By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—What was once an endangered species is now all but extinct, that being the elected, white Southern Democrat. Turning the “Solid South” Republican began in the Civil Rights era, and is all but complete under the presidency of Barack Obama.
As recently as 1977, there was not a single Republican serving in the Alabama House or Senate. Today, white Republicans hold 26 seats in the Senate and 72 in the House. Of the remaining 9 Senate seats, only one is occupied by a white Democrat, and he was elected in a majority black district. Of the 33 Democrats in the House, only six are white.
Under redistricting by the Republican supermajority, eight Senate districts where minorities accounted for a majority of voters were left intact, and in the House one majority/minority district was added. This virtually insures that a white Democrat would be hard pressed to represent the district in the future.
This would lead to the belief that the white Southern Democrat is not a thriving, political beast.
“We are an endangered species right now, but I take the larger view also,” said Dr. Gerald Johnson, Political Science, Professor Emeritus, Auburn University, “The history of politics in America swings like a pendulum every so many years.
Johnson says, there is an argument that that Alabama is an island unto itself, “add Utah to that equation.”
He sees Reapportionment and voter turnout in this last election as factors leading to the State’s Republican Supermajority in the State legislature.
Johnson points to historically low voter turnout in 2014, which he believes is due to cynicism, apathy and cross-pressure. “Low voter turnout happens when people are cross-pressured,” says Johnson.
In political science, cross-pressure is used to describe conflicting influences on individuals’ political preferences, and suggests that cross-pressured citizens are less likely to participate in the process. An example of a cross-pressured constituent is when a citizen may lean toward Democrats on social welfare issues but toward Republicans on cultural issues like abortion or same-sex marriage.
Redistricting by the State Republican Supermajority has led to a legal pushback saying that the Republican-drawn lines packed black voters into more tightly confined voting areas, a move that the US Supreme Court has suggested is a problem that needs be addressed.
Just this week, the Supreme Court threw out a North Carolina ruling that upheld a Republican-drawn line, citing the Alabama case in its opinion.
Johnson says, that after the Republican’s redistricting plan, “There is not one district that is in-play other than all white/all black, and that has reduced the black influence to where it was in the 1950s.”
Here Johnson takes a harsh, but telling tone:
“They drew the lines to create “Black Gulags” to pack the black districts and thus make them impotent. On the surface, I can’t see how anyone can’t see that. They don’t want to see it. They knew exactly what they were doing.”
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) recently said that the redistricting case was sent back to the lower court on a “technicality.” He said he didn’t believe the State would be required to draw new districts: “We passed pre-clearance by the Justice Department. I believe we will prevail.”
Hubbard stands accused by the State on 23 felony counts of public corruption.
Johnson sees Hubbard as an example of politicians “who talk about rights and choice, not the specific issues,” that are long on propaganda and short on real solutions.
Johnson, who is also a pollster, points to a recent survey that found Fox News is one of the most trusted institutions in Alabama.
“In a list of 30 institutions, which included the Military, the Red Cross and all major news networks, FOX News ranks 4 in institutional confidence,” said Johnson. The prevalence of ideologically driven 24-hour news broadcasts that mostly focuses on hot-button conservative versus liberal issues has kept voters from focusing on local matters. This, Johnson believes, is part of the problem that has cause the State to languish near the bottom in employment, education and healthcare. As well as diminishing the influence of white democrats.
“I believe having the first black president and FOX news has sped up the process…” leading to a State where the electorate is divided between white Republicans and black Democrats.
“Democracy is, for the first time in my professional career, is about ready to run off the tracks unless there’s some intervention in this process,” said Johnson.
Johnson says, “Historically, that was the role of the media, the Fourth Estate. They were able to check and balance and push and shove and scream…and now that’s gone… which just leaves misinformation.”
In a State where the white district elections are decided in the Republican primaries, the Republican candidates accused each other of “being in bed” with President Obama. In a spectacle reminiscent of the State’s racist past, each candidate tried to “out Obama” the other.
Today, Alabama’s governing class is almost exclusively white and male. This Johnson feels does not bode well for the future of the State, as minority representation is virtually non-existent.
But, he does think that it will change in the slow march of history.