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Sanders announces he will not seek re-election

Sen. Hank Sanders surprised many in the state and the district he represents by saying Thursday he will not seek re-election to the state Senate in 2010.

Sanders, 66, is one of the most powerful members of the legislature. He is chairman of the Finance and Taxation-Education Committee, which prepares the budget for public schools and colleges. He also was founder of the Alabama New South Coalition, a predominantly black political organization.

In his statement, which was released Thursday afternoon on selmatimesjournal.com, Sanders said, “This political phase of my life is complete, and it is time for me to move on to new challenges, new responsibilities and new commitments.”

Sanders said he wants to complete writing a series of books he started several years ago, but didn’t have time to complete.

“But one thing will never change,” Sanders said in the statement, “I will continue to work to make a difference in the life of this area and in the life of this state; however that contribution, will now come through my new roles, whatever they may be.”

To the Black Belt region, which he represents, Sanders has operated on behalf of his constituency consistently. Dallas County Provost Judge Kim Ballard said he will miss his seniority in the Senate.

“Personally, I enjoyed his relationship with us,” Ballard said.

Probate Judge Cindy Neilson of Marengo County said she was surprised when her husband Claud came home Thursday and told her he had heard of Sanders’ decision. Sanders has worked closely with Marengo County, one that he serves in Senate District 23.

“He’s always been a very good senator and I hate to hear he will not be running,” she said.

Recently, Neilson had the opportunity to share a success with Sanders in her hometown of Thomaston. In April, the Alabama Black Belt Action Commission, co-chaired by Sanders, celebrated its fourth anniversary. The event marked the commission’s creation and efforts to improving living conditions in Black Belt counties. It was held with the rural Heritage Day, conducted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Foundation.

Selma Mayor George Evans had not heard of Sanders’ decision until a reporter told him after Thursday’s late-afternoon work session at City Hall.

“We’re losing a good man — influential, powerful man as a result of him not running,” Evans said.

Evans said Sanders’ decision made him sad, “but I’m sure he made it in the best interest of himself and his family . . . We’ve lost a real big rock in the Senate. It’s going to hurt.”

Former Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr., who is running for the 7th District seat in Congress, released a statement through his campaign spokesman George L. Jones. The statement said, “I was surprised, but I’m sure he made the decision that was best for himself and his family.”

In his statement, Sanders said he hoped he made a difference in the state.

“Representing the people of Alabama in the state Senate has been an honor and one of the great privileges of my life. I will look back only with fondness at the many long hours, the battles, the victories and defeats. Most of all I will miss the many colleagues and friends I’ve met on this wonderful journey.”