MOODY — Rep. Jim McClendon said last week that the Republican majority in Montgomery represents “a change in the weather.”
The state’s new legislative districts, however, are a change in the state’s climate.
“What happened in redistricting is going to affect our county and our state for at least a decade, and set us up for the future,” McClendon told the Moody Area Chamber of Commerce. “Redistricting is about, not today, it’s about the next election, the next election and the next election.”
McClendon, R-Springville, and Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, were the House and Senate (respectively) chairmen of redistricting in Alabama. Last week, he explained to the chamber representatives that the new districts will mean increased influence for St. Clair County at the state level.
Specifically, the county — pending approval from the United States Department of Justice and any lawsuits which may arise from the process — will be divided into three House districts (currently there are four) and three Senate districts (currently there are two). Moreover, in one of those Senate districts — District 11, currently represented by Jerry Fielding, D-Sylacauga — more than half of the residents, 51 percent, will reside in St. Clair County.
“Can anybody tell me the last time we had a Senator that lived in St. Clair County?” McClendon said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had one. We’ve not had a Senator from St. Clair County in my lifetime – I know that.”
Currently, among the county’s six legislators, only McClendon lives in St. Clair County. The others live in Anniston, Gardendale, Rainbow City and Leeds.
“We’ve been lucky to have some good folks elected by other folks, to represent us,” McClendon said. “We have a good relationship with these folks, but you don’t know who’s coming next.”
The significance, he said, is the interests of the legislators involved. As an example, he used Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, who represents the western half of St. Clair County.
“Right now, 50 percent of his voters are in Jefferson County,” McClendon said. “Twenty-five percent in St. Clair County; 25 percent are Blount County. Scott Beason’s from Jefferson County – Gardendale, the biggest voting block. His predecessor, Sen. (Jack) Biddle – Jefferson County, Gardendale. So you see, with the way we are today, you’re not going to elect anybody to run against Scott Beason that’s got a dog’s chance. You just don’t have the voters. They’ve got the voters. All Gardendale’s got to do is turn out.
“We’ve got a new opportunity now, under the new plan. … Of the 135,000 in Senate 11, about 67-69,000 are from St. Clair County. Of the cities in Senate 11 – if I was going to put a star up there, I would have to put a star by Pell City and Moody, because those are the two biggest voting blocks. Those are pretty strong voting blocks.”
McClendon was non-committal when asked if he plans to run for the Senate seat in 2014. He did say that he anticipates the Senate 11 seat will go to a Republican, assuming the district remains unchanged.
“This new Senate 11 does not lean in the Democrat direction,” he said. “It leans in the Republican direction, and you can see why. When you put 51 percent of the people in St. Clair County in a district, you change the leanings of the district.”
Under the new plan, McClendon’s district, House District 50, would be located entirely St. Clair County — currently, a portion of the district is located in Shelby County. The remainder of the county would be split up between House District 30 (Rep. Blaine Galliher, R-Rainbow City) for Riverside, Ashville, Ragland and Steele; and House District 36 (Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston) for Pell City, Chula Vista and Cropwell.
“Randy’s got 55 percent in Calhoun, a little in Talladega,” McClendon said. “It’s interesting what could happen here – with the rapid growth in St. Clair County, House District 36, instead of being a minority there, if we keep growing at the rate we’re growing, it could become the majority.”
Senate District 17 (Beason) would include Ashville, Pinedale and most of Ragland; Senate District 10 (Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City) would include Chandler Mountain, Steele and a portion of Ragland.
McClendon projects that the current legislative demographics — 66 Republicans and 39 Democrats in the House; 22 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate — would remain largely unchanged — 68-70 House Republicans vs. 35-37 Democrats; 23-25 Republicans in the Senate vs. 9-11 Democrats.
He said he anticipates the new districts will stand up to review from the Justice Department and the courts.
“I really feel good about it,” he said. “I’m certainly hoping this gets resolved in the spring of ‘13. I would like to see this completed.”