Matthew Stokes: It’s Almost Over; But Really, It’s Not

Matthew Stokes: It’s Almost Over; But Really, It’s Not

By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Columnist

I always greet November with a sense of bittersweet emotion.  I’m glad the cooler weather is finally here, and we’re able to look forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I’m sad that the college football season is mostly done, though I’m thankful there are MAC games on Tuesday nights, so now we’ve got the possibility of football for seven straight nights.  This year, I’m grateful November has arrived because it means that this election, a national midterm and a gubernatorial one in Alabama, is almost over.

I’ve been voting now for almost twenty years, and nearly every election has been described as the most important one in my lifetime.  It is true that voting took on a new dimension after September 11, 2001 and the stock market crash of 2008. The elections of Barack Obama in 2008 and Donald Trump in 2016 were both historic, though for markedly different reasons.  Tomorrow’s election is not as consequential, but it’s important all the same. Nationally we will have either divided government within Congress or perhaps between the entire Congress and the White House. In Alabama, we will either continue on the same path with incumbent governor Kay Ivey, or return to our Democratic past with Walt Maddox. I don’t think this election will be earth-shattering in any direction, but there are certainly some choices before us.

At the national level, polling seems to indicate some Democratic gain in Congress, though it’s hard to tell if those gains will become the fabled Blue Wave.  It seems likely that we will wake up Wednesday morning to a House of Representatives controlled by Democrats while the Republicans will have strengthened their hand in the Senate.  (Caution, though: 2020 looks much less favorable for GOP Senate hopes) Should this all come to pass, and we find ourselves with a divided Congress, it creates an interesting scenario.  Will House Democrats attempt to restrain the Trump administration in a centrist fashion, or will they cave in to the more radical elements of their own coalition? Will a defeat at the ballot box cause Republicans in either house to push back against Trump’s excesses?  Given the conspicuous silence from any sitting Republican over the racially incendiary ad Trump promoted last week, it seems doubtful. Perhaps most important, what can we expect from the President himself if his party is defeated tomorrow? Something tells me he’ll point a lot of fingers at his own party, even if the blame lies elsewhere.

It’s been a curious election season here at home.  The GOP gubernatorial field had really strong candidates, but surprisingly no one, including Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle, managed to gain much traction.  Governor Kay Ivey shrugged everyone off and headed into the general election, where polling suggests that she’ll enter into a full term come January. Most of the down ballot races were similar for the GOP, save for Steve Marshall fighting off Troy King and his last minute effort to appeal to Trump voters by bringing in uber-weirdo Roger Stone to help him campaign just before he finds himself in Robert Mueller’s crosshairs.   Voters appear rather happy with most of their options, which explains why the most impressive slate of Democratic candidates in recent memory is still behind in most polling. I realize I’ve already spent considerable time detailing my problems with Democratic nominee Walt Maddox, but given past choices – hello, Ron Sparks! – he’s a significant improvement.

Alabama Democrats are hopeful for a resurgence, and I admit I’ve seen more Democratic yard signs than I can remember.  The problem is the very limited scope of that appeal, which still primarily resides among upper income white voters and minority voters.  That’s not a bad coalition, but in Alabama it is usually not enough to win. Sure, Doug Jones was able to defeat Roy Moore’s vanity campaign last fall, but whatever Kay Ivey’s flaws, she’s not Roy Moore.  It might be easy for Democrats to look at the majority of voters and become frustrated that they are not taking the bait. That’s a fair frustration but ultimately Democrats must have a better message than another (yawn) pitch at an education lottery and Medicaid expansion.

As a conservative who never got on board the Trump train, this is an odd election.  I think Republicans and conservatives are fortunate in Alabama because whatever the flaws on our side, this is mostly a very competent slate of candidates.  What I would like to see is a continued focus on making Alabama the best it can possibly be, regardless of who is in the White House. And Congress? A word to our fine Congressional delegation: your Constitutional duty to keep the executive office in check. It is time to do so, particularly when the executive’s policies, if not his person, continue to run counter to the Republican Party’s values.  

In any case, our work as citizens does not end on Tuesday.  It is good to remind ourselves that most of our problems are not solved in Washington and Montgomery.  The government cannot love us and care for us, and we should not ask it to. Instead, let’s continue to do the hard but rewarding work in our own lives and communities, knowing that in time, our politics will reflect that reality.

Matthew Stokes is a writer living in Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter @yellingstopAL or email him at yellingstopal@gmail.com.