From primary fights to U.S. Senate seats, it was yet another eventful year in Alabama politics. Of course, that’s nothing new around here.
Alabama rarely fails to deliver when it comes to political news. 2022 was no exception, and here are our top five:
5. Hovey, Whatley and open primaries
It was going to be a close race between incumbent Republican state Sen. Tom Whatley and city councilor challenger Jay Hovey for the Senate District 27 seat, but when the final votes were counted and the challenged ballots were counted and discarded, Hovey upset the incumbent by a single vote. Out of more than 16,000 ballots.
But wait a minute?
Responding to an election challenge, ALGOP stepped in and determined that Hovey’s one-vote win was actually a tie, because a discounted ballot should have been counted. Secretary of State John Merrill disagreed, publicly, and lawsuits started to fly.
Finally, behind-the-scenes intervention from the national party put an end to the madness. Whatley bowed out of the race. Hovey is the new state senator for District 27.
But we’re not quite finished. As a result of Whatley’s loss, which many attribute to Auburn-area Democrats crossing party lines to vote for a more palatable, centrist Republican, ALGOP officials are now pushing a closed-primary proposal. It would require voters to register as Democrat or Republican in order to vote in the parties’ primaries, effectively shutting out tens of thousands of independent, Libertarian and other third-party voters.
4. Kay Ivey cruises, crazies go down
It was supposed to be the year that the “real conservatives” in Alabama took control of the state. Gov. Ivey, and her reasonable ways, were too “liberal” for Alabama, according to the far-right of ALGOP. And she wasn’t alone.
Up and down the primary ballot, sane Republicans found themselves with far-right challengers who pledged to push all sorts of crazy ideas and hateful legislation that would make the state a national laughingstock.
Ivey ended up with a half-dozen challengers, with Tim James leading the way. James’ far-right ads immediately drew national attention and nearly universal condemnation for their attacks on LGBTQ high school kids.
But a weird thing happened: Supposedly super-conservative Alabama rejected the nuts. In race after race, Alabama voters chose the more sane option. That included Ivey, who smoked the field and won without a runoff.
3. ADOC is still terrible
Over the last several years, Alabama’s prison woes have typically landed on the year-end list of top stories. Each year, we all think that there’s no way the Alabama Department of Corrections can be more awful. And each year, ADOC just keeps proving everyone wrong.
This year, it continued its miserable management of the state’s prison system, with inmates dying at a record pace, drugs rampant throughout the system and suicides at unheard of levels. But then it added to its usual awfulness by also taking cruelty in the execution process to new heights.
Things got so bad, after the state’s third botched execution, that even hardline, pro-death penalty Gov. Kay Ivey had to pump the brakes. She called for an execution moratorium while the state investigates exactly why it can’t seem to follow protocols and humanely perform an execution. (Sensing an opening to be awful, AG Steve Marshall attempted to out-press conference Ivey by holding his own and declaring that there was no moratorium. No one took him seriously.)
In the meantime, the Department of Justice is STILL investigating Alabama’s prisons over its poor management. The problems, by now, have been well identified and overly discussed. And yet, they continue. And are, in most cases, even worse. Which only means that next January, Alabama’s prisons will be back on the year-end list of top stories.
2. The Attack On Trans Kids
Of all the mean-spirited, cruel and downright shameful things that have happened in Alabama over the last few years, nothing surpasses 2022 Alabama Republicans’ insistence in targeting transgender children through ignorant, hateful and pandering legislation. Ignoring the advice of doctors and the pleas of parents, conservative lawmakers pushed through a series of bills aimed at ending treatments that have helped to save the lives of thousands of children, no doubt increasing the likelihood of childhood suicides among the most at-risk group of kids in America.
Oh, but they didn’t stop there. In a last-minute move, Republicans also shoved through a “don’t say gay” amendment that could serve to impede the free speech of teachers and make LGBTQ teachers targets for rightwing activists.
Alabama’s ban on transgender care has already been challenged in court and a federal judge blocked the law. An outcome that was predicted by most legal experts, and was a frequent argument made by the hundreds of people who showed up at Alabama’s State House to protest the bill.
1. Sen. Katie Britt
The race to replace Richard Shelby was, without question, Alabama’s biggest political news story of 2022.
From MAGA Mo to Mike Durant’s weird past to Katie Britt’s much maligned centrism, it was one of the most hotly contested races – especially for a primary – in the country. Tens of millions of dollars flowed into the race, attracting the usual pay-for-endorsement crazies and odd-ball events.
The race also featured wild swings in momentum that attracted more attention. Mo Brooks began the race with a huge lead and the endorsement of former president Donald Trump. A couple of months later, Brooks’ momentum waned and former Army pilot Mike Durant surged to a clear lead. Then APR reported on old stories from Durant’s past – stories originally reported by AP that detailed Durant supporting his father after his father admitted to molesting Durant’s sister – and suddenly Durant’s chances took a dive.
Through it all, Britt maintained a slow and steady pace, as she traveled the state and talked to various groups and began to build a wall of endorsements. Her connections to Shelby, and his big money backers, obviously helped. But her relentless work and old-school campaigning won over a solid base of support that never wavered in the closing days of the primary.
In the end, Britt won easily. She smoked Brooks in a runoff and then cruised to an easy win in the November general election. And for the first time in nearly four decades, Alabama won’t have Richard Shelby in the U.S. Senate.