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Aftermath of Alabama Politics in 2022

Another sad Alabama election.

Alabama Democrats

The new chair that came in after Doug Jones seemed to be ready to make some moves, but the slate of candidates for the primary was impressively weak. In most of the country, both parties find candidates for most races, even when they won’t win. Was this mere incompetence by the reformers?

Perhaps not. I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems plausible enough to think that the former leaders of the state Democratic party shooed candidates away from running this year, as part of their efforts to retake control. This is all guesswork, without any reporting on the inner workings of the party, but from the few public spats, the people who now hold the chair—the old guard—want to hold the chair even at the expense of the party. They know enough about how to do that, and don’t have any particular plans or ambitions for doing anything more than maintaining the limited power base.

It fits the pattern. On election-eve the current chair (Randy Kelley) issued a party memo saying people shouldn’t give credence to the Vice Chair (Tabitha Isner) for what amounts to her trying to help the candidates limp along when the main party has done no public work in 2022, none since their election in August. It fits the pattern of how fiercely they fought the bylaw changes under the reformers, including their lawsuit against the state party for daring to want to modernize.

And perhaps, too, the desire to keep the party weak, ineffective enough that there won’t be any major contention for leadership, is a sign of the old guard’s designs. The old guard likes their sliver of the state and their power over that sliver, and it won’t change, and it won’t grow.

But it’s probably not true. Incompetence, the difficulty of the sell to run a losing race, these are more likely culprits, even if the politics we learn from movies and books points to more active forces. It’s from that same dark narrative that one might conjure ideas that state Republicans secretly work with pawns among Democrats to keep the party on its knees.

Still, I find myself wanting to understand how there was zero capitalizing on Jones’ win to build a bigger state party, and as I’ve said, there’s no state media that seems to report on this in a way that really explains what the factions are and what they are (and aren’t) capable of.

The Alabama Libertarian Blitz.

The second piece of this autopsy is the Libertarians. They failed to get 20% on any statewide race, so they are back to square one for ballot access. The closest they came, per the Secretary of State website (Alabama Secretary of State: Alabama Votes: 2022 General Election, unofficial results) was 15.6% for Ruth Page–Nelson in the lieutenant-gubernatorial race.

This piece overlaps the first piece. There were enough people who voted for Democrats that they could have put the Libertarians over the threshold in at least one race. Enough of those voters surely plugged the straight ticket bubble and skipped anything else except perhaps the amendments. The Democrats could have called on their voters to help make the mark, but did not. If the Libertarians maintained ballot access, and if they improved their operation, it would provide a contrast to the Democrats that might threaten the old guard.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of reason to be skeptical of Libertarians, particularly for Black voters who are the bulk of Democrats in Alabama. Libertarians promote themselves as strict constitutionalists, which isn’t something particularly palatable to those who know the Constitution’s history—enshrining slavery.

If the Libertarians did anything, it was to raise awareness among Alabama Democrats at how badly the state party is doing, when the Libertarians outnumbered them on many ballots.

Turnout of ≈39%?

The third piece is turnout. The media reports results as a percentage of ballots cast for a particular race. They don’t provide the companion to that, which is to compare that to the electorate. More people didn’t vote than did. Kay Ivey won reelection with about 26% of the registered voters of Alabama. The Democratic candidate, Yolanda Flowers, got another 11%. Add the Libertarian and write-ins, that’s another 1.5%. And all of those sum to 38.5%, which was the turnout number. Which means if Rabbi Jesus had run, and assuming everyone else showed up and voted for him, he would have won by 23 points.

One of the reasons turnout was so low was the weak slate from state Democrats, but it’s a testament to the sorry state of democracy in Alabama, especially for the fact that our reworked constitution, the Alabama Constitution of 2022, was therefore ratified by a measly 24% of the state’s electors (though 76.5% of votes cast on the ratification measure).

The State Constitution.

Which brings us to the constitution and the amendments. Everything passed. As expected.

The recompiled constitution, lacking the racist language of before, and having been reorganized, still saw 23.5% vote against it. The total votes lagged the governor’s race by at least 250 000 votes, so a lot of people who took up the pen and the ballot didn’t bother to mark it at all.

The statewide amendment with the largest number (and largest percentage) of votes against was Amendment 6, because it had the word tax in it. It basically cut a bit of red tape around a property tax used for public works, letting the revenue be used directly rather than requiring it to be used to pay debt. In theory this means some work can be done with minimal debt and less administrative baggage, lowering the cost. In practice, who the heck knows?

The Good News.

The election is over with. We can sleep in our beds tonight assured that no useful changes in leadership occurred. The Republicans will continue to try to pass and also to block gaming laws, including a lottery, even as millions of dollars flow into neighboring states for those purposes. The media (both state and national) will continue to treat Alabama politics as a permanency of one-party rule as it always was. Nobody will campaign on fixing our prison system, on bold new plans for public works or development.

And in 2026, the Republicans will have to run someone else for governor.

The Alabama Politics of 2022.

We get to vote on a new-ish constitution.

The Alabama Constitution of 1901 is long and decrepit, and it’s racist. But it’s about to get replaced by a brand new state constitution, the Alabama Constitution of 2022. (This will be its seventh state constitution.) The work of a committee to reorganize it, and to remove racist language, has been completed. It’s a rustbucket, but we got the racist bumper stickers scraped off. Time to vote to ratify it.

And then what? When will Alabama see real constitutional reform? It may be a long time.

Alabama’s Democratic party was springstepped only a few years back, upon the election of Doug Jones as the first Democratic senator of the state in a few decades—but really as the first modern Democratic senator ever. The old Democrats in the South were still of the ilk that floated their boats on the river of racism.

While the national parties mostly flipped in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, state-level politics took more time to reshuffle. The retiring senator, Richard Shelby, switched parties in 1994. But Republican control of the Alabama Legislature wasn’t completed until 2010.

Following Jones’ election, the Alabama Democrats had a shake-up of their party organization, resulting in a new chair and new blood. But Jones got beat in 2020 by a failed football coach. And as of 2022, two things happened. First, the party failed to recruit a full slate of candidates, and even among the nominees there are some rather weak spots. Second, the party has been reshuffled and now it looks about like it did in the pre-Jones era.

Its website, its social media, and its emails all stopped after 13 August 2022, the date of its change in leadership. During an election year. While the newest leader may have ideas and plans, it would be nice to at least attempt to raise your party’s voice during an election season. Ask the Libertarians.

The Alabama Libertarians, who weren’t on the ballot, made a major effort to change that, gathering thousands of signatures (far more than the required 3% (≈50 000) of the total who voted in the previous gubernatorial election). This year they have more candidates than the Alabama Democrats do. Not that they’ll fair as well, and not that all those candidates have any real visibility. But some do. Will any win? Perhaps. But the prize the Libertarians seek is 20% on a statewide race, which would guarantee their access for the next cycle, no signatures required.

Thing is, the Alabama Republicans don’t have great visibility either. They have the equivalent of Twitter’s notorious blue check—the stamp of approval that largely guarantees success. They have the elephant-shaped xenomorph face-sucking them, Aliens-style.

Looking back, wondering what made the difference for Jones in 2017, I think it was the media. Sure, Roy Moore was a terrible candidate, and the uncovered allegations of his past were the fatal blow to his campaign, but the fact is that Alabama does not have a very strong Fourth Estate. It doesn’t have enough eyeballs to make its bugs shallow. Jones ran in a race that attracted national attention, mostly because the rest of the nation wasn’t holding an election at the time. That allowed bandwidth for national media to get interested in what normally would have been a completely ignored race.

The national politics and the national media don’t help. Alabama voters can point to all sorts of crackpot ideas to defend their provably dumb decision to continue electing Alabama Republicans, because that’s what the right-wing media in this country produces.

The state Democrats don’t have much of an organization because they don’t get the word out—but that’s only part of the story. The rest of the story is that the media is responsible for who gets elected. Campaigns run ads on media, but the background of politics, the lay of the field, that’s all determined by news media.

And so, my main advice to Democrats running for statewide office (or for Congress) in Alabama: find a way to become national news. You may not win, but that’s your best shot.

To close things up here, some lengthy thoughts how I’ll be voting on Tuesday. You should decide how you want to vote. That’s the system, but this is how I came out when looking over things.

In the governor’s race, I’ll be writing in someone, probably Doug Jones. It’s a three-way race between incumbent-slash-Republican Kay Ivey, Libertarian Jimmy Blake, and Democrat Yolanda Flowers. For various reasons none are my choice. Ivey knows how to govern, but chooses to do it poorly to meet the low expectations of state Republicans. Blake is too much of a stereotypical Libertarian for my tastes. Flowers is a weak candidate who only won the nomination because the field was weaker and some intra-party politics I can’t claim to understand that saw her runoff opponent (whom I voted for) disfavored. There is an official write-in guy, who I might write-in instead of Jones, but either way I’m effectively sitting that race out.

For Lieutenant Governor, I’ll be voting for the Libertarian, Ruth Page-Nelson. There’s no Democrat in that race, and so that gives Libertarians a good shot to get 20% of the vote, to stay on the ballot for at least 2024. Page-Nelson seems to be one of the rare Libertarians who believes in doing something about climate change, so it’s not much of a stretch for me to vote for her.

For Senator, I’ll pick Will Boyd, the Democrat. While he doesn’t have great chances—the business community wants a money spigot to replace the current money spigot, Richard Shelby, and they’ve found it in his acolyte, Katie Britt—Boyd would do a good job if he were to win.

In the race for Attorney General, the Democrat, Wendell Major, is my choice. As with the senatorial race, he might not win, but he’d do a decent job—better than the incumbent Steve Marshall who is running for reelection—if he did.

Secretary of State, a race that actually had a candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Alabama (YouTube: League of Women Voters of Alabama: 11 October 2022: “Alabama Secretary of State General Election Candidate Forum”), but the Republican candidate, Wes Allen, had a lame non-excuse and didn’t participate. The Libertarian candidate, Matt Shelby, appears to lean toward the saner side of things, but I’ll be voting for Pamela Laffitte, the Democratic candidate. Given the history of voter suppression in Alabama (originally under Democrats, but Republicans adopted the same once they took over), and the support for better voting access that Laffitte espouses, I think she’s the best choice. Either of them would be better than Allen, who, as mentioned, doesn’t respect voters enough to participate in the rare candidate forum.

The forum was helpful in one other way. Democratic candidate Pamela Laffitte mentioned she believed you could vote straight-ticket and then deviate to your choosing (e.g., if your preferred party lacked a candidate in some race, you could vote in that race despite marking straight-ticket), but wanted to verify. While the League didn’t affirm that at the forum, the League of Women Voters of Alabama has a PDF on their website ( League of Women Voters of East Alabama: PDF: “How will you vote?”) that confirms you can do so. While I don’t have any plans to ever vote straight-ticket, it’s useful to know how that works. (For those who are curious, the Libertarian candidate, Matt Shelby, said he’s in favor of scrapping straight-ticket, while Ms. Laffitte said she’s in favor of keeping it as it may make voting easier for some people.)

As for the amendments, none would make things markedly better. I’ll vote against Amendment 3, which would require the governor to give notice to the attorney general and victim relatives for commuting a death sentence, as I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll vote against Amendment 4, which would restrict the legislature’s ability to modify election law within six months of an election, as I don’t think it’s necessary.

Amendment 1, also known as Aniah’s Law, for a woman who was murdered by a person out on bail, would not allow bail for those charged with particularly harsh crimes. I’ll vote against it. Anyone familiar with the history of the US Constitution knows how the Bill of Rights places a particular emphasis on protecting our rights against overzealous law enforcement. The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments all serve that purpose. That’s half of the ten.

While public safety is paramount, that does not mean giving in to a base impulse to seek it in harsh and unruly ways that in fact undermine safety, and the fact that there’s been too little media coverage, no presentation of statistics to justify the change, means I must err in favor of protecting the rights of accused persons to due process by voting against it.

From what I’ve found in researching the change, the existing bail system already allows for judges to set heavy release conditions, including their ability to exceed the bail schedule (see Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rules 7.2–3). To move from the constitutional protections to outright denials without a more exhaustive finding of necessity is not warranted at this time.

Please do vote on Tuesday if you haven’t already.

Dark Days in Alabama

“… l’obligation est voide, eo que le condition est encountre common ley…” —Judge Hull, 1414.

9 August 2023.

Montgomery, Alabama.

Overnight, the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, were filled with beams from flashlights. They were not for a vigil, but to see by. The small electronic devices were passed out by a special mission from the United Nations as Alabama entered its second week with minimal electricity—in the words of the state supreme court’s judgment, only what’s “necessary for the protection of human life” if it’s generated by polluting methods.

While Alabama continues begging to its grid partners for as much clean energy as can be had—a tough ask as most of it is already dedicated to reducing other states’ carbon emissions—most of the state’s generation capacity remains mothballed. And to the extent the state can buy more clean juice, unless and until it can get enough to power essentials it simply displaces the fossil fuels. Dirty power is allowed only to power some traffic lights, the state’s water works, and fire stations. Hospitals get juice, but only to care for those on life support or needing stabilization.

The legislature is among the exceptions. Immediately following the ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court, Governor Ivey had called a special session to draft and propose a repeal or replacement for Alabama Amendment 930, the heart of the confusion and the chaos in this state of five million people. Given the dysfunction the state is experiencing, it took until this morning to gather a quorum in both chambers, following the arrival of several lawmakers who had been away on extended vacations. They landed at Dannelly Field on a special flight arranged and piloted by the Alabama Air National Guard.

The UN’s humanitarian mission has included setting up special solar-powered cooling tents, which have become a literal lifesaver in this southern state known for its hot summers. The lack of air conditioning has made many indoor structures unsafe during the hottest hours of the day, with some cities declaring don’t-stay-home orders requiring everyone to find their way to one of more than 2000 cooling sites throughout the state. Outside of the major enclosed stadiums and arenas, which have capacities from several thousand to ten thousands, the UN tents have a maximum capacity of 500 persons. Regular shade tents are erected in the vicinity so that citizens can rotate in and out of the cooled tents. School gymnasiums and megachurches are also part of the mix of cooled spaces available.

With refrigeration limited, food preparation sites have been put up in parking lots of many major grocers, allowing people to cook hot meals away from home. Despite this, there are massive food shortages and the relief efforts includes distributing no-cook or pre-cooked foods to accommodate the state’s residents. The one saving grace is that water service continues uninterrupted, meaning taps still work, though hot water is unavailable as most buildings use methane heaters.

Those with illnesses requiring medication to be refrigerated, including insulin for diabetics, have been forced to make trips to nearby pharmacies or hospitals to receive their doses, which is a major hardship given the lack of transportation options. As a result, as many infirm as possible have been evacuated to nearby states.

The ruling by District Judge Nima Shelley in Mobile had come two months ago in the next-friend class-action suit by expecting persons in the state, for the protection of their health and welfare. Judge Shelley had stayed her ruling pending appeals, but the state attorney general has repeatedly mocked the decision, and the state solicitor general gave only a perfunctory rebuttal at argument once the case reached the high court three weeks ago. Following a week of deliberations, the seven-member majority laid down the law: the district court ruling stands, and all contracts that threaten the unborn in Alabama are, “avoided, inoperable, and illegal.”

Contract is the basic means of commerce throughout the world, including ordinary exchanges of goods for money. It requires two or more persons to agree on an exchange that offers some cost and benefit to each party, and has been the cornerstone of society for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Under normal circumstances, they could rely on the state to enforce contracts. While commerce could continue on a voluntary basis, most corporations, including suppliers, are unwilling to proceed on that basis, that they might deliver either payment or goods and rely on good will to see the other party keep up their end.

The result has meant curtailing all nonessential activities and commerce within the state that cause pollution capable of causing harm, defect, or death of unborn life. The scientific term, toxic abortion, refers to the ability of pollutants to cross the placental barrier and damage fetal tissue, disrupting the delicate balance involved in growing the womb’s fruit, in addition weakening a pregnant person already under the strain of supporting an incipient life (or lives, in cases of multiple pregnancy). Responsible for both spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and stillbirths, estimates put the figures nationally between 40 000 and 200 000 per year, though the exact figures would be impossible to calculate. Now, the courts have said, the state constitution demands protection.

That’s because of the specific language used in the amendment, which passed by plebiscite in 2018, made it the explicit public policy of the State of Alabama to prioritize unborn life. “Although the Alabama Constitution has a provision barring the impairment of contracts, the language of Amendment 930 was clear, and its later adoption gives it priority,” the seven-member majority wrote. Had it been a mere statute, it would have been unable to reach to avoid contracts. But, “[U]nless amended, nobody in this state may enter into any contract for goods or services that threaten the unborn. Due to the widespread disruption this conclusion requires, we further hold that there are limited exceptions. Services and commerce that is essential for protection of life is excluded. And thankfully, beyond our law’s reach are all federal facilities and federal operations.”

That last exception refers to the long-standing conceit of law that federal activity is protected from violation of state laws under cases arising from the Neagle rule, established in 1890. Though not insulating federal employees from lawsuit, the state amendment establishes rights not affirmed by the US Supreme Court, and so while at work federal employees are blameless and, for now, federal activity is protected.

The state legislature expects its main duties to be finished by the end of the day, though some of the state’s pundits have speculated they will find good reason to remain in session all the same. Spouses, family members, and major donors have all been seen entering the legislative offices carrying changes of clothes and bottles of soap as they seek the creature comfort of a shower. The sounds of hair dryers and electric razors echo through the halls.

The legislature must also pass a law allowing the governor to issue a writ of election to call for the statewide special election specifically to ratify an amendment. The bill is expected to make allowances for the election to be conducted without much, if any, electricity. The exact date of that election remains up in the air, due to the unusual circumstances. Turnaround time would normally be a few weeks, minimum, and time would be allotted for campaigning, but there’s both no time to lose and the problems of pulling together the materials without normal transportation or electricity needs.

The case, Alabama v. the Unborn Child of Moggs, was only the latest trouble caused by Amendment 930. There have been more than one hundred cases of convicted persons freed on deferred sentences after lawyers sued for the false imprisonment of their unborn children. They will be required to serve their time only after giving birth.

That loophole had led to a criminal gang of pregnant persons, known as the “Mother’s Mafia,” forming. They robbed convenience stores and other small businesses, causing mayhem. They duct-taped pregnancy tests to their chests to warn off any law enforcement officer who might attempt to arrest them.

At their peak, they numbered in the dozens (more if one counts their fetuses as accomplices, something the district attorneys avoided and the attorney general advised against). They were eventually brought to something approaching justice by the “Preggers Posse,” a vigilante group of pregnant women. Following the high-profile apprehension, they imprisoned the Mother’s Mafia in a vacant strip mall in Hysteria, Alabama, where the Pregnant Posse acts as jailers, providing prenatal care until each has their delivery day, at which point the group says they will be handed over to law enforcement.

Asked what he thought about Amendment 930, Posse leader and transgender rights activist Marki Malone said, “It’s deranged. I’m glad to be having this child, but you can’t put unborn life ahead of those who are already here. I’m as against pollution as anyone, but we have to build clean energy. Shutting down the dirty stuff doesn’t make that happen any faster.”

Outside of the state, energy economists have questioned that logic. They say that if the ruling stands and Alabama can’t change the law, they estimate a nine-month effort could bring the state to 80 percent generation capacity, provided the federal funds come through. It would prove a remarkable turnaround for a state that as recently as 2022 was generating about 56% of its electricity using methane and coal.

Ground transportation would take longer to replace, and even electric vehicles cause some PM2.5 emissions through road wear and other mechanical emissions like brake dust. At what point is the air and other toxic risks to fetuses deemed safe enough to satisfy Amendment 930? It seems unlikely Alabama will find out, as the legislature and voters seek to replace it with something less burdensome and return to modern life.

At the latest press conference this morning, the Alabama House majority leader said he expected as many as six proposed amendments to pass. “We don’t want to leave this thing to chance. We need to make sure the voters pass at least one of these, so that our state is not held hostage by the courts.” The amendment language was being carefully considered, both to guard against further lawsuits and to work constructively if more than one were to pass.

The main option discussed was outright repeal, followed by a softened version of 930 that would make it non-policy. Another option would declare there to be no right in Alabama to avoid environmental toxins, even for the unborn. A few would require special steps by pregnant persons. Those included requiring them to wear HEPA filters, or even requiring them to spend their maternity outside the borders of the state. But legal critics say these lesser options, which would leave 930 in operation, would be like resetting the clock on a timebomb rather than disarming it. And environmental scientists point out that HEPA filters do not remove certain pollutants—mainly gasses.

Fetal health is impacted by air pollution in two ways. Air pollution may be directly passed to the fetus by the pregnant person, causing harm. But air pollution can also harm the pregnant person’s health, which makes them a weaker host for the fetus to grow inside of. Air pollutants include particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Nitrogen oxides (NOx), and Sulfur oxides (SOx). Fetal harms include low birth weight, birth defect, spontaneous (toxic) abortion (miscarriage), and stillbirth. Survivors may suffer persistent and chronic health problems throughout their lives.

Sources of manmade air pollution include carbon electricity generation, other industrial combustion, vehicles’ combustion engines (including trains, watercraft, and aircraft), and forest fires.

This article was originally written on ink and paper, without the use of artificial energy sources, and it was transmitted for publication via a solar-powered satellite phone, avoiding any use of polluting energy.