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Alabama Elections Directory 2006

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Monday, October 31, 2005

End of an Era

photo from Decatur Daily by John Godbey
The Decatur Daily has a great profile on retiring State Rep. Tommy Carter (D-Elkmont). Carter is hanging it up after 36 years in the state legislature. Carter's district looks to be one of the handful of highly competitive House seats in the 2006 cycle. Republicans are sure to make a strong effort to claim the seat, while Democrats will be equally as eager to retain it.

But Carter's retirement means more than just a competitive election for his successor. Indeed, this profile shows how Carter (and others like him) have held sway on the most important issues facing the state. It not only gives a great insider perspective on how the Alabama legislature functions, but also is a must-read for anyone who is interested in Alabama politics past, present, or future.

Carter, who is retiring after being elected 9 times, speaks very candidly on his experience and the issues of the day. For example though he has always been a Democrat, he did consider switching parties in the mid 1990s.
What can't be denied is that Carter has remained a steadfast Democrat, although he thought of switching to the Republican Party. In 1994, he got frustrated when the Alabama Democratic Party ordered a new election when its Elections Committee ruled that balloting errors in the primary made it impossible to determine if he won. Carter spent $50,000 in legal fees to stop a new election.
"I don't have a real good taste in my mouth for the Democratic Party," he said at the time. Then in 1995, he thought about switching because he felt the Republican Party was akin to his conservative ideals.

"Overall, the Democratic Party has been good to me," Carter said. "You have fanatics on both sides. Down South we do need to keep conservatives in the party. The Kerrys, Kennedys and Clintons are a little out of my line as far as liberalism." Asked why he stayed in the Democratic Party, Carter answered, "I thought it would be the only way I could win."
But Carter also demonstrates his partisan zeal in commenting on the current political climate.

Carter is not complimentary of Gov. Bob Riley, saying he doesn't communicate well, and that Riley never appreciated his support of the governor's proposed tax package that voters rejected. (Riley did declare Thursday to be Tommy Carter Day.)
"I don't think he (Riley) likes Democrats, and he doesn't like seniority," Carter said. "He thinks there should be term limits. I say the public has a right to send somebody to Montgomery as often as they like."

This profile is filled with plenty of interesting revelations from the dean of the Alabama House. There's the story of how Carter procured a rocket for his rural district, his thoughts on the changing face of the Alabama legislature, and a tongue-in-cheek mention of his new dog. So make sure to read the entire thing.

Tommy Carter has been an institution in the Alabama House and the legislature will be different without him. But Carter represents more than just one district; his collegial approach and good natured demeanor are in short supply in the divisive, polarizing climate of the current Alabama House.

Carter's retirement, in itself, probably won't change the House in an especially dramatic way. But as more of the "old guard" legislators retire, there is no doubt that the legislature and the state will be different for their loss.


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