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Fight over ADP leadership is back in court — again

A hearing in a federal lawsuit challenging bylaws changes in 2019 will be held Tuesday in Montgomery

Alabama State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.

The long-running fight for control of the Alabama Democratic Party will be back in a courtroom Tuesday, as a federal judge hears a new/old challenge to a change in party bylaws that resulted in a leadership change in 2019. A hearing in the case is set for 10 a.m. Tuesday in front of U.S. District Judge Austin Huffaker. 

Former top ADP members Janet May and Randy Kelley filed suit earlier this year claiming that the bylaws changes violated a 1991 consent decree requiring that ADP’s Black caucus, the Alabama Democratic Caucus, maintain a certain level of representation within ADP. Kelley and May say in their lawsuit that the changes violate the Voting Rights Act and the consent decree because they were passed with the intent of diluting the Black vote. 

Current ADP chairman Chris England, who is the named defendant in the lawsuit, said in a response that the changes didn’t dilute Black representation, as 62.8 percent of the party’s current executive committee is Black — the same percentage as prior to the changes. 

Additionally, England is the party’s first Black chairperson. 

However, ADP did alter its bylaws to bring the party more in line with the national bylaws by recognizing other minority groups and granting those groups voting status within the SDEC. Included in those groups are LGBTQ people, Asians and young people. 

That influx of new voters, many of whom are Black, shifted the power balance away from one man — ADC chairman Joe Reed, who had for years been able to hand-select the ADP chairperson and executives. While such a setup was once a benefit for ADP, when Reed was a top official at the Alabama Education Association and the AEA was the biggest political player in the state, when Republicans took over by riding a national wave, AEA and Reed were squeezed out. And ADP suffered significant losses along the way. 

By the time the DNC began pushing for a major overhaul in Alabama — thanks to a shove from then-Sen. Doug Jones — ADP was essentially broke, hadn’t won a statewide race in years and was overrun with in-fighting. 

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The new minority voters mostly joined up with the so-called reform caucus within ADP and elected new leadership — pushing Nancy Worley out in favor of England. With the new leadership came new hope and more money. 

Since that change, however, England and others in the new leadership of the party believed that they had mostly mended their relationship with Reed and his biggest supporters. The lawsuit filed by Kelley and May caught many of them off guard. 

And now, thousands of dollars will be spent again to re-litigate a fight that has been lost multiple times, with no clear objective in sight. Even if May and Kelley are successful, and Reed and the ADC are restored to power in some way, the DNC has made it clear that it won’t support an ADP that operates under such a voting structure — particularly one that fails to recognize, in 2021, that groups other than Blacks are minority voters. 

Without that DNC support, and with donors within the state so clearly disenchanted by the old ADP leadership, it’s hard to imagine a pathway to relevancy for that ADP.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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