It was an augury for the Democratic Party that the 2010 midterm elections coincided with the Day of the Dead. Surely the shades of Big Jim, Carl Elliott, Hugo Black and Albert Brewer—no, wait, he’s still alive— looked down in astonishment as Alabamians trooped to polling places in wave after wave to pledge allegiance to The Corporation.
Local Republicans might refudiate that, saying that this GOP vote was a vote to oust corruption and bring fiscal conservatism to Montgomery. Yet, with a Republican legislature installed for the first time since Reconstruction, the redrawing of Alabama’s congressional districts will be guided by a national GOP whose stated first priority is to make Barack Obama a one-term President by shrinking Democratic eligibility and swelling the ranks of lawmakers favorable to the giant business interests we might as well call The Corporation. Creating new jobs and banning PAC-to-PAC transfers might just have to wait.
If you hear a local Democrat say he or she never saw this coming, double-check to determine if there’s a seeing-eye dog nearby. Only the blind could not have known that Mike Hubbard, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, was coming in with his Second Amendment remedies blazing, and that his sole target was control of the state legislature. He stated as much back in January, as though daring Alabama Dems to meet him at the OK Corral.
Their response was better suited for an OK Chorale.
Alabama Democrats didn’t line up enough candidates to even contest all the legislative races in which the GOP was involved; at least five Senate incumbents were returned to Monkey Town unopposed and there was no Democratic option in two other Senate races.
(On a side note, the highest-profile toy train operator in Vestavia got his ticket to Washington punched again without opposition. Is there not a single Democrat willing to at least pretend that Spencer Bachus is not the best leader available in the Sixth District?)
Too, funding became problematic. I talked to one candidate at the top of the ballot last week and asked how Democrats could hope to get their messages out when the GOP has a conduit to the masses, meaning Fox News Channel. “That’s true, the Democrats don’t have that, “ he said. “But they don’t have money either.” Many candidates reportedly had trouble getting cash distributed from the top of the party down, and in any event, the funds available were far less than those swelling GOP coffers from a variety of sources.
Everyone knew this was coming. There was plenty of time to prepare. The state Democratic Party just didn’t.
When the hot-stove league cranks up in Buck’s Pocket, there’ll be plenty of alibis to go around. You might hear that the economy was too dire to run against, that the unpopularity of the Obama agenda tainted local races, that it was just the GOP’s turn. The fact is that, although there are only two Democrats remaining in statewide office, many Democrats ran local races and defeated Republican opposition with the power of their arguments. It’s still possible to win as a Democrat, apparently as long as you don’t actually use the word “Democrat” in your advertising (Terri Sewell in the Seventh District being one of the few afforded that electoral luxury.)
Will the officials at the top of the Democratic food chain be held accountable for miserable performance? They will not. Perhaps anticipating the rout, the State Executive Committee moved its elections up to August instead of the usual January, so every doofus responsible is safely employed for the next four years.
Alabama Democrats dismayed by what’s transpired might take a page from Flannery O’Connor’s playbook. Just as, in Wise Blood, Hazel Motes sought salvation through The Holy Church of Christ Without Christ, progressives, liberals and moderates might want to essay The Alabama Democratic Party Without Democrats. There’s nothing to lose at this juncture, so why not start over without Joe Turnham, Joe Reed and Paul Hubbert? Honest to God, you couldn’t perform any worse.
Meanwhile, the onus to govern well now falls to the GOP. Election Night, I asked one of their new hires, Maplesville Mayor Kurt Wallace, if a freshman legislator could gain any traction in the big machine. He pondered and replied, “I’ve been a business leader all my life. If you invite me into the room, you’re going to get an opinion. How much influence will I have? I don’t have any idea, but I can promise you this. We’re gonna do the things we do for the right reasons. We’re not gonna do them in secret, and we’re going to honor the commitments we made.”
Can the first-timers survive the temptations of special interests up on Goat Hill? “If enough of us will stand together and not play that game, we can make a difference. If we never start, we’ll never have to fight that fight.”
And will this be the beginning of 136 years of Republican rule? “That’s probably never a good thing, Courtney,” Wallace laughed. “Our two-party system works.”
It remains to be seen if another party will even show up for the next election cycle.
On another matter: if you read the horrific accounts of the recent triple murders in North Birmingham and want to help, you can.
Survivors are faced with the daunting task of paying for three funerals. As a school official advised us, “Alabama Waldorf School, where Aaliyah Budgess attended 7th grade, has established the Aaliyah Budgess Memorial Fund to help the family pay for the burials of Aaliyah, her cousin, and her aunt.
“Checks may be made payable to Alabama Waldorf School and designated for the Aaliyah Budgess Memorial Fund. Checks can be mailed to 1220 50th St. S., Birmingham, AL 35222. Visa/MC charges may be made by phoning (205)592.0541. The account will be open through year end.”
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.