Venable was a class act

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006

When the gavel fell to start the 2006 Regular Session of the Legislature last week it began without one of its most stellar members.

House Rules Committee Chairman Jack Venable succumbed to leukemia late last year and the state lost a true statesman.

I got to know Jack Venable well over our 16 years together. We sat close together on the floor and our offices were next to each other in the Statehouse. Jack was a very respected and revered member of the Legislature but he loved his wife Jo, his newspaper, his community, and Auburn University the most. Jack was reared in Elmore County, went to Auburn, became a television journalist, and was well known in the Montgomery area through TV. When he was in his mid 30s he bought the Tallassee Tribune and became Publisher and Editor and chief cook and bottle washer. He subsequently was elected to the Legislature in 1974 at age 35 and was reelected to seven more four-year terms.

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Jack was one of the few legislators who people listened to when he went to the microphone to speak. He was thoughtful, decisive, and well versed. He did not go off half-cocked. Jack was truly independent. In a day when special interests and their largesse of campaign funds control most legislative decisions and lawmakers, Jack never succumbed to these powerful interests. He refused to take PAC money. He probably was the only one of the 105 House members who refused campaign contributions. This concerned many of us who knew that Jack’s district had changed dramatically since his arrival. Elmore County had progressed from a rural small county to a bulging bedroom community for Montgomery County, much the same way that Shelby County has to Jefferson.

Jack’s family had deep roots in Elmore. The Venables were venerable stock that settled the area, but these new transplants hardly know their neighbors much less their legislator. Additionally they were all Republicans and Jack continued to be a conservative Democrat. He also refused to put up signs. He was truly a relic of past political years and his refusal to take PAC money and his alienating the special interests with his independence could have made him vulnerable to a well-financed Republican opponent.

Going to the legislature is similar to being sent off to camp or some of you might say more like reform school. You build lifetime friendships. It is only natural that your best friends would be your legislative buddies because you spend nearly half the year together. In Jack’s case he spent most of his adult life in the House.

During my tenure Jack sat with me and Pete Turnham from Auburn and Seth Hammett from Andalusia. Early on Jack and Seth developed a very special bond. All of us knew they were close friends. They were similar in nature, thoughtful, decisive, and articulate with a high level of integrity. They were inseparable. Therefore, it was an obvious decision for Seth to make Jack Chairman of the Rules Committee when Seth became Speaker in 1999. The chairman of the Rules Committee needs to be someone the Speaker can trust because this committee sets the agenda and decides which bills reach the floor of the House.

The eulogy that Speaker Seth Hammett gave for his friend Jack Venable at the First Methodist Church of Tallassee was special. You could tell it was given by a man who was his best friend.

I am sure that when Seth Hammett gaveled the House to convene last Tuesday there was a sad tug in his heart for his old legislative buddy. He probably remembered earlier days when we all sat in the back row on the left side of the old historic House Chamber in the Capitol. Jack and Seth would huddle together and decide how to best represent their people in Elmore and Covington Counties.

Jack Venable was a gentleman, a statesman, and an honest man who will truly be missed.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 66 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at