Monday, June 3, 2013

I Do Not Want to Hear One Word of Complaint About Dr. Joe Reed. Not One.

Last Saturday, I attended the meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee, of which I am not a member.

Which is more than 174 of the 285 members of that Committee did.

This was not a trivial or routine meeting. The office of Chairman - or “Chair,” as the amendment to the Bylaws adopted at that meeting now calls it - has been vacant since the resignation of Judge Mark Kennedy. That in itself was enough reason for any member to set aside any but the most pressing personal reasons to attend. Our Party has no one who can speak with the full authority of the office on any issue that presents itself to the public attention. There is no one in place to be making the long-term plans that are vital to any success we hope to have in 2014. Perhaps most importantly, there is not a permanent Chair in place to address the dire financial situation of the Party. As Acting Chair Nancy Worley noted, the Party’s balance sheet reflects insolvency. Outstanding debts exceed $500,000.00, and cash on hand is barely sufficient to pay the rent, phone, and power bills at the Party headquarters for another month or two. Unless this financial situation improves - and it will not so long as there is no permanent Chair - 2014 will resemble nothing so much as the surrender of the CSS Shenandoah

This meeting cannot be understood without accounting for the role in Party affairs of Dr. Joe Reed, head of the Alabama Democratic Conference and Vice Chair for Minority Affairs of the SDEC for far longer than the lifespans of the Millennials who make up the bulk of the Obama rank and file. Through fair means or foul, Reed controls the largest single bloc of votes on the SDEC. Of the numerous questions on which division of the house was called at Saturday’s meeting, every one went Reed’s way by a roughly 95-15 vote. Even if you assume, as I do, that Reed had almost all of his firm supporters present at the Embassy Suites, a bloc of 95 votes on a 285-member Committee is significant.

Reed has one thing in common with Justin Bieber: everyone seems either to hate him, or to love him. The dedication of his supporters is evident from the uniformity of the votes at Saturday’s meeting. On the other hand, it doesn’t tax Google’s servers to find withering criticism of his positions on issues, or his leadership style.

It is not my intention, in this post, either to bury Cæsar, or to praise him. Reed and I have been on the same side of many fights, and fought like rutting bucks on some issues. The important thing for consideration here is Reed’s role in the disgraceful attendance at Saturday’s meeting, even if it was not, strictly speaking, his direct fault.

As everyone following intraparty Democratic politics in Alabama knows, Judge Kennedy’s resignation as Chair was prompted by a dispute with Reed over Party management issues. Most notably, Kennedy had dismissed a Party staffer who was a Reed apparatchik, and opened an SDEC field office in Birmingham, which Reed opposed. After his resignation, Kennedy formed the Alabama Democratic Majority, a group with no legal ties to the Party, which says it wants to do grassroots work to rebuild the Party. Unkind public words have flown between Kennedy and his supporters on one hand, and Reed and Worley on the other.

Try as I might, I cannot blame the embarrassing number of empty seats at Saturday’s meeting on anything other than these hard feelings. Reed’s opponents on the Committee, perhaps persuaded they could not outvote him, simply stayed home by the score. Looking at the most current roster of the SDEC, I can easily count “scores” of members who generally oppose Reed’s positions on the Committee, who were not there.

To Dr. Reed and his supporters, I tip my hat. Had I been a member of the Committee, I probably would have voted against you on some issues that came before the Committee at that meeting. But you took your responsibility as holders of an elective office seriously, and showed up to fulfill your duty as holders of that office.

To the 15 or so Reed opponents who attended, and who taxed, almost to its limit, Acting Chair Worley’s encyclopedic knowledge of Robert’s Rules of Order,  I likewise raise my glass. Quixotic though your efforts may have been, you have earned the right to cuss Joe Reed to your heart’s content.

To the Reed opponents who were elsewhere Saturday - a large fraction of the 174 absentees - I direct your attention to the title of this post.

In a touchy-feely sense, the SDEC is not “the Party.” The Party consists of the hundreds of thousands of working Alabamians who share our belief in public education, equality, and the value of human dignity over corporate profits. But in the eyes of the Democratic National Committee, and in the view of the Code of Alabama, the SDEC is “the Party.” However valuable the contributions of the ADM, the Young Democrats, the College Democrats, the High School Democrats, the Alabama Federation of Democratic Women, the House and Senate caucuses, or, for that matter, Reed’s ADC, they are not the governing body of the Party. They will not be called on by the DNC to select Alabama’s representatives to it, or delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. They are not charged by law with conducting the primary, or adjudicating election contests. (The Alabama Supreme Court has held that, “in hearing election contests, party committees sit as courts of special or limited jurisdiction.” Perloff v. Edington, 293 Ala. 277, 280, 302 So.2d 92, 95 (1974)(emphasis added).)

With that thought in mind,  can you imagine the outrage if a judge stayed home because he didn’t like what was on his court calendar that day? Or what would be said if a member
of the Legislature or a city council boycotted a session because they weren’t going to get their way - or simply because they had “other things” they wanted to do? To be a member of the SDEC is to hold an elected public office, and if you’re going to revel in your recognition as “our State Committeewoman” at the local Party club meeting, you need to respect that office, and its duties, as much as you would a seat on the city council or county commission.

I acknowledge that notices for this meeting were late getting out, and in a limited number of cases may not have reached the Committee members. That has to improve. Still, virtually everyone got their notice by the day before, and that was plenty of time to make arrangements to be there. As a member of that broader touchy-feely version of “the Party,” I am insulted if you thought the beach, or the golf course, or even (only one of several) of your child’s soccer games were more important. If you don’t want to do your duty as an elected official, step down and help us find someone from your district who will. I don’t blame the handful of absent members who were too ill to travel Saturday, or even those who might have been put to substantial expense to change flight or travel plans to make the meeting. But there is no way more than a handful of the 174 absentees had excuses that valid.

And if your absence was occasioned by your dislike of Joe Reed, and you expressed that dislike by sitting at home, I am even more upset. If our Party is worth supporting, it is worth fighting to put it back on a winning trajectory. Other than myself, and Dr. Reed, very few of the people present on Saturday have personal memories of the fight for control of the SDEC in 1974. Ironically, the “bad guy” in that fight was Governor George Wallace, the father-in-law of Judge Kennedy. Wallace sought to detach the Alabama Democratic Party from the national Party, and perhaps capture the Democratic presidential line on the ballot instead of the national nominee in the 1976 presidential election, as he had done in
1968. He was opposed in that effort by Judge Robert S. Vance, Sr., father of our 2012 Chief Justice nominee and the then-incumbent Chair, and his “loyalist” (as in “loyal” to the national Party) caucus. As a young lawyer, Vance was active on the right side of the early civil rights movement. His tenure as Chair saw the Party doing the right things in terms of minority representation on the SDEC, and holding a monopoly on statewide elected offices. In short, he was the best Chair the SDEC has ever had. (Coincidentally, the 1974 fight was one of those many instances where Reed and I were in agreement.)

Judge Vance, Sr., did not win that fight against Wallace in 1974 by sitting home on his backside, or by idly deprecating Wallace over beers at the lake. He did it by recruiting loyalist candidates for the SDEC in the 1974 primary, and organizing and turning them out for the organizational meeting at Birmingham’s unlamented late Parliament House Hotel like a well-oiled machine. To those who say “there’s no point in fighting Reed, so I’m not driving to Montgomery to try,” I point you to Judge Vance’s example. Reed had almost all of his troops present Saturday, and still only produced 90-95 votes on the typical issue. There is every chance that he can be outvoted if 200 or more members (including the Reed group) grace us with their presence, and engage in the slightest degree of organization and planning. Futility is no more valid an excuse for your absence than one of a dozen soccer games in your child’s season.

Has Joe Reed, like a certain British monarch, tragically stayed too long in his post, to the detriment of the realm? That is a topic far beyond the scope of this blog post. I will tell both sides of that fight, that we cannot beat the Republicans without the votes Joe Reed and his supporters represent. Neither can we beat them if we cannot reach beyond those voters. What I can say here, is that if antipathy - or even just apathy - have reached the stage where only 38% of the SDEC can be bothered to attend a critical meeting, we are in trouble. If that does not change, the Democratic Party in Alabama will soon be no more relevant than it is in Wyoming or Utah. The Bylaws of the SDEC (warning: Saturday’s amendments are not yet reflected in this link) make provision for removal of those who skip three successive meetings without excuse. It
is my hope that we do not have to enforce that rule to save the Party. I leave those who were on the golf course or lakefront Saturday to consider these thoughts. For me and mine, we will continue to remember the words of our 2000 standard bearer, which I echoed with the crowd in Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Election Night 2000, and “stay and fight.”


On a sadder note, I would be remiss if I did not note one SDEC member who was absent Saturday, as she passed away in a Tuscaloosa hospital that day. Barbara Bobo served for decades on the SDEC, served several terms as Mayor of Millport, and was perhaps best known as the unbashful and opinionated publisher of The West Alabama Gazette. Her frequent appearances as a panelist on Alabama Public Television’s For the Record were never pleasant for Republican guests, and never to be missed.  Requiescat in pace, serva bona et fidelem.


  1. Beautifully written, full of vital calls to action, and a succinct summary of what the situation is at present. I could automatically tell that you were leading up to King Lear... Love the new amendment under consideration, it's a gem ("miss 3.....")

    1. It is not a new amendment. It has been in the Bylaws for years, without being enforced. My guess is, we would have over 50 vacancies if it were applied to just the last three meetings. And I am tshikave as to who might be our Albany.

    2. Click on the link to the Bylaws, and look at the part of Art. III, § 1(c) at the top of page 6, for the meeting attendance rule.

    3. I totally agree with your thrust about organizing and attending meetings, but for our county, we had 3 members and 3 to be nominated for vacancies who ALL had prior engagements, like a vacation in Hawaii, visiting in NY/NJ with children and grandchildren, a family wedding out of state, an art show already committed to out of state...the only person who could go DID go....we organize our county and we attend meetings when we can....but the SDEC leadership is horrible about scheduling haphazardly and at the last minute....which I'm sure they don't worry about since it benefits their continued control. I also believe that things change on a generational timetable to a great degree...and the current situation may be dying off slowly over time.

    4. Anonymous, I generally agree with what you say. A vacationer in Hawaii (with the exception of an exceptionally affluent traveler) would come within the scope of my observation of “those who might have been put to substantial expense to change flight or travel plans to make the meeting.” But if that member were, say, at Destin, it isn’t that difficult to drive home a day early, and some members’ “excuses” of which I have personal knowledge were more on that order. Weddings? My personal bent would have been to skip a cousin’s wedding at which I was just another guest, but to stick with one in which I was close enough to the couple to be a groomsman. I have no interest in calling out specific members, but I know of some who have offered “excuses” of the pedestrian variety I mentioned in the post. It seems your county was jinxed with good excuses, but it’s implausible to believe that more than a couple of dozen of the 174 absent had “excuses” that valid.

      As to visiting children and grandchildren in New York and New Jersey, I can only offer condolences based on a ditty I learned in another rarefied Northeastern state:

      High above Cayuga’s waters,
      There’s an awful smell.
      Some say it’s Cayuga’s waters,
      Others say, “Cornell.”

  2. "Most of the debt stemmed from elections before Kennedy’s tenure and from former Gov. Don Siegelman’s failed drive for a state lottery in 1999."

    Thanks for this nugget of information, I'm going to have to start reading The Montgomery Advertiser.

  3. A brief apology to those who read the post last night, and found the links broken. Blogspot’s composition matrix does a horrible job of inserting hyperlinks, and I had to go in early this morning and manually repair the HTML. All links should now be functional.

  4. Have you considered maybe the members of the SDEC Executive Committee who didn't show up have defected to the Alabama Democratic Majority,and if so, does that mean they have vacated their seat on the SDEC Executive Committee, or can they be members of both?

    1. Many of the absent Saturday were persons who have expressed their support for the ADM. Judge Kennedy has repeatedly stated that the ADM is intended to support, not supplant, the Party structure. There is nothing in the Bylaws that would disqualify an SDEC member from serving because of membership in any Democratic organization.

  5. I know that is what Mark Kennedy said but.....