Bygone era of singular primary gone
Published 2:56 am Wednesday, May 24, 2006
By By Steve Flowers
As the June 6th Republican and Democratic Primaries approach I am reminded of a bygone era when primary was singular. There was one primary, the Democratic Primary, which was the election. It was the whole ball of wax. There was no Republican Primary. They chose their candidates in a convention of sorts; you could have put all the participants in a phone booth. The candidates they selected and put on the ballot were token sacrificial lambs whose names appeared on the November general election ballots but none of them came close to winning. The winners were chosen in the Democratic Primary. It was tantamount to election.
Even after Alabama started voting Republican for President in 1964, it was still over 20 years before the GOPism filtered down to state elections. It was only because of a colossal arrogant blunder by the Democratic Party leadership that we elected our first Republican Governor in over a century.
In 1986 the Democratic Party leadership went behind closed doors and handpicked Bill Baxley to be the Democratic nominee over Charlie Graddick who had received the most votes in the primary. An obscure Cullman County Probate Judge, Guy Hunt, was elected Governor as a Republican only because of a backlash by the Democratic Party against this brazen haughtiness by the Democratic Party leaders. Voters were so incensed they would have voted for Mickey Mouse if he had been the Republican nominee. The Republicans had at least held a primary that year. However, the Democratic Primary was still the show, as evidenced by the fact that close to 800,000 Alabamians voted in the Democratic Primary and only 40,000 asked for a Republican Primary ballot.
It has incrementally changed as GOP strength has grown significantly in the State. Alabama is overwhelmingly Republican in Presidential years. You do not want to be running statewide as a Democrat in those years. It is an uphill battle. Just ask Democratic Judicial candidates. However, in gubernatorial years the playing field levels out. Primarily because there is no liberal national Democratic Presidential candidate on top of the ballot and most of the local popular incumbent sheriffs and probate judges are Democrats and they are on the ballot. It is because of these local icons that most people continue to vote in the Democratic Primary. However that also is changing because the more populous and fastest growing bedroom counties, like Shelby, St. Clair, Autauga, Elmore and Baldwin, are totally Republican and they elect all Republican local officials. The tide is slowly turning.
One indication that the GOP is inching towards majority status even in gubernatorial years is that most of the hotly contested primary battles are within the Republican ranks. The Riley vs. Moore Governor's race is a contest. The Lt. Governor's primary with Wallace, Strange, Brooks and Adams will be interesting. The race for the Republican nomination for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court between Drayton Nabers and Tom Parker will draw a lot of voters to the GOP Primary. There is a good race for the only open Supreme Court seat between Glen Murdock and Jean Brown and there are several good Republican Primary races for State Senate seats in Jefferson and Mobile counties. In addition, the Jefferson County Commission race between two Republicans, incumbent Gary White and Rep. Jim Carns, will turn out a heavy vote in the State's largest county. Whereas the only really contested Democratic statewide race is the Governor's contest with Lucy Baxley vs. Don Siegelman.
It will be interesting to see which primary will attract the most voters. The numbers may portend the future for political control of the Statehouse.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 66 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us