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The Alabama Democratic Party has a choice: in-fighting or unity

Polling shows voters like Democratic ideas, but to take advantage, Alabama Dems will have to stop fighting each other.

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So much for that “new Alabama Democratic Party.” 

Three years after a protracted and nasty fight ousted longtime Democratic leader Joe Reed’s loyalists from the party leadership – and ushered in new bylaws and more young people – Reed was back on top by the end of Saturday’s voting in Birmingham. 

Like him or hate him, Reed knows how to play this political game – at least, insomuch as it pertains to outmaneuvering those in his own party. And Saturday’s win for Reed was a masterclass in using bylaws and caucus vote counts to massage a desired outcome. 

In this case, it was the election of Randy Kelley, a Huntsville pastor and longtime Reed loyalist, as the party chairman. 

To illustrate Reed’s mastery at this, consider that Kelley needed 103 of the 202 votes cast in order to win without a runoff. He got 104. 

The problem, of course, is obvious: Kelley and Reed now takeover as the captains of the Titanic post-iceberg. And Reed was in control prior to first contact. 

To put it more plainly: ADP is a mess. 

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What it lacks in general election competitiveness, it makes up for with in-fighting. 

You might think that a party that has been beaten at every turn for the past dozen years by Republicans would be a tad bit more galvanized, more bonded. At least, you would think, the defeats and frustrations would bring the party together with a circle-the-wagons mentality. 

You would be wrong. 

Since the Doug Jones-led party renaissance in 2018, ADP has been plagued with petty fights and lawsuits, all of them prompted by Reed or his close associates. That includes Kelley, who signed on as the defendant in a federal lawsuit against ADP. 

The issues are not complicated. Reed and the people loyal to him have been in charge of the party, by virtue of the power of the Black Caucus, for years. A new effort was undertaken, led by Jones, to spread the power of minority caucuses to more than just the Black Caucus – introducing the new Youth Caucus, LGBTQ Caucus and others. 

Reed and his group said those moves – which were in line with, and had the blessing of, the national party – violated longstanding court orders that gave unique power to the Black Caucus. 

The Opposition Party proclaimed that the new bylaws spread power more evenly, didn’t dilute the Black vote at all and encouraged more youth participation. 

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The courts generally agreed with the Opposition Party, or took no position at all. So, Reed began to slowly build a new coalition of support within the party’s executive committee, which elects party officers. 

He cut deals. He played the numbers. He pressured party leadership. 

He won. 

It would be nice to tell you that the victory for Reed means something grand for the 40 percent of this state who identify as Democrats. (Or, at the very least, who identify as voters who think laws and not smearing feces on our Capitol’s walls are things that matter.)

Sadly, I can’t do that. 

Not because I doubt Joe Reed’s prowess, or his intelligence, or his boldness. I don’t. There quite likely is no one more skilled at politics in this state than Reed. 

But I also know his need for revenge. 

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And before the ink had dried on the votes on Saturday, Kelley was already talking about rewriting those new bylaws, and there were a number of shots taken at “the children,” as some referred to the growing and influential Youth Caucus. 

An hour or so south, almost simultaneous with that discussion of taking on fights within ADP, the Republicans were meeting and promising to close primaries, enforce party loyalty from candidates and voting to support Donald Trump even in the face of obvious law breaking and potential espionage. 

And that is the most frustrating thing about the Alabama Democratic Party. 

Over the course of the past 12 years, there have been numerous opportunities to cut into that ALGOP super-majority, to return some measure of power to the Democrats and sane thinkers. For goodness sakes, a few years ago, the Republicans of this state watched their governor, speaker of the House and House majority leader all go to prison. And their chief justice was booted from the bench – for the second time. 

We’ve had the many scandals of Donald Trump, a failing healthcare system, record pollution and schools that continue to rank at the bottom. And now, we have the most pressing and serious healthcare rights emergency in two generations for Alabama women. 

Any one of those things could be the rallying cry of an organized and operational party. 

But there isn’t one. 

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And now, it appears that, at least in the short term, that will continue, as more internal fights are waged and personal scores are settled. 

I’m begging y’all to stop. Give the young people a voice. Respect each other. Work together. And find a way to turn this around. 

More than half of this state is looking for a reasonable, rational alternative to the crazy train being steered by ALGOP. The polling on every major issue, even in this state, says voters like Democratic ideas better. And study after study continues to show that Democratic initiatives are better for the economy and the working class. 

All that’s needed is a viable Democratic Party in this state to field good candidates and rally voters to them. 

Or y’all could just keep fighting amongst yourselves as the ship sinks below the surface.

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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