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Opinion | The duty of the voter

Joey Kennedy

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Now that Labor Day is behind us, the political campaigns for November’s General Election are in full swing. Or should be.

While polls indicate Democrats likely will take back the U.S. House of Representatives, nothing is certain. It depends on which side can get out their voters.

In Alabama, these “midterm” elections are always a big deal. We elect a new Legislature and all of the statewide constitutional offices, from governor to the courts to the Public Service Commission. There are also local races in some areas.

So it’s a big election year for Alabama.

The problem with this year’s election is voters aren’t getting a chance to really see how the candidates react during debates, a traditional mainstay of elections.

The main culprits appear to be Republicans, who believe (and perhaps, rightly so) that they don’t have to debate their Democratic Party opponents to win because Alabama is such a safe state for them; they believe voters will go red no matter what.

They could be right. An awful lot of Republicans voted for a child molester in the December special election for U.S. Senate.

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Some Republican candidates for Congress aren’t even holding townhall meetings because they’ll have to answer tough questions about how they continue to cover for Republican President Donald Trump, now an unindicted co-conspirator who, according to all credible sources, is running a White House in constant turmoil.

That Republicans are forcing an early vote on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh only underscores how desperate they are to get their white man on the High Court before the midterm elections, after which the Congress could be radically changed.

There is little turmoil in Alabama, though. Republican candidates simply are running quiet races and doing all they can to avoid debate.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who has never been elected to that position, only appears at very controlled events – ribbon cuttings, industry announcements, fund-raising tea parties – and there appears to be a good reason why. As we’ve seen in videos and as reported by my APR colleague Josh Moon, Ivey has real difficulty answering off-the-cuff questions at the rare event a reporter gets to ask one.

Ivey might be great in a debate, but we’ll never know because her handlers won’t let her debate Democratic nominee and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. While Maddox fields questions from all quarters and is itching for a debate, Ivey stays mostly out of sight, letting her TV commercials do her talking and her controllers issue fictional press releases.

Alabama voters should expect more. They should, but too many don’t.

As we go forward, which races will feature debates? None of the Republicans nominated for statewide office appear willing to debate their Democratic Party opponents. I have yet to see a Democrat refusing to debate a Republican.

That’s simply wrong, and voters are wrong to reward candidates who dodge such debates.

Republicans should have to explain why they are working so hard to undermine the state’s ethics laws. From Ivey’s office, to the courts, to the Legislature, Republicans are trying to undo the strong ethics reform they passed when they took control of the Legislature in 2010.

They do it with the pretense they’re trying to “preserve” strong ethics, but any voter who buys that horse hockey will buy anything. And does. The ethics laws Republicans are working to destroy led to the conviction of the corrupt former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (who has yet to serve a day in prison). Other Republicans have also been caught in that net.

Their viewpoint seems to be if the ethics law is going to actually work, we need to get rid of it.

That’s likely one reason Ivey and other Republicans don’t want to debate their Democratic opponents. The questions about ethics alone would be difficult for them to answer without outright lies.

As in most areas of the country, what happens in the November election in Alabama is going to depend a whole lot on turnout. Democrats have a tough road, because, for whatever reason, most Alabamians love voting against their best interests. Find a hot-button issue – race or immigration or gays or abortion – and the majority of voters don’t seem to care if the people they elect refuse to improve education or increase their wages or protect the environment or improve Alabama’s generally dismal quality of life as compared to many other states.

Voters from both parties should be demanding their candidates debate each other. They should demand their candidates answer the tough questions. They should withhold their votes from any candidate, Republican or Democrat, who dodges accountability to the voter.

They should. Yes, indeed, they should. But with just two months until the General Election, the big question is: Will they?

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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