budgets -- and dawdle on ideological proposals that serve no purpose other than helping lawmakers get re-elected.
That said, Alabamians should expect Montgomery progress from Marsh this spring. The 2018 session was the Legislature of Inaction; election-year paralysis took over. Alabama desperately needs the coming session to be everything its predecessor was not.
The strongest example is the most obvious: Lawmakers must address Alabama’s crumbling infrastructure, and it’s going to be a slug-fest at the Statehouse. Democrats hate the idea of raising the tax on gasoline to pay for road and bridge repairs, but the state gas tax hasn’t increased since 1992. Marsh and Ivey seem rightly intent on pushing through that bitter but necessary change. On that, Marsh and the Republicans can’t fail.