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 (LWVAL.org: 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.