The foundational document for Alabama's government is the Alabama Constitution, which was ratified in 1901. At almost 800 amendments and 310,000 words, it is the world's longest constitution and is roughly forty times the length of the U.S. Constitution. There is a significant movement to rewrite and modernize Alabama's constitution. This movement is based upon the fact that Alabama's constitution highly centralizes power in Montgomery and leaves practically no power in local hands. Any policy changes proposed around the state must be approved by the entire Alabama legislature and, frequently, by state referendum. One criticism of the current constitution claims that its complexity and length were intentional to codify segregation and racism.
Alabama is divided into three equal branches: The legislative branch is the Alabama Legislature, a bicameral assembly composed of the Alabama House of Representatives, with 105 members, and the Alabama Senate, with 35 members. The Legislature is responsible for writing, debating, passing, or defeating state legislation.
The executive branch is responsible for the execution and oversight of laws. It is headed by the Governor of Alabama. Other members of executive branch include the cabinet, the Attorney General of Alabama, the Alabama Secretary of State, the Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, the Alabama State Treasurer, and the Alabama State Auditor.
The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the Constitution and applying the law in state criminal and civil cases. The highest court is the Supreme Court of Alabama.
Local and county government
Alabama has 67 counties. Each county has its own elected legislative branch, usually called the County Commission, which usually also has executive authority in the county. Because of the restraints placed in the Alabama Constitution, all but seven counties (Jefferson, Lee, Mobile, Madison, Montgomery, Shelby, and Tuscaloosa) in the state have little to no home rule. Instead, most counties in the state must lobby the Local Legislation Committee of the state legislature to get simple local policies such as waste disposal to land use zoning.
Alabama is an alcoholic beverage control state; the government holds a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. However, counties can declare themselves "dry"; the state does not sell alcohol in those areas.
The current governor of the state is Republican Bob Riley. The lieutenant governor is Jim Folsom Jr. The Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is Democrat Sue Bell Cobb. The Democratic Party currently holds a large majority in both houses of the Legislature. Because of the Legislature's power to override a gubernatorial veto by a mere simple majority (most state Legislatures require a 2/3 majority to override a veto), the relationship between the executive and legislative branches can be easily strained when different parties control the branches.
During Reconstruction following the American Civil War, Alabama was occupied by federal troops of the Third Military District under General John Pope. In 1874, the political coalition known as the Redeemers took control of the state government from the Republicans, in part by suppressing the African American vote.
After 1890, a coalition of whites passed laws to segregate and disenfranchise black residents, a process completed in provisions of the 1901 constitution. Provisions which disfranchised African Americans also disfranchised poor whites, however. By 1941 more whites than blacks had been disfranchised: 600,000 to 520,000, although the impact was greater on the African-American community, as almost all of its citizens were disfranchised.
From 1901 to the 1960s, the state legislature failed to perform redistricting as population grew and shifted within the state. The result was a rural minority that dominated state politics until a series of court cases required redistricting in 1972.
With the disfranchisement of African Americans, the state became part of the "Solid South", a one-party system in which the Democratic Party became essentially the only political party in every Southern state. For nearly 100 years, local and state elections in Alabama were decided in the Democratic Party primary, with generally only token Republican challengers running in the General Election.
In the 1986 Democratic primary election, the then-incumbent Lieutenant Governor, Bill Baxley, lost the Democratic nomination for Governor in a scandal where Republicans were permitted to cast votes for his opponent, then Attorney General Charlie Graddick. The state Democratic party invalidated the election and placed the Baxley's name on the ballot as the Democratic candidate instead of the candidate chosen in the primary. The voters of the state revolted at what they perceived as disenfranchisement of their right to vote and elected the Republican challenger Guy Hunt as Governor. This was the first Republican Governor elected in Alabama since Reconstruction. Since then, Republicans have become increasingly competitive in Alabama politics. They currently control both seats in the U.S. Senate, four out of the state's seven congressional seats. Republicans hold an 8–1 majority on the Alabama Supreme Court and have a 5–2 majority among statewide elected executive branch offices.
However, Democrats currently hold all three seats on the Alabama Public Service Commission and they maintain control of both houses of the legislature, holding approximately 59.4% of seats in the Alabama Senate and 58.7% of seats in the Alabama House of Representatives. A majority of local offices in the state are still held by Democrats. Generally speaking, local elections in rural counties are decided in the Democratic Primary and local elections in metropolitan counties are decided in the Republican Primary although there are exceptions to this rule. Only one Republican Lt. Governor has been elected since Reconstruction, Steve Windom. Windom served as Lt. Governor under Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. The last time that Alabama had a governor and Lt. governor of the same party was the period between 1983-1987 when Wallace was serving his fourth term as governor and Bill Baxley was serving as Lt. Governor, both were Democrats.
An overwhelming majority of sheriff's offices in Alabama are in Democratic hands. However, most of the Democratic sheriffs preside over more rural and less populated counties and the majority of Republicans preside over more urban/suburban and more populated counties. Only three Alabama counties (Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Calhoun) with a population of over 100,000 have Democratic sheriffs and only five Alabama counties with a population of under 75,000 have Republican sheriffs (Autauga, Coffee, Dale, Coosa, and Blount).
Alabama state politics gained nationwide and international attention in the 1950s and 1960s during the American Civil Rights Movement, when majority whites bureaucratically, and at times, violently resisted protests for electoral and social reform. George Wallace, the state's governor, remains a notorious and controversial figure. Only with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 did African Americans regain suffrage and other civil rights.
In 2007, the Alabama Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a resolution expressing "profound regret" over slavery and its lingering impact. In a symbolic ceremony, the bill was signed in the Alabama State Capitol, which housed Congress of the Confederate States of America.
From 1876 through 1956, Alabama supported only Democratic presidential candidates, by large margins. 1960 was a curious election. The Democrats won with John F. Kennedy on the ballot, but the Democratic electors from Alabama gave 6 of their 11 electoral votes as a protest to Harry Byrd. In 1964, Republican Barry Goldwater carried the state, in part because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which restored the franchise for African Americans.
In the 1968 presidential election, Alabama supported native son and American Independent Party candidate George Wallace over both Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Wallace was the official Democratic candidate in Alabama, while Humphrey was listed as the "National Democratic". In 1976, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter from Georgia carried the state, the region, and the nation, but Democratic control of the region slipped after that.
Since 1980, conservative Alabama voters have increasingly voted for Republican candidates at the Federal level, especially in Presidential elections. By contrast, Democratic candidates have been elected to many state-level offices and comprise a longstanding majority in the Alabama Legislature; see Dixiecrat.
The state's two U.S. senators are Jefferson B. Sessions III and Richard C. Shelby, both Republicans.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, the state is represented by seven members, four of whom are Republicans: (Jo Bonner, Mike D. Rogers, Robert Aderholt, and Spencer Bachus) and three are Democrats: (Bobby Bright, Parker Griffith and Artur Davis).