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.