By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Democratic Party is splintered in many ways. Last weekend’s regular organizational meeting of the body proved, though, that a commitment to voting rights – and gambling – is not one of those ways.
During the meeting, Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford came before the body to ask that they vote to affirm their support of Ford in his pending lawsuit against Governor Robert Bentley and state Attorney General Luther Strange. The resolution passed unanimously. The video of his speech, filmed exclusively by the Alabama Political Reporter, can be seen here.
The lawsuit in question, which was filed in the Middle District Court of Alabama, concerns a referendum held in Macon County – introduced and supported by Democrats like the House-Representative Ford and others – that legalized, by state constitutional amendment, some forms of charitable gaming in Tuskegee and the surrounding areas of Macon County.
Despite this, and unlawfully, Ford contends, the State of Alabama decided the gambling facilities were illegal, with then-Governor Bob Riley shutting down “Victory Land,” a large gaming venture, in 2010, and current Governor Bentley continuing in this policy of what the plaintiffs claim is a violation of federal laws like the Voting Rights Act, as well as the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
In an order dismissing the case last December (which has been appealed,) a federal judge wrote:
“On the surface, Plaintiffs say this case is about vindicating minority voting rights conferred by federal statutes and the United States Constitution. But just below that surface emerges a different purpose – saving electronic bingo operations at Quincy’s 777 Casino at VictoryLand (“Victory Land”), a now-defunct Macon County gambling business. Indeed, the Complaint references VictoryLand or VictoryLand’s closing no less than forty times.”
Ford virtually directly responded to this in his speech to the Alabama Democratic Party linked above.
“A Republican judge has reduced our voting rights case to a gambling issue. This is not about gambling, this is about our voting rights.”
The entire court order can be read here.
In his comments to the Democrats, Ford did note that the NAACP’s national Legal Defense Fund is trying to find cases that can be used in support of an effort to bring Alabama back under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act’s now-broken preclearance requirement.
Last August, the Mayor appealed to Attorney General Eric Holder in a letter pointing out the Obama Administrations recent support of the Poarch Creek Indians, whose Alabama gaming facilities are also in litigation.
The letter stated that while Native Americans like the PCI “were robbed of their land and grossly mistreated… their suffering does not historically surpass that of African-Americans.”
Last week, the Obama Administration officially announced that it would not defend the Mayor’s lawsuit in federal court, so this affirmation by the state party – however symbolic – may be the momentum Ford has been looking for.
The Alabama Political Reporter will continue coverage of the suit, Ford v. Strange, and of the continuing evolution of the Voting Rights Act.