Greg Reed, who has served in the Alabama Senate for a decade, was elected president pro tempore in February. As he approached the end of his first legislative session as the chamber’s leader, he talked with NCSL about his vision for the state’s future.
What are the main challenges and/or opportunities that you see ahead for Alabama? As president pro tem, how do you hope to address them?
Alabama is in a really good place right now. We’ve tried to be very conservative with our budgeting; we’ve tried to be very focused throughout the pandemic on making sure that our state was equipped to manage and deal with the situation as best we possibly could. It’s been a very difficult year, it’s been a very difficult situation, but we’ve come back strong this year in our legislative session.
We’ve got some things happening in Alabama from north to south that I’m excited about. Alabama enjoys being the location that President Trump selected to host the headquarters of U.S. Space Force. The University of Alabama at Birmingham is a genomics testing and research facility, one of the only ones in the Southeast, which is going to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of (National Institutes of Health) grant funds. Alabama also has very robust automotive, shipbuilding and aerospace industries.
Our job is to dive deep into serious issues and find the best outcomes we can. But when you allow for there to be good collaboration, discussion and debate—from all different points of view on a particular issue—you’re going to wind up with a better product. —Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed
Alabama has challenges as well. In comparison to other states, we do not rank nearly as highly as we want to in education outcomes. I think that the coronavirus has presented all kinds of new challenges that we will have to deal with. School kids experienced a very difficult year, and virtual learning is just not as good as being in the classroom.
Another challenge for us is rural health care. When you have as many rural areas as we have in Alabama, it can be hard to find enough professionals that are willing to go to those areas and practice medicine. We’re working to find innovative ways to solve that issue.
How do you aspire to strengthen the Senate? What advice is most important for new legislators to know about the legislative institution?
I was elected unanimously by my colleagues as president pro tem of the Senate. It’s a great honor, a great privilege, and I want to do my absolute best to be a servant leader. We do a lot of things as the body, but it’s also important to keep in mind that every individual senator represents a constituency, and they need a voice, they need an opportunity to do the things that they feel are important for their districts. I look for ways to pick topics that we can work together on, not pick topics that we know we’re not going to be able to work together on.
That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have disagreements. The Alabama Senate is the deliberative body. Our job is to dive deep into serious issues and find the best outcomes we can. But when you allow for there to be good collaboration, discussion and debate—from all different points of view on a particular issue—you’re going to wind up with a better product.
What lessons from your past influence how you lead today?
My background as a businessman and a father of three sons, plus experiences from my community and my church, form what makes me who I am. I always look for ways to apply those experiences to my job as the president pro tem of the Senate.
I think that it is really important to build relationships not only with other senators, but also with the staff supporting us in the Senate, our colleagues in the House, and the governor’s office and her administration. My goal is to have collaborative interactions and try to minimize confusion, try to open up transparency. We may disagree, but we need to understand why, and I’ve made that a real hallmark of the way I lead.
You sit on the Alabama Innovation Commission. What does the commission do, and what are its implications for the state’s future?
The governor decided that we needed to explore ways to encourage and recruit entrepreneurs within the state. So she pulled together both legislators and entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds to form the Alabama Innovation Commission. I serve as the vice chair. The commission also has an advisory group made up of people like Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield and former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We’re working on a report to the governor and to the Legislature with all the information we’ve discovered about how Alabama can best promote itself to startups, entrepreneurs and high-tech businesses that would want to come and make Alabama their home.
This interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, was first published in the Summer 2021 edition of State Legislatures magazine. It was conducted by Stacy Householder and Taylor Huhn. Householder directs and Huhn is a senior program specialist in NCSL’s Leaders and International Program.