Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turning the Paige on the Republican Majority

If you take any randomly-selected group of 140 adults, who have to be at least 21 years old, a quarter of whom have to be over 25, and most of whom in practice are much older; at some point during any quadrennium, one or two of them are going to pass on to meet their Maker. It doesn’t take an actuary to know that.

In the current Legislature, such has already been the case with the late Rep. Owen Drake, R-Leeds. It is difficult to speak ill of the dead (or at least it will be until “Choctaw Bob” Riley dies), but in the case of Rep. Drake it’s easier to say nice things than it would be in the case of most Republicans. Rep. Drake was a specimen of that very rare creature in the Alabama GOP: an independent-thinking moderate who didn’t trip on his own feet to fall in line when King Pig Speaker blew his toy train whistle. While the cancer that eventually claimed Drake’s life kept him from much of the 2011 session, his was one of the few voices that could be heard in the new Republican majority calling for less draconian attacks on the rights of teachers and other public employees.

Which is one reason he was so darn hard to beat. Drake won the 2010 election by a 61.5%-38.5% margin over Democrat Charlene Cannon, a retired Birmingham Police captain.

House District 45, in Jefferson County and a tiny sliver of St. Clair, is an odd district. It takes in areas as diverse as minority neighborhoods in Huffman, white working class neighborhoods in Leeds, and the designer-label boutiques and cafés of Crestline Village in Mountain Brook.

Tuesday, the Republican runoff for the special election to fill Drake’s vacancy was won by his brother Dickie, who defeated Irondale Mayor Tommy Joe Alexander, by 1,110-965. Those numbers give us a first clue why the Democratic nominee, Leeds businesswoman Paige Parnell, has a good shot at making this a takeaway from the Republican Party. The general election for the seat will be Tuesday, November 29.

To get the best perspective on Parnell’s chances, the best place to start is Owen Drake’s win over Captain Cannon in 2010. Broken down by precinct, and ordered in ascending Democratic percentage, those results are:

PrecinctLocationCannon (D)Drake (R)D%R%
St ClairMoody Civic Center1611612.1%87.9%
4502Cherokee Bend Elementary1571,08912.6%87.4%
St ClairCedar Grove Baptist Church8757213.2%86.8%
4509Leeds First Methodist Church3121,88514.2%85.8%
4510Sulpher Springs Baptist Church2311017.3%82.7%
4501McElwain Baptist Church17978318.6%81.4%
4508Leeds Civic Center42661441.0%59.0%
4504Birmigham Fire Station 3110715041.6%58.4%
4506Brewster Rd Baptist Church1,11389455.5%44.5%
4503Irondale Senior Building1,20887258.1%41.9%
4505Huffman Middle School86160958.6%41.4%
4507First Methodist Center Point57232863.6%36.4%

St. Clair Absentee0100.0%100.0%

Jefferson Absentee4012724.0%76.0%



A handful of things about these numbers jumps right out at the knowledgeable observer. The first thing is, that 57.5% of Owen Drake’s 2010 margin came from the two Leeds precincts. Over sixty years ago, Harvard political scientist V.O. Key noted in his classic Southern Politics in State and Nation that “Friends and Neighbors” voting is particularly strong in the South, and decades of analysis of results have not weakened the consensus supporting that conclusion.

Unlike November 2010, when the Democratic nominee was from a Huffman precinct at the other end of the district, that any Democrat would have taken, our nominee this time is not only a lifelong Leodensian, but she is a local heroine who came within a gnat’s eyelash of putting the town on the map as the Hometown of Miss America. Only one person could rival her as a Leeds hero, and he ain’t running. (Though he is a Democrat!) Dickie Drake will probably get a few sympathy votes for his brother’s death, but anyone who says Parnell isn’t going to rip a huge hole in that irreplaceable 77.2% of the vote Owen Drake got in the two Leeds precincts isn’t being realistic. And if those precincts had split 50-50 in 2010, Owen Drake’s comfortable 2010 win would have become a very respectable 54.9%-45.1% Democratic loss to an incumbent.

Not only is it almost mathematically certain that Parnell will lay waste to the GOP numbers in Leeds, she is doubtless going to greatly reduce the Republican margin in the district’s other Republican stronghold, the Cherokee Bend precinct in Mountain Brook. If for no other reason, there is the ineluctable bogeyman of Alabama politics: race. While Captain Cannon was a distinguished law enforcement officer, whose career indicates she would have been a wonderful Representative, her candidacy ran up against the unavoidable difficulty of getting Mountain Brookers to vote for an African-American candidate. However, if you raise the 2010 Democratic vote at Cherokee Bend to a mere 30% (closer to what most white Democrats got in that precinct; Jim Folsom got 35.8% there), in addition to the Leeds hypothetical shift, the race becomes a 52.8%-47.2% squeaker, considering Owen Drake’s incumbency. Of course, if you apply this white vote shift to the remaining precincts in the district, it becomes a likely Democratic win. The outcome of the GOP runoff reinforces this. Dickie Drake’s win, while giving the Republicans a shot at splitting Leeds, deprives them of the “Friends and Neighbors” vote Alexander would have gotten in Irondale. Finally, all of this number crunching has to be done with due regard for the 2010 electorate. As I have noted elsewhere, there is extremely strong statistical evidence of a surge in white (conservative) turnout in 2010. Owen Drake doubtless was a substantial beneficiary of that. These protest-type voters, though, are going to be low-engagement voters. They had not been voting regularly before 2010, and they are the sort of voters who are exceptionally unlikely to show up in a special.

This is, of course, a special election. As such, it is subject to the old political adage that “anything can happen in a special.” But recent history in Alabama shows that Democrats, not Republicans, have done far better in legislative special elections. Even though both fell victim to the 2010 GOP tsunami, the Rev. James Fields won his seat in the 2009 special in District 12, and Butch Taylor retained the District 22 seat of the late Albert Hall for the Democrats in his 2007 special. The special election environment, with its low turnout, seems to favor Democrats and our benefit from committed turnout by teachers and other key constituencies.

Then you have to account for Paige Parnell. She is nothing less than the Democrats’ answer to the call to Central Casting for the perfect candidate. A moderate, Baptist businesswoman. A candidate who combines the eloquence of a law degree without being subject to the potential negative of being a “trial lawyer.” Finally, there is the Miss America thing. Even if you have never met Paige Parnell, you have to understand that you don’t make it to being the First Runner Up to Miss America without having the kind of poise, charm, and personality that can walk into a room full of strangers and leave everyone there wanting to know what they can do to please and help you. And a stranger to this district, she is not. Parnell is campaigning for this seat like a woman on a mission, and those intangibles are going to be impossible for Dickie Drake to match. So far as I can tell, she is also campaigning intelligently, and the revamped state Party effort to mount an effective field operation has been thrown behind her with a vengeance.

How important is Parnell’s campaign to the Alabama Democratic Party? Right now, the Alabama House has a 64-40 GOP majority. A Parnell win makes that 64-41. That brings Democrats within a couple of seats of being able to block a cloture vote - in other words, to being able to mount an effective filibuster against further Republican efforts to attack both the Democratic Party, and the workers, teachers, police and fire personnel, and other vulnerable constituents we represent. Does anyone doubt the GOP will try more shenanigans in the Legislature in 2012, and that we need this filibuster ability to stop them? An historical perspective: Democratic Houses of Representatives had not invoked cloture to stop a GOP filibuster since 1984. In the 2011 session alone, Republicans invoked cloture 84 times, not to kill Democratic filibusters, but merely to block debate or votes on Democratic amendments. Imagine being able to kill the next HB56.

According to House Democratic Leader Craig Ford, at least two Republicans, in addition to the already-switched Daniel Boman of Sulligent, have indicated that they are willing to switch if Parnell wins, because her win and their switches would bring Democrats within the magic number needed to block cloture votes.

Do I have your attention yet? Good, because it’s time to do everything we can to help Paige Parnell win this election. Consider this the most likely, and most important, “call to action” you’ll see on this blog before next fall. How can we help? First and foremost, the Parnell campaign needs boots on the ground to knock on doors and do the thousand other things a winning campaign has to do. You can contact the Parnell campaign coordinator, Lori Lindsay, at 334.549.5580. You can email Parnell at You can sign up to volunteer on her website at this page. You can make a donation of $25, $100, or whatever you can afford on this page. Be sure to Friend Parnell on Facebook here. Whatever you do, don’t sit there and wish on November 30 that you’d just done something. The Republicans know everything I have stated here about how important this race is, and we can’t count on them not to act accordingly.

This is a fight, and we have a fighter to get behind. And I have a message for the Republicans: this ain’t going to be a scholarship program preliminary.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Turn Out the Voters, or Turn Out the Lights

There are basically two ways to improve the electoral performance of a party - in other words, to win an election. The first of these is to persuade voters to vote for your party. The second is to persuade more of the voters who are already persuaded to vote for your party, but who would not vote without the extra prod of some “turnout” effort, to show up and vote. This much, you don’t have to read this blog to know. For some time, the strategy of the Alabama Democratic Party has been centered on the former. Efforts to do the latter have historically been limited to localized efforts in the African-American community.

The typical Democratic campaign of recent years has consisted of collecting large sums of money from a small handful of groups: AEA, the plaintiff’s bar (i.e., “trial lawyers”), that part of the gaming industry that prefers creating jobs in Alabama to creating jobs in Mississippi, and to a lesser extent organized labor. This money was then spent - not always effectively - mostly on television ads for individual candidates. While we did do some effective negative campaigning, which has been shown to be effective by both professional experience and academic studies, most of our negative was focused on individual Republican candidates. In the meantime, our better-financed opposition added a generous dose of “party negative” to their mix, painting every Democrat as an abortion-supporting, gay-loving, God-hating, gun-seizing acolyte of the conservative bete noir of the cycle. This was, of course, reinforced by channels other than paid media, such as talk radio and thousands of “apolitical” pulpits and “Christian voter guides.” Whatever its merits (and I have written elsewhere about the need for party-based positive and negative media), this has clearly been a persuasion-oriented strategy.

Beginning in the 1990’s, and culminating in the 2010 loss of the Legislature and every statewide race, this strategy became less and less effective. Not only has the strategy been shown to be ineffective, it is becoming increasingly impossible to maintain. The Legislature has shown that it is determined to frustrate AEA’s constitutional right to collective political action by any means necessary, and we can no longer count on their historical level of financial support. The plaintiff’s bar has been victimized by a decade of Republican Supreme Court control. When the Alabama Supreme Court says it’s OK for a corporation to make a deadly product without paying damages, or for a bank to lie about its loans and investments, those lawyers don’t collect judgments. From those judgments come their fees, and from those fees their historic support. To the extent these lawyers have tried to hedge their bets by contributing to Republicans, they have been rewarded with ... more “tort reform.” As to the gaming industry, we all know what’s happened there.

This is the point at which we have to ask ourselves whether we Alabama Democrats have a turnout problem that has contributed to our electoral reversals. There are several ways to answer this question. “Yes.” “Si.” “Ja.” “Oui.” “Да.”

In my last post, I looked at some of the margins in the 2010 Alabama House races. Here, I want to shift perspective to the total vote turnout in each of the 105 districts, and compared it to the Republican percentage of the vote in each district. The results are reflected in this chart:

This chart shows a compelling correlation between the total number of votes cast, and the percentage of the vote taken by the Republican candidate. The two trendlines representing the figures for the contested races stand, taken together, at almost a perfect-correlation 45º angle.

Keep in mind, this chart is showing total vote, not percentage of registered or eligible voters voting, on the Y axis. Varying rates of voter registration, or shifts in population between the 2000 Census on which the 2010 districts were based, could produce a slightly different result. However, low registration rates are just as indicative of an organizational problem as low turnout rates. As to possible effects of demographic shifts, while final 2010 Census results aren’t out, it seems evident so far that Alabama didn’t experience the intensive growth in white suburban areas, and depopulation of black counties and neighborhoods, that it did in each of the preceding three decades. Total vote, in roughly equal-population districts, is a workable rough metric of turnout. A correlation this strong isn’t going to be significantly altered by accounting for these variables, and the operational consequences of the numbers reflected are still significant.

Clearly, we could have won several close House races by boosting turnout: identifying likely Democratic voters, and giving them whatever encouragement and assistance was necessary to get them to the polls. Focused turnout efforts work. Could we have retained control of the House (and presumably the Senate)? That would have been a tall order in 2010’s atmosphere, but we clearly could have held enough seats to deprive the Republicans of their filibuster-proof present majorities. This alone would have made an upgrade in the turnout game worthwhile.

More troubling is a set of numbers, represented on this chart by the vertical arrays of red and blue dots at the 100% and 0% GOP votes, respectively, on the X axis. These represent the 30 districts in which the Republican nominees were unopposed, and the 29 districts in which Democratic nominees were unopposed. The quickest use of the Mark I Eyeball statistical analyzer will show that there were more votes cast for unopposed Republicans than for unopposed Democrats. A lot more. Specifically, the 30 unopposed Republicans got a total of 389,012 votes, an average of 12,970; while the 29 unopposed Democrats trailed with 263,232, an average of 9,077.

Why should this trouble us? After all, we weren’t going to win many of those House seats anyway, right? The problem is, these numbers, both in the Democratic and Republican districts, probably almost entirely reflect straight party voting. While this would require detailed analysis of precinct-level results in those limited counties whose machines separately report straight ticket votes for verification, common sense tells us this is so. It’s a little difficult (though well worth the trouble) to vote. Almost no one is going to go to that trouble just to vote for their cousin/neighbor/deacon, the Representative, and not bother with the rest of the ballot. This is particularly true in the case where that Representative is unopposed - why bother? For decades, knowledgeable political observers have zeroed in on uncontested races as a rough measure of straight-ticket voting.

Given this, these numbers have significance both above and below the Legislature on the ballot. They reflect a serious shortcoming on the part of the Party in identifying and turning out Democratic voters. How serious? If each of the unopposed Democratic House members had averaged the same 12,970 votes as the unopposed Republicans, unopposed Democrats would have received, in the aggregate, 112,987 more votes, the vast majority of whom would have been straight ticket Democratic votes. For those with short memories, Jim Folsom, Jr., only lost his re-election bid for Lt. Governor by 46,009 votes. I am willing to wager that at least some local races were lost in these underperforming districts.

I also want to make one thing clear: I am not pointing out the Democratic Representatives in whose districts these shortcomings happened. While I do know one or two of them whose contribution to the Party effort leaves something to be desired, by and large voter identification and GOTV is a Party function, not that of an individual candidate. I am merely using House districts as a convenient and useful metric. The shortfalls were also noticeable in those districts with contested races. On a related note, I am not one of those Democrats who try to complain that the reason for our defeat was that “the blacks didn’t get their vote out.” In fact, of the 29 unopposed Democrats, six were white candidates in white-majority districts, and five of those six were in the lower half of the unopposed Democrats, in total votes received.

Fortunately, this is one area where the Alabama Democratic Party is on the ball. Under the leadership of Judge Kennedy, and Executive Director Bradley Davidson, the Party has undertaken a major voter identification project. This effort seeks to reach most voters before the 2012 election, and virtually all voters before 2014, to identify the partisan leanings (or independence) of each voter. The Party will then be in a position to target GOTV efforts on Democratic voters, and improve the dismal turnout statistics reflected in the above table. (We will also be able to target undecided voters with persuasive messaging!) This is something the Alabama Republican Party has been doing for nearly a decade now, in a very intense, well-funded and organized effort, and the past disparity in these efforts goes a long way toward explaining the results in 2012. For those who want to get involved, the Party website has a page devoted to the training sessions being offered. If you never get involved in another Democratic campaign effort, this is the one to join. It is going to change the face of Alabama politics, and for the better.

As long ago as the proto-democratic Athenian constitution of Draco (c. 650 B.C.E.), citizens were fined for failing to appear at the sessions of the Assembly to vote. A number of modern democracies follow the same practice. The United States does not, and should not, follow this practice. But voter apathy is a problem, and it’s particularly a problem when the Republicans are doing more about it than Democrats.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Democratic Legislature in Alabama - 2014?

If I had posted, using this post’s title, anytime during the first ten months after the 2010 Alabama elections, I would have been deluged with email requests for a swig of whatever it was I had been drinking. I may yet get such emails. Hopefully, though, we are now to the point where rational analysis can take place without the undue influence of the ceaseless crowing of The Birmingham News that Alabama is now, and for all eternity will be, a Republican-dominated state. That media drumbeat had us all a little depressed.

The hill that the Alabama Democratic Party has to climb to regain legislative control is high, and it is steep. But it looks a little less like Mount Everest, and a little more like Sand Mountain. Which, coincidentally, is partially within the 29th District, where Democratic Whip Jack Page was narrowly ousted by Republican Becky Nordgren in 2010, by a tally of 5,845 to 5,406. This is one of several districts which, looked at with a knowledgeable eye, are ripe for a Democratic comeback in 2014.

Currently, the GOP holds a 64-40 majority in the House (with one seat up for special election; GO (former Miss Alabama) PAIGE PARNELL!). In the Senate, it’s a 22-13 Republican split. Neither of these margins requires a large number of seats to change hands to put GOP control of the chamber in jeopardy. And those numbers are doable.

For starters, at least on the House side, four of the 64 GOP seats were won by Democrats, who proceeded to cross the aisle within days of their election. (I am sure they weren’t promised anything to do so; that would be bribery, and I am sure Attorney General Holder would have the malefactors indicted, the same way he fought to keep Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens in pris ... never mind.) Let’s face it; if a Democrat carried a district in 2010, that district is congenitally Democratic. It should, by definition, be competitive in 2014.

Taking a slightly broader look, let’s look at all 105 districts in the House. I’ve ranked all 105 by the Republican margin in each district (whether positive or negative, and including those seats subsequently vacated by death or resignation). Let’s look at what that ranking shows for the two narrowest Democratic wins, and the ten narrowest Democratic losses:

DistrictD NomineeR NomineeR% Margin

You will frequently hear a rule of thumb that any incumbent who won his or her last election by under 5% is vulnerable in the next election. Like any arbitrary number, this one should be applied with caution, but it’s a starting point. I call it a starting point because 2010 was in so many ways a “perfect storm” for the GOP that they are unlikely to be able to replicate in 2014. There will not be a bingo indictment of Democratic legislators timed for a month before the election. There will not be as intense an anti-Obama sentiment in the atmosphere, as he presumably will have improved his weak and ineffective messaging if he is re-elected. And if Obama is not re-elected, the GOP in Alabama will be deprived of its racist bogeyman; an all too obvious reason for its 2010 wins.

By this measure, we Democrats should be able to threaten Republican incumbents whose 2010 margins were more than 5%, and 10% is not unreasonable. (Several of the 2010 GOP wins were against Democrats who had won by much more than 10% in 2006.) Of course, one of these seats is already in Democratic hands, thanks to Daniel Boman’s refusal to go along with King Pig Speaker’s storm trooper tactics, and Boman’s subsequent switch to the Democratic Party. A more Democratic wind in 2014 would also make it far less likely that Democrats such as Joe Hubbard and Greg Burdine would be reckoned vulnerable solely by their narrow 2010 wins. A Parnell victory in the upcoming special would make the leap to majority even shorter.

While I have been talking about the House, similar numbers and issues face the GOP majority in the Senate. Even Scott “Aborigine” Beason may be vulnerable, as long as the tag lines are in Birmingham. And a birdie has told me that one darling of the 2010 Republican effort, Shadd McGill of Jackson County, is already in a deep hole. In fact, that birdie told me that McGill was recently physically removed from the courthouse office of a Republican official in his district - by McGill’s fellow Republican officeholder!

In addition to the historical precedent that unusual sweep years are usually corrected in the next cycle, the Republicans have to face an additional threat. Political and economic issues are likely to be arrayed in the extreme against the Alabama GOP in 2014. For 136 years, they whined and cried about not being allowed to run state government. (In 2010, as in 1874, their control was dependent on the partisan intervention of the Federal government.) Republican Party, be careful what you wish for; now you own it.

Budget shortfalls are going to be a major problem for the state over the next three years. While the recession continues - thanks in large part to the national GOP’s efforts - state revenues will be depressed, and Federal stimulus funding to fill the gap is going to vanish. This also is thanks to the Know-Nothings of the national Republican Party. This means programs will be cut, and employees will be laid off. Families of senior citizens will be upset that their Medicaid benefits are cut, and lots of drivers will be upset that potholes aren’t being fixed. And there will be no Democratic Legislature on which The Birmingham News can blame it. GOP attacks on education have also clarified the minds of thousands of teachers, many of whom had complacently begun voting Republican, as to where their political interests truly lie.

Speaking of latter-day Know-Nothings, even the GOP’s pride and joy of racist reaction - HB56, better known as America’s most repressive law against those whose color suggests they might be undocumented aliens - isn’t working out as planned. While the senescent crackers whoop, stomp and clap at the Republican luncheon at the Golden Corral (between artery-clogging trips to the buffet), in the rest of the community, the bill is causing one giant train wreck. Senseless requirements for “proving” citizenship for auto tag and drivers’ license renewals have created gigantic lines at every courthouse in the state, and deprived Alabamians of the basic 21st Century convenience of renewing these licenses online.

If the stupidity of the immigration bill reaches all Alabamians once a year, it zeros in on thousands of small Alabama businesses constantly, and takes direct aim at their bottom lines. While many crops such as cotton are mechanically harvested, many fruits and vegetables still require hand picking, and the immigrant labor which makes this possible is fleeing the state. Even many legal immigrants are leaving from fear of arrest, and crops are reported to be rotting in the fields. Many of the GOP gains in 2010 were made in counties, such as DeKalb, Marshall and Cullman, where the state’s billion-dollar poultry industry is centered, and that industry is utterly dependent on immigrant labor. Other service industries, such as food services, nursing homes, and construction, are likewise facing labor shortages as a result of the Hispanic exodus. These constituencies are not marginal for the GOP; they are its bedrock electoral and financial base. And they made their displeasure with HB56 plainly known during the 2011 session. By 2014, Democrats should find both votes and dollars available from small businesses whose interests the GOP has trampled. (Of course, we need to start working on this outreach now, while tempers are still hot!)

To be clear, I am not predicting that we Democrats will retake one or both houses of the Legislature in 2014. I am making it emphatically clear that it is reasonable that we might do so. Even as the GOP laid plans and worked for four years to make Alabamofascism possible, we need to be working now to reverse it. Candidate recruitment, fundraising, and work on the ongoing voter list system are critical. More particularly, our media message needs to step up just a bit. Voters need to be helped to think of those three-hour lines at the car tag office as “Republican lines.” This needs to be a full-court press, including repeated media statements from local Democratic leaders, and letters to the editor. Poultry producers need to be invited to Democratic meetings where they can hear the workforce-killing HB56 condemned. Protests against the moral outrage that is HB56 are good, but it is when we speak to the interests of 2010 GOP voters that we will regain a Democratic Legislature.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who Is Watching the Watchdogs?

What a wonderful, hot, lazy August it’s been. It is almost a shame to ruin it by actually writing a post. So as not to give myself a heatstroke, I will serve up something I wrote earlier in the month, and just add a few lines of mis-en-scene so it makes sense.

Thomas Jefferson made a notable observation about the role of the newspaper in a democracy:

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. -- Letter to Edward Carrington, 1787.

On August 6, The Montgomery Advertiser ran an editorial in which it attacked the Republicans for violating the so-called “ethics reforms” Bob Riley ran through with the new GOP Legislature as his parting gift to Alabama. Fair enough. But they succumbed to the journalistic weakness of being unable to condemn the murderer without heaping equal opprobrium on the jaywalker. In other words, they had to say some bad things about the Democrats. Which is fair enough, if what they said had been accurate. Not only was it inaccurate, but they only had to look to their own front pages of a few months earlier to see it was inaccurate.

Silly me, I thought if I shot a letter to their editor, pointing out this problem, they would print it, with perhaps an editorial note trying to defend the editorial. No chance. I guess the lesson here is that if you want to write the Advertiser, it’s best not to prove them so wrong that their fragile egos won’t let the truth see daylight.

One of the joys of blogging is that you are not dependent on the whim of a mendacious editorial board to have your say. Without further ado, here is the letter the Advertiser could not find a reason to print:

Dear Editor:

Your editorial, “PAC Debate Hypocritical,” of August 6, 2011, is correct to call out the Alabama Republican Party for violating the so-called ethics reforms they enacted in the waning days of the Riley Administration. However, to accuse the Alabama Democratic Party of “hypocrisy” because, in your words, “they killed PAC-to-PAC reform year after year when they controlled the Legislature,” is to make a plain misstatement of fact. It adopts and repeats a Republican lie that was used in several campaigns by that party.

Consider the fate of House Bill 85 in the 2010 (Democratic-controlled) Regular Session. This bill, sponsored by Democratic then-Representative Jeff McLaughlin of Guntersville, would have banned PAC-to-PAC transfers, period. As you reported in a story on January 24, 2010, quoting Democratic then-Senator Zeb Little, “the Democratic caucus supports a ‘true PAC-to-PAC ban,’ but there are always people, including business organizations and the political parties, that want exceptions.”

That is indeed what happened to House Bill 85. The Republican minority in the Senate filibustered, blocking that bill and other ethics reforms passed by the Democratic House, because Senate Democrats refused to carve out exceptions for “religious” and other groups that overwhelmingly support Republicans. The Democratic votes were there to pass it, but it died at the hands of GOP filibusters. The Republicans then ran an election campaign calling Democrats “anti-reform,” largely unchallenged by the fact-checking function of the news media. I ask you, in the future, not only to avoid sacrificing editorial accuracy in the name of balance, but to have the news pages more closely check to see that the Republicans’ deeds match their rhetoric.

I don’t want anyone to walk away from this post with the idea that we shouldn’t write letters to the editor - or even that we shouldn’t write them to the Advertiser. On the contrary, what this shows is that we need to write more of them. The Advertiser did not print a single letter (that I saw) taking issue with its misleading editorial. One reason for that may be that mine was the only one they received. The dynamics of editorial boards are such that it is difficult for them to ignore a large volume of letters calling the paper out on a given issue. Your letter might not be printed, but it might lead to a similar letter from another Democrat making the paper. The Advertiser is not, like some newspapers in this state, a hidebound rubber stamp of the Republican Party. It may be that they just need some encouragement to be more careful in the future. So by all means, make good use of the emailing links on the right of this page, and let your voice be heard!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Debt Impasse - A Modest Proposal

I want to apologize, gentle reader, for using the clichéd title originally (and brilliantly) coined by Jonathan Swift for his rational solution to an Irish famine. If only the Republican Party could read it without missing the irony, and lauding it as a damned sensible idea. One which they would no doubt think fine to impose on the millions of Americans unemployed by their laissez-faire approach to Wall Street regulation.

No, I am not making an ironic proposal. I am perfectly serious, and only wish that the current Administration had the political skills to recognize that this concept (1) would, merely by being introduced in Congress, substantially increase the President’s prospects for re-election; (2) would also make it likely that we Democrats would increase our Senate majority and take back the House in 2012, and (3) when and if enacted - even if only by a Democratic Congress in 2013 - go a long way toward ending the carnage inflicted on American families by the Bush II Administration, and by the current President’s asthenia in dealing with Republican opposition.

The current annual deficit is somewhere around $1.6 trillion, which is about 11% of GDP. Unlike Republicans who parrot absolutes, we Democrats know that, in the long run, those numbers need to come down. The question is, how to get there? The GOP’s balanced budget amendment proposals would be so disastrous, that any person seriously proposing it obviously lacks the wrenches in his or her intellectual toolbox to pursue a learned profession.

The win-win solution, for America and for Democrats, is a fairly unsophisticated tweak of the basic individual income tax rates. In Tax Year 2008, the most recent year for which final statistics are currently available, taxpayers in the so-called 35% bracket paid an actual tax rate of only 28.9%. This is because 35% is the “marginal” tax rate - these top taxpayers still pay the same rates as you and I on their income at the same level. In other words, Mr. Billionaire pays the same rate on his first $50,000 of income as the worker who only makes that much in total.

More important for our purposes is how un-progressive (“regressive,” to use the term used by economists and tax lawyers) the Bush II tax cuts have made the system. Those tax cuts were, of course, heavily weighted toward the very wealthiest taxpayers. In 2000, under Clinton, a married couple filing jointly paid at least 36% on everything over $161,450 and 39.6% on everything over $288,350. In 2008, the same couple paid only 33% above $200,000 and 35% on everything over $377,500.

What I propose we do is this - and the numbers aren’t carved in granite; some fine tuning would not ruin the concept - tax the top 6.4% of taxpayers at their marginal rate on all their income, and boost that marginal rate by a mere 3%. Keep in mind, in 2008, that would have been married joint filers with an income of over $200,000 a year. If a couple were making $199,000 a year, I wouldn’t raise their taxes a penny. How big a bite would that take out of your big, ugly, trillion-dollar deficit? Fasten your seat belts.

About $520,000,000,000 - over half a trillion a year. And the current crop of leaders is haggling over a package (I refer to the Obama-GOP “compromise” reported as of 7:00 p.m. CDT on July 31) that reduces the deficit by just $2 trillion - over a decade.

(You could do the same thing with corporate income tax rates, giving some smaller, mom and pop corporations a break, but the individual rates are where the real economic, and political, effects are to be seen. Also, by reducing the huge breaks fat cats get on corporate dividends and capital gains, which are almost exclusively enjoyed by these top tier earners, you could get even more.)

But wait, my modest proposal gets better. In the same bill, I would add a proposal to divert, say, $200 billion of this annual tax equity improvement, not to the deficit - but to a tax cut going exclusively to the 93.6% of Americans making under $200,000 per couple. Of course, I would weight it more heavily toward the lower tax brackets in that group. This would be, in effect, a $200 billion-a-year economic stimulus package. And it would be much more effective than the bank handouts of Bush II and Obama I. When that money is in the hands of people making $500,000 a year or more, they park it in a hedge fund or mutual fund, many of which do not create jobs in the United States. People living from paycheck to paycheck are always deferring necessary purchases, and when they get more cash, they run out and make them. That creates jobs in the United States. The resulting tax equity improvement would still reduce the deficit by more than the current leading prospect, and without cutting any benefit programs, and even without cutting defense spending! To get this done, I would not be averse to some very careful trimming of spending, just so the talking heads on “Meet the Press” didn’t cluck too loudly about no spending cuts - but I bloody sure wouldn’t have made my proposal the Republican fantasy that Democratic “leaders” are currently embracing.

Now for the politics. (I do enjoy writing about politics more than economics, but the economics was a necessary foundation for what follows.) Imagine this: beginning in the spring of 2012, Democratic TV spots, Democratic canvassers working door to door, and Democratic spokespersons in local news stories, all start reminding that 93.6% of voters that the Democrats were responsible for their tax cut - or, since the GOP in this Congress would have probably killed it, who was responsible for them not getting their tax cut. “MO BROOKS KEPT YOU FROM GETTING A TAX CUT!” “MARTHA ROBY BLOCKED YOUR TAX DECREASE!” Just imagine the possibilities. It’s even possible to correlate Census income data with the Alabama Democratic Party’s new VoteBuilder program (I have seen the future of that, and I like it) to target the vast majority of the households in that 93.6% with individual, specific, concrete persuasion: “YOU, AND EVERYONE ON YOUR BLOCK, WOULD BE PAYING LOWER TAXES IF ROBERT ADERHOLT AND THE REPUBLICANS HADN’T VOTED ‘NO’.” If the Republicans tried to sell this as a “tax hike” (which they would), “WHEN JEFF SESSIONS SAYS THE DEMOCRATIC BILL WOULD HAVE RAISED YOUR TAXES, HE’S LYING. YOU, AND EVERYONE ON YOUR BLOCK, WOULD BE PAYING LESS, NOT MORE!” It has to be carefully explained, but it would work. Imagine the chromatic effect on the current Speaker.

Sadly, most of what I have been writing is a sand table exercise. The opportunity to paint the GOP into a corner with Grover Norquist and the Teabaggers was lost weeks, if not months, ago. For that, I blame the myopic lack of political skills, and political leadership, of the Obama Administration. As Maureen Dowd put it so well in The New York Times today:

Democratic lawmakers worry that the Tea Party freshmen have already “neutered” the president, as one told me. They fret that Obama is an inept negotiator. They worry that he should have been out in the country selling a concrete plan, rather than once more kowtowing to Republicans and, as with the stimulus plan, health care and Libya, leading from behind.

Of course, any single Democratic member of the House could have introduced a bill embodying my proposal, and any Senator could have introduced a substitute doing so. They have to share a little of the blame. It’s hard to do the kind of groundwork we need to win the 2012 and 2014 elections when our leaders aren’t giving us the right talking points. Or worse, letting the GOP define the talking points. Sometimes, the right thing is also the politically smartest thing. These are things worth remembering when voting in primaries in the future.

Meanwhile, as a quasi-Republican debt ceiling bill slouches toward Washington to be born, at least as far as the top of the Party is concerned,

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Maybe we’re eating our children after all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What’s in a Name?

One of the favorite games of political pundits is playing with the names of candidates. Candidates are perceived to have a greater, or lesser, appeal because their name sounds sufficiently stentorian when rolling off the tongue. Oddly enough, this is a hobbyhorse that has survived the election of one Barack Hussein Obama to some minor federal offices.

Some serious academic attention has been given to the so-called “ballot order effect,” which supposedly gives some marginal advantage to candidates whose alphabetical priority places them at the top of the ballot (usually in the primary; general election ballots are usually ordered by party). The results are far from certain, but there seems to be some small advantage to being the son of Mr. Aaron or Mr. Adams. The more imprecise efforts of the chattering classes to fathom the depths of a name’s “sound” are sometimes thinly-veiled efforts to favor those of us whose names are more Anglo-Saxon. Or, depending on the locale, more or less Jewish, Irish, or German. One “oops” moment in the 2004 Kerry campaign came when it was learned that presumed Boston Irishman John Forbes Kerry was in fact Jewish. His denials of knowledge that his grandfather had been born as Friedrich Kohn in Moravia gave Bush boosters a twofer: they could flag Kerry to the anti-Semitic vote, while pretending only to question his veracity.

The “American” ring of a (usually) Anglo-Saxon name (or the “un-American” sound of an opponent’s) has had apparent consequences. In one noted instance, the 1988 election for Democratic Party Chairman in Harris County (Houston) Texas, incumbent chairman Larry Veselka, a little known lawyer and activist, lost out to the more melodiously-named Claude Jones in a low profile race. Problem was, Jones was a groupie-supporter of perennial candidate and eternal fruitcake Lyndon LaRouche. (The local Party committee promptly amended the bylaws to strip the chair of all power and authority.) Local Democratic leaders uniformly blamed the name factor for Jones’s otherwise inexplicable win.

All of this contemplation, however, is not what gave birth to this post. What got me thinking about names was this week’s fundraising missive from the Obama for America Committee. Something about that name sounded slightly off-key, and it took a few minutes for me to realize what it was. Where is the Vice President’s name??

In 1984, the official effort to inflict four more years of Bonzo government was named the “Reagan-Bush ‘84 Committee.” In 2004, Americans (may have) voted for a narrow margin in favor of the campaign mounted by “Bush-Cheney ‘04 Inc.” The recognition of a sitting Vice President in the re-election letterhead is a bipartisan tradition. In 1996, we got behind the “Clinton/Gore ‘96 General Committee.” As far back as the halcyon “what’s a computer?” campaign days of 1980, we Democrats rallied around the “Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc.” (One of my first paid employers.)

So, where is the name, “Biden” in next year’s committee name?

Little happens at the level of a Presidential campaign without thought and planning; the malapropisms, errata, and gaffes of Bachmann and Palin notwithstanding. While I will certainly keep an eye on this post’s comments for other explanations, I can see three possible reasons for the absence of the Vice President’s name. (1) This could be just another manifestation of the narcissistic and borderline messianic tendencies of this President, and of his coterie of Chicago hacks, who have yet to realize he was elected President for the same reason he won the Nobel Peace Prize; his name isn’t “Bush.”

(2) There may be some measured consideration that Vice President Biden, whose open-mike flaps and other memorable moments are Leno-Letterman fodder, may be something of a drag on the ticket, or at least doesn’t give it a boost. This explanation could well coincide with (1). I would argue against it. Biden is a solid Washington presence, knows his way around the Hill, and brings a lot to the table that is lacking in the Oval Office. Voters want to know that the man or woman “a heartbeat away” is up to the promotion if, God forbid ... Remember the Palin drag as her lack of depth became apparent late in the 2008 campaign. Without it, we might have been challenging President McCain next year.

(3) - and I can’t believe this is the case and no one’s leaked it, the omission of Biden’s name might be a signal that has been missed by the entire punditocracy, blogosphere, and even the phone-tapping minions of Rupert Murdoch. Of course, if (2) reflects the perception in the Obama high command, then (3) becomes a more plausible scenario. The Vice President was not yet 30 on the day he was first elected to the Senate in 1972; he attained the Constitutionally-required age before Congress convened in January. Of course, that means he will be 70 at the beginning of the next Presidential term. That is not too old by recent historical precedent. However, the Chicago hacks place an excessive premium on the President’s “youth appeal,” and 70 may be a number that troubles them.

It is possible that I am reading too much into these facts. Trying to interpret signals that may not even be there is as dicey as my (late) Cold War work parsing the photographs atop Lenin’s Tomb in Правда to determine who was in or out in the Kremlin. Whatever the explanation, this is an item that bears close scrutiny in the coming months. Obama need not make a move to replace Biden for some time, but any story of that magnitude will be hard to keep under wraps. If the Vice President is going to remain on the ticket, someone needs to take a crayon to the letterhead, pronto, not only to express the President’s confidence in his running mate, but to prevent the rumor mill from going to work. As I said, I am happy with the Vice President, and think it would be a mistake to replace him on the ticket. That said, speculation about potential replacements at least makes an interesting parlor game.

In a totally unrelated note, emptying my pockets earlier this evening, I discovered that someone, apparently mistaking it for a quarter, had given me a Susan B. Anthony dollar in change. Of course, I am not at all into omens or other irrational forms of superstition. Not at all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hail to the Chief ... Justice

After treating myself to taking June off, I found my email filled last week with inquiries about the sudden, and unexpected, retirement announcement by Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. Judge Cobb, one of two Democrats currently holding statewide office, and the only one on the appellate courts, will be missed. She has brought leadership to the Supreme Court, not only as a tireless and forward-looking administrator of the state judicial system, but as a courageous voice of moderation and justice on a court dominated by Fortune 500 rubber stamps. Before her tenure on the highest court, she served for 12 years on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, where she frequently took the position that - imagine this - the law had to be upheld, even if that meant a conviction was reversed.

Perhaps nothing calls to mind her judicial courage more than her opinion in the case of Wilson v. State, 830 So.2d 765 (Ala.Crim.App. 2001). Theresa Wilson was the poster child for what can go wrong in the war on drugs. A 28-year-old mother of two small children, Wilson became addicted to narcotic painkillers prescribed to her by her physician for her fibromyalgia. Unable to work, she sold a portion of her painkillers to an undercover officer for money to pay her utility bills. The officer then goaded her into procuring more drugs, which turned out to be prescription morphine a similarly-strapped neighbor provided her to sell, for a share of the cut. That diluted morphine mix turned out to be 41.8 grams - 1.47 ounces - over the threshold for Alabama’s drug trafficking law. Her naïveté in drug sales was manifest; she let the narc leave with the drugs, without full payment. Wilson had no prior criminal record. Because Wilson’s second, police-encouraged sale was 1.47 ounces over the limit, she was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without any possibility of parole or early release.

Noting that the trafficking law under which Wilson was charged is legally titled the “Drug Baron’s Enforcement Act of 1986,” and that “Wilson does not fit into that category,” Judge Cobb wrote a detailed opinion, explaining how the precedent of the United States Supreme Court required constitutional review of such sentences, and held that while Wilson’s crime was serious, leaving prison in a pine box was cruel and unusual punishment. (Republican Judge Kelli Wise, now a Supreme Court Justice, agreed with Judge Cobb and wrote a concurring opinion. Republican Judge James Shaw, who defeated Judge Deborah Bell Paseur to join the Supreme Court in 2006, dissented, saying that “the majority’s decision is impermissibly based on a concept of natural justice.”) Contrary to Judge Shaw’s opinion, no convicted trafficker has been released since the Wilson case on a similar basis, but our prisons - as Chief Justice Cobb has recently pointed out - are still overflowing with nonviolent minor drug offenders.

One of the recurring themes of emails and calls I have gotten since Judge Cobb’s announcement has been its impact on the prospects of the Alabama Democratic Party. Does this yet further signal the Party’s demise? Is there any hope for the Judicial System? When will we again be a competitive party? Will Judge Cobb ever return to politics?

All are good questions. As to the first, many will overstate its significance to the Party’s prospects. I understand that the condition of Judge Cobb’s mother - to whom she is especially close - is indeed serious. This retirement may mark one of those rare occasions in politics when a statement regarding “more time with my family” is indeed the truth. Her retirement may also have intended political consequences with respect to her successor. Governor Bentley is likely to appoint someone from his faction of the GOP to the vacancy, rather than someone from the Business Council-Riley wing. This would give such an appointee the advantage of campaigning in 2012 as an incumbent, and Judge Cobb may have intended to thus lessen the Business Council’s voice on the Court.

The history of appointed Supreme Court justices in Alabama is a mixed one. It features one unlikely hero, at least in the mind of the progressive Democrat: Fob James. James shattered the racial barrier on the modern Supreme Court with his 1980 appointment of Oscar W. Adams. When Adams retired, Jim Folsom Jr. appointed Justice Ralph Cook, who is also black, to the vacancy. Don Siegelman appointed a second black Justice, Judge John England, to the Supreme Court during his administration. Both seats were eventually lost to white Republicans in 2000, although Judge Cook did narrowly win one full term in the 1994 elections. Racial animus, however, is not the only reason appointed judges fail to win election after appointment, and the partisan sword is two-edged. Judge Cobb won her seat as Chief Justice in 2006 by defeating Riley appointee, and serious corporate ho, Drayton Nabers. Expect a heated GOP primary for the job in 2012, with current Justice Lyn Stuart the likely Business Council candidate. (Having written elsewhere about the all-white Alabama appellate judiciary, I won’t urge Governor Bentley to show Fob’s courage and appoint someone doomed to lose the Republican primary - but it would be a tremendous gesture.)

As to the personal future of Judge Cobb, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her back someday. Her retirement remarks didn’t foreclose the possibility. The 2014 gubernatorial race is a long way off. It’s a good two years before a 2014 nominee will have to seriously hit the fundraising and rubber chicken circuit. This should provide her with plenty of time to spend with her family and catch her breath after 30 years of nonstop public service. Should she run, there is a good chance she would not have serious primary opposition. The Democratic bench isn’t as deep as it was in the early 90’s; if Lucy Baxley retires from the PSC, we may well have no incumbent statewide Democratic officeholders going into 2014. One or two legislators whose names have come up in recent years as gubernatorial possibilities either lost their seats in 2010, or had close shaves that might reflect on their electability. Ron Sparks would be a strong candidate for another try, but his acceptance of a position in the Bentley administration indicates he’s not looking in that direction. Finally, if Bentley loses the Republican primary to a Business Council ally, Judge Cobb could count on substantial financial support from AEA in the general election.

Whatever the future holds for her, Judge Cobb deserves a “thank you” from each of us in the Democratic Party - and in Alabama.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Ghost of Elbridge Gerry Haunts Montgomery

Elbridge Gerry stands out in several respects among the founding fathers. Gerry, who served as vice president under James Madison, was the first vice president not to seek the presidency himself, although that noncandidacy was occasioned by his death. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, Gerry was one of the few delegates to the Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the finished product. (He objected to its omission of a bill of rights. That Federalist-driven omission led Gerry to leave them for the Jeffersonian Democrats.) But it was for his actions as governor of Massachusetts that his name entered the Anglophonic political lexicon.

Gerry (who pronounced his name with a hard “g,” as in “guess”) is best known today as the namesake of the gerrymander (with a soft “g” pronounced like “j”). In the 1812 Massachusetts elections, Gerry was the proponent of a districting scheme that created one oddly-shaped district that gathered and isolated many Federalist strongholds, leaving several other districts with narrow Democratic majorities. A political cartoonist of the day attached Gerry’s name to the last two syllables of “salamander” to create the fictional gerrymander.

This history comes home to Alabama as we make our regular post-census trip to the reapportionment table. The Legislature used its two-week break from the regular session to conduct a series of hearings around the state, purportedly seeking citizen input. Now, the current Legislature has made quite a name for itself in ramming through the most partisan, extreme legislation possible on a score of issues, from state employees’ voluntary dues deductions, to teacher tenure abolition, to tax relief for out-of-state corporations. Frankly, nothing they could do with respect to reapportionment would surprise me. My first impression was that the “hearings” would be only a sham, designed to give the GOP the appearance of impartiality and fairness in the pro-Republican media.

And I did not seem to be disappointed. In fact, I am so un-disappointed, that this is the third from-scratch version of everything from this point on in the post. I had just written up what the rumor mill had “confirmed” as the GOP plan, when a very public announcement was made of a different plan. Under the different plan, Tuscaloosa would have been moved into Aderholt’s 4th District, and DeKalb and Etowah Counties would have moved from his district to the 3rd. Montgomery County and the Shoals counties, which had feared being chopped up, would have remained intact.

The next day, the reapportionment joint committee held its formal meeting, and promptly ditched its working plan it had publicly trumpeted the day before. So much for all the Montgomery and Shoals folks who stayed away, thinking they’d won. So much, also, for all the GOP blather about a new openness and honesty in Montgomery under their jackbooted regime. Under the NEW New Plan, the Shoals are indeed split; Tuscaloosa remains much as it was, and the heavily Democratic west side of Montgomery is moved to Terri Sewell’s 7th District, making it even more lopsidedly black - and Democratic. Of course, Montgomerians who are voting for Sewell won’t be around to vote against Republican freshman Martha Roby. The other GOP freshman in the litter, Mo Brooks of the 5th District, loses Democratic Colbert to Aderholt, and takes in its stead the Republican-leaning part of Morgan which had been in the 4th for the last decade.

The ghost of Elbridge Gerry is green with envy at this brash display of partisan hacking.

The voters of the New York 26th Congressional District yesterday upped the ante on the whole Congressional apportionment process. That district, created in the 2000 New York reapportionment (when the GOP controlled the New York Senate and was able to dictate safe GOP seats) is a Republican “firewall” district. Yesterday’s win there by Democrat Kathy Hochul was largely based on her assault on the Republican favorite’s “All In” embrace of the GOP’s Ryan Medicare abolition plan. In terms of structured partisanship, I would have to say the New York 26th has at least as much of a built-in GOP tilt as Jo Bonner’s Alabama 1st. That, friends, is a serious Republican tilt; only Spence Bachus’s 6th is more Republican among Alabama districts. (Which it remains under the NEW New Plan, even though Bachus sacrificed the GOP strongholds of Autauga and Elmore, which one rumor had him gaining, to shore up Roby.)

Which leads me to an interesting observation: if such a solidly Republican district as the New York 26th can be flipped, as voters rebel over Wall Street’s desire to privatize Medicare, what about districts with even better Democratic demographics and local voting trends? Like the 3rd, 4th, and 5th in Alabama? The Eight Republican Rubberstamps (the six Representatives, plus Sessions and Shelby) have largely spoken in favor of the Ryan plan. Of the eight, I suspect only Shelby’s well-developed political antennæ and boundless instinct for self-preservation over party loyalty may lead him to bail on the plan. 4th District lemming Robert Aderholt, in response to a request from George W. Bush, cast the deciding vote for CAFTA in the House in 2005 that sent over 5,000 hosiery mill jobs in Fort Payne scurrying off to Central America. It’s hard to picture him standing up to tanning bed freak Boehner on this one. I suspect that, in the coming weeks, we may see one or more Democratic challengers putting out feelers, who might not have looked over the rim of the foxhole after the 2010 debacle. When they do, let’s encourage them.

One point that was made by the ADC and others in the Republican “open hearings,” that is going nowhere - at least not legislatively - is the prospect of adding a second black-majority Congressional district. Certainly, there should be one. Alabama is 26.3% black, and its House delegation is only 14.3% black. That is an inexcusable disparity. Geographically, it’s a challenge, but not insurmountable. If the 7th District were extended south to include the black precincts of Mobile County, black precincts in Jefferson could be linked to those in Montgomery and Macon. Or the latter could be linked with those in Houston and Henry Counties, and the balance added elsewhere. However, a legislative remedy for this is a dead letter. First, it would require the GOP to sacrifice an incumbent Representative, and I don’t see any candidates for political suicide in the current delegation. You can also count on the RCCC to put a quick lid on any effort to protect Martha Roby in the 2nd and Mike Rogers in the 3rd by isolating them from their present black constituents in a new Democratic district. This is an injustice that will have to be remedied, if at all, in the courts. In Alabama, things always seem to come to that.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect the GOP to resist the temptation to carve Alabama into the most Republican slices possible. Gerrymandering seems to be as old as democracy itself. In establishing popular democracy in Athens after the overthrow of the Spartan-supported tyranny in 507 B.C.E., Cleisthenes in effect “redistricted” the Attic population into ten δήμων (“demes” - a cognate of the name “Democratic”). But rather than make their territories discrete and compact, which he feared would foment rivalry, he took care to spread the territory of each δῆμος among the urban, coastal, and inland districts of Attica. Sadly, today’s Republicans have neither the sagacity nor the public-spiritedness of Cleisthenes. We need sharply, and publicly, to resist their redistricting plan. Particular support should be given to Senator Tammy Irons, and Representative Joe Hubbard, who have worked to keep their communities intact in the process. There are points to be made among the voters of the Shoals and Montgomery whose influence it diminishes.