By now you’ve probably heard talk of the “blue wave” that’s supposed to come this November.
Many political prognosticators say that Democratic voters, energized by their opposition to President Donald Trump, will show up to the polls nationwide in far greater numbers than Republicans this fall. Much like the “red wave” of 2010 that grew out of opposition to President Obama and the Democratic Congress, this “blue wave” could propel Democrats into the House majority and have major implications down ballot as well.
I don’t know whether this wave will impact Alabama’s political shores. This is still a deeply conservative state and, if they avoid becoming complacent, Republicans should dominate at the polls again this fall.
What I do know is that, if this “blue wave” does come, it won’t matter unless Alabama Democrats are prepared to catch it and ride it. That means having the organization and infrastructure in place to turn voter enthusiasm into actual votes.
They’ve done it before. In the 2008 elections, Alabama Democrats rode the Obama wave to win two Congressional seats in districts that lean pretty heavily Republican. Sure, Parker Griffith in North Alabama’s 5th District and Bobby Bright in Southeast Alabama’s 2nd District had moderate credentials that helped them with independent voters, but it was the unprecedented turnout among black Democratic voters that put them over the top to win open seats. That wave also helped Lucy Baxley win her race for Public Service Commission that year, the last Democratic statewide election win until Doug Jones last December.
However, that was back when the Alabama Democratic Party still constituted a legitimate political organization. While their firm grip around Alabama government had slipped somewhat, Democrats still controlled the Legislature and still had a formidable party apparatus that, especially when working with the Alabama Education Association, could deliver votes on Election Day.
Ten years and several election drubbings later, that’s no longer the case. The Alabama Democratic Party is a shell of its former self. And those who are trying to make the party an organized, competitive force once again got a major setback on Saturday when the executive committee met in Montgomery.
Peck Fox, a longtime Democratic politico who worked for party stalwarts like Howell Heflin and Jim Folsom, Jr., lost his bid to become chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party. Fox was seeking to take over for Nancy Worley, who many Democrats complain has allowed the party infrastructure to crumble under her direction.
In a surprising and significant move, U.S. Sen. Doug Jones publicly supported Fox’s bid and spoke out about the need for change.
“If you are satisfied with the status quo, then we will keep the status quo, which is only one Democrat elected statewide,” Jones said. And he’s right.
Of course, the real reason Fox, Jones, and other reform-minded Democrats came up short in their effort is because Joe Reed still controls Democratic party politics in Alabama. Reed has run the Alabama Democratic Conference, the African American wing of the party, for almost 50 years. In the late 1980s, he and others sued the Alabama Democratic Party and successfully won a consent decree granting party leaders the authority to appoint unelected black members to the executive committee until they were represented proportional to the minority electorate in the Democratic primary. Who decides what that proportion is and who will be appointed? That would be the Vice Chairman for Minority Affairs, a position held by – you guessed it – Joe Reed.
Before the executive committee voted Saturday, Reed appointed 35 new voting members. Worley, Reed’s hand-picked chairman, won by only 12 votes.
That’s Tammany-style hard knuckle politics right there. And it’s a shame if you’re an Alabama Democrat because it’s a missed opportunity to take advantage of some rare momentum.
Jones’ defeat of Roy Moore energized liberal and progressive Alabamians in a powerful way. And, while unquestionably an outlier election in more ways than one, it showed that with the right candidate, strong funding, and proper organization, Democrats could at least compete for elections in our deep-red state.
After barely fielding candidates four years ago, Democrats boast an impressive slate of office seekers this year: Walt Maddox for governor, Will Boyd for lieutenant governor, Joseph Siegelman for attorney general, Bob Vance for chief justice, Tabitha Isner and Mallory Hagan for Congress, just to name a few. To a person, they all face steep uphill battles and they’d all benefit from a wave of Democratic voter enthusiasm.
That wave may well come, but with a party stuck in the past and unwilling to change, will it even matter?
Todd Stacy is the publisher of the Alabama Daily News. His 15-year career in Alabama politics spanned from the State House in Montgomery to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Subscribe for free to his daily political news and analysis at www.ALDailyNews.com.