HUNTSVILLE, Alabama _ In deciding to deny Democrat-turned-Republican Tom Butler a place on the party’s primary ballot next March, local Republicans seem to have forgotten how their party developed any significant presence in Alabama politics roughly 40 years ago.
Back then, the GOP handpicked its candidates in party caucuses, instead of the primary races run today. That changed in the 1970s when Alabama’s then-fledgling Republican Party – long-time residents can recall the minuscule number of elected Republicans to statewide office – decided to mirror the longtime practice of the Democrats of allowing voters to choose their nominee in a primary election.
In making that transition, Republicans enthusiastically embraced anyone who joined their team. Party switchers were welcomed with open arms.
The strategy led to a turning point for Alabama Republicans in 1986, following a nasty fight in the Democratic primary for governor.
Two powerful Democrats that year, Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley and Attorney General Charlie Graddick, led the ticket of Democratic heavy hitters.