By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News
Democratic leaders in the Alabama Legislature are looking for new management within the Alabama Democratic Party as its election re-do approaches.
In November, Republicans picked up five seats in the Alabama House and one in the Senate, adding to their super majority.
“Democrat House members paid nearly $100,000 in qualifying fees to the state party and got nothing for it,” House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, told Alabama Daily News about a lack of support from the Alabama Democratic Party.
He said there was no support from the party to help them organize their campaigns and reach potential voters.
“I’ve never gotten any help from the state party as minority leader,” he said. “A minority leader should not be hosting training on how to run for office.”
“… As we move forward with a new election, I’m hopeful that will see a change in leadership and get someone who is truly able to help rebuild the party,” Daniels said.
The Democratic National Committee’s credentials committee last week said last summer’s election of party chair Nancy Worley and vice-chair Randy Kelley must be held again after accusations that rules were violated in Worley and Kelley’s favor. A new election must happen within the next three months. Attorney Myron Penn, a former state senator, is now running for the chairmanship against Worley.
Criticism of the beleaguered party and its leaders are not new to her.
“There are some people who are going to be negative no matter what you did,” she said Tuesday. “If you handed them $1 million on a plate, they’d say, why didn’t you’ve me $2 million?”
But the Alabama Democratic Party isn’t handing out millions. It has a paid staff of two and is still more than $400,000 in debt, Worley said. That’s debt she inherited when she became party chair in 2013.
“We tried, with very limited funds, we tried to help all our candidates by encouraging voters to vote for Democrats — the whole slate of Democrats,” Worley said about five days of television advertising and other media the party bought in 2018.
Daniels said he purchased for candidates voter data kept by the party, but said it was outdated.
Joe Reed, a longtime fixture in the party, said financially supporting campaigns is not the party’s role.
“If a candidate is running for office and can’t raise any money and don’t have any, they probably don’t need to run,” Reed said Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said candidates for office need to be able to run their own races, but party support can make a difference, especially in general elections.
“I’ve done for so long without them, I don’t even know what party support means,” he said.
Singleton wants stronger, progressive leadership for the party.
“The business community has basically abandoned the Democratic Party and put all their eggs in the Republican basket,” Singleton said. “We’re about business also.”
The party is often silent on state issues, legislation and actions by some Republican leaders, Singleton said.
“We need a party to highlight some of these issues, deal with these issues,” he said.
The party shouldn’t run people’s campaigns, Daniels said. But there must be infrastructure, data coordinators, field officers, communications staff, training and a volunteer network managed by the state party.
Worley doesn’t disagree about needs, but thinks the fix has to come from county-level parties.
“Obviously the party needs more money, no question about that,” she said. “The party needs more staff, but that takes money, no question about that.
“… The party needs the county parities to be functional.”
More money and staff would make the party more omnipresent in the state, Worley said. “(But) the structure doesn’t come from the top down, it comes from the bottom up.”
There is frustration at the county level too. Jimmy Cowan was chair of the Choctaw County Democrats for six years and a member for more than 10. After last year’s election, he quit.
“It’s an untenable situation to work with a state party that’d dominated by Joe Reed and Nancy Worley,” Cowan said.“I just gave it up.”
Once a solid blue county, Republicans have recently won seats in Choctaw County.
“(We) couldn’t get any help from the state party,” Cowan said.
Reed defended Worley, his own work and the status of the party.
“These folks who say we need new leadership, ask them what they’ve done,” Reed said.
Reed said he’s given 50 years of his life to the party.
“There is not a Democrat living in Alabama, black or white, young or old — write this down —
who has done more for the Democratic party than I have,” Reed said. Most recently, that has included speeches around the state and encouraging people to vote Democrat.
Like Singleton, Cowan said there is no messaging from the state party to help distinguish Alabama Democrats from more liberal Democrats on the national stage or to offer an alternative to Republican candidates.
“The party has done nothing to say, there is another point of view,” he said.
He’s concerned what the party will do to help Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, keep his seat next year.
Reed is clear on what the party needs — the return of white voters. Reed said Alabama Democrats began to struggle decades ago when the party embraced civil rights and white voters started to leave the party.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure it out,” Reed said. Alabama is about 26 percent African-American. “As long as whites vote Republican statewide, Democrats can’t win.”
Reed and Worley don’t get a salary from the party, they point out.
“We’ve heard the argument that our chairwoman is working for free,” Daniels said. “Well, we’re getting what we pay for.”
The date of the leadership election has not been set, Worley said.