Sanders to run for eighth term
After originally saying he was not running for an eighth term, powerful state Sen. Hank Sanders changed course on Wednesday and said he is going to let the voters decide if he should serve another term.
"Since I don't know what to do, I'll let the people decide," he said.
People cheered as he made his decision in a Senate chamber filled with legislators, lobbyists, staffers, supporters, and state officials including state schools Superintendent Joe Morton.
"In truth, I still don't want to run. I knew this needed to be brought to a conclusion," said Sanders. People had already announced they were running for the Senate seat they thought would be open.
Sanders, chairman of the Senate education budget committee, said he "struggled mightily" with the decision. He said he did not know whether he was running again when he walked into the chamber and that his wife did not know his decision.
The Selma Democrat said he planned to walk into the chamber with two press releases, one saying he would not run again and another that said he would. He said he did not have time to write the releases.
He sent an e-mail to friends, colleagues and supporters last year informing them he would not run again, but he said the reaction to that statement was extraordinary.
"In truth, I never anticipated the strength of this reaction," he said.
His wife, Rose, said the respectful and loving response was uplifting.
Morton and Paul Hubbert, head of the Alabama Education Association, said they were glad to see the senator run again.
They talked about Sanders' calm and fair demeanor in talking through tough situations.
Morton said he had talked about the decision with Sanders.
"Deep down I was hoping the outcome would be like this," he said.
The superintendent said "all of Alabama should be too." He said Sanders has left an imprint on the state and used his influence to increase funding for vital programs that improved reading, math, science, and technology.
Morton said he worked intimately with Sanders in his role as chairman of the education budget and said the senator was always professional and courteous, even during contentious discussions including 2008 when fighting lead to the legislative session ending without lawmakers passing an education budget.
Hubbert said people have been curious about Sanders' decision. He said Sanders has been a "great chairman" and credited his success to his demeanor, the way the senator approaches people and issues, and the way he is able to build a consensus. He said Sanders often had lined up support for the education budget before it was brought to the Senate floor for a vote, which he said is "remarkable."
Sanders, who came from poverty to graduate from Harvard Law School, was the first African-American to represent the Black Belt in the Alabama Senate. He said he never wanted to run for public office, but eventually did at the encouragement of his law partner, J.L. Chestnut.
Sanders, 67, said his mind and spirit did not want him to run three decades ago and they did not want him to run again.
"I don't want to do it, but I'm going to do it because duty calls," Sanders said.
He added "These are difficult times. I don't think I've ever been one to abandon the ship in difficult times."
On Wednesday, he sounded like he was sticking with his original decision when he began talking. He had told the Montgomery Advertiser this month that he was leaning toward not running again.
"This is a watershed moment for me and I have struggled mightily with it," Sanders said. "I struggled because logic and reason say I should run again, but I could not align my spirit with it."
After saying he was running again, Sanders said "nobody has ever outworked me in an election."
He said his goals this session were to pass a budget that would not go into proration, to work with others to try to create jobs, to work to pass accountability measures including those to place more restrictions on no-bid contracts, and has again proposed a bill that would place a moratorium on the death penalty, which he said he really wants to push.
"We can't afford a budget that leads to proration," he said.
In the Senate, Sanders said he has most enjoyed being able to help people. He said he could make a call and help someone in two minutes with something that might make two years if he was not in his current position.
He said he disliked the Legislature becoming more and more partisan.