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EXCLUSIVE: Nathaniel Ledbetter talks upcoming speakership

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) has been elected by his GOP colleagues to serve as the next speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.

During a Thursday meeting of the chamber’s majority caucus, the North Alabama lawmaker was overwhelmingly entrusted to hold the powerful speaker’s gavel and succeed retiring House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

In an exclusive interview with Yellowhammer News, Ledbetter provided a glimpse into what the chamber would seek to accomplish during his upcoming speakership.

For Ledbetter, who was re-elected this week to his third term in the Legislature, being chosen to lead the chamber as speaker was “a humbling experience.”

“To say the least, it’s very humbling. Being from rural DeKalb County and having an opportunity to be speaker of the House for the state of Alabama is just a humbling experience,” said Ledbetter. “Some of the best people I’ve met in my life I’ve served with. To have them select me to lead them through the next quadrennium as speaker is surreal to be honest with you.”

A seasoned leader, Ledbetter entered the public service arena in 1984 at the age of 23 as a member of the Rainsville City Council. He would go on to run unopposed as mayor, a position he held until 2002.

According to Ledbetter, becoming the highest-ranking member of the chamber was not something he considered when he entered the Legislature in 2014.

“It’s not something that I thought about when I was first elected. It wasn’t on my radar,” he said. “I think the Good Lord has a way of putting you where He wants you, so you’ve got to be mindful of that. I think the opportunity to have my peers to vote for me is just really a humbling experience.”

Within three years after his election to the Alabama House of Representatives, Ledbetter ascended to the vital role of majority leader. At the time, Republicans controlled 72 of the House’s 105 seats.

Since Ledbetter assumed the role of majority leader, the chamber has notched a number of legislative victories for the Yellowhammer State. From matters relating to economic growth, broadband expansion and personal freedom, among many other pressing issues, he has played a crucial role in legislatively uniting the GOP Caucus.

Proving to be an effective leader, Ledbetter has grown the Republican supermajority to a 77-member caucus.

“We’ve been very blessed as majority leader. Of course, one of my roles is trying to keep the majority of the Republican Caucus … We’ve had good candidates that have done a really good job working extremely hard,” he said. “We’ve got a good staff that we’ve put together, I think, which is the best staff anybody’s had. We’ve been blessed with folks that have worked hard and have put a lot of time and effort into it.”

Tireless in his efforts, Ledbetter demonstrated his commitment to the caucus by traveling the state on behalf of his colleagues’ respective campaigns during the past election cycle. Ensuring GOP incumbents and nominees held the resources necessary to mount successful campaigns, Ledbetter led the caucus to dominate North Alabama races widely considered to be swing districts.

“Those seats in Huntsville we knew were close,” he noted. “Everybody up there pulling together and trying to help pull those guys across the finish line was really neat.”

Ledbetter, who was ranked No. 7 on Yellowhammer Multimedia’s 2022 Power and Influence list, takes a statesman-like approach to his service. The lawmaker’s governing style and ability to deliver on vital policy efforts has bolstered his standing as being one of the state’s most prominent elected officials.

The speaker-elect’s influence in Alabama politics, especially as it relates to federal elections, has been on full display during the state’s past two U.S. Senate races.

Ledbetter served as co-chair of U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Auburn) 2020 campaign, and remains a close confidant to Alabama’s soon-to-be senior senator. Additionally, Ledbetter routinely appeared alongside U.S. Sen.-elect Katie Britt (R-Montgomery) throughout her successful bid.

Ledbetter told Yellowhammer News that Tuberville “was one of the first ones” to call and congratulate him on being nominated for speaker.

“He (Senator Tuberville) and I have developed a really close relationship … He’s already helped me,” he said. “We talk regularly and there’s been a couple issues I’ve been able to help him on, and he’s helped me on a couple.”

The speaker-elect referred to Britt as “a superstar” who he was excited to see take on the role of Alabama’s junior senator.

“I’ve been able to work with her for the past several years down here in her role,” said Ledbetter. “Now seeing her being successful to become our next U.S. senator is something I’m very proud of her for. I’m proud of the work she’s doing. She’s going to be a superstar in Washington, and I’m excited for her and her role.”

When asked what issues the chamber would seek to address under his leadership, Ledbetter pointed to three main priorities that lawmakers will look to spearhead.

“We’ll be looking at a lot of different issues … We’ve got to continue to try and improve our education system. I think that’s a priority, and we’ll do that,” he said. “We’ve been working on it already in strides, I think, and work with the education folks to try to move it forward. We’ve got to make it easier to adopt in Alabama. I think we’ll have some legislation coming up that’s going to make that possible. We’ve got to address the fentanyl issue immediately. Those are three primary issues that we’ll face.”

Ledbetter then made mention of the latest round of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that state leadership will allocate.

“Of course, we’ll go through the third tranche of ARPA funds that is going to be of the utmost importance,” he said. “I appreciate Governor Ivey’s view of that. I think she’s done a good job telling us and everybody that we want to invest in our state — not use it as pork money — and use it for projects that are going to be beneficial to the people of this state.”

“If you look at the sewer and water, and then you look at the broadband and some of the things we’ve done, I think it’s actually moving our state in a good direction.”

The lower chamber will see a new committee formed to promote the use and development of inland ports and waterways, according to Ledbetter.

“I just think that it’s such an important thing for state,” he said. “Alabama has 10% of all freshwater in the United States. The Port of Mobile has become such a factor in our job growth in the state that we’re seeing from Toyota Mazda and folks like that.”

According to a recent study commissioned by the Alabama State Port Authority, the Yellowhammer State was the beneficiary of $85 billion in economic impact generated from the Port of Mobile in 2021. A total of 312,896 jobs can be attributed to the deep-water port, the study found.

“I think it’s a timely committee with everything that’s going on with the water shortages out West, so the tech companies are looking at relocating so they’ll have accessibility to that. So that’s one thing we’ll do going forward.”

Ledbetter will officially become the 67th speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives after a vote is held on the chamber floor in January.

Dylan Smith is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanSmithAL

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