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Opinion | Alabama Democrats can’t rebound without a change in leadership

Josh Moon

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Nancy Worley is a good person.

I should start there, because it needs to be said. It needs to be pointed out that what has been discussed and argued about and shouted about among Alabama Democrats over the last few days has too often strayed from what’s important — the direction and leadership of the state’s Democratic Party — to something ugly and unnecessary and unproductive — personal attacks against Worley.

It’s fine to disagree with Worley’s leadership of the party — I have and do — but there’s no reason to attack her. Like so many other progressives in Alabama, she believes as we do — that we have to lift from the bottom, that racism continues to set us back, that the Democratic Party is a voice for those people who are far too often left voiceless in this state.

That said, what occurred at the Alabama Democratic Party executive committee meeting in Montgomery on Saturday was a farce that no good leader should stand for, much less benefit from.

If you’re unaware — and honestly, why would you be aware? — Worley was re-elected as party chairman, edging out Montgomery attorney Peck Fox, 101-89.

That all might seem like business as usual, until you learn how those votes broke down. The elected members of the Democratic executive committee voted 89-66 for Fox.

But party officials said Joe Reed, head of the powerful Alabama Democratic Conference and chairman of minority affairs for the state party, was able to personally appoint 35 members. Reed has long supported Worley as chairman, and his appointees pushed Worley over the top, several Democratic officials told APR.

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That’s no way to do business. And if any group of people should know this, it’s Democrats.

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Stifling the will of voters and forcing candidates through by rigging the system is at least partly to blame for Donald Trump bumbling around the White House today.

And make no mistake, Democrats across the state want change at the top. I hear it every single day. From all corners and all shapes.  

Why wouldn’t Democratic voters want to change leaders? Nothing has gone right for the party, aside from beating the worst U.S. Senate candidate in modern political history, in nearly a decade.

Mostly this leadership group was caught flat-footed as Republicans took over the state from the ground up, winning down-ballot races and judgeships, and quickly organizing funding sources with deep pockets. And as Republicans did that, they also quickly made moves to stifle Democrats’ funding sources — by utilizing social media and media outreach to brand the Dems’ primary funding source, the AEA, as an organization somewhat comparable to ISIS.

And in the eight-plus years since that utter tail whipping, seemingly no one in leadership at the Democratic Party has thought: Hey, we should try that.

Instead, Worley’s primary accomplishment in her five years as party chair has been a recent reduction in debt. She has accomplished that debt reduction by not spending money.

The current website for the party lists one staff member. Despite national attention and a close race, Jones said his campaign received no support from the state party.

And there are other problems.

There has been very little social media outreach. The Alabama Democratic Party’s official Twitter account hasn’t tweeted in six months. The Facebook page is slightly more active, but rarely engaging.

But here’s the worst part: In the last election cycle, Republicans have watched the House Speaker, Majority Leader, Governor and three more Republican state lawmakers be indicted or admit to using their offices for personal gain.

And yet, there has been no plan from the Democratic Party leadership to utilize those GOP failures. Even as moderate GOP voters prove time and again in primaries that they’re aching for candidates who will stand for ethics and good government.

Even now, with a popular Democratic gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ticket, there is no state-office plan to attack down-ballot races and break the GOP supermajority.  

2018 should be the year that Alabama Dems start a comeback.

And it might be, but it will be left up to splinter groups of progressive, younger Democrats and minority voter groups to do the work, as they did for Jones’ win.

The Alabama Democratic Party office should be the general manager of that effort — the entity pulling the pieces together, working with the various groups to develop a comprehensive strategy and steer necessary resources to the right races. But that isn’t happening.

Instead, Reed squandered resources this year trying to settle a personal beef with former state Rep. John Knight, a longtime and devoted Democrat, and a number of Democratic officeholders say Worley has been mostly quiet.

This can’t go on. The enthusiasm among progressive voters in the state is there. The leadership to cash in on that enthusiasm is missing. 

For the sake of the party, it’s time for Worley and Reed to step aside.

 

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