Late in the day Tuesday, word broke in Montgomery that State Senator Jim Preuitt, Republican of Talladega, had announced that he was throwing in the towel on his re-election bid. Preuitt made headlines on April 6 - the last day of qualifying for this year’s primaries - when he showed up at Republican headquarters to file, after serving as a Democrat since 1990. Before that, Preuitt’s main claim to fame was never sitting for a portrait in which he didn’t look like the magnesium citrate was taking too long to work.
Just how big is this? It’s huge. Every back-of-the-envelope calculation in both parties, and among the media, regarding Senate control next January, figured on Preuitt squeezing out the win in his new pachydermic garb. His Democratic opponent, retired Circuit Judge Jerry Fielding of Sylacauga, was seen by many as a good candidate - if not running against a 20-year incumbent with deep pockets. The Big List at Doc’s Political Parlor has carried the district as “Leans Republican” most of the year. There are only 35 members of the entire Senate, so a flip in any seat has disproportionate impact, especially when the chamber is as closely divided as is the current Senate. For the Republicans to lose a seat they hadn’t even treated as in play is even more significant when you consider that everyone who isn’t a GOP shill (sadly, that includes some in the media), has said that if the GOP can take control of the Senate, it only has a one-seat margin to do so. That margin is now gone.
How gone is it? Danny at Doc’s Political Parlor asked GOP State Representative Ron Johnson of Sylacauga if he were planning to seek the GOP nomination. His response:
“No way,” he tells the Parlor.There may be even more good news, but stay tuned for this. There is a legitimate dispute as to whether the GOP can legally replace Preuitt on the ballot. The Code of Alabama does not provide a clear answer as to what is the last date a party may replace a withdrawn candidate. A Secretary of State regulation, adopted in 2003, says that:
He states clearly that he has no interest in being in the Senate, and also notes that Senate District 11 is a very Democratic district. “I really don’t know any Republican other than Preuitt that would be likely to win that district.”
Election officials are authorized to submit, accept and otherwise act on amendments to certifications of candidates to the full extent permitted by the circumstances or until the applicable ballots are printed, whichever occurs first.In this case, absentee ballots have already been printed for Talladega County, which is in SD 11. Now, reports quote Beth “I wish I was Mrs. Dog” Chapman’s office as saying because all ballots haven’t been printed, the GOP can still substitute a nominee. However, at the infernal SDEC meeting in Montgomery on August 14, when the Kenya Marshall nomination was being debated, a point of inquiry was raised as to when the drop-dead date was for the Party to replace her if she were stripped of the nomination. Responding for the Chair, ADP ED Jim Spearman said the Secretary of State’s office had advised him that would be Friday, August 27. It was on the basis of that representation that the SDEC re-convened on August 26, to give Marshall the longest possible time to sort out her Bar case. Even if the Secretary of State is not legally bound by that representation, changing the advertised drop-dead date would constitute a change in a voting practice or procedure, requiring preclearance by the Department of Justice under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even if that preclearance is obtained, it won’t be done before we have reached what all parties will have to concede is a for-real drop-dead date, by which ballots have to go out to comply with the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.
Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court ... The number of Republican Supreme Court Justices who have donated to Democratic Supreme Court nominees has now doubled. Justice Champ Lyons, a Mobile Republican, acknowledged this week that he has given $1,000.00 each to the campaigns of Democrats Judge Mac Parsons and Rhonda Chambers. This, of course, follows the earlier $5,000.00 contribution to Parsons by GOP Justice Tom Woodall. Lyons explained his contributions by saying “My first loyalty is to the Alabama Supreme Court ... We’ve got two extremely qualified Democrats running for the Alabama Supreme Court.” King Pig Double Dipper, and GOP Chair, Mike Hubbard has been quoted as saying in response, “Oink.” Wait, excuse me. What he said was, “I have no idea, and I have not spoken with them. It’s obviously something we don’t condone.”
This support from Justices Woodall and Lyons is significant. Both have been working alongside Justice Parker, Parsons’s opponent, for the last five years, and have seen his what-me-worry approach to his judicial duties at first hand. They have also likely had the occasion to review some of Judge Parsons’s work, when his decisions were appealed to the Supreme Court. Likewise, Justice Lyons has had the opportunity to closely review the work of Judge Kelli Wise, who is currently on the Court of Criminal Appeals, and whose opinions go up on appeal to the Supremes. (Judge Wise, since her election, has reminded me of the advice of the late Lewis Grizzard, who cautioned against proximity to “women whose first name ends in ‘i’.”)
And, down in the Wiregrass. Democratic nominee Jennifer Adams, who is also the Houston County Democratic Chair, has withdrawn from the race for the Alabama Senate in District 29. You will recall that the Republican Party refused to allow incumbent Senator Harri Anne Smith qualify to run in their primary because of her support in 2008 for Democratic Congressman Bobby Bright. (This, after the GOP has called Democrats “insular,” “power hungry,” and “dictatorial” for decades for enforcing the Radney Rule.) Smith has qualified as an independent for the seat. I have two guesses about this. First is, that some deal has been hatched for Smith to caucus with the Democrats if she’s elected. The second is this: she may well win. In her GOP Congressional primary campaign against Jay Love in 2008, she mopped the floor with him in that part of the Second Congressional District which she represents in the Senate. And Bright, whom she endorsed, did well there, too. At the very least, this is another instance of where the GOP is going to have to drop some serious coin on what should be a safe, base district.
Finally, a late development with the shoe on the other foot. Word has broken that gubernatorial nominee Ron Sparks has said some nice things about Richard Shelby:
“I want Richard Shelby helping me to save the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. I want Richard Shelby to help me when we start looking at military closures in Alabama because they are extremely important. Can you imagine the economic impact of the military leaving Alabama?”Understandably, this has caused some blowback in Democratic circles. That might be more understandable if many of those same critics hadn’t been among those blindly singing the praises of Artur Davis as he voted against health care reform, and otherwise pandered to the GOP. I am not sure this one slip, buried in the news on a holiday weekend, will make that big a splash among the wider Democratic base.
For one thing, Shelby has always had a way of maintaining a foot in the door of the Democratic base, even after his 1994 party switch. In his last Democratic run in 1992, against black icon (the not-yet-indicted) Chris McNair, Shelby coasted to a 46.4%-36.6% win in Macon County. (Disclosure: after Shelby announced his switch the day after the 1994 General, it was yours truly who thought of the bumper stickers later seen around Montgomery: “DON’T BLAME ME: I VOTED FOR McNAIR”. Someone with a couple hundred bucks left in their campaign paid for printing them, and I still have one.) In the 1998 General, he carried Colbert County, a reliable Democratic bastion, by 54.0%-46.0%. Shelby has always known how to put out street money to enervate Democratic opposition without the media catching on.
I see two possible explanations of this move by Sparks, and they can be classified as (1) cynical, and (2) very cynical. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t approve of either, but if either helps regain the Governor’s Mansion, my criticism will be tempered. The cynical explanation is the Cult of the Consultant. It has become Conventional Wisdom among Democratic “experts” that the key to victory is appearing to try to be reasonable and bipartisan. While poll respondents tell pollsters they want politicians to be bipartisan, I don’t buy it. It’s what they tell pollsters; it doesn’t describe how they vote. Fighting works, as the decline in Obama’s approval ratings while he continues to try to be the Philosopher-in-Chief shows. The Commissioner may have fallen victim to some bad advice about how to handle this issue. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened to a Democrat of unquestioned party ideals and loyalties. One of my favorite memories of the 1996 cycle is watching as a DC hack, sent down to “advise” Roger Bedford on how to campaign, stood trembling for his life as a 250-pound Steelworker, who had not one ounce of fat on his frame, told the “expert,” from a range of about three inches, what he thought of his Bedford radio ads in which Bedford was touted as “a Reagan Democrat, not a Kennedy Democrat!” (The ads were pulled as soon as the DC hack could change into some clean trousers.)
The even more cynical explanation hails back to the issue of Shelby’s money. Shelby’s cash on hand as of June 30, 2010 was $17,179,661.00, and he hasn’t been skimping on the fundraising canapés since then. That is an awe-inspiring sum of money, even for those of us who want to scream at Shelby himself. There are two salient facts about that figure. One is that it could do a lot of damage to the entire Democratic ticket if unleashed. That comes out to $256,412.85 per county. The other such fact is that, if this is (as many believe) Shelby’s last hurrah, when he leaves, he can do pretty much what he wants with the unspent balance. He can spend it on libraries, parks, and other shrines to which his name can be affixed, make contributions to other politicians (then earn fees lobbying them), and, depending on the accounting history, put some in his own pocket. Sparks’s statement certainly lessens the need for Shelby to spend money; by how much is open to debate. What is not open to debate is that Shelby is perfectly capable of cutting a deal with Sparks, to keep that $17,179,661.00 (or at least the vast majority of it) parked in the bank, in exchange for Sparks’s statement. Shelby is no more loyal to his current party than he was to his former. If this is what has happened, Sparks may have done a great service to the entire Democratic ticket - including, to an extent, William Barnes, his Democratic opponent.
Don’t shoot the messenger here. I am not saying I approve. I am merely speculating about what might be going on. But it bears watching to see. In the meantime, let’s all enjoy the collapse of Republican efforts to take the Legislature, and their problems holding their lead on the Supreme Court.