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Editorial: Democrats’ Civil War Threatens Party’s Future Viability

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

For decades Democrats in Alabama won elections because they campaigned on a platform that they were different from Teddy Kennedy and most national Democrats.  Voters would vote for Ronald Reagan or one of the Bushs in one election and two years later vote for Don Seigelman and reelect their Democratic state Senator and state Representative.  Voters who oppose abortion, own a half dozen guns, oppose any property tax increase, go to church every Sunday, and favor small government could still vote for Alabama Democrats because they supported bingo, an education lottery, and generous benefits for Alabama teachers.

Republicans, under the leadership of Bob Riley and Mike Hubbard were able to erode that support by convincing voters that there is no difference between an Alabama Democrat and Nancy Pelosi and the national Democrats.

It was a clever strategy that combined with Democrats being embroiled in corruption scandals resulted in a Republican landslide in 2010 that gave the Republicans every statewide office on the ballot, two additional Congressional seats, and super majorities in both the Alabama House and the Alabama Senate. This was the first time that Republicans had held any majority in either house since the mid 1870s.

Stung by the overwhelming defeat, Democrats responded by changing party Chairmen.  Alabama Democrats reached out to their political past by replacing the likable Joe Turnham (best known for losing multiple close Congressional races to Mike Rogers (R-Saks) with George Wallace’s son-in-law, former Alabama State Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy.  Most political observers thought that the Alabama Democrats would move to the middle, portray the Republican super majority as “too extreme for Alabama” (a reversal of the strategy Mike Hubbard had used against Democrats), rehabilitate their own checkered past, distance themselves from the unpopular presidency of Barack H. Obama and then cobble together a populist coalition of Blacks, disgruntled state employees, pro-gambling voters, the poor, union members, and yellow dog rural voters.

Chairman Kennedy did none of that. Instead he embraced the Obama campaign….even though the Obama campaign scratched off Alabama as a hopelessly red state and spent none of their billions in resources here.  Worse Kennedy’s efforts were totally ineffective.  Obama won just 38% of the Alabama popular vote and ominously only 15% of Alabama’s White voters. Since it is not mathematically possible to do better than Obama’s 95% showing among Alabama’s Black voters and since they are concentrated in majority minority districts, the Alabama Democratic Party faces a mammoth challenge trying to get tens of thousands of Romney voting White voters to support their state legislature candidates in 2014.

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Instead of adopting a rural voter strategy Kennedy appealed to the progressive left, a minority of Alabama voters concentrated in the urban centers of Jefferson, Montgomery, Mobile, and Madison Counties as well as college towns. Opening a new office in the City of Birmingham was part of this effort. Kennedy’s strategy runs opposite of the Republican strategy, under ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead of targeting rural Democrats in counties that voted for Romney and McCain, especially for the offices of Sheriff and Probate Judge (the two most powerful county offices).

Chairman Armistead said in a written statement, “Last year over 50 Democrat elected officials repudiated the Democrat Party and joined the Republican Party, and the trend continues this year.  We have our welcome mat out for anyone who shares our values.”

In the election of 2008, Democrats won 3 of Alabama’s seven congressional seats. In 2010, Republicans won six of seven congressional seats but two of those six were extremely competitive.  In 2012, none of the Democrats that Kennedy recruited to run against Republican incumbents were even viable. Freshmen Martha Roby and Mo Brooks cruised to easy re-elections against token opponents. Only the majority minority seventh District held by Congresswoman Terri Sewell remains in Democratic hands and Kennedy has to this point not presented a coherent plan for taking back any of the other six seats.

The Democratic cause seemed so hopeless in 2012 that Kennedy was not able to recruit any attorneys to be candidates to challenge Republicans for any of the statewide judicial offices. The only lawyer that even qualified to run with a D behind his name was Pelham attorney and perennial candidate, Harry Lyon, who ran for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. When Lyon’s homophobia, personal hatred for Kennedy and over the top rhetoric got too much to bear, Kennedy organized a party coup to remove Lyon from the ballot and replace him with Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance. The Republican candidate for Chief Justice, Roy Moore, easily defeated Judge Vance’s well funded campaign. Likewise the Democrat’s last remaining state wide office holder, PSC President Lucy Baxley was unseated by her Republican challenger, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh.

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Qualifying for the 2014 election ends in less than a year and the Alabama Democrats still do not have a candidate who has announced a run against popular Republican incumbent Governor Robert Bentley (R) or Senator Jeff Sessions (R). It seems like a lifetime ago when Democratic challenger Don Seigelman crushed Republican incumbent Governor Fob James to take the Alabama’s Governor Mansion for the Democrats. Luring former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D) out of retirement for a gubernatorial run seems like the Democrats only option of even making the 2014 governor’s race mildly interesting at this point. Kennedy hasn’t inspired confidence, rarely writes press releases, gives few interviews, and has done a horrible job at fundraising. Corporate dollars are moving to the Republican super majority’s camp to protect and advance their interests.

Powerful Alabama Democrats are understandably panicked and confused about their party’s direction. It appears to most observers that Republicans are going to target the remaining White Democrats in the state legislature and Kennedy has presented little evidence that he has any strategy to defend those incumbents or to target Republican incumbents in the legislature.

Kennedy’s recent appearance at a Planned Parenthood rally at the capitol demonstrated how far to the left that Kennedy has moved the Alabama Democratic Party and was viewed as a slap in the face of the remaining Pro-Life Democrats in Alabama.

Last week longtime AEA boss and Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) Chairman Joe Reed finally admitted publicly what a lot of people were saying privately and pushed the panic button on Kennedy’s tenure as Alabama Democratic Party Chairman. Instead of addressing Democrats concerns and presenting the Democratic Executive Committee with any sort of a coherent path toward victory, Mark Kennedy is resigning as Chairman and is forming his own foundation, the Alabama Democratic Foundation to compete with Reed’s (ADC) for control of the Democratic Party.

Chairman Kennedy told supporters on Facebook, “DO NOT DESPAIR. I am far from finished and now, there is another pathway, filled with hope, integrity and partnership that you can walk with me as we march to victories in 2014.  I want you to join Peggy and me in downtown Birmingham at the Harbert Center at noon on this coming Monday (the 22nd) as we announce the creation of the ALABAMA DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY. (ADM)  The ADM is a non-profit foundation that will exist to expand field programs, open up field offices, educate voters on issues important to the future, register voters and promote better government. I will serve as its Chair and be happy to volunteer my time and what talents I have.  On Monday, I will introduce you to our new staff (you may already know them) and REOPEN the Birmingham Field Office.”

So the White progressives in the ADM are going to do battle with the Black progressives in the ADC for control of the Alabama Democratic Party???  Where does that leave conservative Democrats, moderate Democrats, and swing voters?  Targeted by Kennedy’s new ADM Foundation in Democratic Party Primaries?

Instead of building a bigger tent for the Alabama Democratic Party, Kennedy’s strategy of targeting moderates and promoting the most progressive candidates is patterned after the Tea Party’s efforts in many Republican primaries to produce ideologically pure candidates who most favor their narrow ideological bent.  This strategy has cost the Republicans U.S. Senate seats in both Missouri and Indiana in 2012 and reelected Harry Reid (D) in Nevada in 2010.  Similarly, an attempt to run a progressive slate in Alabama in 2014 will have similar results and will lead to the easy re-election of the Republican super-majority.

Joe Reed is left in a no win position by this.  If Kennedy is wildly successful and convinces Democratic donors to support his organization rather than the ADC, Reed will lose power, privilege, and influence and the Democrats will field a slate of candidates who don’t share Alabama’s values and are likely to be easily defeated.  If Reed squashes this rebellion, his role as the power behind the Alabama Democratic Party is exposed for everyone to see and he is demonized by Republicans and White liberals alike.

The Alabama Democratic Party would be best served if both of these two men would take their personal feud outside and leave the Party to find a new generation of leadership and perhaps some electoral relevance moving forward.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Jones says Senate race a choice between “substance and leadership, and nothing”

“One of the great disappointments in this campaign is that Alabama is not really getting choices between substance and substance,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Incumbent Sen. Doug Jones speaks at a rally in Anniston. (EDDIE BURKHALTER/APR)

Speaking outside the Calhoun County Democratic Party headquarters in Anniston on Friday, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, told a group of supporters that Alabamians haven’t gotten a look at what his Republican opponent might do if he wins the Nov. 3 election. 

“One of the great disappointments in this campaign is that Alabama is not really getting choices between substance and substance,” Jones said. “They’re getting a choice between substance and leadership, and nothing — nothing. We have not heard anything from Tommy Tuberville about what he really wants to do.” 

While Jones has held numerous interviews with the media, and regular web briefings over the summer and in recent weeks, Tuberville’s campaign seems to prefer the safety of keeping Tuberville from making possible gaffs or damaging statements in interviews. 

Tuberville hasn’t agreed to interviews with traditional media outlets, or to debate Jones, and instead has focused on conservative talk radio spots, speaking to smaller Republican groups and at private parties.

Tuberville’s campaign has ignored or denied our numerous attempts to interview Tuberville, including another request on Friday. He also declined to attend a student forum held at Auburn University on Wednesday, which Jones attended. The forum was sponsored by the Auburn College Republicans and College Democrats.

“If you ever hear something Tommy Tuberville says, it is just simply this: ‘Build a wall. No amnesty. Drain the swamp.’ That ain’t him. That’s Donald Trump,” Jones said. “He cannot think for himself. He doesn’t think for himself.” 

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Jones spoke of his record of working to help veterans through legislation. And he referred to Tuberville’s nonprofit for veterans and reporting that indicates, through tax records, that less than a third of the money raised for Tuberville’s charity went to help veterans. 

“I don’t just create charities and send only pennies on the dollar. I do things for the veterans of this state and this country,” Jones said. 

Jones also made a case for Alabamians to remember the contributions past Democrats made in the state. Jones said it was Democratic Sen. John Sparkman who helped build Alabama’s Redstone Arsenal. 

“It was a Democrat, Lester Hill, who built the rural hospitals around here that Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Tommy Tuberville are trying to destroy,” Jones said. “It was Howell Heflin who built up agriculture in this state. Those are the Democrats. It was Franklin Rosevelt that put electricity in this state. We’re going to do the same thing for broadband. People forget those things. They forget those things because we’ve let other people define us with lies.”

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Jones plans to visit Jefferson County on Saturday, then on to the Black Belt and Mobile on Sunday with another stop in Birmingham on Monday afternoon. 

“The goal is to get everybody out. That’s the thing if we want to continue to ensure Alabama moves forward — moves forward and not backwards, to continue to have somebody, if I do say so myself, somebody that’s just not going to damn embarrass us,” Jones said.

Supporters of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones rally in Anniston on Oct. 30, 2020. (EDDIE BURKHALTER/APR)

“We’ve had too much of that in Alabama,” Jones said, “and I bet you it won’t be a year that Tommy Tuberville would be an embarrassment to this state because he doesn’t know the issues. He doesn’t know what to do, and he’s dang sure not going to know what to do when Donald Trump is not president of the United States.” 

Jones encouraged supporters to be skeptical of recent polling. One such recent poll, by Auburn University at Montgomery, puts Tuberville ahead of Jones by 12 percentage points, 54 to 42.1. An internal poll by Tuberville’s campaign puts Tuberville ahead by 15 percentage points, while an internal poll from the Jones camp put Jones ahead by one percentage point. 

“Don’t listen to these polling folks that come in, and they don’t know Alabama, and they don’t know what they’re doing. We’re tracking this race, and I can tell you, everything has been moving in our direction the last two months,” Jones said. 

People standing along roadsides holding his signs and showing support, Jones said, is “the energy we’ve got out there. That’s what you can’t poll.”

Ellen Bass of Anniston, standing outside the Calhoun County Democratic Party headquarters just after Jones spoke, told APR that she has numerous Republican friends who are voting for Jones.

“My hat’s off to them because they’re coming out,” Bass said. “They recognize that he is a better candidate.”

Ciara Smith, 21, newly elected to the Anniston City Council, told APR outside the headquarters building that Jones is the better candidate.

“I think that he’s educated. I think that he speaks with passion and heart,” Smith said. “And he knows what he’s talking about, which is important, and which is more than we can say about the other candidate.”

Speaking to APR after his speech to supporters, Jones said that he feels very good about the state of his campaign.

“Everything we’re seeing is moving in our direction,” Jones said. “And the more he stays hidden, the better it is for us.”

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Crime

Inmate assault injures two St. Clair prison correctional officers

The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Two correctional officers at St. Clair Correctional Facility were injured in an inmate-on-officer assault on Monday, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed to APR.

Among the two officers who sustained non-life-threatening injuries was a basic correctional officer (BCO), a position created in May 2019, who are not Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission (APOST) certified and who cannot transport inmates, work perimeter fencing or in towers.

The other officer injured was a full correctional officer, Alabama Department of Corrections spokeswoman Samantha Rose told APR in a message Friday. The assaults happened at approximately 7:30 p.m. and both officers were taken to a local hospital and treated for those non-life-threatening injuries and subsequently released, according to Rose.

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the actions taken by the inmate against ADOC staff are being thoroughly investigated,” Rose said. “As the investigation into this incident is ongoing, we cannot provide additional detail at this time. More information will be available upon the conclusion of our investigation.”

The ADOC created the new basic correctional officer position to bolster the state’s woefully understaffed prisons. The creation of the position was also at the suggestion of experts ordered by a federal court to study the department’s staffing problems, ADOC attorneys wrote to the court in a filing in 2019.

The ongoing lawsuit is over the state’s handling of mental health in prisons.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program filed the 2014 suit arguing the state was indifferent to the health of inmates dying by suicide in greater and greater numbers.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in June argued that ADOC was far behind on the court-ordered hiring new additional officers. It has been more than two years since U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the Alabama Department of Corrections to hire an additional 2,000 correctional officers by 2022.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in a previous opinion wrote that prison understaffing “has been a persistent, systemic problem that leaves many ADOC facilities incredibly dangerous and out of control.”

“Taken together, ADOC’s low correctional-staffing level, in the context of its severely overcrowded prisons, creates a substantial risk of serious harm to mentally ill prisoners, including continued pain and suffering, decompensation, self-injury, and suicide,” Thompson’s previous opinion continued.

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The SPLC in court filings late last year expressed concern over the use of basic correctional officers in Alabama’s overcrowded and understaffed prisons. ADOC attorneys have argued to the court, however, that BCO’s are adequately trained to do their jobs and are needed for the department to hire the necessary number of officers per the court’s timeline.

In a court filing on Thursday, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked the court not to again delay site visits to Alabama prisons by two experts who are tasked by the court to determine which positions should be filled by correctional officers and which by BCO’s and which by another new position, called cubical correctional officers, who are to have no direct interaction with inmates.

Those visits were to begin in May, but both parties in the suit agree to wait due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat it posed to the experts, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease due to “age and other factors,” according to court records.

Both parties again agreed to postpone those visits in June for those same reasons, those records show. ADOC seeks a third extension but attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that the experts can visit the prisons while keeping themselves, prison staff and inmates safe from harm of COVID-19 and that thousands of employees and contractors enter Alabama prisons daily.

The plaintiff’s attorneys argue in the court filing that the expert guidance is needed because ADOC wishes to use BCO’s and cubical correctional officers to comply with the court-ordered hiring of additional staff by Feb. 20, 2022.

“Ensuring adequate staffing is of upmost importance to address the constitutional violations underlying mental health care within ADOC,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote to the court Thursday.

ADOC in May was employing 494 BCO’s, a 57 percent increase in the number of BCO’s employed in Oct. 2019, according to ADOC’s staffing numbers. The number of correctional officers working in Alabama prisons fell by two percent during that time, dropping from 1,319 to 1,287.

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Elections

Slow absentee voting in Tuscaloosa sparks outrage, possible legal action

Among the issues were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours. 

Josh Moon

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Long lines and slow absentee ballot processing in Tuscaloosa County have left voters outraged and incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’s campaign threatening legal action. 

On Wednesday, Jones’s campaign attorney, Adam Plant, sent a letter to Tuscaloosa County Circuit Clerk Magaria Bobo, outlining a number of issues with ongoing absentee voting and promising to take legal action if Bobo doesn’t improve the process on the final day, Friday. Among the issues documented by Plant were incredibly long lines that left some voters waiting more than five hours and an inefficient process that managed to take in fewer than 100 absentee ballots in six hours. 

Additionally, Plant noted that Bobo has hired her family members to help process absentee ballots and at least one family member had made disparaging remarks on social media about voters. 

“You and those acting on your behalf are suppressing the vote of qualified Alabama voters,” Plant wrote in the letter. “If you are unable or unwilling to execute your duties competently, and allow Tuscaloosa voters to exercise their voting rights without undue burdens, we will take further action.”

In an interview with the Montgomery Advertiser on Wednesday, Bobo noted that her office had received more than 13,000 requests for absentee ballots — a remarkable uptick from the 3,000 or so her office usually receives — and there had been problems in managing that number of ballots while also adhering to social distancing guidelines within the office. 

However, as Plant’s letter notes, the massive increase in absentee ballots for this election shouldn’t have been a surprise. Also, Secretary of State John Merrill had made additional funds available to absentee managers to facilitate hiring extra staff, purchasing additional computers and staying open for longer hours to accommodate the anticipated increase. 

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In a press release on Wednesday, the Alabama Democratic Party criticized Bobo and her family members, and the release included screenshots of Facebook posts from Bobo’s daughter lashing out at voters who complained about the long wait times. 

“No voter should have to wait in line for hours to exercise their rights,” said ADP executive director Wade Perry. “We should leverage every tool we have to make voting easier, not harder. Also, it should go without saying that election workers should not insult the very people they are employed to serve. If Ms. Bobo is incapable of processing voters quickly, someone else needs to do the job.”

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Elections

Jones campaign calls Tuberville a “coward” after no-show at Auburn forum

“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” Jones’s campaign said.

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Doug Jones, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

There are only four days left before election day, and incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’s re-election campaign is slamming Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville, accusing him of “hiding” and calling him a “coward.”

On Wednesday, Jones addressed an Auburn University forum. Tuberville did not attend.

“Tonight, the College Democrats and College Republicans at Auburn University co-hosted a debate between Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville, offering students a chance to ask the candidates about the issues that matter most to Alabama,” the Jones campaign said in an email to supporters. “But Tuberville never showed up – he’s too scared to face Doug… even on his own home turf. Tuberville has repeatedly refused to debate Doug Jones. He’s consistently refused to be interviewed by the press. He’s refused to tell Alabama the truth about who and what they’re voting for – and it’s clear why.”

“Tuberville is hiding because he knows that on every front — policy, experience, character, competence — he loses to Doug Jones. Hands down,” the campaign continued. “If he won’t tell the truth, we will. Tuberville expects to win this race off of his blind allegiance to the President and his party affiliation. But Alabamians know better.”

“People deserve to know who they’re really voting for if they vote for Tuberville: someone who … won’t protect our health care, doesn’t believe in science, has no idea what the Voting Rights Act is, and doesn’t care about the lives and livelihoods of Alabamians,” the Jones campaign concluded. “Alabama will never elect a coward. Pitch in now and help us spread the truth about the man hiding behind the ballot.”

“I am disappointed that Tommy Tuberville is not here,” Jones said. “I think it is important that people see two candidates side by side answering the same questions.”

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Tuberville meanwhile is canvassing the state, speaking to rallies and Republican groups to turn out the Republican vote for himself and President Donald Trump. Tuberville spoke at Freedom Fest in Madison County on Thursday and at the Trump Truck Parade rally in Phenix City.

“It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who represents our conservative beliefs and traditional values,” Tuberville said in Phenix City. “It’s time Alabama had a U.S. senator who supports the Second Amendment, the right to life, and putting God back in the classroom.”

Polling consistently shows Tuberville with a commanding lead over Jones. Real Clear Politics lists the race on their current board as a likely Republican win. FiveThirtyEight’s election model gives Tuberville a 79 percent chance of defeating Jones.

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