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.