That’s neither a rhetorical question nor a cheap shot. Jabbing Alabama’s Democrats is like laughing at a hapless football team; it’s comically easy. Modern-day Alabama is a Republican state dominated by Republican-held elected offices, Republican judges and Republican voters. The governor is Republican and is likely to be re-elected. The GOP owns an iron grip on the state Legislature. Local-level politicians, sensing changing political winds and fearing defeat, have flipped left to right. The state’s Democratic Party is, shall we say, stuck in a rut.
That’s the nice way to put it.
It’s better than this: Alabama’s Democratic Party is one of the nation’s seven most dysfunctional state parties. Fifty states, 100 traditional R and D parties, and Alabama’s Democrats are among the most fouled up, if not at the top.
That’s nasty stuff.
Editors at Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call, which covers Congress, has slapped Alabama’s D’s with that label. (Hard to argue it, isn’t it?) On their list of seven state parties in disarray are three Democratic groups, four Republican groups, two in the Deep South — Alabama and Georgia’s Democrats — and even one in Alaska, where a coup has undermined the stability of that state’s normally powerful GOP.
Ah, but no one is like Alabama’s dysfunctional Democrats, whose splintering into two groups has been publicly displayed like a messy celebrity divorce. Now Alabama has two Democratic groups, the state Democratic Party and the Alabama Democratic Majority — which leads one to ask: Where in Alabama is that majority?
“Soon after (Chairman Mark Kennedy’s departure), interim chairwoman Nancy Worley announced the committee was in dire financial straits: It had been threatened with eviction, was unable to pay utility bills, had its credit cards maxed out and was missing equipment from the party’s headquarters ....,” Roll Call wrote this week.
“The party is now saddled with $500,000 in debt and is tasked with finding a permanent chairman and recruiting statewide candidates for 2014. Meanwhile, Kennedy took to the Alabama Democratic Majority’s Facebook page to defend his tenure and maintained his new group would support — not sabotage — the state party.”
We’d have to sacrifice a forest of trees for the newsprint needed to detail the state’s Democratic downfall. Remember the impressive Artur Davis, the Democrat who ran for governor? Recall the tussle he had with the Congressional Black Caucus? And his spat with Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Conference? Davis is now a Republican. In Virginia. Left the party, left the state. Gone.
Other stories abound. But suffice it to say that Alabama’s Democrats have been swept up in a perfect storm of weak candidates, party turmoil, voter unrest and the historic arrival of Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president and the unofficial namesake of landmark health-care legislation that Republicans universally despise.
The bricks that make up this story’s wall are many; combined, they’ve effectively neutered the Democratic Party in Alabama, though, and to their credit, local Democrats are carrying on in hopes that the party actually stages a comeback in the near future.
In military terms, they do not occupy a position of strength.
Yet, “This is a real turning point in the history of the Democratic Party in the state of Alabama,” Shelia Gilbert, head of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, told The Star recently. “When you hit the bottom you have to do something different. You can’t just keep doing the same things over and over without some type of change.”
Likewise, “I’m proud to tell you the Cleburne County Democratic Executive Committee is alive and well,” Darrell Turner, the Democratic chairman in Cleburne County, has said. “That’s the straight truth, we’re not only alive, we are thriving.”
Time and future elections will determine if that’s truth or hopeless spin.
Politics can’t be removed from politics, so any call for Democratic optimism will be seen as blatant liberalism. In that regard, think what you wish. But it’s indisputable that Alabama needs a vibrant two-party system in which voters conservative and progressive can have their views adequately represented in Montgomery.
Alabama and its Southern brethren know well the result of one-party politics. It’s tragic.
Our state’s all-powerful Republicans should view this in football terms, which surely they understand. Beating the Little Sisters of the Poor is no challenge. Whipping a quality opponent is worthy of a victory cigar.
If the GOP is confident in its ability to control Alabama politics, it should harbor no concerns about a revamped Democratic Party. As it stands now, this fight is hardly fair. Or interesting.
Phillip Tutor — firstname.lastname@example.org — is The Star’s commentary editor. Follow him at Twitter.com/PTutor_Star.