(I wanted this up where we can all see it today. Celebrate your citizenship by making your voice heard! – promoted by piggieheart)
For the first time ever, we're making primary endorsements — our front pagers at Left in Alabama (those of us listed on the sidebar) are endorsing a “Progressive Slate” of candidates in the upcoming Democratic primary. You know we try to present honest information about all candidates but there comes a time when you need to choose a side. That time is next Tuesday, for all of us.
As political junkies, we are paying closer attention to this election than probably 99.9% of the people in Alabama. We have traveled the state watching candidates interact with the public, listened to them for hours, interviewed them, studied their websites, transcribed their remarks and written reams about many of them. If we don't know who the best progressive candidates are, who does? And if we don't make suggestions to our readers, who will? We are making endorsements in the following races:
- Governor: Artur G. Davis
- Attorney General: Michel Nicrosi
- State Treasurer: Jeremy Sherer
- U.S. Senate: William G. Barnes
- Congress 5th District: Taze Shepard
- Congress 7th District: Terri A. Sewell
- State Senate District 13: Greg Varner
Generally, we are going with the outsiders this year. The corrupt, good old boy culture in Montgomery has done no favors for Alabama or the Democratic Party. It's time to bring in some fresh troops and generals because we aren't going to solve our problems by continually electing political retreads.
We looked for candidates who are qualified for the jobs they seek, have the ability to serve well if elected, articulated a vision for the future and demonstrated a willingness to reach out more directly to the people through their websites, email, effective use of social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and, yes, outreach to the blogosphere. That's a pretty good indicator of a candidate open to change and progress, if you think about it. More detailed explanations of each endorsement are below the fold.
We can’t be everywhere and talk to everyone. We may have left out some races where there’s a progressive candidate. If you think that’s the case, please share some information on those races and candidates – with links to websites, Facebook pages and so forth, if you have them.
Of course, this is Alabama, so there will be Constitutional Amendments on the ballot next Tuesday. Knowing nothing about them as yet, we hope and pray someone (Old Prosecutor?) will take pity and tell us what they mean and how a progressive Alabamian might want to vote on them.
Artur Davis, Governor
Artur Davis is the only candidate (of either party) who has articulated a real progressive vision for the future of Alabama – and that vision thing is a huge part of what the governor does in this state. Davis believes there are common streams of interest between the groups who have been fighting to a stalemate in Montgomery and it’s time to set aside the areas of disagreement, put the fights on hold and make progress along those common streams of interest. He is on the correct side of all the major issues standing in the way of progress in this state:
- Constitutional Reform: Alabama's 1901 Constitution was designed to disenfranchise blacks and poor whites, concentrate power in Montgomery and not local governments, and increase the power of entrenched interests at the expense of the of ordinary citizens. And it did it very effectively. So, what happens in Montgomery now? The Legislature spends 75% of its time debating local bills, including such burning state issues as “can Madison County regulate dangerous dogs?” and can “County X hold a property tax referendum to raise taxes to support schools?” Many of these local issues also have to be voted on as Constitutional amendments after the Legislature votes on them. All that time talking about “bad dogs” means very little time is left to address the inequities in our tax structure, severe systemic problems with funding education, and the lax ethics regulations that have made Montgomery a cesspool of corruption and influence peddling. Davis is the only candidate for governor whe supports a citizen-led initiative to write a new Constitution for Alabama. Ron Sparks has proposed letting the Legislature re-write it “to keep special interests out of the process/” But special interests run the Legislature now! Lobbyists outnumber Legislators more than 10 to 1.
- Ethics Reform: Artur Davis has proposed the most comprehensive ethics reform package ever. He released his proposals in April of 2009. We need reform. Did you know that lobbyists can spend up to $250 per day per legislator without having to report a single dollar of it? Less than that isn’t even part of the public record. Davis would ban gifts from lobbyists entirely. The other major component is a ban on PAC to PAC transfers of money. This sounds pretty arcane, but it isn't. Political Action Committees in Alabama can take money from anybody, transfer it to another PAC, and that second PAC can transfer to other PACs, etc. etc. etc. When the money finally gets distributed to a candidate, it's almost impossible to follow who gave what to whom — but the insiders know. There are “go to” people who administer 10 or more PACs, all registered at the same address with the same staff. They accept money, move it around, and distribute it – sometimes all in the same day. There's no transparency. Voters have no idea usually what interest group is trying to buy an election. Want an example? AEA is donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to a right-wing Republican PAC that's running ads against Bradley Byrne. The odd thing about that is that AEA didn't even bother to cover its tracks, though it could have. Easily. Davis would also impose limits on campaign contributions (currently unlimited for individuals) and require lobbyists to register, no matter which branch of state governmnet they lobby.
- Equal Pay: Artur Davis was the ONLY Alabama Congressman to vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Ledbetter has endorsed Davis and traveled with him on the campaign trail. We’ve talked with her personally and she complained bitterly that her Congressman – Mike Rogers – wouldn't even take her calls. But she called Davis and he called sub-committee hearings and co-sponsored her bill. Davis has also proposed a plan to help all Alabama workers. It includes a child-care tax credit, provide unemployment benefits to part-time workers, reward companies that meet fair-pay compliance with gender equality laws by making that one of the conditions to be evaluated when awarding state contracts.
- Tax Fairness: Davis wants to remove the sales tax on food and pay for the difference by taxing out-of-state timber companies that pay just pennies per acre in property taxes. This particularly hurts poor rural counties because they have a low tax base to begin with. Then, with huge amounts of their land tied up in timber, there's no way to increase revenue except with regressive sales taxes.
- Economic Development: We deserve better industry in Alabama than bingo parlors and casinos. Although Davis supports letting people vote on a lottery and/or bingo, he does not support wide-open gambling in casinos. “I don't think the solution to our economic problems in this state is to put a casino in every poor black community,” he said. Instead, Davis' economic plan is much more ambitious and fully-developed. His opponent's plan would, quite frankly, fit on a bingo card while Davis' plan to “Secure Alabama's Future” runs to 19 pages. Here's a summary that also contains a link to the full plan in PDF. It covers everything from high-tech and bio-tech jobs to broadband Internet access to biomass power plants in rural areas. It's a plan that builds for the future instead of one that just cuts an ever-shrinking pie into different sized slices.
- Health Care, the fly in the ointment: Yes, Artur Davis ticked a lot of us off when he voted against the health care bill, but he had been saying that he had problems with the scope of what Democrats were proposing back in the spring of 2009. He wasn't one of the Congressmen who got spooked by the long hot summer of looney Teabaggers distrupting town hall meetings (ie… Parker Griffith, AL-Weasel/Turncoat). Davis said for months that he thought the Democrats should first go for the low-hanging fruit of rescissions, pre-existing conditions, cost, portability, and reining in other insurance company excesses. That could have passed quickly, would have been a great victory, and as people saw the positive results of that, the reforms could be expanded. The bill passed in spite of Davis' no vote and, to his credit, he never indulged in the crazy “Socialism, government takeover, death panel” rhetoric of the GOP and even some Democrats who voted no – and he has said he would not support an attempt to opt Alabama out of the health care law.
We’ve spent hours interviewing Artur Davis in the past 15 months (literally) and even more time attending events where he spoke and transcribing his remarks for LiA. He's one of the smartest people we've ever been around – voting for people smarter than us is a good thing! More importantly, Davis sees the big picture. He realizes that we can't fix the big issues in this state – taxes, education, jobs – until we address the systemic issues and special interest influences that are holding the state back and keeping us with an outdated state government.
That means ethics reform, a new Constitution, and a governor who wants to break with the past and give us a government and state worthy of us. This is the opportunity to leave a better state to our children. Let's not squander it, please!!!!!
Michel Nicrosi, Attorney General
Michel Nicrosi is a former federal prosecutor (16 years) who is now in private practice in Mobile. She's direct, no-nonsense, has a good head on her shoulders, and is capable of doing the job of Attorney General. As the Anniston Star said in its endorsement:
“Alabama could use an attorney general like Nicrosi, a no-frills, competent manager sitting in the office of the state’s highest law enforcer. She promises to re-establish lines of communication with the state’s law enforcement infrastructure and to put a less partisan sheen on the job, the things federal prosecutors are scrupulously known for.”
Unlike our current AG, Nicrosi is not a politician, she’s a prosecutor. Her credentials are those of an experienced prosecutor willing to make tough decisions and not afraid to ruffle the feathers of party insiders or hurt their tender feelings:
I've never run for political office before. Some people think that's a bad thing. I look around the government and I think it's a good to be new.
If you want the status quo in the Attorney General's office, vote for one of the other guys in this race. At the end of they day, they're all the same: political insiders and lobbyists. If you put an insider or lobbyist in charge of the Attorney General's office, it's like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
There are three good Democrats running for Attorney General. Any of them would be orders of magnitude better than the current occupant of that office, but we feel Michel Nicrosi is the best and most progressive candidate in a very strong field.
Jeremy Sherer, Treasurer
We’ve seen Jeremy Sherer at many PACT parent meetings and interviewed him several times. The Daily Home, a local South Alabama paper, endorsed him, saying:
“He’s part of a new generation of politicians in Alabama, and it’s about time.”
That’s exactly what progressive Alabamians are looking for in this election.
Jeremy's plans as Treasurer include:
- Strengthening community banks by putting state money on deposit there instead of the big, national “bailout banks.”
- Local banks loan money to our local businesses and citizens. Jeremy would stop the practice of giving state business to banks that discriminate.
- He would also work with the Attorney General's office to increase Alabama citizens' financial literacy. Too many people depend on pawnshops, payday loans, and other non-traditional sources of funding that cost way more than traditional banks.
- Work for a valid PACT solution. The PACT “solution” passed by the Legislature this session sucks money from the Education Trust Fund and penalizes colleges outside the Alabama and Auburn systems by imposing tuition freezes on those little institutions but not the Alabama and Auburn campuses. Jeremy's solution involves reducing the plan's overhead costs, finding competent investment managers, and tapping the state's unclaimed property fund to temporarily shore up PACT until the market improves. His solutions don't require any taxpayer money be used for the program.
In summary, Jeremy Sherer is young, smart, hardworking and reform-minded. He supports Constitution reform and wants to make the Treasurer's office work for all citizens. He's exactly the kind of young leader that the Democratic Party should be supporting.
Instead, the old guard crowd loves Sherer's opponent, Charlie Grimsley, who has a long history with Jim Folsom, Jr. and gave $5,000 to Roy Moore, $2,000 to George Bush, $10,000 to Steve Windom, and thousands to other Republicans. Remember when Lt. Governor Steve Windom urinated in a jug instead of leaving the floor of the Alabama Senate? It made headlines all over the country. “Democrat” Charlie Grimsley held the jug. Literally. (Watch if you want – Grimsley's the guy on the left). And he blames Democrats for Parker Griffith's party switch – see him whine about it in this YouTube.
Jeremy Sherer is head and shoulders above the other candidates – of both parties. Compared to Grimsley, Sherer is the clear choice for State Treasurer.
William Barnes, US Senate
Both Democrats are long shots against Richard Shelby. All we know about either one is on their websites. But with all those caveats, we come down for William Barnes, because his statements reflect a grasp of where this country has gone astray:
“We have deregulated businesses to the point that all that is sought is, “What is the ROI (return on investment) for the financial investors, rather than “what is the return on investment” for all stakeholders, including employees and their respective families, neighbors, municipalities, State, and yes, Nation. Investments in the nation formerly were more of a joint effort between capital and labor; however, somewhere along the road over the years, greed became the overpowering consideration and capital became the primary, no, perhaps actually, the only consideration in business interests and regulating labor to a much lesser status below capital. We must change this attitude and work toward balancing the competition and needs between capital and labor.”
“We have been led down the primrose path for more than the past twenty years under the Republican Party and leadership. We have been free market deregulated to the point that the lower and middle socioeconomic class has been decimated to poverty levels requiring government infusion of subsides to maintain subsistence. American jobs have been allowed freely to leave and go overseas to China, Japan, Taiwan and other countries for the benefit of CHEAP labor. Available overseas labor that does not have a standard of living that workers in America have so diligently worked in years past to develop through dedication and perseverance. I want to see jobs created through the development of innovative new technologies from the investments in research and development. We did it during the space program and we can do it again with the strong leadership we are currently building upon in the new administration.”
Barnes is on Facebook and Twitter, so he or at least his staff knows about those tools. And he's running as an outsider and emphasizing the size of Shelby's war chest. Even if he's a long shot, he's pushing the right buttons.
Taze Shepard, US. Representative, 5th Congressional District
We think Taze Shepard is running for Congress for the right reason – a desire to serve, not a desire to grandstand. He's a team-player with the ability and willingness to work with others and represent the district first in Washington, building relationships and working with people he may not agree with to get the job done for North Alabama. After the terrible mistake that was Parker Griffith, the 5th District needs a statesman in Congress, someone who can smooth ruffled feathers and build relationships. Shepard has deep roots in North Alabama, and even deeper roots in Democratic traditions. We are convinced that he will be the same person next year that he is this year, and that was a major factor in our endorsement.
Shepard told the Madison County Democratic Women that he's angry about what's happening in Washington now because “we aren't building for the future.” North Alabama is losing out because our Congressman has taken himself out of too many negotiations. Shepard's stands on fair pay, health care, reproductive choice and equal rights line up well with progressive positions. He is a strong proponent of expanding broadband internet access in rural areas – a key to future economic progress – and agrees that financial regulations must be reformed to prevent a repeat of the recent meltdown.
“People who feel that no one is listening to them on the federal level, who feel that nothing is getting done on the federal level and how much we need strong representation, but also representation that can work with people, rather than insulting them in public, to get things done. And that's what I intend to do to help everyone in the district.”
Shepard is something of a reluctant candidate, which isn't a bad thing. He hasn't been mulling over a run for years, but decided to run for Congress only after people in the district encouraged him to do so in the wake of Griffith's party switch. From the beginning his approach has been to listen to local officials and citizens and ask them what kind of a Congressman they want. He strikes us as an effective consensus-builder, never shutting out the opposing point of view, even as he seeks to further his own.
Much has been made of Shepard's family connections (Sen. John Sparkman was his grandfather) but in our opinion, Taze Shepard isn't running because his family background somehow entitles him to the office. Rather, he is running because his family background obliges him to serve. As if in his mind, Sen. John Sparkman, from the great beyond, is saying, “Boy, you need to do this. North Alabama needs you.”
He doesn’t have the most money in this race, but given the current political environment, we feel Taze Shepard is the best candidate for Alabama’s 5th CD. This was another tough decision, especially so since there's a young, progressive Democrat in this race: Mitchell Howie. In the end, we felt Shepard's deep personal roots in the district outweighed his minor policy differences with Howie — especially in the post-Griffith era. We hope Howie will have a bright future, but this is not the right time for him.
Terri Sewell, US. Representative, 7th Congressional District
Terri Sewell was raised in Selma, the heart of the 7th Congressional District, and is no stranger to the conditions there. She’s a well-educated, articulate woman who is passionate about education, increasing opportunity and, yes, even financial reform. Her experience in pubic sector finance is relevant to a district that desperately needs infrastructure investment.
In addition to working for reform of financial regulations, Sewell pledges to improve the Health Care Act once in Congress, to work for fair pay and resist further erosion of reproductive choice, but job creation is her number one priority for the 7th CD. We believe that she is correct in asserting that her experience in conflict resolution as a lawyer would allow her to find win-win solutions and bring resources back home to the district.
“I have been blessed to have the opportunity to go to school with some of the lawmakers that are currently in Congress and in the White House and I think that I could leverage those experiences and those contacts to benefit the 7th Congressional District.”
She says all campaigns are talking about job creation this year, but believes her campaign is the one that can most credibly deliver on that promise.
Alabama has never sent a woman to Congress and that concept is quite a leap for some of our more conservative citizens. Nevertheless, we feel Terri Sewell has the qualifications, experience, work ethic and forward-looking attitude to be the first Congresswoman from Alabama.
Our second choice in this race — another one that has drawn more than one good prospect — is Rep. Earl Hilliard, Jr. He is also a strong supporter of working families and made a real effort to connect with LiA, but unfortunately our schedules just didn't connect.
State Senate District 13: Greg Varner
Greg Varner is a young, energetic, economic populist who supports constitution reform. He's not great on the “hot button” issues but he's not running on them either. He's not using them as tools in his campaign. His webite says that he is “pro family” and “pro marriage” but he believes the greatest threat to families is economic dislocation — people who can't find jobs to keep a roof over their heads. And thankfully, he's not a “blame the gays” guy.
This quote from Varner's website captures the “new politics” philosophy we need to see more often from Democratic candidates:
Most of us are increasingly frustrated with the direction of politics. Statesmanship seems strangely absent, as if people have forgotten what that means. The pursuit of trust, stewardship, and responsibility seem to be missing in the halls of Montgomery. Our responsibility to future generations has been sacrificed and we all sense a disconnection between what we believe and the policies that rule our lives.
Varner is running a strong, positive campaign, remember his Tough Ladies ad?
Some candidates we didn’t endorse are fine people, and would likely do very well if elected. We do not disparage them. You may not agree with our endorsements. That’s fine. Just VOTE on June 1. Please!!
Yes, Alabama, there are progressive candidates on the ballot. Vote for them!