By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley (R) was re-elected in 2006 despite a strong primary challenge from former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (R) and a popular general election opponent in Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley (D). Gov. Riley’s re-election however ended a gubernatorial re-election streak of failure for incumbents. Former Governor Don Seigelman (D) lost his bid for re-election to Riley in 2002. Then Lt. Gov. Seigelman was elected by beating Gov. Fob James (R) re-election effort in 1998. Gov. James was elected in 1994 by defeating Gov. Jim Folsom’s (D) effort at re-election.
Alabamians have a long track record of being willing to unseat incumbent governors. Despite this, by all accounts, the Alabama Democratic Party had enormous difficulty in recruiting a candidate to run against popular incumbent Governor Robert Bentley (R) in this year’s election.
In a videotape that has surfaced and has been making its rounds in the media, current candidate for Governor and former Congressman Parker Griffith (D) jokes that the Alabama Democratic Party had to hold a knife to his backside to make him challenge Gov. Bentley.
Griffith said, “How did I get here? How am I the guy they shoved out on the end of the diving board, stuck him in the butt with a knife?” Rep. Griffith continued, “Jim Folsom backed out. Sue Bell Cobb, no más, too hard, Billy Beasley decided 24 hours before February the seventh, decided no más.”
This is the latest gaffe in a Democratic campaign that has been struggling to get Statewide attention and the enthusiastic support of Alabama Democrats.
Parker Griffith, like Bentley, is a medical doctor. Dr. Griffith was elected to the Alabama State Senate as a Democrat in 2004. In 2008 Senator Griffith ran for Congress when incumbent Rep. Bud Cramer (D) decided to retire. Griffith defeated insurance agent Wayne Parker (R) in the same election that then Senator Barack Obama (D) from Illinois won the White House. The outspoken Griffith soon ran into conflict with the Obama White House. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives were divided between the Progressive Caucus and the Blue Dog Caucus though recent election gains during the Bush Presidency had dramatically strengthened the more liberal Progressive Caucus.
The Progressives had elected their leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi from California, Speaker of the House when Democrats took control of the House in 2006. With the election of Obama, healthcare reform took center stage. The Progressives wanted a more liberal healthcare bill with a public option (some favored a single payer approach that would have ended private healthcare insurance). Blue Dog Democrats like Griffith and Bobby Bright (D) from Montgomery, while favoring health care reform, favored a different approach with a larger role for insurance companies. Democrats were forced to change and rewrite what would become the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 several times in order to get enough Democrats on board for it to pass. The final version was written as a substitute bill by the Senate. No Republican in either House voted for the bill and Alabama Democrats: Parker Griffith, Bobby Bright, and Artur Davis also opposed the legislation. Griffith was particularly outspoken in his opposition to both Obamacare and the leadership of Speaker Pelosi.
On December 22, 2009, Congressman Griffith switched to the Republican Party. Fellow Alabama Congressman Bobby Bright stayed with the Democratic Party. Both would be defeated in the 2010 election. Rep. Bright was narrowly defeated in the general election by Montgomery City Council Woman Martha Roby (R). Rep. Griffith was defeated in the Republican Primary by Madison County Commissioner Morris “Mo” Brooks (R). In 2012 Rep. Griffith again ran for Congress in the Republican Primary and was defeated again by the more conservative Brooks. In 2013, Griffith announced that he was leaving the Republican Party and announced that he was forming an independent movement for centrists and hinted at a run for Governor as an independent. In December the Alabama Democratic Party accepted Griffith back into the fold.
Rep. Griffith admits that some people are still upset with him for his two party switches. Griffith was quoted at a June campaign stop saying, “It’s still difficult. Religion and politics are one in the same. Alabama reminds me of the Shiites and the Sunnis. Uh, I’ve got people, I’ve got people that I see now that are very, very disappointed that I changed parties. But most of them are not because they’ve seen the parties change more than I changed. They didn’t see me change, they saw me change to another party, but they didn’t see me change.”
Former Congressman Griffith is running on a platform that Alabama expand its struggling Medicaid program and have a vote on a lottery. Griffith has been critical of Gov. Bentley’s leadership style.
On June 3, 2014, Griffith defeated former major league baseball player and Fayette businessman, Kevin Bass in the Democratic Party Primary to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination for Governor.
The General Election will be on November 4.