The Alabama Statehouse got a little more red Tuesday, with the GOP picking up one seat in the Senate and likely five in the House, according to unofficial results and media reports.
The number of white Democrats in the Alabama House dropped from six to one — newly elected Neil Rafferty of Birmingham. In the Senate, the number of white Democrats held steady at one.
Republicans have had a supermajority in the Statehouse since 2010, but the additional seats may give the party more confidence to take on potentially controversial issues.
“They already could shut down debate, they could move bills,” retired Athens State University political science professor Jess Brown said Wednesday. “Democrats could make a little noise on the fringes, but Republicans ruled the roost. That will remain the same.”
Now, Brown said, they have “a little breathing room from public opinion” and more leeway to take up a statewide gas tax increase — something Republicans have flirted with for several years — and possibly a lottery.
“They’re going to want to touch the lottery issue, even as Republicans,” Brown said.
In the 105-seat Alabama House of Representatives, unofficial results reported by The New York Times show at least 76 GOP wins and a lead in one other race. Complete results were not yet available from the Secretary of State’s website Wednesday morning.
Republicans previously had 72 seats in that chamber.
“I think the people of Alabama sent a message last night that they like the direction the state is going in,” House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville said. He cited expanding industry and record unemployment as Republican successes in recent years.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said Tuesday night was “tough.” He said constitutional amendments on the Ten Commandments and abortion brought conservatives to the polls.
“Those are Republican base issues,” Daniels said. “Those are what got the evangelicals out.”
Daniels said Democrats still have a voice in the House, “but we have to realign our strategy a bit, and we’ve started doing that.”
He also said the state party “needs to step up.”
“I am 100 percent in agreement that there needs to be a change in leadership,” Daniels said.
Two White Democrats
There is now only one white Democrat in each Statehouse chamber. Five House seats that had previously belonged to white Democrats now belong to Republicans. In four of those, incumbents were not running. Two of those GOP seats are in the Shoals, where the GOP has chipped away in recent years at Democrats’ base.
“Those were vacant, and we had some good candidates,” Ledbetter said. “We got some really good, business-minded people and some good Christian, quality folks.”
Brown said a near split along racial lines is not good.
“In practical terms, it means you have the white party and the African-American party,” Brown said. “In the electorate and in the Legislature, that’s just not healthy.”
Daniels said white Democrats were running for seats and blamed Republican-drawn districts for at least some of the losses.
“The gerrymandering is real,” he said. “That’s the only way to look at it.”
In the 35-seat Senate, there are now 27 Republicans. The GOP picked up a seat previously held by an independent.
Of 12 Senate races where there wasn’t an incumbent running, the GOP won 11.
The seven Democratic Senate incumbents running all won their races, and Democrat Malika Sanders-Fortier of Selma won the seat long held by her father, Hank Sanders, who is stepping down this year.
In the House, there were 26 races without an incumbent. Democrats won five of them, all of which had previously been held by Democrats.
While several other Southern states saw some statewide seat gains by Democrats, Alabama did not.
“We’re arguably the most pro-Trump southern state and arguably the most conservative Southern State,” Brown said. “Democrats simply got beat in Alabama from the top of the ballot to the bottom.”