A Bulldog in ‘Bama

Alabama Senator Hinton Mitchem remains loyal

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Hinton Mitchem Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski

For most Alabama residents, the Iron Bowl game between Auburn University and the University of Alabama is the most important college football game of the year. Bragging rights, pride and recruiting prospects are on the line. For Alabama state Senator Hinton Mitchem (BSEd ’61), it’s just another football game that Georgia isn’t playing in.

And while he may not stand up and “call the Dawgs” if he’s sitting in Alabama’s president’s box at Bryant-Denny stadium, he isn’t shy about his loyalty.

“When I first ran [for political office], the first thing I put on my brochure was ‘Graduate of the University of Georgia,’ and I’ve never gotten criticism for it and I’ve never hid where I’m from,” Mitchem says.

A native of the Eastville community in Oconee County, off Highway 53 between Winder and Watkinsville, Mitchem spent the last 50 years in Alabama, the last four decades in the state senate and decided this past March he would not seek re-election.

“I love politics,” says Mitchem, who expresses a deep appreciation for the experiences he had and the people he met through his career. “But it’s getting harder and harder to please everyone,” he says as he acknowledges there is less money to go around and stronger party lines to fight.

After graduating from UGA, where he lettered in baseball, he found a job in Oconee County that soon transferred him to Albertville, Ala. He began to get involved with the city’s Chamber of Commerce, was elected to the Albertville city council and moved up to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1975. Mitchem became a state senator in 1979.

In the Senate, he served as chairman of the Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee twice, was voted The Outstanding Senator in Alabama by his peers in 1985 and was elected president pro tempore in 2007, a position he held for two years. He also was recognized for his work with the junior and technical colleges in the state and his effort to create the Cathedral Caverns state park.

He considers his work with the Alabama Housing Finance Authority one of his greatest political successes. He sponsored the bill in 1980 that allowed the state to make low-interest loans to people buying homes, which has helped more than 185,000 Alabama families become home owners. And he is quick to mention his work as chairman of the Alabama Special Olympics for almost 20 years.

Mitchem continues to help Alabama citizens even when he isn’t up for re-election. He served as the subject of a retirement roast that raised more than $16,000 for the Child Advocacy Center of Marshall County.

With his newly found free time, the 72-year-old Mitchem plans to travel more and read and visit with his children and grandchildren. And when he makes it back to Athens—usually for a home football game—he fits in some time for nostalgia. He remembers when Eastville had a cotton gin and a country store and is amazed by how much has changed since he was a student at Watkinsville High in the ’50s.

“What’s fascinating to me is how much it’s growing,” he says. “It’s the fastest growing area I’ve ever seen.”