By David Palmer
The Cullman Times
Hinton Mitchem, long one of the most powerful figures in the Alabama Legislature, died Tuesday at the age of 74.
Mitchem, who started his political career in Albertville as a member of the city council, served more than three decades in the legislature. He was first elected to the state House of Representative, where he served one term, and spent the rest of his political years in the Senate, until his retirement in 2010.
Mitchem resided in the Providence community of Cullman County with his wife, Judy, who was raised here. In addition to his wife, Mitchem is survived by his children: Todd Mitchem; Derrick Mitchem and his wife, Heather; Tonya Grindon and her husband, Steve; and Brittnie Mabry; and four grandchildren, Ashleigh, Emma Grace and Henry Grindon and Derrick Hinton Mitchem.
Even as the political environment in Montgomery was changing, Mitchem remained a Democrat and was known for developing strong working relationships with members of both political parties.
“He was a true statesman. Hinton was also very good with people. He was a warm person and just fun to be with,” said Zeb Little, former state Senate leader from Cullman.
Little said Hinton’s experience in the tractor businessman was an asset to the veteran politician in working across party lines.
“He was chairman of the budget committee, which was a very powerful position. But he was able to build coalitions during his years in the legislature. I think his business background served him well in working with all the different members of the Senate. I’m sad to hear of his passing. He will be missed,” Little said.
Jeremy Oden, who served 12 years in the House as a Republican before accepting an appointment to the state Public Service Commission, also called Mitchem a “true statesman.”
“He was a statesman through and through. He was my senator in Blount County, too, and was always a great person to work with,” Oden said. “He was also a huge supporter of education and helped Wallace State. He actually was the floor leader for several governors and was always effective in helping his district and the state, but he would give the credit to someone else. I knew him as a great friend.”
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.
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.
* The Associated Press contributed to this article.
* David Palmer may be contacted at email@example.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.