INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
Historically speaking, Alabamians have been more interested in the governor’s race than presidential politics.
For years, from 1876 to 1964, we were a totally Democratic state, more so out of tradition than philosophically. The hatred for the radical Republican Reconstruction shackles invoked on the South made an indelible mark on white southern voters. It was so instilled, that there are a good many stories told throughout the South where a dying grandfather would gather his children and grandchildren around his deathbed and gaspingly admonish them, “Two things I’m gonna tell y’all before I die – don’t ever sell the family farm and don’t ever vote for a damn Republican.”
That all changed in November of 1964. Barry Goldwater and the Republicans became the party of segregation and the white southern voter fled the Democratic Party en mass. As the fall election of 1964 approached, the talk in the old country stores around Alabama was that a good many good old boys were going to vote straight Republican even if their daddies did turn over in their graves. Well folks, there were a good many papas turning over in their graves all over the South. The entire South changed parties on that day 52 years ago.
Since we were a solid Democratic state for 90 years, we really had no say in the presidential selection process. We are in the same position today, being a solid Republican state. Therefore, it makes sense that we would have more interest in gubernatorial politics than presidential rhetoric because we have much more of a say in that contest. In addition, all of our other offices are up for election in the race for governor year, including all 67 sheriffs, all 140 members of the legislature, and all other constitutional offices such as attorney general, agriculture commissioner, secretary of state and treasurer.
Indeed, for most of our past there were more votes cast in the Democratic Primary for Governor of Alabama than in a presidential contest. Today, our voting proclivity runs more along the national percentage. We also have the same tendency to vote more against someone than for someone.
George Wallace used to always say give me a good boogeyman to run against. Well, lest you forget Hillary Clinton was the best boogeyman to vilify before Barack Obama. He was the hated villain for an eight year interlude. Now Bill and Hillary have taken back their rightful place as the face of the despised national Democratic Party among white southerners.
Therefore, as this year began, I thought it would be a yawner, a sleeper year for good old Alabama politics. However, we have had some good theater. Not to be outdone by the colorful campaign of Donald Trump, who was a continuous circus or vaudeville act, our local Alabama characters have put on quite a show.
It began with the ethics trial of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, which was a lengthy, detailed, fully vetted and well run process. Hubbard was found guilty by a Lee County jury, which he represented in the legislature. He will ultimately go to jail, a state prison, which is woefully overcrowded and dangerous.
While the Hubbard story was anticipated and expected, the saga of good ole Dr. Robert Bentley has remained in the news continuously throughout the entire year. His former buddy, Spencer Collier, has filed a lawsuit against the Governor and his girlfriend. Now comes a second suit and revelations by his former Security Chief Ray Lewis which is juicier and adds to and confirms Collier’s story. This will probably keep the salacious story alive for another year or more.
Bentley has been relegated to an irrelevant punch line or joke. He would not have been so adversely ridiculed if he had not been perceived as a family values man, churchman, retired doctor and looked like an old grandfather.
There is an old saying in politics that if you ride a white horse you better not get mud on it because it shows up. Another truism is sex sells.
Ain’t Alabama politics fun? Wow – what a year! Now we will get ready for the 2018 gubernatorial year, and to top it off, we have also got an open Senate seat up for grabs.
We will have a governor’s race and an open U.S. Senate race in the same year. Those races have begun. Since winning the Republican primary is tantamount to election in Alabama, we elect a new governor and new U.S. Senator in June of 2018, which is less than 18 months from now.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.