Longtime Alabama Sen. Roger Bedford dies

By: - October 11, 2023 12:49 pm
Sen. Roger Bedford

Former Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, served in the Alabama Senate from 1982 to 1990, and from 1994 to 2014. He was also a Democratic candidate for Alabama attorney general in 1990, and the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 1996. (Alabama Senate)

Roger Bedford, a longtime fixture in the Alabama Senate, died on Wednesday. He was 67 years old.

The former senator’s law firm, Bedford and Associates, confirmed his passing on Wednesday morning. A cause of death was not immediately available.

A force in the Alabama Senate for 28 years, Bedford, a Democrat from Russellville, combined deep knowledge of the budgets and administrative procedure with an outspoken and sometimes slashing debate style on the Senate floor.

Bedford did so despite numerous health problems that included cancer, a broken neck and an infection in 2005 that cost him sight in one eye.


“Roger Bedford as a colleague was the ultimate legislator,” Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, who served with Bedford in the Senate, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “He understood the process better than anyone else. He served the state with dignity and humility. He gave us all he had to give.”

Born in Russellville, Bedford was the son of Roger Bedford Sr., who had served as a county court judge. The elder Bedford told the Montgomery Advertiser in 1996 that he had his then-seven-year-old son deliver a speech for him during a campaign, “and ended up carrying that box 3-1.”

“He’s never been the same since, and we decided that he was a whole lot better campaigner than me,” the elder Bedford told the newspaper.

Bedford later served as a page for U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Jasper, and as the national treasurer for the Young Democrats.

An attorney by training, Bedford first won election to the Alabama Senate in 1982. He was a mainstream Democrat who advocated tough-on-crime measures against crime, supporting the death penalty, drug-free zones around schools and mandatory drug treatment for those convicted of drug offenses.

Bedford also supported full funding for the Education Trust Fund budget and Alabama Medicaid.

As longtime chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, Bedford was also well-known for steering money to his northwest Alabama district and his ability to describe those projects with minute detail.

The senator was first diagnosed with cancer in May 1989, and went through aggressive treatment for it.

“It gave me a different view of life,” he told the Montgomery Advertiser in 1990. “When you think you may never see your son’s first baseball game, it gives you another perspective.”

Bedford later introduced bills that would require health care providers to inform cancer patients about options for reconstructive surgery.

Bedford ran for Alabama attorney general in 1990, promising to be a consumer advocate and to rid the state of hazardous waste. Questions about his health followed him through the campaign. He often said at the start of campaign speeches that he had “crushed cancer,” in the hopes of defusing the issue. Bedford advanced to a Democratic runoff, but narrowly lost to Montgomery County District Attorney Jimmy Evans.

Bedford returned to the Alabama Senate in 1994. In 1996, he won the Democratic nomination for the seat held by retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin and faced Republican Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the general election.

Campaigning as a Washington outsider, Bedford managed to secure endorsements from law enforcement officials but faced allegations that he had used public money to run a water line to a private hunting lodge he owned. Bedford lost the election to Sessions.

Returning to the Legislature, Bedford continued to work for his district and serve as one of the Senate Democrats’ most effective parliamentarians.

In 2003, Bedford was indicted on extortion charges over allegations that he forced the Marion County Commission to buy land from a friend. The court dismissed the charges after ruling that the attorney general had failed to prove his case.

In 2009, Bedford helped push through an expansion of eligibility in the Childrens Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in what would be one of the Alabama Democrats’ last major initiatives as the majority party in the Alabama Legislature.

After Democrats lost their majorities in the 2010 elections, Bedford served as Senate Minority Leader from 2011 to 2013. He repeatedly criticized Republican initiatives, particularly efforts by Republicans to roll back benefit and pension packages for teachers.

In 2014, Bedford lost his bid for an eighth term in the Senate to Republican nominee Larry Stutts, an OB/GYN. Stutts won the race by just 70 votes.

“It is clear that God has a different purpose for our lives and we are at peace with that,” Bedford said in a statement at the time.

Bedford’s survivors include his son, Roger Bedford III; his brother John and his sister Hi Roberson.


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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.