Alabama political questions answered
By By Steve Flowers
This week's column puts me at a disadvantage. You have the luxury of knowing the outcome of Tuesday's election and I do not. Newspaper deadlines dictate that this column had to be written prior to Tuesday's results being known. However, Tuesday's election will answer some major political questions regarding Alabama politics. Several questions have already been answered earlier this year in the primaries.
Forty years ago in 1966 was the first time that Alabama's African American population voted in mass. Jim Crow laws and poll tax prohibitions had essentially made one third of our population disfranchised. Only a handful of the most elite highly educated black citizens could vote. Much like other new groups of voters in American history, such as the Irish immigrants of New York City, they were very monolithic and voted with their chosen leadership.
In Alabama our new black voters pretty much followed the guidelines of a yellow ballot handed out by the Alabama Democratic Conference and its leader Joe Reed. Later a new arm was born that rivaled Reed's ADC. It had its roots in the Black Belt and was led by Sen. Hank Sanders. It called itself the New South Coalition and was in partnership with Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington's machine. This tandem of Birmingham and the Black Belt made it a formidable combination. These groups dictated how the black vote went in primary races. Given the fact that all state races were decided in the democratic primary as late as 1986 the endorsement of these groups was crucial to somebody winning a statewide race especially for the governor's office.
The question posed to us in 2006 is whether the black vote in Alabama still votes monolithically in lock step with the dictates of party leadership? The answer is yes and no. In the urban areas of Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery, it is no. These voters seem to have progressed past the yellow ballot. The Arrington machine in Birmingham is long past and Joe Reed's ADC heyday is over. His power has essentially evaporated. However, the rural Black Belt with its rich vein of voters is still very responsive to the New South ballot put out by Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma and its leadership. African American voters now make up close to 50% of the democratic vote in Alabama.
On the other side the republican primary revealed that about 30% of the Republican Party voters are hardcore, one issue, pro-religious voters. It has been estimated for a decade that about one third of republican primary voters came from the religious right. There was no better weathervane than the Roy Moore candidacy. It confirmed this estimate. It is therefore almost as important to the republican statewide primary candidates as the African American vote is to the democratic primary aspirant in future elections.
Questions awaiting an answer from Tuesday's elections are whether Alabama elects its first female governor since Lurleen Wallace and is the Lt. Governor's jinx over in Alabama politics? The Lt. Governor's office has been an albatross rather than a steppingstone. If Lucy Baxley fails to upset Bob Riley does it mean that the Democratic Party is dead in Alabama? Is the state becoming republican dominated in state politics the way it is in national politics?
With the defeat of George Wallace Jr. in the Republican Lt. Governor's contest in June the Wallace name is probably finished in Alabama politics. He was slain by a giant 6' 9" lobbyist name Luther Strange. If Strange prevailed over Jim Folsom Jr. Tuesday, Strange will have slain and ended the legacy of the heirs to the greatest dynasties in Alabama political lore, the Wallaces and the Folsoms, thus making him a giant killer and a name to be reckoned with in the future of state politics. It also proves how important money and media are in modern politics. A year ago Luther Strange was completely unknown in Alabama. With the financial backing of Birmingham's Big Mules and the slick television ads produced by that money they may have elected a complete unknown to the state's second highest office and possibly made him a frontrunner for Governor in 2010.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama's leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 70 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us <http://www.steveflowers.us/>.