Inside Alabama Politics

There was hope, but no surprises (opinion) – August 17, 2018

| Opinion

by Jeff Martin

The Alabama GOP has cause to rejoice, as the Alabama Democratic Party (ADP) suffers from another self-inflicted wound to the head. That was my first reaction Saturday when ADP boss Joe Reed stacked the deck to ensure his patsy Nancy Worley would win another four-year term as Chairwoman of the ADP against challenger Peck Fox.

Fox, a Montgomery attorney, with strong democratic ties, previously served on the staff of former U.S. Senator Howell Heflin and Governor Jim Folsom. It was U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who nominated Fox in an attempt to take the reins of the dysfunctional democratic organization away from Reed and Worley.

The vote Saturday, 101-89, was much closer than most ever expected, especially considering Reed was able to personally appoint 35 at-large seats and fill almost another dozen vacancies of the 190 delegates who voted.

In years past, these elections have had much wider margins. This was not the case Saturday. For the first time in years of leadership elections, a recorded vote was taken and the results showed Reed’s death grip on the Democratic Party is slipping.

Not to be naïve. There isn’t a Democrat in Alabama who expected the final outcome to be any different than what it was. There were a lot of people with hope. There were a lot of people with faith. But, not one of them was surprised when Worley won.

I spoke to a few Democrats who attended Saturday’s election and was surprised to learn that they remain upbeat; sharing hope of a bright future for the Alabama Democratic Party; convinced this is the beginning of the end of the current leadership.

There is excitement and energy among Democratic supporters around Alabama that has risen from the Doug Jones US Senate victory. It is this same excitement and energy on which Walt Maddox capitalized to win the Democratic nomination for governor. Saturday, some of that enthusiasm showed up in Montgomery to challenge the party’s leadership. While they weren’t victorious, they did gain ground.

Every Democrat I spoke with agreed this is the beginning of the end of the status quo for the ADP. They believe the bottom has been hit and it is only up from here.

There are naysayers who think that Doug Jones should have minded his own business and stayed away from the fray. I disagree. Senator Jones is the face of Alabama Democrats. He is the only statewide elected Democrat and the first to win a Senate seat in 25 years. And he did it without the help of the ADP.

His willingness, as a seated U.S. Senator, to put his office and his life-long commitment to the Democratic Party on the line was a statement of principal and should gain him even more respect from the rank and file Democrats around Alabama. Also notable is more than a dozen African-American legislators showed up Saturday to vote for Fox over Worley.

So where does it go from here? This was a shot over the bow for Worley and Reed and they can’t help but to know their days in leadership are numbered. They may have won the battle, but the fight continues and those that want change won’t let Saturday’s outcome deter them.

The ADP remains in debt to the tune of $400k. A legal complaint is expected to be filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission against Worley, Reed and other party leaders for failing to submit timely Statements of Economic Interest as required by law. And then, there is the ever-present possibility of the Democratic National Convention stepping in to remove the leadership and commandeer the entire structure of the SDEC, a power it has rarely had to exercise.

I’m convinced these current events will be the turning point and the beginning of the end of Reed’s stranglehold on state Democratic politics. In spite of the old guard trying to hold on to power, the Democratic Party base is mobile and active around the state and is rallying around strong, young, viable candidates from governor to sheriff. There are new candidates, new volunteers, new excitement, and new energy being brought by a new generation. And from this a vibrant Democratic party will emerge.

So maybe, just maybe, there is hope for Alabama Democrats. I sure hope so, because a strong two-party state is good for everyone.

Jeff Martin is Publisher of Inside AL Politics and The Montgomery Independent