Alabamians go from one political extreme to the other
By By Steve Flowers
When we Alabamians change course politically we go from one extreme to the other. The facts are obvious. From 1916 through 1960 we voted for a Democrat for President all 44 years, 12 out of 12. We were a Yellow Dog Democratic state. That phrase was coined because of the analogy that Alabamians would vote for a yellow dog, if he was on the ballot, over any Republican.
In 1964 that all changed. Alabamians went to the polls in November of 1964 and pulled the straight Republican lever for Barry Goldwater and never looked back. Since that 1964 election we have voted for the Republican candidate 10 out of 12 times. We only deviated in 1968 when we voted for George Wallace as a third party candidate and in 1976 when a devout Southern Baptist and our neighbor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, very narrowly carried the state as a Democrat, but we have not voted for a Democrat since. That is 8 straight presidential elections over the past 32 years. It is a good bet that John McCain will make it 9 straight in 2008.
Race was the issue and reason for the change in 1964 when white southerners vehemently pulled the GOP lever. It is the underlying and prevailing reason the GOP candidate will win this year in the Heart of Dixie. It would be a major victory if Obama loses by only 20 points in Alabama. Ever since that pivotal party change 44 years ago, we can now be called a Yellow Dog Republican state in presidential politics.
Another dramatic change that exemplifies us going from one extreme to the other is also in the political arena. Our legal environment pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. As late as 30 years ago we were an oasis for plaintiff trial lawyers. Time Magazine called us “Tort Hell.” We had weekly stories where national corporations were being subjected to multimillion dollar verdicts in small county venues for basically no reason other than they had deep pockets.
The examples were so flagrant and ludicrous that it made our justice system a joke nationwide. It made us the highlight of talk show hosts and business periodicals. Movies like “My Cousin Vinny” spun out of our provincial system that was practically highway robbery. One example that made the talk shows was when a doctor received a $4 million verdict simply because his BMW was scratched. General Motors was stung numerous times when some drunk Alabamian wrecked their car and then sued GM for the mishap. The stories are endless. The Alabama Supreme Court, which was all Democratic and all plaintiff trial lawyer leaning, upheld all of the frivolous judgments.
In the 1990’s the business community in Alabama and nationwide decided that enough was enough. They came off their checkbooks and elected an all business controlled Republican Supreme Court. The label of “tort hell” has been put to rest in Alabama. Very few punitive judgment awards are upheld by our State Supreme Court. The pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other. Today if you went into the hospital for a routine appendectomy and the doctor cut off your right leg and left arm in the process you would not get any remedy.
Speaking of the legal system, for the past few decades in Alabama our lawyers have had a field day garnering large legal fees from the state for outside counsel. Those fee arrangements are very lucrative and have been awarded brazenly as political payoffs by both Democratic and Republican administrations. A legislative panel recently unveiled a $273,000 contract to test the Alabama Emergency Management Agency’s disaster plan and the Director of the agency Brack Long works as a consultant for the recipient of the contract.
Attorney General Troy King gave a $100,000 legal contract to his 2006 campaign manager, Kenneth Steely. Gov. Riley’s office continues a $1.3 million legal contract with the Birmingham law firm of Bradley Arant Rose &White. It would seem like we could use some of our state paid assistant attorney generals for some of this legal work. There are a host of them and they are well paid. In fact, even though we are in lean times, the number of state employees has gone up from 34,553 in 1998 to 37,512 today, which is the largest it has been in decades.
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.