Ledbetter brings co-op experience to the State House
By Minnie Lamberth
Alabama’s recently elected Speaker of the House, Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, enjoyed a long career with Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative before he headed to Montgomery to represent parts of DeKalb County in the state’s House of Representatives.
“If you look at it, I was raised in the co-op,” Ledbetter says. “I started at such a young age there.”
When Ledbetter was a junior in high school, he got a job mowing the grass for the co-op. “After that I went to work with them full time.” He completed a four-year apprentice program to become a journeyman lineman, then pursued a certificate in field engineering and switched to that role. “Later on, I became a key accounts manager over our largest customers,” he says.
Ledbetter ultimately stayed with Sand Mountain Electric for 33 years before retiring and running for the House District 24 seat, which he won in 2014. During that same term, he pursued a leadership role with a run for majority leader in 2017. “I don’t think anybody expected that I would win,” he acknowledges. However, his colleagues voted him into this position, and he became the first freshman legislator to ever be elected to majority leader. He was reelected in 2018 and ultimately served in that role for six years.
When former Speaker Mac McCutcheon announced that he would not run for reelection, Ledbetter threw his hat in the ring to be his replacement. The Republican caucus nominated him for Speaker of the House in November 2022, and he was officially elected by the full membership on Jan. 10 at the start of the Legislature’s organizational session.
Leadership roles, Ledbetter says, give him an opportunity to have more influence in how the state progresses. “I think Alabama had been going in a good direction. The thing we looked at doing was to continue that direction and hope to continue to work to improve it,” he says. “I think we all want to see our state do better.”
Key topics await lawmakers
When the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session begins on March 7, Ledbetter foresees that legislators will address several key topics.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, will be one of the issues on the front burner. “We’re losing too many young adults because of it. We need to make stricter laws to let people know that if they bring fentanyl into Alabama, they’re going to be punished to the point that they don’t want to do that,” Ledbetter says.
Education and mental health funding will continue to get attention, while adoption will be another area of focus. “We’ve got to clean up our adoption process and make it more fluid,” he says, noting that 5,000 to 6,000 children in the state are without homes. A more fluid process, he says, “will give them a chance to be placed in caring and loving homes. I think that’s important for our state.”
The Legislature will also look at renewing the Alabama Jobs Act and the Growing Alabama Act. This legislation, originally passed in 2015 and renewed in 2021 to support economic development, is set to expire in 2023. “We’ve created over 65,000 jobs, netted over $45 billion in investment into our state because of the Alabama Jobs Act. I think that’s something we’ve got to pass.” The Jobs Act provides business incentives for qualifying projects locating or expanding in Alabama, while the Growing Alabama Act provides tax credits related to support for the qualifying projects of local economic development organizations. “It’s important that we renew those,” Ledbetter says.
Ledbetter’s presence at the Legislature is invaluable to the electric cooperatives of Alabama, says Sean Strickler, vice president of public affairs for the Alabama Rural Electric Association, which represents the state’s 22 electric cooperatives.
“The electric cooperative business isn’t a simple one and most elected officials need some insight from industry experts, but Ledbetter knows more about the cooperative way of thinking than me or most experts do because of his background. So if he feels there is an issue that will help or hurt the Cooperative he will search me out as often as I search him out.”
Serving in the House of Representatives is not Ledbetter’s first turn at elected office. He ran for Rainsville City Council when he was 23 years old, served three terms, then took a shot at the mayor’s office. He didn’t win, but earned the job in the next election when the incumbent chose not to run again. He served as Rainsville mayor until 2002 when he stepped down to move into management at Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative.
Ledbetter also delved into property development and other businesses. He and his wife, Teresa, bought a local newspaper and ran it for several years. “We kept trying to do different things, think out of the box, to keep it growing,” he says. They expanded it to Jackson County and added magazines and digital components before selling it to another newspaper owner.
Ledbetter’s primary career, however, has been at Sand Mountain EC, and he has high praise for how co-ops treat their customers and what he learned from that model.
“The customer relations with electric co-ops across the state of Alabama is as strong as any entity in our state,” he says. “Being reliable and dependable, knowing people can trust you … you learn some of that. It was a good process for me. It was good for my career to grow like I did in my company. We’ve had a lot of opportunities. We’ve been really, really blessed.”