MONTGOMERY (AP) — One of Alabama's longest-serving legislators, former Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Hinton Mitchem of Union Grove, has died. He was 74.
Direct Communications President Rick Heartsill, a friend of Mitchem, said the former senator died Tuesday after a long illness.
A longtime tractor dealer in Albertville, Mitchem was first elected to the Albertville City Council in 1968 and then to the state House of Representatives in 1974. After serving four years in the House, he was elected to the Senate in 1978 and in 1982.
He gave up his seat in 1986 to run in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, finishing third in a field of four.
Mitchem was re-elected to the Senate in a special election in 1987 and held the seat until 2010.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, praised Mitchem.
"Hinton Mitchem worked hard on behalf of the people of his district," Bentley said. "I had the pleasure of serving with him in the Legislature, and we had a strong mutual respect for each other. Dianne and I are saddened to learn of his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Judy, and his entire family during this time."
Mitchem represented a diverse district that included small row-crop farmers on Sand Mountain and rich retirees on Lake Guntersville. He never fit neatly into the Democratic Party, and he often said he had the most Republican district in Alabama that was represented by a Democrat. He sometimes fought with the Alabama Education Association and trial lawyers, two usual allies of the Democratic Party, and he drew campaign contributions from Republican-leaning business groups.
Mitchem also had some famous battles with Republican governors. In 1996, he used his position as chairman of the Senate Confirmations Committee to block efforts by Republican Gov. Fob James to replace Montgomery banker Bobby Lowder on the Auburn University board of trustees with an executive of Alfa Insurance.
In 2007, then Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. helped Mitchem put together a coalition of Senate Democrats to get elected president pro-tem of the Senate 18-17 over Republican Gov. Bob Riley's choice. Mitchem served a two-year term and turned the post over to another Democrat.
After 36 years of service in the Legislature, Mitchem decided to retire and not seek re-election in 2010. His retirement and the defeat of some incumbent Democrats helped Republicans take control of the Senate in the 2010 election and end 136 years of Democratic control.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Mitchem had attended 48 consecutive Georgia vs. Auburn football games until this past season.
"Alabama has lost a great leader with the passing of Hinton Mitchem, and I have lost a longtime friend," said former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., who worked with Mitchem many years in the Senate. "He dedicated his life to making our state a better place, and generations of Alabamians will continue to benefit from his legacy of committed public service and legislative leadership."
Moss Service Funeral Home in Cullman is handling arrangements.
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