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Steele: Race will be part of process

The man who may have the most influence over the appointment of five nominees for the University of West Alabama Board of Trustees isn’t quite ready to discuss his opinion. He does admit some concerns about the diversity of those nominees.

State Sen. Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa, represents Sumter County — home of UWA. Giving him more legislative authority over the Livingston school is Steele’s position on the Alabama Senate’s Confirmations Committee. It is in that committee where Gov. Bob Riley’s nominees will either be recommended to the entire Senate, pushed to the side, or rejected altogether.

“I really just got their names this morning, and it’s hard to say what will happen until we sit down and really research each of the candidates,” Steele said. “Ask me in two or three weeks, and I’ll know something better.”

Wednesday afternoon, Riley announced the nomination of John Northcutt and Ken Tucker, both of Demopolis; Foy Tatum and Thomas Ballow Jr., both of Montgomery; and Margaret Lovett of Tuscumbia.

However, Riley’s choices are just nominees at this point. When the Alabama Legislature convenes on Feb. 3, the nominees will be sent to the Confirmations Committee, which is chaired by State Sen. E.B. McClain, D-Bessemer. Over the past year, Riley and McClain haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye.

“Before we look at these [UWA] nominees, we’re going to have to deal with the Pardon and Parole Board,” Steele said.

Last year, Riley nominated five new Pardon and Parole board members. McClain — in his position as chair of the Confirmations Committee — refused to send the nominees to the floor of the state senate. Among other things, McClain expressed concern over the racial makeup of Riley’s nominees.

In the case of UWA, Steele said he already notices the same trend — all five nominees are white — and he believes that issue will come into play in the confirmation process.

“There is a lot of politics involved in this,” Steele said. “You have to negotiate. You have to deal with the dynamics of the board.”

Wednesday, Riley spokesman John Matson said the Governor did not plan to forcefully campaign for the nominees.

“Sometimes party politics can come into play in the appointment process,” Matson said. “The Governor has appointed able people, and I don’t believe this is something that he’ll actively campaign for on the floor.”

One political issue — racial diversity — likely will serve as a benchmark for Steele, who also serves as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“Sen. McClain has appointed me to serve on a subcommittee that will deal with minorities on boards in the state,” Steele said. “It’s something we need to look at in Alabama.”

As for the five nominees for the UWA Board of Trustees, Steele said he doesn’t expect the process to get stuck in the Confirmations Committee during the 2004 regular session.

“I think we’ll get it done this session,” Steele said. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”