This five-part series was painful to write in 2014 – and things haven’t gotten any better. Without a strong Democratic Party acting as a counterweight to Republican excesses, our state continually teeters on the edge of the budget abyss, public education is in peril, and the Alabama Legislature fritters away time debating gay marriage, abortion, and the dangers of Sharia Law.
In this series, we look at how complacency and poor leadership have gotten us to this point – and consider how to revive the Alabama Democratic Party.
The 2010 and 2014 midterm elections pushed the party over the cliff, but we’d been driving towards the edge for quite a while, and nobody applied the brakes.
Historically, Alabama Democrats have fought each other, not Republicans
After 100+ years in power, it’s tempting to assume your position is permanent. In 2010, a number of Democratic incumbents had been in office for decades, when winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the general election. Cycle after cycle, the “real” campaign played out in the Democratic primary, and those fights were vicious. The 2010 primary battle between Sparks and Davis was nothing compared to Baxley/Graddick in 1986 or Wallace/Brewer in 1970.
Other than “we’re not Obama!” do you remember a single coordinated message from Alabama Democratic candidates in 2010? How about 2006 or 2002? The last time the party candidates ran on a single big issue, it was in 1998 with the education lottery. Note: we won that election! 1998 was also a year national issues dominated many state races: voters punished Republican candidates for Clinton’s impeachment. On election night, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw called it “a good night to be a Democrat.”
2010 was NOT a good year to be an Alabama Democrat. The party was MIA & AEA was busy playing in the Republican primary.
Looking back, it’s heartbreaking to consider what Alabama could be like now if the Democrats had used their legislative majority to address systemic problems in the state.
For instance, Democrats could have:
- Removed the sales tax on food
- Implemented real ethics reform
- Enacted home rule for local governments
- Dumped the 1901 state constitution
- Created a less regressive tax system.
But they didn’t. Session after session, one house would pass a reform bill – often unanimously – and then it would die in the other chamber.
Bizarre campaign spending choices in 2010 weakened the AEA politically and financially, and they hurt the ADP as well. The leaders of the two organizations were so connected that it was difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two. AEA Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert resigned as vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Party in July 2010, but the damage to Democratic candidate recruitment was already done. As reported at the time: “Hubbert said today it would be in the best interests of AEA for him not to be active in the Democratic Party.”
That was a decision Hubbert should have made years before.
Part 5: Picking Up the Pieces to Rebuild the Alabama Democratic Party
The political landscape in Alabama didn’t change because of the ADP leadership, but they’ve done little or nothing to bring the party back from the brink. How can it be that the party has suffered massive losses at every level of state and local government, but nobody in leadership lost their job? Paul Hubbert, remember, left voluntarily so that he could more openly support Republican candidates. The State Democratic Executive Committee is currently structured to preserve the power of individual leaders, not as an open, transparent governing body.