Monday, December 20, 2010

When Is Ethics Reform Not Ethics Reform?

I had hoped to have a brief sabbatical before resuming this space, but, alas, Choctaw Bob decided to call a special session of the new Republican Legislature, so at least one entry will be fueled by fruitcake and eggnog.

All you have to do in Alabama this week is pick up a major daily newspaper, (note the Publian throat-clearing on that page) or turn on the TV news, to hear how the Wonder of Ethics Reform has been ushered in by the new Republican monopoly on political power in Alabama. You would think no one ever testified under oath to Congress that Bob Riley pocketed millions in Choctaw casino money. Why, it probably all really went to those ethics-reform-killing Democrats who got voted out last month!

The Republican-Newhouse chorus of praise for restrictions on “lobbyist” expenditures depends, for its political effect, on the public’s failure to understand how lobbying really works. The rather simplistic public view - strongly supported by the editorial slant of the largest news outlets - shows most votes in the Legislature being determined over the tenderloin filet with Béarnaise butter at Sinclair’s or the chopped lobster over angel hair at SaZa’s. I won’t discount the impact this gustatory largess has on legislators (although both of the foregoing delicacies are within the per-meal limits of the new law), and its restriction will improve the moral atmosphere. But the real work of the lobbyist lies elsewhere.

The disproportionate influence of lobbyists in the Alabama Legislature stems from a number of factors. Perhaps the most underrated comes from their access to information not otherwise available to legislators. While legislators in many states have access to research staffs and personal staffs that are comparable to those in Congress, Alabama lags behind. The understaffed and underfunded Legislative Reference Service and Legislative Fiscal Office simply cannot provide anyone, including legislators, with much of the information needed to evaluate legislative proposals. Enter the lobbyist, or the interest group they represent. No one has performed this function as notably as the Alabama Education Association. No small part of the influence of Paul Hubbert and his employer comes from their mastery of the complicated budgetary and economic data necessary to balance a budget. In the coming GOP quadrennium, there will be new fights over how to deal with shortfalls in the education budget, but one thing will remain constant. If Governor Bentley’s staff says the Education Trust Fund will be X dollars in the black next year, and Dr. Hubbert’s staff says it will be Y dollars in the red, legislative leaders will be working from the latter presumption, even if they dare not admit it.

As much as lobbyists influence legislation by direct pressure, they earn their keep by simply tracking it, and counting the noses of supporters and opponents. Smaller groups, which don’t have a full time executive or staff in Montgomery, count on retained lobbyists to notify them if a bill impacting their members has been introduced, and then let them know where it is in the legislative process. Even the larger groups on Goat Hill - the AEA’s and the ALFA’s - largely use their lobbying staffs to send blast faxes or emails to members from Boaz to Brewton, to tell them it’s time to call their legislators about House Bill B. That sort of pressure, more than any martini, moves votes in the State House. Even, perhaps especially, in the case of big-ticket legislation, it’s the heavy-hitting principal, not the lobbyist, who makes the trek for deal-closing face time with a swing voter. John Archibald of The Birmingham News figured this out, when he noted (in attacking GOP Senator Scott Beason’s hypocrisy on “ethics reform”), that Beason didn’t wear a wire to talk to some briefcase-toting lobbyist lackey. He (allegedly) wore it to talk to Milton McGregor.

Of course, if you really want to move votes in the legislative process, donate. Fund those re-election bids. And while the “ethics reform” session put a few speed bumps in the path of redirected money, it came far short of erecting any roadblocks. Even the slight additional disclosure required under the PAC-transfer ban is likely to be of limited effect. Remember again AEA’s cannonade against Bradley Byrne during the GOP primary and runoff campaigns.

Even if Bill Maher got the source of the ads wrong, everyone in Alabama knew their origin. AEA’s sponsorship was the worst-kept secret in the history of Alabama politics. As with any step taken to dissuade future attackers, that bankrolling had to be an open secret to be effective. While the transfers to the “True Republican PAC” gave Tim James and Bentley a fig leaf behind which to hide, media buys of such an effective size can only come from a handful of places, and the old cui bono rule makes it easy to short-list the suspects. More to the point, despite the fact that everyone with a pulse knew the ads originated from AEA, they worked. Byrne went down in flames. In the meanwhile, the GOP “ethics” bills won’t particularly impede business interests funneling cash to “religious” groups, some 527 language in the bills notwithstanding. Those “religious” groups, in turn will continue to lobby for Christian stances, like corporate tax breaks, and will identify GOP nominees to their voter-members as “more aligned” with “Christian” positions.

The so-called “ethics reforms” may give the GOP some talking points, and may leave those unfamiliar with the daily grind on Goat Hill with the idea that things are now fine, but they really will not make any material change in how the people’s business is conducted at 11 South Union Street.

What we are left with is the inescapable conclusion that this session had nothing to do with ethics. It had everything to do with passing anti-AEA bills, banning teachers from running for the Legislature, and banning public entities from deducting AEA and ASEA political contributions from paychecks. (I am still waiting for the explanation of why it’s more unethical for a Democratic teacher to vote on an education budget, than it is for a Republican insurance agent to vote on a bill impacting the insurance industry.) Those bills would have been at serious risk of a Bentley veto come January, as well as being maneuvered behind budgets in a regular session. The 52-49 final House vote passing the payroll deduction bill shows that there was insufficient support to pass the bill in a regular session, with a governor more sensitive to employee rights.

Of course, as this blaring headline from The Birmingham News shows, the GOP and its media apologists have not wasted the opportunity to trumpet the “historic” accomplishments of Ethical Bob and his newly-empowered GOP Legislature. With few exceptions, the news coverage has repeated the Republican lie that Democratic Legislatures had “refused” to reform ethics, when in fact, Democratic proposals stronger than those on offer last week were passed by Democratic Houses, and filibustered or blocked by GOP minority blocs in successive Democratic Senates.

Perhaps - and it is our task as Democrats to help them do so - what the Republicans have done is to overreach in their giddy victory dance, and wakened a sleeping giant. In the early 1970’s, George Wallace, looking for some cash to spend as he chose, proposed a raid on the Education Trust Fund. Before this time, AEA had largely been a group of starving, underpaid professionals who gathered in Birmingham during spring break every year to get out of Scottsboro or Eufaula. Under the leadership of the recently-installed Dr. Hubbert, AEA rose with a unified voice, and hundreds of teachers jammed the halls of the Capitol, buttonholing every member of the Legislature. Not only was Wallace’s raid dead on arrival, before running for re-election in 1974, Wallace was careful to pre-empt AEA opposition by giving teachers a $1,000.00 a year across-the-board raise. (This would be close to $4,500.00 in 2010 dollars.) In recent years, while AEA has wielded unsurpassed clout by virtue of its focused financial support and lobbying effort, it has faded somewhat as a voting bloc. Some teachers look at their currently-comfortable paychecks, confuse themselves with members of the Mittelbourgeoisie, and vote Republican in response. Others heed the call of business-shill “clergy,” and vote Republican because Democrats aren’t trying hard enough to execute women trying to obtain abortions. Where the Republican attack on public education will be launched - reduced tenure rights to intimidate teachers, or diversion of scarce dollars to lower-paying charter schools - is not certain. That it will be launched is certain. Sooner, rather than later, any person with the wit to attain the baccalaureate which is a vocational prerequisite for teachers will realize these Republicans mean to do their wallets harm. The impact of 50,000 truly-ticked-off, college-educated-articulate men and women, with starting salaries of $36,000.00 from which to contribute, and all summer off work, can never be underestimated.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Open Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
15 Old House Lane
Chappaqua, NY 10514

Dear Secretary Clinton:

Please resign your position as Secretary of State.

I ask you to do this not because of any dissatisfaction with your work in that position. Indeed, among the members of the current Cabinet, you stand almost alone as one who has performed her duties in an efficient and effective manner, carrying out the progressive ideals the Democratic Party promised the American people in 2008. If Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and Attorney General Holder had performed their duties as competently as you have yours, tanning-bed freak John Boehner would not be the presumptive Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives today.

No, I am asking you to resign because a decent respect for the duties of a Cabinet member to the office of the President, demand that you no longer serve in the Cabinet of a President whom you intend to oppose for the 2012 Democratic Presidential nomination.

And I beg you to seek that nomination.

Fortune provided the Democratic Party in 2008 with the sort of opportunity that comes along once in a generation. Eight years of know-nothing ideological Republican mismanagement had tarnished that party’s image to the point that voters handed Democrats not only the Presidency, but the largest Congressional majorities we had enjoyed in 40 years. We had the opportunity to effect the sort of generational realignment that Roosevelt accomplished in 1932. Progressive reforms, accompanied by the modern version of Roosevelt’s explanatory Fireside Chats, would have effected a change for the better in America as profound, and as permanent, as the New Deal. Health care reform that provided a single payer or public option, meaningful financial regulatory reform, and a stimulus smart and bold enough to truly dent the Bush recession, would have left American a much better place. More to the point, properly and unapologetically sold to the American people, they would have left the 2008 Democratic mandate largely intact, and as long-enduring, as FDR’s majority, which lasted for decades. (By way of comparison, FDR gained 9 seats in the House, and 10 in the Senate, at his first midterms - despite undertaking a far, far more radical system of reforms than Obama timidly embraced. That is political acumen.)

Instead, we are faced this morning with the results of a pummeling. Why? DC pundits, wanting to sound sage and impartial (and wanting to be invited to the cocktail parties of a resurgent GOP) will tell us it is because Obama and the Congress tacked too far to the left in 2009 and 2010. That is, however, not the case.

The unvarnished and painful truth is that Barack Obama lacks the intellectual depth, the political savvy and skill, and the will to fight, to lead the fight against the Republican Party, and that is why I am asking you to challenge him for renomination.

I will use his incompetent management of health care reform to illustrate that point. As you doubtless hated to watch, his “campaign” for reform consisted of remaining aloof from the fight, and allowing Democrats in Congress - many of whom lost their seats yesterday - to carry the workload. Several competing plans bounced around the Hill for a year. When Obama finally weighed in, he unilaterally took single payer off the table, and meekly proposed a public option. This in itself showed that, while he may have “learned about diverse cultures” following his mother around Indonesia and the Pacific, he doesn’t understand the American legislative and political processes. As when buying a home, you don’t make your first offer what you really want to pay. You’ll only pay more, and get less, in the end.

Worse yet, rather than get behind one proposal early and use the “Bully Pulpit” to get its most appealing points across to the public, he vacillated between competing proposals, and allowed Republican obstructionists to define what “health care reform” meant in the public mind. As a result, when polled throughout 2010, most Americans said they were against “Obama’s proposal” or the “Democratic proposal,” and those beliefs were a principal cause of yesterday’s results. They were opposed to it because of what they had heard Republicans say about “death panels,” the loss of physician choice, and other horrors - none of which were, of course, in any Democratic proposal. But it’s only the Bully Pulpit, repeatedly used, that can rebut such lies. Your stance on health care during your 2008 campaign showed that you learned this lesson from your 1993-94 experience in the field.

That “Democrats went too far left” is further belied by polls conducted by Pew and other groups that described the Democratic proposal rather than labeling it. When respondents were asked about “a plan” that would, in essence, “require everyone to buy some kind of insurance, provide help to the poor to do so, require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions and prevent them from dropping those who get seriously ill,” - in other words, the final Democratic plan - the approval percentages were around 60%, with several percent disapproving because it didn’t go far enough. Yet Obama preferred getting some guys on the basketball court to show off his fadeaway shot to the cameras, to doing the heavy lifting of closing the information gap.

Obama and his inner political circle spent the first year and a half of his term believing the press reports of their own brilliance. This was an exercise in narcissistic folly. The tarnished Republican brand meant that any Democrat was going to win in 2008 (although Obama, trailing in September, came too close to losing). The structure of the primaries virtually guaranteed that whoever won the Iowa caucus would once again be the Democratic nominee. In the runup to that caucus, you were subjected to brutal and unrelenting media scrutiny, as you should have been. President Obama, pointedly, was not. You made some mistakes, from which your later campaigning showed you learned. Meanwhile, future President Obama’s aloof leadership style and shallow grasp of American democracy went unchallenged, and unrevealed. Unfortunately, the voters did a fine job of revealing them yesterday.

I will be the first to admit I am asking you to take a gamble. It is possible that the President has learned his lessons. Much too late, he adopted a more strident tone in his public rhetoric. But if he were as bright as his media reputation suggests, his obsession for bipartisan accommodation on major reforms would not have outlived Summer 2009. Yesterday would have been no more than a minor seasonal midterm adjustment. Perhaps you have a month or two to decide, but an effective challenge to a sitting President means that you need to be on the rubber chicken circuit soon. It is not as long a shot as you may think. Even before yesterday’s debacle, an Associated Press poll showed that 47% of Democratic voters think Obama should be challenged for the nomination.

Like so many Democrats, I so wanted this President to succeed. I have given him every chance I can. It is going to take someone of your stature and abilities to keep him from using the muscle of incumbency to secure renomination and further damage the Party and nation. I am willing to do my part, and I cannot be alone.

I will meet you in Des Moines.

Your friend and supporter,

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Focusing on a Local Sheriff’s Race, or, I Thought “Bray” Was What a Mule Does

It’s a small thing, in many ways, a local race for sheriff.

But in others, it can show you the soul of a party - what sort of stuff its rank and file are made of, unvarnished and unglossed by consultants flown in from Los Angeles and paid for by Wall Street money.

These are my thoughts as I contemplate a handful of photographs sent to me by a Democrat in DeKalb County. The first of these shows Lamar Bray, the police chief at Mentone (what does he do, arrest summer camp kids who aren’t in their cabins by curfew?), and the GOP nominee for sheriff, looking at a campaign sign he claims was vandalized in Crossville.

Bray, after making statements to the media that the sign was “vandalized,” said on his website only that it was “significantly damaged” on the night of October 24-25. But the item on the “significant damage” also refers to signs being “removed,” making the obvious implication that nefarious supporters of Democratic Sheriff Jimmy Harris were responsible.

Before joining Sherlock Bray on his search for these vandals, let’s review DeKalb County geography. Crossville is merely a couple of miles down the road from Geraldine. It is also close to the Boaz-Albertville area. Was anything in particular going on in that neighborhood the night Bray claims his sign was “damaged”? Well, according to the National Weather Service:



The storm damaged the Albertville K-Mart that night, just a few miles from Crossville, and The Sand Mountain Reporter said it was still closed for most purposes at the end of the week. My informant also sent me a photo from nearby Geraldine, from the Fort Payne Times-Journal.

Now, if a storm can do that to a house, it can sure do it to an eight-foot, wind-catching campaign sign. You think, Barney Bray? Or is there a bigger issue here about that “honest sheriff” claim in your sign?

Just remember in these closing days, and stay alert for misinformation. Have a rapid response capability ready to go at a moment’s notice!

And Happy Hallowe’en!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Republican Mac Buttram: The Case of the Lying Parson in the 12th House District

I am astonished that the BBC has not reported a major earthquake being felt in London, in the vicinity of Old Street Station, along City Road. There, in the garden of City Road Chapel, lies buried John Wesley, founder with his brother Charles of the Methodist movement. The Rev. Wesley is doubtless spinning in his grave with sufficient velocity to register on the seismograph at nearby King’s College.

Wesley’s eternal rest has certainly been disturbed by the actions of one of his ministers in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. This comes about because the contest for the seat in House District 12 features not one, but two ordained Methodist ministers. The Democratic incumbent, the Rev. Rep. James Fields, made national news, being noted in The New York Times. This spotlight came because Fields, an African American, won the seat in a 2008 special election in a district that is 98% white. Fields is a retired state employment service staffer who is active as a Methodist minister.

His GOP opponent is the allegedly Rev. Mac Buttram, who is not only also a retired United Methodist minister; Buttram performed the wedding of Fields to his current wife, whom he married after Fields’s previous wife died. Buttram had officiated at the funeral of the earlier Mrs. Fields. Rep. Fields was also surprised to learn that Buttram planned to run for the seat, when Buttram (in the center, holding hands in prayer with Fields in the photo below) had been, for several years, a member of his weekly prayer-breakfast group meeting at the Cracker Barrel in Cullman.

John Wesley was no stranger to the toil and strife of life in a fallen world. Charged with slander in Georgia, and abandoned by his wife late in life in England, he endured his share of bruises. But even he would probably, at this point, be pointing a finger at the uncharitable candidacy of the allegedly Rev. Buttram.

Then there is The Ad.

Beginning last week, the Alabama Republican Party began running an ad on TV in this race, in which the Rev. Fields is accused of “trying to let murderers out of prison.” I will let the ad speak for itself:

I will leave for another day for the allegedly Rev. Buttram to explain why he should be opposed to a legislative act, sponsored by the Rev. Fields (HB 532, 2010 Regular Session), that embraces the sort of forgiveness and reconciliation that are supposedly part of the core of Christian belief. For now, I will suggest to the allegedly Rev. Buttram that he take a day off after the election to listen to a message from the Rev. Billy Neal Moore, a black Pentecostal minister from Rome, Georgia (whom I have heard speak, to my considerable benefit). The Rev. Moore was as close as having his head shaved to Georgia’s electric chair, when a series of events led the family of his murder victim to seek his eventual pardon, parole and release.

What I will not allow the allegedly Rev. Buttram to escape this morning is being asked, how dare he don the robe of a minister, and mount the pulpit and preach in God’s name, when he has not admitted and denounced the lies told by him, and on his behalf, including those in the above ad, and asked the Rev. Fields for forgiveness?

Columnist John Archibald of The Birmingham News, who tends to tack a bit Republican (or at least conservative), charitably referred to the ad as “dubious.” I will go further. The ad is a patchwork of lies and misrepresentations unworthy of a minister - or any Christian, for that matter. For starters, the bill sponsored by Rep. Fields (which died in committee) did not make all murderers eligible for release. It did not impact murderers on death row at all; they still would have awaited execution. It only impacted those who have been, or would be in the future, sentenced to life without parole for their murder. It did not direct their release. It set up an elaborate series of hoops through which they would have had to jump. First, the murder for which they were convicted would have had to have been the first felony conviction they suffered; this is a bill for “crime of passion” murderers, not career criminals. They would have had to have served a minimum of 20 years of their prison term. Then, they would have had to petition the judge who sentenced them (or one from his circuit) to reduce their sentence from “life without parole” to “life, but eligible for parole.” Then, and only then, could they have asked the Board of Pardons and Paroles for a hearing. Anyone familiar with that Board will tell you, it doesn’t take much of an objection from victims or prosecutors to block a parole request.

But the ad is even more misleading. Not just every murderer serving life without parole could have applied for the bill’s relief. In order to even apply to the sentencing judge, the offender (besides having to have served 20 years), would have had to have had:
  • No disciplinary action for assault on other inmates or Department of Corrections employees during the 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition for consideration;
  • No disciplinary action for escape or attempted escape during the 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition for reduction;
  • No disciplinary action for sexual assault during 10 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition; and
  • No disciplinary action for illegal drug or alcohol use as determined by testing positive for these substances on a urine test during the five consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the petition.
In short, no one would have even been considered for parole under this bill who hadn’t lived at the foot of the Cross for a very long time. I’d be surprised if a half dozen inmates are even eligible.

But the lies of the allegedly Rev. Buttram do not stop there.

According to a report in The Cullman Times, the killer of the son of the couple appearing in the ad would not even be eligible for consideration for relief under the bill in question. (Am I the only one who thinks they look a little old to have had a kid as young as those in the photos, even as far back as the supposed murder date in 1992?) Also, that Times report relates that the allegedly Rev. Buttram continues to refer to a local murderer in Cullman County as one eligible for release under the Fields bill, even though Rep. Fields has publicly pointed out to Buttram that the person in question is an habitual offender, and thus would not have been eligible.

I have heard it said of several figures whom I admire that they are “too Christian to be in politics.” Jimmy Carter and the Rev. Fr. Robert Drinan come to mind. The Rev. Fields may be in that company. I keep hearing that he is reluctant to do more than defend his own character, and is hesitant to shine a light on the character of the allegedly Rev. Buttram, which is darker by two shades than the Rev. Fields’s skin. He has steadfastly refused to bring up the divorce of the allegedly Rev. Buttram (DR-1980-138 in Lauderdale County, while I understand he was pastoring a church there, for the curious). We can only hope the voters of the 12th House District realize what a Christian gentleman they have, and will vote accordingly. For my own less forgiving part, I conclude with three messages:

To the allegedly Rev. Buttram: You, sir, are a disgrace to the proud heritage of Methodist leaders like John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and John Emory. I beg you to abstain from the pulpit until you have renounced your violations of the Ninth Commandment and the Second Greatest Commandment, and asked for the forgiveness of the voters of the 12th District - the Rev. James Fields in particular.

To the Rev. Fields: I wish I had your ability to look past the sins of others. But I want you to consider this. The Rev. Dr. King, painful though he must have found it, had the kind of heart and spirit that could love and forgive even George Wallace and Bull Connor, and I am sure he did. That did not mean that he felt constrained to remain silent in the face of evil. Remember this, as you continue what I hope will be a long career of service in elective office.

To the Rt. Rev. Dr. William Willimon, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church: What kind of [earthy Episcopalian expletive] ecclesiastic discipline are you running over there, that this backstabbing, lying Mac Buttram hasn’t had his collar jerked off so hard he developed petechiæ? (Readers may share this sentiment with Bishop Willimon by clicking on the link in his name. Those who would like to share their opinions of the two candidates with the Editor of The Cullman Times may click on the link here.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kerry Rich - Another Problem with GOP Family Values

For a candidate who makes such a deal of his “faith,” Kerry Rich has some serious skeletons in the closet. After my post regarding his checkered past the other day, I got a suggestion to follow up on another lead. I did, and was saddened at what I found in the files of case number DR-2000-399 in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, Rich’s 2000 divorce from former wife Teresa Rich.

Kerry Rich 2000 Divorce

We all have our shortcomings, but we do not all have records of domestic violence. And while Rich may have repented and reformed, this disturbing part of his record at least gives the voters of his district another compelling reason not to vote for him. It is, after all, the Legislature which makes the laws under which perpetrators of domestic violence are punished, and prevented from doing further harm. Rich cast several votes against toughening child support laws, after being hauled back to court by his first ex-wife for nonpayment of child support. It is perfectly legitimate to worry that he would likewise vote against the victims of domestic violence, out of his apparent sense of identity with its perpetrators. Rich and this former wife eventually settled their disputes, and a consent divorce decree was entered in the case.

And it does make you wonder about the staff screening process at WJIA, the “Christian” radio station where Rich works today.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Déjà Vu All Over Again: Sparks Ascendant

“Déjà vu all over again.”

Of all of Yogi Berra’s assaults on the English language, none has entered common usage more than this one. Not only does it amuse with its classic Yogi structure, it captures a certain sensation better than many more erudite expressions.

The phrase generates over a quarter of a million Google hits. It has inspired television scripts, countless quotations, and even an album and song by John Fogerty:

It only seems appropriate to use it to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this final week of the gubernatorial contest. At this point before the May primary, anyone who was keeping up with events knew some sure bets. Bradley Byrne would lead the Republican ticket (he did), but would not have enough votes to win without a runoff (which he didn’t), so he would have to campaign another six weeks before being crowned as the GOP nominee and presumed governor-elect (the part of the Republican narrative which went terribly awry).

On the Democratic side, the safe bet was even safer. Smooth, debonair, educated, erudite Artur Davis would ride a tsunami of Obama-style black excitement, combined with a respectable portion of the white vote, to the Democratic nomination - whereupon he would probably be edged out after a respectable, “reform vs. reform” campaign, by Byrne. Rustic Ron Sparks, shackled with a community college education and running from the unglamorous base of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, was no match for a D.C. product who had shone at the 2008 Democratic Convention, giving Obama’s seconding speech.

As the internet meme puts it, “epic fail.”

Polls were repeatedly published in Davis-friendly media outlets such as The Birmingham News and the Mobile Press-Register, showing Davis with leads of 10% or more within a week or ten days of the primary. Despite that, when the smoke cleared election night, Sparks had trounced Davis by a 62.4%-37.6% margin. Basically, Sparks had done 20% or more better than the most recent pre-primary polls touted by the “mainstream media.”

I have spoken before about the unreliability of those polls. What is interesting is that, in publishing the recent polls showing Sparks rapidly closing the gap, the media have been close-lipped about the crosstabs on their polls. This is telling. My best educated guess is that the Bentley lead, such as it is, is based on an artificial polling result among black voters that gives him several percentage points among blacks that simply won’t be there on Election Day. For better or worse, black voters continue to rely much more heavily on party identification as a voting cue than do white voters. (I would, of course, say it’s better.) The result of this is that a Republican will benefit in polling results from random black respondents naming the Republican, when (if properly polled) would give responses betraying their Democratic intentions. To an extent, this explains the “surprise” showing by Siegelman in 2002, when media polls had essentially written him off.

Which is where we come to “déjà vu all over again.” Sparks is now as close to Bentley in those “media polls” as he was to Davis in late May, if not closer. More to the point, Bentley is finally beginning to show the strains of media scrutiny. Even the Newhouse outlets, which have endorsed him, have been reporting on his inability to produce a consistent and credible story about the extent of his ties with AEA in his runoff campaign against Byrne. The Republicans in Alabama have almost forsaken Pelosi-bashing as a campaign theme in favor of promises of “honest” government. This is in no small part due to the availability of Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her politically timed indictments of Democrats. The problem is, when you are trying to sell yourself as the non-political honest alternative, “credibility” is not the toe of your own on which you want to be stepping.

While Sparks has not had the advantage of the corporate money dump that Bentley is using, he has done a fairly brilliant job of playing the hand he has been dealt. He has done well in the Wiregrass with the bingo issue, and should run well ahead of the last few Democratic nominees in that area. As it is part of the GOP base, that is important. Sparks is also benefiting from one of the strongest African-American turnout efforts in recent gubernatorial history. Black totals may not equal those of the Obama campaign, but GOTV efforts are substantially more intense this round than they have been for any Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the last 20 years. I have been talking to astute observers across Alabama, and have not gotten any indication that any significant part of the black political community isn’t on board and full-speed-ahead at this point. The one place I would have liked to have seen Sparks doing better would have been with the BP issue in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. That, however, has been a tough issue to exploit. Sparks doesn’t have the corporate cash for a targeted local paid media push, and the Press-Register isn’t going to give him much of a free-media break on the issue by pointing the finger at Bush-era deregulation.

This is critical, because - and I do not mean to point fingers here, only accurately describe what happened - two razor-thin Democratic gubernatorial losses of recent years, 1994 and 2002, took place when certain key black political organizations or individuals weren’t fully exerting themselves. If you know what to look for on a spreadsheet, their inactivity sticks out like a sore thumb. And in both instances, the resulting lower black turnout was fatal to the Democratic nominee. Had those problems not arisen, we would likely have a current political narrative about “Democrats have won the last five governor’s races.”

Do you need further proof that there is no structural preference for Republicans in Alabama gubernatorial elections? Look at the aggregate votes from the last four gubernatorial general elections:


Remember, when looking at that, the GOP vote in 2006 was artificially boosted by Baxley’s unwillingness (and financial inability) to go negative on Riley, and Riley’s financial leveraging of his incumbency. (Which, being translated, means “Choctaw casinos.”) The Democratic landslide in the table, 1998, was against the power of incumbency. Correct for those factors, and this is a seriously Democratic number. I do not care if you are a political scientist whose reputation is based on the historic success of the football team up the street, saying there is a presumption of a Republican governor in any given year is bad political science.

All in all, it should be an interesting night a week from tonight. I think a lot of people, who have been getting their news from the Usual Suspects, are going to be as surprised as they were on the night of June 1. There is no need for Democrats to relent at this point, and, in fact, we’re close enough that the last little effort can put us first past the post. Look inside, and find it, people.

Or, once again to quote The Yogi, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two Write[-in]s Make One Wrong

They’re skeered.

The Republicans are skeered. They think Sparks is winning.

How, pray tell, do I know this?

If you want to know how someone (or some group of someones) feels, pay attention to what is coming out of his, her, or their mouth(s).

In the case of the Alabama Republican Party, the mouth would be the Mobile Press-Register, or one of the other Newhouse publications.

On page one of today’s edition, they have a story about a poll showing Bentley’s (alleged) poll lead over Sparks collapsing. But more indicative of GOP worry is another story, about a “grass roots” movement to get voters to write in some other candidate, rather than Sparks or Bentley. As the article states:

Calls for write-ins have come from across the political spectrum and throughout the state in recent days. Websites, including Face book [sic] and Twitter, have sprouted Alabama write-in pages, while [Birmingham talk radio persona Leland] Whaley and Jennifer Foster, a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News, have suggested the write-in option to their listeners and readers, respectively.
Not content with the news story, the Press-Register has pushed the idea on its editorial page, as evidenced by today’s Sunday editorial cartoon, seen to the left.

And as if the print emphasis wasn’t enough, the Altman article is (as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday) the top-billed story on’s state news home page. A screen cap of this posting is seen below. This, perhaps more than anything, shows the priority the Newhouse organization has given this story line. The story is at the top of the queue, despite having a timestamp in its dateline of 9:01 a.m. Normally, news stories on this page are time-sorted, with the most recent story appearing first. Advance Internet (the Newhouse online presence) maintains the option of “promoting” a story so that it remains in “first” place, so as to have more visibility. Normally, this is only done with stories of major breaking news import, such as an alien spacecraft landing in Selma, or an Alabama or Auburn third-string lineman spraining an ankle in practice. Or a story that Newhouse wants to push for political reasons. It takes a conscious editorial decision, presumably at an upper-level editorial or managerial desk, to do this. The write-in “story” didn’t land there by mistake. (I am thankful now for the practice I got in university, learning to read between the lines like this from deconstructing Правда.)

The Birmingham News has gotten into the promotion in a smaller way. Today’s column by John Archibald mentions write-ins, but in an allegedly humorous vein - offering up Cam Newton and others. But the News has pitched in by printing “grassroots” letters to the editor urging a write-in, such as this one.

What is the purpose of this push? For that, I turn to Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman orator and statesman, who made one phrase the centerpiece of his forensics in murder trials: cui bono? (Who benefits?) Looking at the push, and its internal emphases, this isn’t hard to figure out. The two names most often mentioned as “acceptable” write-ins are those in the Press-Register cartoon: Bradley Byrne and Artur Davis. Byrne has disavowed the entire scheme. (Davis is presumably still too busy pouting over his canceled anointment to do so.) The real operative fact here is that Byrne’s base was among Republican apparatchiks. However disappointed they may be that the chosen insider didn’t get the nomination, they are not going to desert their party. (Not to mention, they are betting the BCA money pumped into Bentley will keep him on the GOP reservation should he prevail.)

Sparks has solid support from the Party base, in basically every region of Alabama, and those voters are not susceptible to the write-in concept. On the other hand, there continue to be those who cannot believe St. Artur ascended into Heaven without being nominated. Others, not quite so blinded, got enough Davis Kool-Aid during the primary campaign to be worrisome. (Notice whose photo is included above the fold in the screencap.) In those quarters, there might be a few hundred votes statewide who could be led into burnishing their self-images as “enlightened reformers” by writing in Davis. Simply put, any real benefit of this trend, while small, is going to Bentley.

Another ironic aspect that reveals the motive of this effort is its content, and the proffered excuse for not voting for Bentley. It’s because Bentley is claimed to be the hand-picked candidate of Dr. Paul Hubbert and AEA. And, as any good Christian reader of The Birmingham News knows, Dr. Hubbert is the Antichrist, for proposing “liberal” ideas like the proper funding of public education. Of course, any honest halfwit knows that Dr. Hubbert’s only love for Bentley arose from the fact his name isn’t “Bradley Byrne.” Never mind reality, the Hubbert-Bentley shtick allows the GOP to repeat its theme of “AEA BAD, GOP GOOD” where it will (they hope) do them some real good - in legislative races. You notice they don’t point to any of the real reasons for voting against Bentley: That he seems a little dense for someone who supposedly passed the USMLE. That he seems to have a problem coming up with plausible deniability on a number of issues. That he has gone on the payroll of the Business Council of Alabama, and is thus controlled by out-of-state corporate interests. That he criticizes Sparks’s lottery plan, while offering no ideas on his own to improve education and economic development. That he looks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

So, how do we counter it? For starters, I am not sure the game is worth the candle. There are a couple of hundred scattered wine-and-cheese types who will fall for it, but I am not sure all of them planned to vote for Sparks in the first place. We may do better by merely using the obvious bias inherent in this coverage to shame those media outlets that are pushing the line. Even the most biased media feel compelled to quote a campaign or party spokesperson’s comment in such a story, so if that quote begins “Your paper’s bias is apparent because _____,” the story may well be stillborn. Or we can ju-jitsu this by pointing out the truth - they’re doing it because they’re skeered. They are losing ground fast, and they know it.

On the other hand, if we want to raise a little write-in mischief on our own, there are avenues to pursue. Voting blocs that will peel off Bentley. I’m just sayin’.


At about 6:00 p.m. tonight, when I checked back, the story had been “demoted” to its place in the chronological queue. Can we say “busted”?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kerry Rich - A Poor Choice for the 26th House District

One of the more humorous aspects of Alabama politics is the inability of the Republican Party to come up with a ticket whose names promise any degree of gravitas in Alabama government. Young Boozer? Really? And how about Twinkle? Then there’s the one who changed his first name to “Dr.” so he could have the title on the ballot. Of course, if he has to admit any more lies about his primary campaign finances, he might have to change his name to “Pinocchio.”

Sometimes, the silliness of the Republican candidates comes not from the name, but the person who has the name. Think of Christine O’Donnell.

Here in Alabama, the GOP has its share of comic relief on the ballot. One such instance is in Marshall County, the home of State House District 26. When longtime Democratic Representative Frank McDaniel announced his retirement, the Republicans immediately put this seat at the top of their list of “Safe Republican” takeaway seats, and used it as a talking point with the media as one of the prime examples of why a GOP takeover of the Legislature was inevitable.

Then, reality intruded, in the form of Republican nominee Kerry Rich.

Rich emerged from a contentious four-way Republican primary with the GOP nomination. The manager of a small “nonprofit” FM radio station in Albertville, Rich is trying to make some Alabama political history. He is trying to become, so far as anyone knows, the first person to represent three different districts in the Alabama House of Representatives. In the late 1970’s, Rich represented (as a Democrat) a district in Etowah County. From 1990 until 1994, he represented the 27th District, the other district in Marshall County (currently held by Democrat Jeff McLaughlin). On both occasions, he apparently found Alabama such a distasteful state, that upon concluding a term in the Legislature, he moved out of state.

It looks like Rich - who has made a career of owning and operating small-market “Christian” radio stations - still likes the sound of the Mormon classic “Come, Come Ye Saints.” While registered to vote in Marshall County, he also remains actively on the voter rolls back in Utah:

Maybe Mr. Rich needs to explain to the good folks of Marshall County why he’s keeping one toe in the Utah pool. Or whether he has legally relinquished his Utah residency, so as to be legally eligible to vote and run for office in Alabama. Then again, I can understand why he might not want to go back to Utah:

Of course, maybe Rich wants to head back out to his old haunts in Colorado. In July 2009, he bought a vacant lot in the resort town of Crested Butte, Colorado, valued at $100,000.00. (I need to get into “nonprofit” radio!) In a more serious vein, the voters of the 26th District have a right to ask whether Rich can be trusted to keep his roots planted in Alabama this time, and build the kind of seniority that Frank McDaniel put to such good use for their benefit.

Like any Republican candidate today, Rich cannot use the words “conservative” or “Christian” often enough in his campaign pitch. However, one has to wonder if Rich didn’t fall in with some of the “Big Love” polygamist crowd while out in Utah. He seems to have indulged his support of marriage on at least two occasions, missing one ex-wife so often, he saw to it she had to take him back to court on five occasions after the original divorce:

Now, it’s the 21st Century, and a divorce doesn’t, and shouldn’t, be a disqualification for public office. But when a candidate makes such a big deal of being a strictly conservative Christian, we have a right to look at how he has lived up to the strict standards he wants to legislate for everyone else. Not to mention that, in Rich’s case, his continuing child support and custody issues appear to have influenced his voting in the Legislature. In the 1991 Regular Session, then-Representative Rich voted against passage of SB 466, which was introduced to require state authorities to investigate deadbeat dads. Rich was one of only 7 Representatives voting against the bill. (Roll call 3422, 30th Legislative Day). Rich had earlier tried to water down the bill with an amendment, which was defeated. Real peach of a guy.

But it’s not just his personal life that gives cause for giggles. Rich has proven himself the Keystone Kop of the campaign trail, too. Rich, who boasts of being a professional career broadcaster, seems not to know as much about FCC regulations as he should. Anyone old enough to remember the Reagan years probably knows enough to not vote Republican. They also probably remember that you never saw the former movie star’s cinematic masterworks on TV during his presidency - because of FCC regulations that banned such airing if not balanced by free time for his opponents. Rich, blissfully ignorant of the rule, kept gabbing away on the air after announcing his candidacy. After a primary opponent filed a complaint with the FCC, Rich was forced to make an embarrassing $250.00 contribution to his own opponent, in lieu of free air time on his station. (Which air time she said she didn’t want, as apparently the station’s ratings stink.)

The horserace angle on this seat is that, since McDaniel’s retirement announcement, King Pig Mike Hubbard and other Republican quotables have been rattling this seat off as a sure takeaway from Democrats, as part of their strategy of trying to make the takeover happen by continuously referring to it as inevitable. In this case, the Democrats answered with the nomination of Randall White, a recently-retired adult education supervisor. White is so conservative he wears a belt and suspenders, and (unlike Rich) he is a lifelong resident of the district. Local people know White, and Rich only loses credibility when he plays the GOP one-note kazoo of shouting “liberal!!”

Something is not working for Rich. Or it is working for White. Or both. I saw a couple of polls early in this year that didn’t look good for the Democrats here. Within the last week or ten days, I have been shown two polls by some folks in Montgomery, both by some of the most reputable pollsters in the state, that paint a different picture. One showed a dead heat, but is by now a couple of weeks old. The same poll had shown a GOP lead a few months earlier. The other poll shows White with a lead, almost more than the poll’s margin of error.

A couple of things are at work here. One is that the GOP has simply stuck itself with a schmuck candidate, and he is inevitably losing ground. With him falling in the polls, and behind, this close to Election Day, Rich is fast looking like a goner. (And if this is one of their “safe” seats, what is happening in their “reach” seats?) The other thing is something I have long predicted. Democrats are going to do better generally than the CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says we will. As general angst about Obama or Pelosi drove down Democratic poll numbers in March and June, when voters were unfocused, a closer look by most voters - who don’t think about elections before October - is beginning to move poll numbers in a Democratic direction.

The Rich nomination highlights another phenomenon of the 2010 Alabama Republican effort. Despite all their blabber about promoting clean, ethical, Christian candidates to “reform” the Democratic “corruption” in Alabama, a closer look reveals the feet of clay. We have the spotted record of Rich, or the outright commercial fraud of GOP Senate nominee Shadrack McGill. Or their “reform” gubernatorial nominee, Robert Bentley, whose daily revisions of how much money he knew he was getting in the Republican Primary from AEA, and how much he was cooperating with them, have left him without any credibility. (Some polls suggest voters are noticing this, too. Stay tuned.) We Democrats need to take every opportunity in these closing days to keep the heat and light on the hypocrites of the GOP.

While Rich was away in Utah, that state hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics. In 1992, while he was still in Alabama, Albertville, the largest town in this House district, “hosted” its own spoof of the Winter Olympics during the real Olympics in Albertville, France. Who knows? If Rich doesn’t like the way the voters treat him in November - or even if he gets elected - he may be living in Sochi, Russia, by the time the Winter Games are played there in 2014. We can only hope.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Obama’s Unkept Promise to Alabama’s Blacks

Ah, race.

What would we do for a political leitmotif in Alabama without it?

The election of Barack Obama was guaranteed to have far reaching, and long lasting implications for Alabama politics. The first election of an African-American President could not be anything other than a paradigm-shifting event. On the one hand, Obama’s presence on the ballot seems to have brought out the worst in white Alabama. Exit polls indicated that Obama got 10% of the white vote in Alabama. This polling data is strongly corroborated by a near-perfect correlation between black population percentage and Obama’s county-level vote totals:

Of course, Obama’s election has had some beneficial effects, many of which will not be felt for generations. Irreversible damage has been done to the belief of black children that there are stations in life off-limits to them because of their race. That will have an impact in the law schools, medical schools, and corporate boardrooms more quickly than it will in the Governor’s Mansion. There is also no denial of the impact on black voter registration and turnout. In the 2008 Alabama Presidential Primary, 83.9% black Macon County outvoted 98.0% white DeKalb County - despite the fact that Macon only has 31.9% of DeKalb’s population.

What follows I write with some trepidation, mindful that the blood that courses through my veins is pure Anglo-Saxon, save for distaff branches of Scots and German. But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, whatever the election of Barack Obama means to black Alabamians in terms of pride, symbolism, and civic engagement, from a policy and administrative perspective his administration has been a large disappointment.

Obama has taken his share of grief from the national black community over national policy issues such as the failure to attain a public option or single payer health care component in the “reform” legislation. Others have complained of his progress in advancing outstanding civil rights issues, and some even criticized Michelle Obama for not working a black designer into her dress selection on Inauguration Day. The complaint of Velma Hart, who told Obama she was “exhausted of defending you,” has become something of a symbol for such black discontent. While this criticism is noteworthy, and not without merit, and it has been noted that his shortfalls are disproportionately borne by African-Americans, I am more concerned here with Obama’s impact on areas unique to Alabama. Of necessity, those pertain more to matters of patronage and appointment than to policy. On these matters, Obama’s record varies from questionable to terrible.

Obama’s first appointment to the Federal bench is a little troubling. The retirement of longtime U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon in Birmingham, the first black judge in the Northern District of Alabama, brought an end to a pioneering phase of civil rights here. Clemon was noted for refusing to kowtow to the Government, and he single-handedly brought the first political persecution of Don Siegelman to a halt by tossing out the charges as frivolous. Since the Federal bench in Alabama is now dominated by appointees from the Reagan-Bush-Bush years, there was widespread hope that Clemon would be replaced by someone who would bring clear balance to the Court. Instead, following the suggestion of then-confidante Artur Davis, the President appointed Abdul Kallon. Like Obama, Kallon has a colorful biography. A native of Sierra Leone, Kallon attended Dartmouth (by an exponential factor, the most conservative and Republican Ivy League school), and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He clerked for Clemon, who appeared with him before the Senate urging his confirmation.

My concern with Kallon comes from his career choice. Kallon worked in business-side employment law at the firm today known as Bradley, Arant, Boult and Cummings. In short, he defended corporations against attempts by victims of discrimination to obtain compensation allowed by law. While I understand Kallon was not personally involved in that case, it was the employment law department at Bradley, Arant that defended Goodyear in the famous Lilly Ledbetter case. This is not where we should be looking for judges to be appointed by Democrats. While I don’t begrudge any person of color working where they choose, and holding what opinions they pick; it’s one thing to be a corporate lawyer, and another to serve as a representative of progressive and minority interests. Our Federal legal system tacitly rests on a presumption that Democratic presidents will appoint judges who tack progressively, Republicans will appoint conservative judges, the confirmation process will weed out the extremes; and if we’re lucky, the law winds up somewhere in the middle. If a Democrat makes center-right appointments to lifetime positions, we’re in for a long century. Not since Eisenhower appointed Frank Johnson has a Republican president put a moderately progressive judge on the Alabama bench. No pun intended, I do not want to prematurely judge Kallon. Perhaps, like Johnson, or Chief Justice Earl Warren, he will emerge as more progressive than his record suggests. But it remains troubling that Obama, with a safely Democratic Senate, did not make a more certain progressive black choice to fill Clemon’s shoes. It’s not like there aren’t clearly progressive black lawyers in North Alabama; I could have named a dozen within a minute whose qualifications were up to the standards of the Federal bench.

Obama moved with alacrity to replace GOP political puppet Alice Martin in the post of U.S. Attorney for the Northern District. However, as I have noted elsewhere, his inexplicable, and inexcusable failure to replace Republihack Leura Canary in the Middle District remains an open wound on the soul of Alabama, exuding a purulent Niagara. Allowing Canary to remain in office while she shamelessly uses that office to launch political attacks on the President’s own party, suggests nothing less than an Administration that doesn’t know the basic mechanics of government and politics. At a purely political level, this attack on the Alabama Democratic Party, sanctioned by this President and his Attorney General through their inaction, threatens decades of progress in placing black hands on the levers of power in this state. For all its faults, and they are legion, the Alabama Democratic Party has given a real seat at the table to Alabama blacks, in the form of some of the most powerful committee chairmanships in the Legislature. These include, but are not limited to, Sen. Hank Sanders of the Senate Education F&T, and Rep. John Knight of the House Government Appropriations Committee. If Canary’s political cooperation with the GOP costs the Democrats our tenuous hold on the Legislature, these black leadership positions will be a thing of the past - and of a distant future.

If the cries of Montgomery politicians under indictment don’t generate sympathy, certainly the lamentation of unemployed workers in the Black Belt does. One effect of the bribe-induced Riley-Canary war on bingo in Alabama is the closure of bingo operations in Greene, Macon and Houston Counties, that employed literally thousands of workers, and brought millions of dollars annually to local government treasuries. We all wish that overwhelmingly black Greene and Macon Counties had bulldozers clearing land for new automotive and electronics plants, or for high-powered biology labs or computer engineering firms, but that’s the progress of the next generation. Right now, those counties are absolutely dependent on the entertainment and gaming business for their economic survival, and Obama’s what-me-worry attitude about Canary has placed that survival in jeopardy. Even in the white-majority Wiregrass, it’s probably safe to assume that Country Crossing employed a fair number of African-Americans in its service sector jobs. Had Bob Riley needed to worry about a U.S. Attorney with integrity in Montgomery, he would likely not have earned his Mississippi Choctaw bribes by shutting down the bingo halls, and the Legislature would probably have put a bingo referendum on this November’s ballot. As it is, there is no way to know when, or if, these businesses will reopen. At some point, even the President’s biggest supporters have to ask if he’s paying attention.

If he is not paying attention, he should. The simple mathematics are this: but for the votes of black voters in Southern primaries in 2008, Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, would have been the Democratic nominee, and probably President. The black vote he received in South Carolina’s primary allowed his campaign to regain traction after his New Hampshire loss to Clinton. Politics being what it is, unless Democratic losses (most of which are the fault of Obama’s inept messaging and political strategy) next month exceed our worst nightmares to date, Obama is unlikely to have serious opposition for renomination in 2012. But if he does, he will again depend on Southern black primary voters - including those unemployed persons in Eutaw and Tuskegee - to bring him through. And if he presumes they will vote for him because he is black, despite a record inimical to their interests, maybe he should ask his former friend, Artur Davis, how that worked for him.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alabama’s “Little Ohio”?

In every Presidential election year, one thing is predictable. We might not know who will win, or by how much, or even (until the Holy Sacred Oracles of Iowa dictate to us), who will be the nominees of the parties. But we do know that the national media will obsess over the Buckeye State. Every poll, development, candidate visit (and they will be daily), or other jot of news out of Ohio will be mentioned on every national newscast.

There is a good argument for this focus on Ohio. Despite losing ground in the last several decades, it’s still a fairly large state, with 20 electoral votes. And, after inexplicably preferring Nixon over Kennedy in 1960, it has since sided with the winner of every Presidential election. Its block of electoral votes would have elected Gore in 2000, or Kerry in 2004, had those Democrats carried the state.

Which leads me to ask - do we have a similar bellwether county or region of Alabama? After playing with the numbers awhile, it seems that we do. Looking at the county-level gubernatorial and downballot statewide returns in the partisan-competitive era (1986 onward), there is a band of coterminous counties in North Alabama that seem to be key to the electoral fortunes of both parties. This region includes the counties of Limestone, Morgan, Cullman, Marshall, and DeKalb. These are not small, insignificant counties. Taken together, they accounted for 8.6% of the statewide vote Siegelman received in 2002.

To see this at its clearest, let’s look at the two gubernatorial elections in which Don Siegelman was the Democratic nominee. These are his landslide win in 1998, and the After-Midnight-Recount “loss” of 2002. (If you never follow another link from this blog, read Dr. Gundlach’s compelling statistical evidence that the 2002 election was stolen from Siegelman by Baldwin County election officials, which is the link in the previous sentence.) In the Siegelman win, all five of these counties went Democratic. In 2002, Riley took all five. In these five counties, Siegelman pulled 8,395 fewer votes in 2002 than he did in 1998; this loss alone was greater than his statewide loss. At the same time, Riley’s 2002 total in these counties was 12,055 larger than James’s 1998 tally. Either of these swings made a larger difference than Riley’s 3,120 statewide “win.” Together, the Associated Press’s aborted call of Siegelman as the winner would have withstood Republican larceny in Baldwin County. Also, although Siegelman lost other counties between these two cycles, most of the losses (Mobile being the main exception) were in lesser-populated counties in the Wiregrass, and in East Central Alabama, in the district Riley had represented in Congress.

One salient point bears note. As Gundlach notes, there was a strong correlation between Siegelman’s votes at the county level between the 1998 and 2002 elections. That is, Siegelman tended to get about 85% of the votes in a given county in 2002 that he got in the same county in 1998. (The lone sore-thumb exception was hapless, corrupt Baldwin, where Siegelman’s total dropped to 69.7% of his 1998 vote; this is one of the statistical “smoking guns” of stolen votes.) In our five counties, Siegelman secured 87.2% of his 1998 total. This shows some mathematical evidence that these counties have the potential for Democratic overperformance. In any event, if a Democratic statewide nominee carries these five counties, as a matter of raw arithmetic, there are not that many other places a Republican nominee can go to make up the deficit.

What are the practical implications of all this, as we wind down the 2010 general election campaign? First and foremost, these counties provide a great opportunity for statewide candidates to focus various forms of campaigning in the closing weeks. As they are coterminous, a candidate can make numerous media or public appearances in several of them in one day. For the Democratic candidate who’s smart enough to tap the manpower resources of unions and students in Birmingham, Gadsden and Huntsville, and put street sheets into their hands, all are close enough for some serious canvassing. The tendency of these counties to swing in the direction of a statewide winner means they are a much better use of this manpower than more urban counties like Madison and Jefferson, where individual neighborhoods tend to have set voting patterns, and are resistant to persuasion efforts. For example, as a Democrat, a candidate is going to carry Ensley, and community-based efforts are likely to be more useful than canvassers for GOTV efforts such neighborhoods need. On the other side, a Democrat can canvass Vestavia until volunteers are dropping from starvation; the vote ceiling is still pretty low.

You can also make a strong argument for considering the swing nature of these five counties in allocating media buys in a statewide campaign. Except for that portion of Cullman County from the City of Cullman southward, that part of DeKalb nearest Chattanooga, and part of the southern extreme of Marshall, this region is all in the Huntsville television market. If you spend your TV dollars in Montgomery (as many campaigns do to excess, so that staffers and Goat Hill insiders will see them), your dollar is being spent to reach West Montgomery and Macon County (congenitally Democratic), and Elmore and Autauga Counties (doomed by cretin genetics to be Republican). You aren’t changing a lot of R’s to D’s, even with a million GRP’s. It’s just a bonus that Madison County has some areas, mostly in Randy Hinshaw’s and Butch Taylor’s House districts, that tend to swing between the parties, much more so than outlying areas of metro Birmingham or the Montgomery region. Unless a campaign has a strategic reason to focus its buy on a particular TV market with a locally targeted ad - say, like the Oil-Spill-Is-Republican-Deregulation’s-Fault spot I am still waiting on the ADP to unleash in Mobile - a shift of GRP’s to the Huntsville market makes sense.

Each of these counties (except Marshall, which has three bi-weeklies) has a daily newspaper. Several have news/talk radio stations. These opportunities make candidate facetime a worthwhile investment in the closing days of the campaign. Just remember, to have something quotable to say when you’re calling. “Lazy” and “crook” get quoted; “honored” doesn’t even generate a story.

Downballot candidates should pay this region mind for one final important reason: this year, our gubernatorial nominee is from there. DeKalb County should be having a much higher turnout because of the Sparks candidacy, and his presence on the ticket will be breaking up straight GOP ballots. Once those folks are loose, their votes elsewhere on the ticket may be up for grabs. There may be a similar effect of broken GOP straight tickets in neighboring Marshall County. Friends and neighbors voting is alive and well in Alabama.

So, Mr. or Ms. Candidate or Campaign Manager - head on up to the home of the broilerhouse and beat your Republican opponent in these closing weeks. Or if you’re just a volunteer looking for something to do, offer to take a vanload of canvassers from Birmingham up to Cullman or Albertville. (Don’t forget your street sheet so you’re not wasting time ringing doorbells of nonvoters!) Alabama’s “Little Ohio” will welcome you.