By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Democrats are elated, Birmingham’s big mules are relieved and the once dominant Alabama Republican Party — whether they will admit it or not — is in trouble. From solid red counties to African-American communities financially handicapped by white Republican leaders, the U.S. Senate race showed that a few committed individuals could change Alabama’s political landscape, at least for now.
As several longtime political operatives confided to the Alabama Political Reporter, “It took the Washington Post to set-up Roy Moore, but it was the Republican leadership who brought him down.”
Democrats mostly comprised of dedicated millennials and a block of motivated African-Americans stood up to Moore while the Republican Party stood down. As one politico put it, “It was like Auburn or Alabama football players not taking the field because they didn’t like the quarterback.” He added, “The Democrats didn’t have a strong quarterback, but they had a hell of a team.”
Yes, this may be a one-off election, but something happened that shouldn’t be ignored by either party. Most significantly, a group of new faces in the Democratic Party was the focus of the movement that put Jones over the top, not the old guard represented by Joe Reed and Nancy Worley. It was Selma mayor, Darrio Melton, and Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, and other strong progressives who were front and center in this fight for change.
In the background, Beth Clayton and other younger unpaid volunteers like Josh Coleman and Nick Sellers marshaled dynamic forces that swept Jones into office. Aside from being a full-time law student, APR contributor, and commentator on “The Voice of Alabama Politics,” Clayton has been racking up Democratic candidate wins across the nation. The Young Dems, as they are known, showed their election savvy and political prowess unrivaled by their Republican counterparts.
These young players were able to turn solidly red Lee County blue for this election. This would have never happened when Mike Hubbard led the Republican Party. What does it say about the quality of ALGOP’s ascendancy when its last powerful leader is a convicted felon, and its last elected governor, Robert Bentley, was run out of office because of campaign finance abuse and an unrepentant affair with a senior staff advisor?
For years, the Republican Party has failed to reach or even appreciate the struggles of communities of color. For example, Macon County gave Jones his most significant win by percentage of voters with 88.4 percent of the vote.
It’s no wonder that the voters in Macon County would see hope in Jones’ candidacy when Alabama’s Republican leaders have repeatedly moved to disenfranchise the county’s best paying employer, VictoryLand.
Likewise, in Lee County, Jones bested Moore by nearly 17 percent with almost 58 percent of the vote showing the impotence of Republicans in the wake of Hubbard’s political corruption. For nearly two years Republican lawmakers stood by Hubbard as if he was a victim of political prosecution. Republicans have also continued former Gov. Bob Riley’s legacy of deciding economic winners and losers. Republicans at the highest level still deny certain people’s right to self-determination and free enterprise.
Macon and Lee counties are small but telling example of the Republican supermajority’s failure to address the concerns of all Alabamians and not just its base and high-end donors.
On April 3, 1968, speaking at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.’ Less than 24 hours later, Dr. King was assassinated by a white segregationist.
For young voters and many voters of color, Tuesday’s election was about a freedom agenda, both personal and financial.
Tuesday’s vote was not only a rejection of Moore’s brand of politics, but in a greater sense, it was also a dismissal of stale Democratic leadership and a reputation of ALGOP’s insistent meddling.
A blue wave swept across Alabama empowering Democrats to take a U.S. Senate seat away from Republicans for the first time in a generation. Now if the coalition that pushed Jones over the top will seize the moment, a rising blue tide could mean a new and vibrant progressive movement deep in the Heart of Dixie.
Alabama is a diverse state, and its differences were on full display last Tuesday, as some stood up while others took a knee.