Democratic 2018 gubernatorial primary candidate Chris Countryman recently agreed to a lengthy interview in writing with the Alabama Political Reporter about where progressives went wrong in Alabama in the 2018 election and how they can build in 2019 and beyond.
Alabama Political Reporter: You were the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who refused to support Mayor Maddox as the nominee and instead ran as a write-in. Why was that?
Countryman: “Well to be honest I felt that it was the right thing to do. After Judge Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct the people of Alabama started seeking out leaders of integrity and character. Because of this the phrase ‘People Before Party’ literally became a motto for many of those in the Alabama Democratic Party. As time went on I discovered a deep web of corruption under Walt Maddox’s boy next door facade. Due to Walt Maddox’s ties to Former Governor Robert Bentley and Sally Albright I was deeply concerned. This is due to Sally Albright’s heavy involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election scandals through her use of fake social media accounts used to unethically influence public opinion and that she worked on Robert Bentley’s gubernatorial campaign shortly before going to work for the Alabama Democratic Party as a field agent. Then when I factored in Maddox’s unethical campaign strategies that he used as part of his campaign in order to suppress key opponents during the primaries I knew there was no way I could back Maddox because I would be turning my back on the people who demanded leaders who had integrity and character. I just couldn’t do that. It went against my values and I refused to compromise those values and the values of my party in order to back a candidate who I felt didn’t have the people’s best interest at heart and didn’t uphold the fundamental principles of the Democratic Party.”
APR asked: Maddox ran as a pro-life pro-gun Democrat who would never tell a lie. Why did that tack not work with Alabama voters?
Countryman: “For years the vast majority of Democrats have supported a woman’s right to choose, and have supported common sense gun laws that aim to protect the citizens while trying not to infringe on a citizens 2nd amendment rights. Because of this, I believe, many voters were turned off by Maddox when he openly embraced his feelings on the subject matter in a television commercial just weeks before the election. To many voters, some who were on the fence as to who to vote for, saw Maddox’s commercial as an attempt to pick up swing votes from the Republican base. Because of this many Democrats, as well as Republicans, felt that they were possibly lied to or that Maddox wasn’t being true to the people or his party, so they voted against him.”
APR: Nancy Worley, Joe Reed, and the Alabama Democratic Party banked hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of using it to get out the vote or support candidates. Was that a mistake?
Countryman: “You bet your bottom dollar it was a mistake. Simply putting up a sign that says ‘Vote Democrat’ isn’t helping in the least bit. The people don’t want to see another sign with just a candidate’s name on it, or worst yet a sign with vague wording that loosely instructs them to vote for a political party. The people want to know about the candidates, hear how the candidates plan to address the issues and how the candidate can improve the people’s quality of life. A good leader would use that money responsibly to educate the people about the candidates and the issues through a series of commercials and targeted ad campaigns along with other cost effective ways to inform the voters about the candidates.”
APR: Mallory Hagan has been very critical of Reed and Worley’s leadership. Is she right or as Joe Reed has said the candidates were just too weak?
Countryman: “I stand with Mallory Hagan on this one 100 percent. We would be here for days talking if I were to pinpoint every instance of corruption that our party heads had been involved with, and that goes for the heads of the Republican Party as well. On top of that a good leader understands that at times resourcefulness is key. There were countless ways that Nancy Worley and Joe Reed could have supported the candidates, provided assistance and offered resources that could have helped tremendously in this election. Many of them not costing the party hardly anything.”
“It all boils down to showing the candidates that you appreciate them, that you care if they succeed, and that you’re willing to take an honest interest in building upon the leadership skills they already have to ensure they become stronger more successful leaders within our government.” Countryman continued, “Our party leadership was willing to pay Sally Albright, to come work for the Alabama Democratic Party shortly after she had worked in Robert Bentley’s gubernatorial campaign; but they still can’t come up with any resourceful ideas of how to help our candidates or even cough up a couple of hundred dollars for some more informative commercials or literature. That’s wrong on so many levels, and it’s a great example of the monumental failure of leadership. Joe Reed has had his good moments, but those are gone in the past. He doesn’t represent the majority of Democrats in the party, he doesn’t put all the people’s needs before his own and he’s just not who we need heading our party right now.”
APR: Is Alabama just a conservative state and liberals and progressives are just doomed to forever be a minority which the rest of the state scorns and no true progressive candidate will ever win here?
Countryman: “I don’t believe that the state is locked into a conservative electorate any more than I believe that it’s locked in a liberal electorate. However, I do believe that our state is very much made up of citizens who believe that ‘People Come Before Party.’ The corruption, budget shortfalls and suffering of the people has to end and the people are speaking out. This is where Alabama is right now, and this is when you will see progressives start winning and moving our state forward. It should always be about putting the people first, and doing what’s best for all the people in Alabama.”
“Also an interesting point is that if you look at a poll done by the ‘Pew Research Institute,’ who’s known for their extremely high poll numbers that favor the conservative political base, you’ll find that last year 41 percent of Alabama’s citizens supported same-sex marriage and 51 percent opposed it with 8 percent having no preference,” Countryman continued. “That’s a huge difference from the 2010 poll that reported only 32 percent who supported same-sex marriage. So after looking at that poll and taking into account that ‘The Pew Research Institute’ usually only polls specific demographics that favor conservative political parties, the high poll numbers within those demographics, and the poll numbers among Democrats and other groups that support progressive policies I would say there is high probability that we’ll see a Progressive Democrat win statewide office in the next statewide election. That’s to say if we don’t see the emergence of a progressive third party, that can actually give the Alabama GOP and Democratic Party a run for their money.”
APR: It seemed like Terry Lathan and the Alabama GOP out thought, out fought, and out worked Alabama Democrats. What are Republicans doing so right that seems beyond the ability of Alabama Democrats?
Countryman: “The Republicans have not been afraid to tackle the tough issues during debates and forums, by challenging their opponents, and demanding answers. The people want to know what the candidate believes, what issues are important to them, and how the candidate can improve the voters quality of life. The Republicans, for the most part, do this very well. However, a lot of Democrats have become more passive, and choose not to engage their opposition. Plus you have to take into account the money that is backing the Alabama GOP. The huge sums of money that the Alabama GOP brings in does allow for more targeted campaign strategies, more commercials, and more effective GOTV campaigns. So the bottom line is that more money usually means better results. The only way to combat the money machine of the Alabama GOP is by out smarting them and utilizing every available resource you can.”
APR: Black candidates like Dr. Will Boyd, Miranda Joseph, and Kara McClure struggled to raise any money at all for their campaigns. James Fields similarly struggled to raise money in the Democratic primary. White male candidates Walt Maddox and Judge Robert Vance on the other hand easily raised over a $million each for their campaigns. Is there a racism problem with Alabama Democratic donors and the Alabama Democratic Party even though Blacks were over three quarters of the Democrats voters on election day?
Countryman: “I don’t believe that there is as much of a racism problem as some might think. You have to take into account the vast majority of donations that Walt Maddox brought in came from special interest groups and PAC’S, that many of the candidates that you mentioned, who struggled with fundraising, made the choice not to receive donations from PACs or special interest groups that they felt went against the voters best interest.”
APR: Your new campaign is called “Rethink Alabama”. Is there really anything to rethink. Voters liked the path 60:40 up and down the ballot in November?
Countryman: “I am glad you asked that Brandon. The Rethink Alabama Movement is more than just political ideologies. It is a citizen led advocacy group that does what Alabama’s two leading political parties have failed to do for a long time now. It puts the people first, challenges our government to always strive to do better, holds our elected officials accountable and strives to come up with new ways that we can bridge the gap between the citizens and their government. So by rethinking one can say we’re constantly reviewing the way we’re doing things in Alabama, the way we did things in the past and deciding if those ways are working to benefit all the people of Alabama. If they aren’t, then we start finding new ways to do things within our government so that we can better serve all the people in our state and not just a select few.”
APR: What should the GOP dominated legislature focus its priorities on when it comes back in March?
Countryman: “Healthcare, Jobs and Education. All Alabama citizens should have access to healthcare, its as simple as that. Studies show that utilizing preventive medicine and having early detection screenings saves lives as well as money by being a more cost-effective healthcare option and has many other advantages as well beyond that of just providing healthcare to Alabama citizens.”
APR: Is it inevitable that Donald Trump will carry Alabama in a landslide like he did in 2016?
Countryman: “I believe at this point no. With so many accusations against him, the mounting evidence that his campaign had conspired with Russian operatives attempting to influence the US elections, and growing evidence that shows the multiple ethics violations and corruption charges I believe Trump will either be impeached or resign before the next presidential election.”
APR: Rural communities that had voted Democrats for 140 years have completely switched to the Republican Party (outside of the Black Belt) why did the Alabama Democratic Party lose rural people and the small towns? is there anything Democrats can do to get back rural voters?
Countryman: “I think that a lot of people within the rural communities have felt that the Democratic Party has let them down. In the past the Democratic Party has been known for their commitment to human and civil rights, as well as social and economic justice. However recently some within the Democratic Party have forgotten the foundational principals which have come to define our party’s commitment to the people, and because of this they have struggled to secure votes within our state government due to the voters being forced to choose what many may view as having to choose ‘the lesser of two evils.’ Simply put when a voter looks at the candidates, they need to have a reason to vote for the Democratic candidate or else they will vote for someone whom they are already familiar with. To them it’s like the old saying goes “better the liar you know than the con-artist you don’t.”
“What the Democrats in Alabama need to do is to look at the foundational principals of the Democratic Party, and start putting the people first again, and they need to let it show big time,” Countryman continued. “The Democrats need to dive in head first as hard as they can on a local level and tackle the issues that matter most to the citizens. But more than all that we need real citizens running for office within the Democratic Party and not the smooth talking politicians who are just looking for a career at the expense of the citizens. The Democratic Party needs to start finding candidates to run for office who legitimately care about the people of Alabama. Once they start doing that, we will start seeing the voters returning to the polls to proudly cast their votes for Democratic candidates.”
APR: What advice would you give to Governor Ivey?
Countryman: “The biggest piece of advice I would give to Kay Ivey can be summed up with four simple commitments, many of our elected officials, from both parties have failed to live up to these commitments after being elected to office. These commitments are; Always put the people first whenever considering policies or legislation, always be transparent and honest with the voters while maintaining the highest ethical standards and character, fight corruption at every turn even when it means bucking your own party sometimes and always remember that those elected to public office don’t work for themselves but rather work for the people of Alabama.”