Alabama state senator Scott Beason was removed as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday. Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) has been installed as the new chair of the Rules Committee.
According to a press release from the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, “The decision comes after much deliberation and careful consideration on the most efficient operation of the Alabama Senate.”
The Senate Committee on Assignments — made up of Marsh, Waggoner (who is also the Senate Majority Leader), Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, and three others — made the decision to replace Beason. WBRC Fox6 reported that Waggoner was appointed to the committee chairmanship around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“There are many realities that led to leadership’s decision, and I believe this decision is in the best interest of the Senate body as a whole,” Marsh stated in a press release. “Senator Waggoner brings stability to this important committee and his institutional knowledge is unmatched, making this a natural fit.”
Beason, a Republican from Gardendale, was the subject of intense controversy during his time as Rules Committee chair. Beason sponsored Alabama’s tough new immigration law, HB56, and helped pass it. A hold by Beason killed a bill that would have given Jefferson County limited home rule and tempered the county’s draconian budget cuts, or, perhaps, avoided bankruptcy.
But perhaps the most controversial moment in Beason’s tenure came in this summer’s bingo corruption trial. Sen. Beason wore a wire for the FBI and recorded conversations with defendants and his colleagues — including his fellow Republicans — and testified in the trial as a prosecution witness. During cross examination, an attorney for gambling developer Milton McGregor had Beason read a transcript of a conversation Beason had with several Republican colleagues — a conversation Beason recorded — in which Beason referred to Greene county blacks as “aborigines.”
In the conversation, former Rep. Benjamin Lewis (R-Dothan), refers to Greenetrack, a gambling hall located in the majority-black Greene County. “That’s y’all’s Indian’s,” Lewis said.
“They’re aborigines, but they’re not Indians,” Beason says on the transcript.
The comments started a fire-storm, and led to calls for Beason to step down from the Senate leadership or resign.
In a statement released to the press on Tuesday morning, Sen. Minority Leader Roger Bedford (D-Russellville) mentioned the calls for Beason to step down, and said that Beason’s removal from the Rules Committee chairmanship is “in the best interest of all Alabamians.”
“Today we are glad to learn that the Senate Republican leadership has finally decided to condemn Senator Beason’s racist behavior rather than continuing to condone it,” Bedford said. “Our state has made great strides, and there is no place for such words and actions in Alabama in the 21st Century.”
“It is my hope that Senator Waggoner’s decades of experience in the Alabama Senate will help him lead as Rules Chair in the fair, objective way that Alabamians need and deserve.”
When asked about Beason after that caucus meeting, Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said that the flak over Beason’s comments was “a major distraction from the agenda.” This morning, Ward expressed his support for the committee’s decision to Weld.
“I fully support the decision by the Senate leadership,” Ward wrote.
The Senate Rules Committee — which decides which pieces of legislation make it to the Senate floor — is one of the most powerful Senate committees, and the chairmanship is a plum position.
This is a developing story. This story will be updated when we have more information.
Below is a press release from Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) about the change in leadership on the Senate Rules Committee:
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Waggoner to Serve as Rules Committee Chairman for 2012 Legislative Session
MONTGOMERY – The Senate Committee on Assignments announced today that Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) will serve as the Rules Committee Chairman for the 2012 legislative session. The decision comes after much deliberation and careful consideration on the most efficient operation of the Alabama Senate.
“There are many realities that led to leadership’s decision, and I believe this decision is in the best interest of the Senate body as a whole,” said Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who serves as the President Pro Tempore. “Senator Waggoner brings stability to this important committee and his institutional knowledge is unmatched, making this a natural fit.”
The Senate Committee on Assignments is charged pursuant to Senate Rule 47, (b):
There shall be a Senate Committee on Assignments which shall be composed of the President Pro Tempore, the Lieutenant Governor, the Senate Majority Leader and three additional members appointed by the President Pro Tempore. The Committee on Assignments shall appoint the Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and membership of all Senate Standing Committees and Select Committees. The Committee may reappoint the membership of the committees, and may rename the leadership of the committees. Any such change in committee membership, or the chairman or vice-chairman thereof, shall only be authorized by a majority vote of the membership of the Committee on Assignments. Actions of this committee shall be reported to the Senate by the President Pro Tempore or in his/her absence by the Senate Majority Leader as such appointments are approved.