Several people here have broached the subject of a third party since the Nov. 2nd election, usually arguing that there is hardly a dime's worth of difference between the two major parties in Alabama. As if to prove the point, Republicans are busily demonstrating in Montgomery that since ascending to power they are every bit as self-serving as the old Democrats were. In Sunday's Montgomery Advertiser Congressman Artur Davis argued with his customary eloquence that real reform for Alabama must come from outside the two traditional parties.
For the hundreds of thousands of Alabamians who believe our state is capable of fundamentally changing the way we govern ourselves and the way we educate our children, and who desire a politics that is not anchored to special interest groups, there is a powerful case for an independent movement in time for the 2014 elections.
This movement, which would recruit and sustain candidates in targeted statewide and legislative races, has the potential to advance Alabama in ways that are impossible under the constraints of partisan politics.
Its principles would include an overhaul of a tax system that privileges out of state and absentee interests at the expense of low-income wage earners; the redrafting of a constitution that centralizes too much authority in the hands of the Legislature rather than local communities; the adoption of incentives that will empower entrepreneurship and high tech development; and reinvesting in our universities rather than demonizing them as elitist rivals to our K-12 system.
It's been my observation that there are two basic sorts of politically involved people: those who are in it for reasons of policy (wonks) and those who are in it to make and sustain connections to powerful people (groupies). The wonks in Alabama have been frustrated for years that the Alabama legislature controls policy at all levels of government and has refused to allow any reform to squeak through except by accident. It's now obvious that the new guys in charge will hold just as tightly to their power as the old guys did and people are beginning to cast about for other options, even going as far as a third party or at least a quasi-political organization that could operate outside of either major party while making use of the old labels.
The most obvious stumbling block to building a successful third party movement in Alabama is our restrictive ballot access laws. Practically speaking, if you don't have an “R” or a “D” after your name, you need to collect a hell of a lot of signatures to get on the ballot in this state. That cuts both ways, because it means anyone who decides to run as an independent or any sort of third party is absolutely required to put together a strong organization right out of the gate or else they'll never get on the ballot. A reform party fielding a strong slate of candidates in 2014 would need to start building lists and gathering volunteers very early. One of the few people who could do this is Artur Davis who is probably sitting on the biggest contact list of any candidate who didn't make the general election — and as a bonus, most of the folks on his list support a reform platform.
Ironically, some of us thought a reform ticket was shaping up in early 2010, at least for the Democratic primary, with Artur Davis/Governor, Michel Nicrosi/AG, Jeremy Sherer/Treasurer, Miranda Joseph/Auditor and several legislative hopefuls who were making various flavors of reform central to their platforms. In the end, they all ran separate, uncoordinated campaigns and almost all reformers lost either in the primary or the general election. Particularly in the governor's race, reform candidates on both sides were eliminated in separate primary and runoff battles leaving two essentially status quo candidates. What would have happened on Nov. 2nd if voters had been offered a choice of two unappealing status quo candidates or a proponent of real reform?
We'll never know, but it would be nice to have that choice on the ballot in the future, and it would be doubly nice if one of the people who could realistically make it happen would reconsider his decision to leave Alabama and instead stay and fight to enact the reforms he obviously believes in.
Are you listening, Congressman Davis?