In the Weeds with Greg Reed

In the Weeds with Greg Reed

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

Today I’ve visiting with Greg Reed, the new President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate. If you’re reading or listening, you probably don’t need reminding that Reed recently succeeded Del Marsh, who is stepping away from the Senate’s top leadership role after more than ten years. And part of what makes this interesting is Del’s tenure of service. If you think about it, the last ten years of Alabama Politics has seen a lot of upheaval: a governor resigned, a speaker was convicted, a chief justice was removed from office, to say nothing of other myriad investigations and semi scandals. In many ways, Del Marsh remained the constant within state government. Now, he gets to step away from the pressure of the pro tem role and focus on a few pet issues in the last two years of his term.

Stepping into that top role is Greg Reed. He’s no stranger to leadership. Reed has served as majority leader for the last six years, a job that requires plenty of skill in managing the needs and desires of senators. You could say he has been waiting in the wings as Marsh worked out what he wanted to do.

What I saw on the floor that first day of the session was really something. In Marsh, you had a guy who was kind of itching to turn that resignation letter into the desk. In fact, some of his former staff and I were joking about it in the gallery. And once the speeches were done, including a really interesting one from Sen. Waggoner, and the applause faded away, Marsh seemed like a burden had been lifted. Reed stood a respectful distance from the front waiting as the process moved forward, occasionally making tweaks to his remarks. When he took the podium, he wasn’t nervous at all, but rather composed and prepared. And that’s the way I would describe the new Senate President Pro Tem. He’s prepared. He brings correct change.

In my previous life, it was my job to help prepare and train politicians to speak better, connect better, or just generally communicate better. Observing the way Reed communicates it is obvious he prepares a great deal and thinks carefully before he speaks. It’s a rare enough quality in a politician. If someone is too buttoned up that can be a problem, but Reed is able to connect with sincerity, which is so important.

He has a monumental task ahead of him. This session is going to be tough. I’ve heard people say they’d be surprised if the Legislature isn’t forced to take an extended break after this week given how easy and outbreak would be in the State House. Every one of his members, Republican and Democrat, have bills they want to pass and issues they want to talk about. That takes time, which the Senate might not have much of, and the demands from each member will grow as the election year approaches.

It’s a significant challenge, but Reed seems well equipped for the challenge.

Here’s our interview, In the Weeds with Greg Reed.

Todd Stacy: Hey, Senator, congratulations on being named and unanimously voted President Pro Tem of the Senate. 

Greg Reed:  Todd, I appreciate it so much. Great to visit with you, buddy. I am excited and privileged, honored to be in this role. You know, serving the people of my district and serving the people of Alabama is a great honor. And so being elected pro tem of the Senate by my colleagues, as you said, a unanimous election is something that not only is a great honor for me, but gives me a lot of determination to continue moving forward, doing the best I can with the resources available and being able to lead this body. We’ve got a lot to do. We’ve got some challenging circumstances, but we’re up to the task. The men and women of the Alabama legislature are back. We’re here fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities and we’re all ready to go. Seems to be positive.

TS: It seemed – from the gallery where I was –  it seemed kind of emotional on the floor between Senator Marsh, some of the minority comments. Part of that was the leadership transition, maybe part of it was everybody being back together for the first time since May, I guess. Talk about that. What was it like on the floor? 

GR: Well, I think you hit on a couple of things. You know, I think members of the Alabama Senate are men and women who have dedicated themselves to service and the fact that they have not been able to gather together and exercise that service on behalf of their constituents, on behalf of their colleagues, you know, it’s something they’ve missed and something that they want to be a part of. So I think there was a certain amount of enthusiasm to just be back in the saddle, if you will, people doing the things that they ran for office to do in representing their constituents. I also agree that it was an emotional time. It was an emotional time for Senator Marsh. You know, Del Marsh served a long time in the State Senate, but for 10 years, was the president pro tem of the Alabama Senate, longest serving president in the history of the state. He’s got a vast amount of knowledge and insight, deep, strong relationships. And for any of us, we put that much of ourselves into something and begin a process of transitioning away from it, even though other things, as Dell made reference to, he’s excited about things he’s doing and topics that are important to him, certainly his grandchildren were drawn here to celebrate with him yesterday. So those are big deals. But I do think it’s emotional. I think it was an emotional opportunity for me, you know, step into the podium myself. Hey, you know, now you’re the man in charge. And so that that comes with a lot of responsibility and anticipation. And so I certainly feel that and felt that we were all on the floor. I think the other thing that we were able to see and feel as members is there is a genuine friendship, a genuine collaboration between Republicans and Democrats in the Alabama Senate. Sure, are we going to disagree about things? Absolutely. Are we’re going to have knock down, drag outs from time to time over topics, of course. But we’re able to to have and maintain strong relationships in working on behalf of the issues that are important to us. I had a message that came from a friend of mine who watched the entirety of the events in the Senate chamber yesterday. And the message he sent to me was, I hope Washington, D.C. was watching. And that was just in regards to the honest, sincere way that men and women of the Senate body were interacting with each other for the benefit of the people of Alabama. Not watering down your thoughts or beliefs, just as fiery on the things that we ran for office to defend as ever, but recognizing that working together in a collaborative way is what allows for accomplishment. And so I felt great about it. I thought it was a good day. 

TS: You mentioned Senator Marsh and you’re right. I mean, 10 years, longest in history. And you were majority leader for much of that time. What did you learn from him in that role that will apply to your role now? And how is your leadership style maybe different than his was? 

GR:Well, I learned a great deal from Senator Marsh will continue learning from Senator Marsh. He and I’ve had conversations leading to this transition, you know, to where I was asking him to continue to be available to offer me insight and advice, to which he certainly agreed. But he and I have had a good working relationship, majority leader and president pro tem. We had a very good working relationship. I think Dell and my styles are and little bit different. You know, he’s a little more of a bigger thinker, kind of a big picture, kind of a guy. I’m a detail guy. I like to dig into the details and make sure I’ve got everything, you know: step one, step two, step three is kind of the way that I am. Dell’s approach is more measure once cut once. Mine sometimes is kind of measure three times, cut once. So we’re a little different as just as businessmen and our approach to things. The one thing that I’ve learned from Dell and the one thing that he’s going to be the same for us is the focus on the collaborative effort in the body, being open and honest with the membership, allowing them to know that we’re going to give the Republican or Democrat, whether they’re for something or against something, whether it’s on the floor or in the halls of the Senate, we’re going to be open and available to listen to them and their concerns and to let them know that that we’re going to be listening. That’s the one thing that I did as majority leader. That’s the one thing I’ve observed Dell do routinely as president of the body. And that’s something that we’re going to do the same that I’m going to continue in that same vein, that same kind of spirit in my tenure as president. 

TS:  I wanted to go back to 2010. I was around back then. I remember the Republican takeover of the House and Senate. You ran for office that year. And I just wanted to get a sense of what made you run for office to begin with. What made you choose the Alabama Senate? And did you expect even remotely back then to be in this position now? 

GR: My goodness, I certainly did not expect to be in this position back then. I didn’t understand it. You know, I didn’t I didn’t recognize the significance of it. So it would have been a lot different for me to understand kind of what my goals were. In 2010, my goals were I want to run for public office. I want to do things that are important and being able to represent my district, bring forth ideas that that were topics I was passionate about, just like other people that are running for office for the right reasons. As time has gone along, you know, I remember in 2010, I got a piece of wise advice from my predecessor, who was Senator Charles Bishop. 

TS: Oh yeah, Senator Bishop. Did he retire that year? 

GR: He did. So Senator Bishop encouraged me to run, was always a friend to me and always encouraging to me. But Senator Bishop told me, he said, “when you get to Montgomery, your Republican colleagues are going to be feeling pretty good. They’ve taken over and that’s important and that’s a good thing. But you need to pick out three Democrats that you can build a very strong relationship with, because working across the aisle, you will find – you don’t know it now –  but you will find is the most important element to being able to be successful in accomplishing things in the Alabama Senate.”. 

TS: And I took Senator Bishop at his word and picked three members of the minority caucus to make it my business, to get to know them and be able to visit with them and have breakfast with them and drink coffee and learn from them. And that has proven to be very wise counsel. That attitude has been one that has continued with me to be able to look, to be a coordinator, a collaborator, a negotiator, never weakening my principles, but to always be looking to listen to the important issues on the minds of other people that are, you know, in the body. So I’ve tried to continue to do that. The things that I’ve learned since 2010, my goodness, I’ve made the statement on many occasions, being a member of the Alabama Senate is the most extensive learning experience of my entire lifetime. You’re expected by your constituents, and rightfully so, to be a master of any and every subject that can possibly ask you about, and that’s what they’re looking for. You’re their representative. You’re their senator. They want to know that you know what you’re doing. So it’s been a process of working hard, trying to learn and listen, you know, to be engaged. The idea that being president of the Senate was a topic that would have been in my mind in 2009 when I decided to run for office and in 2010 when I was elected, you know, that certainly was not the case. But all of the things that I learned then, all of what makes me who I am as a political figure, I guess, and and as Greg Reed, is a part of all that I bring to this job today here on day one of being president of the body. I’m going to draw on all of those thoughts and experiences and backgrounds to help me do the best job I can. 

TS: How is the majority different now, 10 years later than it was in that first, you know, the takeover days? 

GR: You know, I think the majority is different in some ways, similar in many ways. I think that of when we first took over in 2010 after the election, it was an issue where there there was a lot of, you know, pushing and pulling, trying to find our way, understanding Republicans had not been in the majority in the Alabama Legislature for I think it was one hundred and thirty six years. It was just, you know, it was kind of some some crazy changes there and the statistical information was pretty extraordinary. I think when you make a change like that, there’s a lot to learn. I think Senator Marsh learned a lot. He taught me a lot. We worked together on a lot. I think as time has moved along, the principles and the foundations and the issues that are important to senators, I don’t know are a lot different than they were in 2010. I think the way in which we go about fleshing those issues out and dealing with them has changed and modified to the point we mentioned earlier where we have a very strong collaborative working agreement with the minority members as well as within our caucus. I think the one thing that has been important is there’s been an increased level of communication and discussion among members of the body. And I think that always yields a better outcome as people know and understand what’s going on. That’s certainly something I want to continue and to expand is to be able to continue to let, not only the members of the body, but also in communicating with the governor’s office and the House of Representatives and, of course, the people of Alabama and our individual districts to be able to know what we’re doing on their behalf and how we’re working together. So I think there are there are some changes maybe in methodology, changes in interaction. I don’t know that there’s a lot of difference in the principles and the bedrock of why people, you know, do what they do and serving in public office, whether they’re Republican or Democrat. But, you know, as I’ve said before, that amount of work together, that collaborative effort that bring in experiences, thoughts and ideas and beliefs and principles from different portions and parts of the state and from different beliefs set based on individuals in the Alabama Senate, you’re going to wind up giving the people of Alabama the best product you can. Because when others have different ideas than you do, rather than rejecting, you need to be listening and looking for opportunities. You may not agree, but the idea that you would continue to look and learn and listen to those that are a part of the task, part of the program, part of the body is something important. And I’m going to be continuing to work on doing that. 

TS: It can’t be said enough: it’s going to be a challenging session, just the circumstances of COVID, all the protocols that have been put in place and we don’t know a lot of what’s going to happen. So I want to ask you, what do you realistically think that the Legislature can accomplish in the next hundred five days or 104, I suppose, given all these challenges? I mean, do you think it’s going to be a full boat, you know, regular session? How much can realistically get accomplished? 

GR: Well, I don’t know what’s going to happen. You know, we ask for the Lord’s blessing on all of us as we try to do what we need to do on behalf of fulfilling our responsibility to the people. We don’t know what’s going to transpire. What I think is the right attitude and I think the attitude you will see from the Legislature, certainly from the Senate, is that we’re going to analyze the things we think we need to do. We’re going to work on them as hard as we can. We’re going to try to be as effective and safe as we can in the process. But the idea that we would be focused on doing something less than we otherwise would do is not the starting point that any of the members of this Senate are going to be focused on. Our attitude is, look, if things happen we can’t control, we’re going to deal with them and management the best way we can The things we can’t control, we’re going to try to be as effective and as safe as we know how. But in the meantime, we’ve got a job to do for the people. We’ve got topics that are very important and we’re going to be at it. I think there’s going to be some huge issues that are going to be discussed in this legislative session. I also think that they’re going to be some issues that members are going to want to talk about that are related to important things from back home. You remember in the last session, we had very little of a session. Many of those members did not have an opportunity to talk about, promote and pass legislation that maybe some of the very reasons they ran for public office. And so we need to give them a platform as best we can to where there’s as much time, as  much opportunity for the elected representatives of the people to be able to do their task. And so my goal is to work as hard and go as hard as I can to support the Senate and the Legislature in being able to get those things accomplished. If there are difficulties, my goodness, we know they’re going to come. We’ll deal with them as they come. We’ll try to be as effective as we can and plan as effectively as we can. But the goal is to work hard to get the job done. And we’re not going to be thinking about the fact that, oh, my goodness, we might not be able to get it done. We might not, but it’s not going to be for lack of trying or lack of planning or lack of working together to try to come up with what’s going to be the best outcome. 

TS: You mentioned difficulties.  Even today, we had some connectivity problems with the committees. Have you heard some frustration from members, lobbyists, folks back home? 

GR: There been some technology glitches.I understand that perfectly well myself. It happens to me often. You know, I was joking with somebody the other day. They they they said you should be a master at Zoom by now. I said, man, what are you talking about? I said, this is challenging to me constantly. And I think that’s the way it is with a lot of us. We’re doing a lot of things different because it’s the right thing to do. We’re trying to do it as effectively as we can. Are they going to be bumps in the road? Of course. But I think our team is really focused on trying to do it the best way we can and we’ll stay at it. 

TS: You mentioned Governor Ivey. You know, over the last couple of years, and especially during COVID, there’s been some friction between some of some individual members and her administration. But I wanted to ask you about your personal relationship with the governor. Now that you’re leading this body, you know, how is your relationship generally and how is it going to be going forward, do you think? 

GR: I have a good relationship with Governor Ivey and have a good relationship with her staff. And I have a good personal friendship with Kay Ivey. When the governor was lieutenant governor, I was majority leader. We worked together, our two offices, every day. She was needing to know and understand what was going to happen that legislative day, what was on the calendar, what were the things that might be the problems, you know, what were the things that were going to be the most controversial, what were we doing that particular day and being able to manage things that, you know, might be of significance to certain members. So I spent a lot of years working closely with Kay Ivey while she was lieutenant governor. When she transitioned to the governor’s chair, our relationship continued to be strong. I met with the governor many times, will continue to feel like I have an open door in communicating with the governor and she with me as we work together. So I have a good relationship there. And I think the governor has done a good job. The governor has faced some significant challenges in her tenure as governor of Alabama from the first day that she stepped into office, you know, as a result of a resignation and some real challenges that she faced there all the way through what has been enormous expansion in our economy and great stories to talk about, which presents problems in itself, and then along comes the coronavirus pandemic and here we go . Kay Ivey has managed through all of that for the people of Alabama. And again, she and I will continue to maintain a good relationship. 

TS: How about the House? I mean, not just the speaker, but, you know, oftentimes during session, towards the end of the session, there’s some friction between the Senate and the House with bills going back and forth and people feeling like, well, you’re not taking up House bills or the House hasn’t taken up Senate bills. How’s your relationship with the speaker? And do you see some of that friction getting worked out the session? 

GR: You know, I think that some of that friction, as you say, is to be expected. The House body and the Senate body, there’s going to be a little push and pull. You don’t ever want that to get to a place that causes an inability to work together or whatever. Nobody would ever want anything like that. But a little bit of that back and forth, I would say, is a healthy relationship between the bodies. You know, the House is trying to move things and push things that are of their priorities. Senate trying to do the same thing, kind of forces the leadership into a place to where you discuss those things that are the priorities so you can get on the same page. So I think that’s a healthy process. As far as my relationship with House members and leadership members within the House, as majority leader I had a very good relationship with the other leadership members in the House and worked very closely with them on different pieces of legislation, things that we worked on closely together that were important to both chambers. I’ve met with the speaker, you know, heading into this transition time on multiple occasions. Matter of fact, I met with the speaker yesterday afternoon. I met with the speaker this morning. So we have a good open relationship and we’ll continue to work on what we perceive as priorities, not only for our individual chambers, but for the Legislature, for the people of Alabama. So I have a good relationship there. We’ll look for it to continue. 

TS: Senator, thanks for taking the time. 

GR: You’re welcome, man.