Insight into the always fascinating world of Alabama elections...

Alabama Elections Directory 2006

Got a Tip?(Anonymity Guaranteed) Complaints, Compliments, Corrections? Interested in Guest Blogging? E-mail me.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Riley lets Hunt Twist in the Wind

photo from the Cullman Times

Former Governor and Republican trail-blazer Guy Hunt is having a tough time making his financial ends meet. He has recently been widowed (and subsequently remarried) and is caring for his disabled daughter. Hunt's only pension ($6,750) comes from his 12 year stint as Cullman County probate judge. Alabama offers no retirement plan for its governors.

In an attempt to ease Hunt's dire financial straits members of the state legislature appropriated $18,000 a year for Hunt (in a nominal role as a "councilor"). However the legislature gave Gov. Riley the discretion to approve or disapprove the appropriation. And to this point, Riley has given no indication as to whether he will approve Hunt's new role.

The legislature approved the Hunt appropriation several months ago, yet Riley is still keeping Hunt guessing as the budget goes into effect on Saturday. Guy Hunt's political heyday was before my time, and thought I am sympathetic to his money woes, I am not sure it's a good practice for the state to bail out every politician who's hit hard times.

But it does seem unnecessarily cruel for Riley to string Hunt along for months. Either tell Hunt it's not a good idea or cut him a check. And then let's move on to the issues that affect the rest of us.

Flashback Friday - Remembering Michael Figures

As a second installment in our semi-regular "Flashback Friday" features, I will remember the late Michael Figures.

Michael Figures was the most successful black politician of his generation. A successfull attorney in Mobile, Figures beat a white incumbent state senator in 1978. He was re-elected four times and rose to become the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate in 1994.

A close ally of Don Siegelman, Figures was preparing to run for Lieutenant Governor before a brain aneurysm led to his untimely death in September 1996. He almost certainly would have been the Democratic nominee and had a strong chance at becoming the highest profile black elected official in Alabama history.

Figures' wife, Vivian Davis Figures, has taken his place in the State Senate and carries on his legacy.

Though his life was cut short and his potential never fully realized, Michael Figures' dream of a unified, progressive Alabama endures.

(See the first "Flashback Friday" piece -- Remembering Red Blount)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hank Erwin Casts the First Stone

By now most of you have probably already heard about State Senator Hank Erwin's (R-Montevallo) comments blaming Hurricane Katrina on "gambling, sin, and wickedness". Erwin says that Katrina and other storms are simply "judgment from God".

In fact the article from the Birmingham News is full of Erwin's insight....

"Warnings year after year by godly evangelists and preachers went unheeded. So why were we surprised when finally the hand of judgment fell?"

"New Orleans has always been know for sin. ... The wages of sin is death."

Erwin said hurricanes are part of a pattern that was also in evidence in the Sept. 11 attacks. The increase in abortion, pornography and prostitution have caused God to remove an umbrella of protection from America, he said.

"We all need to embrace godliness and church-going and good, godly living, and we can get divine protection for that point.

I'll let Erwin's theologizing speak for itself, but I will spend a moment on the potential political fallout from his comments. Erwin's district consists of various GOP strongholds in Bibb, Chilton, Jefferson, and Shelby counties. He is in no danger of a Democrat using this against him in the general election.

However, Erwin's district is filled with ambitious GOP politicians who could possibly take advantage of Erwin's self-inflicted damage. Erwin is still in his first term after winning the 2002 GOP runoff with a mere 53-47 majority. So Erwin's support was neither long-standing nor unanimous even prior to his remarks. Former St. Reps. Don Murphy and Steve Flowers opposed Erwin in 2002 and either could pose a threat to Erwin's re-election.

On a larger scale though, I'd like to see the Alabama media press higher profile Republicans on Erwin's remarks. Roy Moore, for one, might have an interesting take on the matter. And Bob Riley, who has seen much of the damage first hand, might take issue with Erwin's comments.

If you have your own thoughts on Erwin's comments I am sure he'd want you to email him.

GOP Activity for Auditor

Three credible GOP candidates have now emerged to run for the office of State Auditor being vacated by Beth Chapman in 2006. Chapman has her sights set on a face-off with Secretary of State Nancy Worley. In fact it has been 20 years since a State Auditor has successfully run for re-election. Jan Cook was re-elected to a second term as Auditor in 1986, but since then every four years has seen a different occupant in the Auditor's office. Chapman, like her predecessor Susan Parker, probably could have won re-election but also like Parker, Chapman is ready to move on to greener pastures.

The GOP field to replace Chapman is already getting crowded. Here is a brief sketch of the GOP candidates:

Chess Bedsole: President of B'ham data management firm; fmr. aide to US Sen Jesse Helms
Samantha Shaw: Accountant; Chair of Montgomery GOP, wife of Appeals Judge Greg Shaw
Tripp Skipper: Congressional Aide to US Rep Mike Rogers

State Rep. Cam Ward has been rumored to be interested in seeking the post as well. Ward would probably become the frontrunner were he to declare. If the field stays as is, then Shaw seems to start from the strongest position. Her Montgomery base and association with her husband give her a leg up on the competition. Additionally, voters seem predisposed to elect female candidates for many of the down-ballot races.

The only Democratic candidate I've seen mentioned is Birmingham attorney Martin Weinberg. I don't know much about Weinberg, but I'd be very surprised if he was ultimately the Democratic nominee. The Democrats should have a 50/50 chance at this open seat, but to date the GOP has been much more active in preparing to keep it than the Democrats have been in planning to take it.

Also, I've updated the AlabamaElections Directory 2006 to reflect these developments.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

AlabamaElections Directory Update!

The AlabamaElections Directory 2006 is now completely up and running. I finished the framework for the State House races last night. If you have a moment, check out the directory paying close attention to your local races. If there are candidates running (or not running) that I do not have listed, please drop me a line or make a comment and let me know. Hopefully, the directory will become the best place for a comprehensive view of Alabama state and local elections. Thanks!

Folsom Decisison Blues

It seems clear that Jim Folsom wants to be Lieutenant Governor. What is less clear is whether or not he is willing to run for it.

By publicly floating his name for the #2 spot, Folsom has successfully scared off other big name Democrats. At different times over the past several months ambitious Democrats like Zeb Little, Ron Sparks, and Ken Guin considered making the LG race. While Folsom has a more impressive resume' than any of the above candidates and would start off with near universal name recognition, a candidate like Little or Sparks could very well have run a strong race had the party coalesced around one of them early in the cycle.

Folsom's plans seem to have been complicated by George Wallace, Jr.'s entrance in the race. This will be Wallace's first high profile race as a Republican, though he lost races for both Congress (1992) and Lieutenant Governor (1994) as a Democrat. Wallace's political makeover as a populist GOPer on the PSC combined with his powerful political name have driven many of his fellow Republicans out of the LG race. Both Perry Hooper,Jr. and Jim Bennett turned their focus on Wallace's open PSC seat after eyeing the LG post. And poor Terry Butts announced his political retirement instead of facing off against Wallace.

It still remains to be seen though whether Wallace has intimidated Jim Folsom as successfully as his erstwhile GOP foes. Folsom came very close to running for LG in 1998, only to recuse himself at the filing deadline. If Folsom leaves the Democrats at the altar again, I'd expect a credible, but underdog candidate like Susan Parker to take his place.

Indeed if Jim Folsom reneges on the Democratic Party after muscling out the party's up and comers, the party would be advised to ignore his Hamlet act next time around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Today A&I, Tomorrow the World!

Commissioner of Agriculture and Industry Ron Sparks (D) officially announced his re-election campaign yesterday. The A&I post is not as high profile as many elected positions, but the ambitious Sparks seems content to wait for 2010 to make his move for higher office.

Sparks has been an active A&I Commissioner and starts off as the heavy favorite in his re-election race. The only active Republican running against Sparks at this point is Danny Joyner of Brewton. Joyner is a former police officer and is a CEO of his own security firm. Though Joyner has run and lost three times for state legislature, Sparks should not take Joyner lightly. A down ballot office like A&I can be swept away if a tide develops at the top of the ticket. If Alabama somehow sees Roy Moore or Bob Riley win big in the gubernatorial race, then Sparks may find himself in jeopardy.

More likely however, Sparks can cruise to a relatively easy win. Though he shouldn't look past the 2006 elections, Ron Sparks looks to be one of the Democrats' new wave of fresh faces.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

It looks like we are finally in sight of the true kickoff to the primary election season.

The Democratic field finally gelled with Don Siegelman's long anticipated admission that he will join LG Lucy Baxley in the Democratic primary for governor.

The Republican field has been much slower to form. Though both Bob Riley and Roy Moore are expected to run in the GOP primary, neither has officially declared as of yet. Even potential longshot Harri Anne Smith has been coy about her plans after recently floating a bid.

However, the air of uncertainty surrounding the Republican gubernatorial primary should receive a couple of jolts of clarity over the next couple of weeks.

Roy Moore has an announcement in Gadsden on Oct. 3 and Bob Riley is expected to announce his plans at a birthday party in Birmingham on Oct. 8. Both of these announcements have the feel of a campaign kick-off and supporters of each candidate are expecting their man to make the race.

Riley was thought to be ready to kick off his campaign at a Labor Day party, but that event was cancelled as Riley dealt with the preparation and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So in rescheduling his announcement, Riley could have chosen to preempt Moore by announcing prior to Moore's Oct. 3 rally. Instead Riley has decided to let Moore have that week all to himself and to announce his re-election the following week.

The governor's race has been pretty dull thus far on the Republican side, but in less than one week, the chips will begin to fall and Alabama could see it's most raucous primary season in a generation.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Alabama Election Directory Now Online!

Today, AlabamaElections is now online with the web's only Alabama-specific elections directory.

That is, I have created a directory that will contain every statewide and legislative race that will take place in Alabama in 2006. The directory's accuracy will be maintained throughout the 2006 cycle to the best of my ability. I want to make the directory as comprehensive as possible, including candidates of all parties as well as any campaign websites.

The directory is a work in progress and I am still playing with the format, trying to add as much information as possible while still making it user-friendly. Please give me some feedback either through the comment function or through email and let me know how I can improve the format of the directory.

For now I have made available the constitutional offices page (Gov. Lt. Gov, AG, etc), a separate page for statewide judicial elections, and the State Senate page. I am still working on the State House page, but expect it to be up in the next few days.

Since the directory will include more than 150 races, I will need reader input in keeping it updated. State legislative races and even appellate court races often fly under the radar and it is nearly impossible for one person to stay abreast of all the political machinations in every race.

I will add a permanent link to the site that keeps the directory front and center.

So please check out the AlabamaElections Directory and don't forget to email me with any information on candidates (potential or official), or campaign websites that I have not yet listed.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Two Faces of Harri Anne

Smith Then Smith Now

I haven't heard anything about State Sen. Harri Anne Smith's (R-Slocomb) potential gubernatorial bid since she first floated the idea about a month ago. But if you insist on reading tea leaves before she publicly decides, I might have discovered a clue.

Not only has Smith's state senate website given her a newer, more comprehensive biography, but they've added a brand new photo as well. As someone who looks at the state legislature's website much more than a normal person should, I can tell you it is very rare indeed that a web page (much less a photo) is updated. See State Rep. Arthur Payne circa 1983 for further confirmation.

I don't know if Harri Anne Smith will run for governor or not, but judging by her newly revamped web site I think all signs point to yes.

(Oh and I already know I need to get a life.)

Chief Justice: Nabers Declares, while Parker Looms

Yesterday, we revealed Sue Bell Cobb's website launch even before she is officially in the Chief Justice race. However, the man who holds the office Cobb is eyeing did make an official announcement yesterday. Drayton Nabers, who was appointed as Chief Justice after the ouster of Roy Moore, announced his campaign for a full term in front of supporters on Thursday.

For her part, Cobb said she will announce her plans in the "very near future".

However, before Nabers can worry too much about a November matchup with Cobb he must first win the Republican primary. That looks to be none too easy of a task.

Since his election as an Associate Justice in 2004, Tom Parker has been widely expected to seek the seat formerly held by his political mentor Roy Moore. If Parker's reaction to Nabers' announcement is any indication of his plans, then the Republican primary for Chief Justice will be just as intense as the Riley/Moore race brewing at the top of the ticket.

Parker did not mince words about his thoughts on Nabers:

"Drayton Nabers is a nice man, but his race for chief justice risks losing the seat to a liberal Democrat. Because Drayton was the architect of the highest tax increase in Alabama history - Amendment One - and did not support the Ten Commandments monument or Chief Justice Roy Moore, he is just not electable in Alabama," Parker's statement said.
Such rhetoric will probably not be confined to the Chief Justice race. Parker's criticism of Nabers' as a tax-hiking, Commandment robbing bureaucrat is probably foreshadowing of what we can expect to see up and and down the Republican primary ballot as the Moore brigades and Riley forces clash.

Nabers has never run for office before, but there seems to be no shortage of business interests looking to help him out. Parker, on the other hand, has had the support of some of the trial lawyer lobby in the past. Since Parker won a high profile GOP primary and bested a milquetoast Democrat in 2004, he should start out with much higher name recognition and a more experience organization.

Nabers' will need a decisive money advantage as well as a lot of help from the top of the ticket to continue as Alabama's Chief Justice. Perhaps even more than the higher profile gubernatorial primary, a Nabers/Parker race will shape the future of the Alabama Republican Party.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Democrats' Websites Launch

It has been twelve long years since Democrats have held either the Attorney General's office or the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Speculation has abounded for months that the Democrats have had two heavyweights lined up to take these offices back from the GOP. The rumor mill has had Mobile County DA John Tyson, Jr. and appellate judge Sue Bell Cobb waiting in the wings to run for Attorney General and Chief Justice, respectively.

Yet, as of this date neither Tyson nor Cobb has officially announced a candidacy. However, with a little sleuthing and a tip from some of our loyal readers, we've discovered campaign sites for each of these candidates.

Both John Tyson, Jr. and Sue Bell Cobb are the best candidates Dems could have gunning for each race. The Democrats still have to find a candidate for state auditor and treasurer and also have several judicial slots to fill. But with the candidacies of Tyson and Cobb now looking certain, the Democrats are well on their way to having their strongest ticket in a long time.

Legislature Bickers over Charity

In its perpetual quest to become the most dysfunctional legislative body on the planet, the Alabama state legislature has found a way to argue over Hurricane Katrina relief money.

State Senator Gerald Dial (D - Lineville) and a group largely consisting of his merry band of renegade Senate Democrats (Dialocrats?) have developed a plan to raise over $3 million for hurricane relief. Dial & Co. have donated $1,000 each to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and are challenging each state legislator in the country to do the same.

However, before Dial has even been able to lick the stamps on his letters to out-of-state legislators, many of his colleagues on Goat Hill have disassociated themselves with the effort. The Montgomery Advertiser specifically cite Montgomery area legislators Rep. Alvin Holmes, Rep. Dick Brewbaker , Sen. Quinton Ross and Sen. Larry Dixon as being disinterested in the coordinated Dial effort.

These statements probably reflect most legislator's thoughts on the effort:

"I don't need anyone in the Senate or the House directing how I need to give to charity," Holmes said.

"(Dial) never contacted me. I think he got the members of his coalition (to give)," Dixon said.

This is small potatoes of course, as I am sure that most Alabama legislators have or will assist with the Katrina relief efforts. But if the Alabama legislature can't overcome its political and personal differences and work together on something as unifying and apolitical as hurricane disaster charity, then how can they ever address the more pressing and divisive issues Alabamians need (and pay) them to confront?

And if you are interested in donating to the Bush-Clinton relief fund click here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Blog Counter Added - Traffic Report

I have added a free counter at the bottom of the site to keep track of the traffic. I activated it on Monday night and within the first 36 hours or so, the site has had well over 200 hits with around 120 unique users.

This is more traffic than I had thought possible for a one man blog with the admittedly narrow scope of Alabama politics and elections. I appreciate all of you who visit and would encourage you to let friends and colleagues interested in Alabama politics to know about the site.

AlabamaElections has been up and running less than a month and to see the activity reaching its current levels is very gratifying. Thanks and keep reading!

Jeff Sessions: "Looking for a Corpse"?

Over the weekend an internet story at revealed Alabama senator Jeff Sessions' attempt to use the damage left from Hurricane Katrina to press for an end to the estate (i.e. death) tax. GOP leaders had shelved a vote on ending the estate tax in the wake of the hurricane. The Republican leadership didn't like the image of the Senate giving a big tax break to the most wealthy, while many in New Orleans and elsewhere went without necessities.

Sessions and some of his fellow GOP firebrands were frustrated with this decision and sought to find a Hurricane-afflicted face to put on their effort to permanently end the estate tax. The article has a direct quote from Sessions,
""[Arizona Sen.] Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with."
The article did not say if Sessions' obituary search was able to locate such an individual, but the odds were probably not in his favor. In 2003 only 410 Alabama estates were subject to the estate tax.

Sessions responded to the Time story in the Birmingham News. Sessions say his behavior was not exploitative, but instead pointed a finger at the estate tax repeal opponents. However, he did not back down from his point of view,
"If somebody had died during this storm ... and their business was substantially damaged and the revenue was lost, ... a counterargument would be, how can these business owners ever recover if they pay a 45 percent death tax?"
Sessions is and has always been a strident conservative. No one is taking issue with Sessions' policy positions, but rather the callous manner in which he is pursuing them.

At best Jeff Sessions was politically tone deaf and at worst he is an exploitative ideologue using the hurricane battered coast to benefit a small, wealthy elite. You make the call.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Riley Approval Skyrockets in Wake of Katrina

SurveyUSA, one of the country's premiere polling firms, has completed another 50 state survey gauging the popularity of each state's governor.

Bob Riley's latest numbers are 58% approval and 37% disapproval. These are solid numbers, but not spectacular in and among themselves. But the real story is that Riley has surged 21% since the last poll taken in mid-August. In fact Riley has seen his numbers increase more than any other governor during the same time period.

This movement has to be almost solely attributed to Hurricane Katrina and Riley's response to it. As we discussed here and here, Riley's handling of the hurricane gave him a chance to lift off (at least temporarily) some of the baggage that has been weighing down his numbers and demonstrate an ability to lead. Riley has certainly made the most of this opportunity.

It is impossible to know if this Riley resurgence is lasting or is simply a rallying reaction of a still shaken public. One thing is for sure though, Bob Riley is in much better political shape than he was a month ago.

The Worley Problem

In 1998 Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Nancy Worley almost pulled the surprise of the night, but barely lost to incumbent Republican Jim Bennett. In 2002 Worley was on the other end of a close race and finally succeeded in her quest to become the state's top election officer.

Fast forward to the present and Nancy Worley hasn't had too many reasons to smile since her 2002 election. The Secretary of State's office usually flies under the radar, but during Worley's tenure the office has been involved in one controversy after another. From the purchase of a Ford Expedition for official use, to her bickering with county registrars, to the recent Worley/Diebold debacle, the once sleepy office of the Secretary of State is now ground-zero for political squabbling.

I am not interested in trying to discern whether Worley is to blame for all of this, rather I am focused on the political consequences of her stormy tenure.

It is not just Republicans who have been critical of Worley, but prominent Democrats as well. State Rep. Leslie Vance (D) introduced a bill to strip her office of its control of registrars. State House Democratic Leader Ken Guin has said, "There is a problem in the secretary of state's office. They have the poorest people skills of any agency in the state,". Republican opposition is inevitable, but if Nancy Worley is alienating usually loyal Democrats then she is in deep political trouble.

State Auditor Beth Chapman (R) has clashed with Worley on several occasions and has already announced her candidacy for Secretary of State. Chapman won impressively in her first bid for public office in 2002, but her sometimes divisive rhetoric indicates that she probably will not ever be universally popular. However, Chapman's name recognition from her current stint in statewide office coupled with her enthusiastic Shelby county base make her a heavy favorite over Worley.

The time has come for Alabama Democrats to consider jettisoning Worley from the ticket. Lucy Baxley, Joe Turnham and other state Democrats should go to Worley and ask her to step aside for the good of the party. If Worley insists on running again, Democrats should strongly consider fielding a challenger.

The Alabama Democratic Party has no shortage of ambitious pols who should seriously look at this race. Zeb Little, Stephen Black, Ken Guin and a host of other state Dems would have the party credentials to justify a primary challenge, but also the political skill to win a general election. Perhaps Worley's friends at the AEA would squash a "dump Worley" effort, but the AEA has the most prodigious polling arm in the state and they probably see more clearly than anyone Worley's electoral problems. The AEA is nothing if not pragmatic and they could be the key to talking Worley out of a re-election run and in taking her on if she doesn't see the light.

I have no axe to grind against Worley. From what I understand she was an excellent classroom teacher and she showed excellent political skill in both her 1998 and 2002 campaigns. I am simply trying to assess the political situation regarding her potential re-election run. Ultimately, the Dems might be hard pressed to hold the Secretary of State's office, but they stand a much better chance with someone other than Nancy Worley on the ballot.

To see things from Worley's perspective check out her state site, and for everything anti-Worley check out WatchmanSouth's blog.

Monday, September 19, 2005

How I Know Don Siegelman Won't be Governor (Winner's Don't Want to Debate)

"I get a very warm feeling," said Siegelman, who telephoned THE [Decatur]DAILY. "I really have been humbled by people saying, 'Governor, we need you back. We want you to run. We need you to push that lottery again.' It's definitely brought me to the point I am saying I am going to be in the governor's race in 2006."

And with that, former governor Don Siegelman, for the first time, definitively signaled his plans to run for governor in 2006. Siegelman had been on a "listening tour" throughout the state while he decided on his political future. Don Siegelman has run for state office every four years beginning in 1978 and looks to keep the streak alive in 2006.

There are many reasons to question the political viability of Siegelman. First of all his potential primary opponent in LG Lucy Baxley looks very formidable at this early date and his potential general election opponents in Bob Riley and Roy Moore both have significant strengths of their own. And of course Siegelman is still operating with an ethical cloud overhead. While he successfully fought off charges from the US Attorney, the feds still seem to have it out for Don. And even if all of the allegations are resolved in Siegelman's favor, he will still be left with the stigma of corruption as he is trying to regain the trust of the electorate.

Though these reasons (and others) serve as significant challenges to a Siegelman comeback, it is possible to construct a scenario in which the former governor can regain his office. Or at least it was before Saturday.

You see not only did Siegelman officially declare for the race on Saturday, but he also challenged all major candidates (Baxley, Riley, and Moore) to a series of debates. As any avid political observer can tell you, any candidate who issues a debate challenge 13 months before the first vote is cast is in deep, deep trouble.

Certainly debates are a legitimate and necessary practice in a thriving democracy. But when a candidate's best tactic is to immediately challenge the other candidates to a debate, it is obvious that candidate desperately needs to change the dynamics of the race to have a shot at winning.

I know it sounds cynical, but the debate "challenge" is the tactic of last resort of the desperate candidate. I understand why Siegelman adopted this strategy, but it shows how truly far he has fallen since his reign as governor. Can you imagine Siegleman traveling around the state debating Charles Bishop in the 2002 Dem primary? Of course not. The fact that a politically astute former political heavyweight is willing to go from town to town debating anyone he can demonstrates the dire straits in which Siegelman has found himself.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The GOP's Rising Star?

While our focus was on the exciting (to us, at least) mayoral runoffs in Tuscaloosa and Mobile, we missed an interesting profile of Attorney General Troy King.

The Birmingham News has a mostly positive piece about newly appointed Attorney General Troy King. The article doesn't gloss over his unimpressive 2002 race for Secretary of State, his penchant for publicity-seeking, or his incendiary college editorials. But the picture it paints is of a largely earnest conservative who seems committed to furthering the policies in which he believes.

Troy King is not without his political challenges though. His personal and professional connections with trial lawyers make some of his fellow partisans nervous which could result in a competitive primary. Conversely, the Dems are salivating at taking back the AG's office after 12 long years in the wilderness. And the Democrats may well have found their dream candidate in longtime Mobile County DA John Tyson, Jr. Tyson has an impeccable law and order reputation and his Mobile base poses electoral problems for Republicans.

Troy King is by no means assured a full term as attorney general. But if he is able to successfully navigate the potential political minefield before him to a 2006 victory, then he will be the Republican's fastest rising star, on track for a not too distant run for governor or senate.

Steve Windom: The Unsettling Honesty of an Ex-Politician

The Birmingham News has a revealing (and somewhat revolting) quote from former Lt. Gov. Steve Windom. When Windom ran for LG much of his television campaign centered on a law and order platform. Windom ran ads (falsely) decrying the Alabama prison system for providing air conditioning and other amenities to inmates.

Well since his loss to Bob Riley in the 2002 GOP gubernatorial primary, Windom has found work lobbying for a Louisiana prison firm that (gasp) runs prisons equipped with A/C as well as other such niceties. When Windom was asked about the apparent discrepancy between his campaign rhetoric and his employer's practice he chuckled and said:
"It was a great campaign gimmick."
Well, thanks for at least telling the truth, Steve. Now, I think I need to go take a shower.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lesson Learned - If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Municipal elections are finally over and both Mobile and Tuscaloosa have new mayors. In less than a month both Sam Jones and Walt Maddox will be sworn in as mayor. Now that we can view the tumultuous campaign season in hindsight there is one major lesson to be learned:

Negative Politics Doesn't Always Work

Both losing candidates were the first to go negative.

After coming in a distant second in the Mobile mayoral primary, John Peavy knew he had to make up alot of ground before the runoff, but it was also apparent he had to do some damage to Sam Jones' political standing. Peavy's negative attacks weren't surprising, but his attacks fell flat as local media criticized Peavy ("Sleazy Peavy") for perceived underhanded tactics. Peavy's negativity gave frontrunner Sam Jones the chance to appear more "mayoral" and above the fray. Peavy's choice to go negative was not a bad one, but his clumsy attacks backfired and have seriously damaged his political future.

Sammy Watson's decision to go on the attack in the Tuscaloosa runoff was simply baffling. Watson entered the race as the frontrunner and finished first in the August primary. However, as the runoff drew near Watson suddenly went very negative against Walt Maddox. A backlash ensued and Watson had to run ads virtually apologizing for his earlier attacks. The dynamics of the runoff (message, turnout) seemed to be in Maddox's favor, but Sammy Watson drove the stake through his own campaign with his unnecessary, ham-handed attacks.

A vigorous debate is expected and necessary in a political campaign. Candidates need not always be polite, as this is not always a polite society. I have no problem with negative tactics, but neither of these candidates used attack politics effectively. If you're gonna fight dirty, at least do it smart.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Election Results: Sam Jones and Walt Maddox are now Hizzoner

The election results are in and Mobile and Tuscaloosa both have elected new mayors. Both cities had pretty high a turnout at least respective to the 2001 elections.

In Mobile, Sam Jones won with about a 56/44 split.

In Tuscaloosa, Walt Maddox won with a slight narrower 54/46.

We'll have a more detailed analysis tomorrow, but the reasoning behind our mayoral predictions seems pretty sound in light of tonight's results if you need a quick fix.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Election Day Roundup and Predictions

Voters will finally head to the polls to decide who will be the next mayor of Mobile and Tuscaloosa. We've given extensive coverage to both of these races and we'll give one last brief primer on each race before the voting starts.

Sam Jones: Naval veteran, public employee, and 4 term Mobile County Commissioner; Democrat
John Peavy: businessman, city councilman; Republican

Primary Election Results:
Jones: 47.9%
Peavy: 25.4%
Bedsole 13.8%
Rich: 12.09%

Prominent Supporters:
Jones: Mike Dow, retired officials Braxton Kittrell, Tom Purvis, Douglas Johnstone; baseball great Hank Aaron ; Mobile Register
Peavy: former candidates Bess Rich and Ann Bedsole; city council members Reggie Copeland, Ben Brooks, and Connie Hudson; county commissioner Stephen Nodine

Campaign finances: (approx)
Jones: $475,000
Peavy: $490,000 (including $160,000 personal loan)

Policy positions: (link to Mobile Register article)


Walt Maddox: Tuscaloosa city schools administrator and city councilman
Sammy Watson: former radio broadcaster, former city councilman, and hospital administrator

Primary Election Results:
Watson: 38.1%
Maddox: 31.1%
Booth: 29.3%
Bruner: 1.5%

Prominent Supporters:
Maddox: Probate Judge Hardy McCollum; AFL-CIO; Alabama Democratic Conference
Watson: Mayor Al DuPont; former state rep. Tim Parker; New South Coalition, Tuscaloosa News

Policy Positions:
Maddox: see website
Watson: see website

Sam Jones started out as the the man to beat and he still is. Jones' strength in Mobile's black community combined with establishment support he has coalesced during his long service on the county commission is too much for John Peavy to overcome. Peavy made a game effort and his divisive campaign was probably smart politics (if supremely cynical) as he tried to motivate his supporters and peel off weak Jones' voters. Ultimately this was always Sam Jones race to lose and he has done a good job playing it safe and minimizing his weaknesses.

Sam Jones: 54%
John Peavy: 46%

Also, I am going with William Carroll to take out incumbent Thomas Sullivan in the city council District 2 runoff.

This race is an extremely difficult one to predict. Sammy Watson has been the frontrunner since the day he announced. Walt Maddox has made a strong effort, but he was barely able to edge out Mark Booth in the primary to make the runoff. During this runoff campaign, Watson's campaign has seemed aimless and poorly managed. Watson attacks Maddox only to back off after a backlash. Watson says he is the agent for change and then is endorsed by perpetual mayor Al DuPont. Whether or not he wins, Walt Maddox has a well defined message of change and has stuck with it throughout his campaign. Maddox has run a smoother, better disciplined campaign since the initial primary.

Also, the turnout has the potential to favor Maddox. Three Tuscaloosa city council districts have runoffs. District 1 (a heavily black district which is a key Maddox constituency) and District 6 (Maddox's home district) will probably have relatively high turnout that should benefit Maddox. District 7 is the only other district with a runoff and it probably leans toward Maddox as well.

In the end it is this turnout advantage combined with Sammy Watson's lackluster runoff campaign that will lead to a Maddox upset.

Walt Maddox: 52%
Sammy Watson: 48%

Also I'll predict a win for Howard, Zeilner and Tinker in the city council runoffs.

Feel free to add your own predictions in the comment thread.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mayoral Mayhem

Longtime incumbents Al DuPont (left) and Mike Dow (right) issue

last minute endorsements in close mayoral runoffs in Tuscaloosa and Mobile, respectively.

Both Mobile and Tuscaloosa will elect new mayors on Tuesday. Earlier in the political season these campaigns seemed to be shaping up as polite affairs. That can no longer be said as both campaigns have seen sparks fly over the past week.

We've previously detailed the deterioration of the discourse in both the Mobile and Tuscaloosa campaigns. Though both races have seen negativity over the past week, the respective races have taken dramatically different trajectories.

Mayoral candidate (and perceived frontrunner) Sammy Watson raised eyebrows around Tuscaloosa recently as he went on the attack against his opponent, Walt Maddox. Watson's strategy seemed to backfire as he felt it necessary to run print advertisements all but apologizing for his recent spate of negativity. For his part, Walt Maddox has stayed largely positive throughout the duration of his campaign.

A final unexpected wrinkle in the Tuscaloosa runoff occured as outgoing incumbent mayor Al DuPont issued a strong endorsement of Sammy Watson. Usually gaining the support of a longtime incumbent would be welcomed with open arms. However, with Watson and Maddox falling over each other to promise they will bring the most change to Tuscaloosa city government, one wonders if Sammy Watson wanted the last big story of the campaign to be his attachment to the 24 year incumbent who perfectly personifies the status quo. Although, Watson gladly accepted DuPont's endorsement perhaps he was really thinking, "let's keep this between us, Mr. Mayor".

Unfortunately, Mobile has not seen the same common sense prevail in its mayoral race. John Peavy began running negative ads almost immediately after making the runoff. Peavy's attacks on opponent Sam Jones has, in turn, caused Jones to respond in kind. The Mobile mayoral runoff is quickly deterioating into one of the nastier recent elections. Charges of racism, reverse-racism, incompetence, and dishonesty are flying at a quick clip.

The polarizing climate in Mobile has forced many bystanders off of the sidelines. Both Bess Rich and Ann Bedsole have endorsed Peavy after sending signals they might not take sides in the runoff. However, the heaviest hitter to come off of the bench weighed in for Sam Jones. As was first reported here at AlabamaElections, incumbent Mike Dow not only endorsed Jones, but was starkly critical of Peavy's campaign tactics. (read the full text of Dow's endorsement here)

Sam Jones is still the favorite to win and it might not even be all that close. But Peavy's campaign tactics, while probably underhanded and intentionally sensational have almost certainly polarized the Mobile electorate. Peavy has now received support from the two Republian losers from the primary (Rich and Bedsole). This Republican coalescence was essential for a Peavy victory. But more worrisome for Jones than Republicans endorsing Republicans is the new racial dynamic that has entered the campaign. If Peavy has been successful in scaring enough of Mobile's whites that the previously non-controversial Sam Jones is a liberal activist, then Peavy may well indeed be able to pull off an election night suprise.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Breaking News: Mobile Mayor Mike Dow Endorses Sam Jones; Rips Peavy

In a letter obtained by AlabamaElections, Mayor Mike Dow issues a suprise endorsement for Sam Jones. Not only does Dow retract his previous committment to remain neutral and come out strong for longtime county commissioner Jones, but he starkly criticizes John Peavy for his recent attack ads.

Click here for a link to the entire text of Dow's endorsement which should run in the Mobile Register this weekend.

Mayoral Race Update (Tuscaloosa)

Mayoral candidates, from right, Sammy Watson, potential kingmaker Mark Booth and Walter Maddox decide who will speak first at a pre-primary debate. (photo from Tuscaloosa News)

As the Tuscaloosa mayoral runoff enters the homestretch before the Tuesday vote, each candidate is sharpening the attacks on their opponent. In an interesting twist, perceived frontrunner Sammy Watson has been increasingly critical of Walt Maddox. Conventionally it's the underdog who is supposedly advantaged by attacking the frontrunner, not the other way around. It is difficult to tell whether or not Watson is just using these attacks as a tactic or is truly getting a little desperate as election day looms ever closer.

Watson's attacks have focused on Walt Maddox's campaign funding ("60% from Union Pacs and AEA", says Watson) and on Maddox's record as a city councilman ("He's been on a spending spree!"). However, the main focus of Watson's attack is to try blunt Maddox's primary campaign message. Both candidates are now battling over who can righteously claim the mantle of reform and change and saddle the other with the burden of the status quo.

Maddox's entire campaign has revolved around the notion that he will bring change to city government. Watson, on the other hand, has previously benefited from a sense of comfort and sense of quasi-incumbency as he is seen by many to be the "establishment" candidate in the race. It is interesting to see two ambitious Tuscaloosa politicians, who have both been elected to the city council, attempting to cast the other as a candidate of stagnation and malaise while assuming the banner of change for themselves.

Strategically, both candidates are trying to appeal to supporters of third place finisher Mark Booth, as he was squeezed out of the runoff by less than 2%. Mark Booth's supporters are poised to decide the runoff and Walt Maddox's message most closely resembles Booth's genuine outsider perspective. Perhaps this is why Sammy Watson seems to be a recent convert to the message of change and why he is also insistent in poking holes in Walt Maddox's outsider posture, while Maddox himself is unwavering in his progressive rhetoric.

Maddox has, for the most part, remained above the fray as Watson's attacks have grown harsher in recent days. Maddox seems content to criticize Watson's negativity and his refusal to accept a one-on-one debate before the election, while repeating his mantra of positivity and change. It is anyone's guess which candidate will prevail on Tuesday, but Maddox's campaign does seem confident while Watson's is increasingly frantic.

Mayoral Race Update (Mobile)

As the Tuesday runoff draws ever closer, the Mobile mayoral runoff is starting to heat up. As we noted on Wednesday, John Peavy unleashed a fairly negative attack ad against Sam Jones questioning his qualifications and leadership. The Mobile Register has an interesting piece detailing the differences in the two candidates' positions without some of the vitriol.

In a badly needed (but not suprising) development, former candidate Bess Rich has endorsed fellow Republican John Peavy. Though both are Republicans, Rich had some pretty harsh comments about Peavy in the initial primary campaign. The Mobile Register details some of Rich's attacks on her erstwhile opponent:

In a direct mail piece that Rich distributed prior to the election, she accused Peavy of:

  • Voting to increase taxes three times, "yet now he states our taxes are too high."
  • Voting to approve the last city budget but now complaining there are not enough police officers. "He was in a position to do something," stated the mailer.
  • Sponsoring a bill to significantly increase mayoral and council salaries. Peavy later backed off his support, and the proposal died.

Rich has put such negativity behind her for the moment and is emphasizing the common bonds she has with Peavy. Rich's campaign message actually more closley resembles Sam Jones in its outsider message of change. Realistically, though, if Rich wants a future in GOP politics, she probably had to endorse Peavy. Similarly, Ann Bedsole's decision to not make an endorsement is further evidence that she is through with elective politics.

Rich's endorsement doesn't change the dynamics of the runoff that have always been in Sam Jones favor. But for Peavy to have any chance at a majority on Tuesday he must completely consolidate the Republican leaning support that was previously splintered among himself, Bedsole, and Rich. Bess Rich's endorsement is a necessary piece of the puzzle for the Peavy campaign which is running hard, but also running uphill.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Riley vs. Roy -- Update

Though Hurricane Katrina pushed back Governor Riley's anticipated re-election announcement and Roy Moore's political powder is expected to be dry until October, there has been a flurry of national interest in our state's upcoming Republican primary.

Riley has gotten high praise for his handling of the Hurricane aftermath. Compared to his counterparts in Mississippi and Louisiana, Riley seemed better prepared before the hurricane arrived and more skilled in dealing with the aftermath. Certainly, Riley has more hurricane experience than either Barbour or Blanco and both Mississippi and Louisiana had more damage to deal with, but Riley seemed in control and no doubt helped himself politically with his skillful response to Hurricane Katrina.

Though Roy Moore hasn't really had any recent developments to keep him front and center, the national media seems newly interested in Moore or at least the possible GOP revolution he represents. PoliticalWire has some of excerpts from a lengthy profile from Atlantic Monthly and a piece from the Dallas Morning News on the Moore Movement and the nervous eye the GOP establishment has on the ousted Alabama Chief Justice.

Riley has done an admirable job slowly building back his political position after the crushing defeat of his tax plan in 2003. Many seemed to think his skillful reaction to Hurricane Katrina will give him the momentum he needs to thwart Moore and whatever Democrat he faces in Novemeber 2006. I can understand where this conventional wisdom is coming from, but I must say I think those who are of that view are forgetting the potency of the Moore Movement. No matter how strong Riley seems, the simple fact is that Roy Moore can accurately tell Republican primary voters that Riley backed a huge tax hike and failed to stand up for the 10 Commandments against the federal courts. That is a tough position to be in even for an incumbent governor with the considerable political savvy and smooth first-term of which Riley can boast.

Even with all of Riley's strengths, I still think Roy Moore has greater appeal to Republican primary voters.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tuscaloosa News Profiles Mayoral Candidates

The Tuscaloosa News profiled both candidates in the upcoming Tuscaloosa mayoral runoff. They are pretty much puff-pieces, but they do give a sense of the candidates and their potential leadership styles. This race is an interesting study in contrasts. It's young vs. old(er) and status quo vs. change. I don't have a feel for how this race will turn out, but I am confident this race will be very close.

If you're interested in who the next mayor of Tuscaloosa will be, read these two profiles:

Sammy Watson
Walt Maddox

or check out their campaign websites.

John Peavy Can't Catch a Break; Negative Ad Targets Jones

In yet another prescient bit of analysis from AlabamaElections, John Peavy's request to postpone the mayoral runoff has been declined (as we predicted on Friday). In what reads as a pretty contentious meeting, the Mobile city council did not move the election date as supporters of postponement fell one vote short of moving the runoff from Sept. 13 to Sept. 27. As we noted in a previous post, a delay would have given Peavy more time to focus a Hurricane-weary electorate on the looming election. Peavy needs as much time as possible to campaign against frontrunner Sam Jones. However, due to the council's decision Peavy will have no extra time and will undoubtedly find it difficult to focus many voters' on the campaign while they are still reeling from the Katrina crisis.

In a sign of the Peavy campaign's desperation, they have released a hard-hitting negative ad implying Jones is unqualifed to be mayor. The Peavy ad none too subtley points out that Jones did not graduate from college, has no business experience, and has no published plan for the city. While the Peavy camp says the ad is based on facts, Jones has lashed out calling the ad "shameful" and negative.

While it is easy to condemn Peavy's attack ads, it is probably smart politics. Peavy has alot of ground to gain on Jones in only a matter of days and he needs to both add to the number of his own supporters but also peel away some of Jones'. It is doubtful that Peavy's ad will dramatically change the race(especially given the hurricane), but he is running out of time and a negative ad has the potential to shake thing sup.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Flashback Friday - Remembering Winton "Red" Blount

It what might become a regular (or semi-regular) occurrence here at AlabamaElections, we'll use a Friday to remember a prominent Alabama political personality. For our first installment, we'll remember the Godfather of the Alabama Republican Party, Winton "Red" Blount.

An excellent biographical summary of Blount can be found here.

Blount was part businesman, part philanthropist, and part politician. His work with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival has given our state one of its primary cultural landmarks. Blount was also a confidante of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and helped usher in the rise of two party politics in longtime Democrat-dominated Alabama. Though his own candidacy for political office was unsuccessful, the groundwork he built for the Alabama Republicans is still being used today as the GOP tide continues to advance.

Indeed, whether it is in politics, charity, or culture, Alabama's present and future owes much to the past of "Red" Blount.

Peavy Wants Mobile Election Pushed Back (Hurricane Politics II)

Mobile mayoral candidate John Peavy wants the election date pushed back from its current date of September 13. As we discussed in our "Hurricane Politics" post on Tuesday, the Hurricane Katrina related damage has put the mayoral campaign on hold while Mobile get its collective life back together. This campaign pause has come as a disservice to Peavy's mayoral hopes as he needs all the time and attention he can muster to make up the 25% he needs to edge frontrunner Sam Jones. Peavy says he is seeking the delay because, "This just doesn't seem to be the right time". The process of postponing the election seems a little murky and it'd be suprising if all the necessary actors could come together on what has the potential to be a very politically charged issue.

We won't speculate about Peavy's motives for seeking this postponement as there certainly are serious issues to address in Mobile. But if somehow the election is pushed back a couple of weeks Peavy should stand to benefit from the extra time. But ultimately, no matter when the election is (most likely the original Sept. 13), Sam Jones is still the favorite.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Who's Jim Gibbons and Why Should I Care?

On Tuesday Congressman Jim Gibbons announced his plans to run for governor of Nevada. Why is this news on a site dedicated to Alabama politics? Just ask Beth Chapman.

At a Republican gathering in March Gibbons gave a red-meat, fire-breathing speech attacking liberals as the scourge of America's problems. The only problem was that our very own state Auditor Beth Chapman had given the very same speech in 2003 at a "Stand Up for America Rally". Gibbons was called on his plagiarism and made nice with Chapman in a phone call.

This story doesn't have much impact on Alabama politics, but it hopefully gives Nevada voters pause about electing Gibbons as governor. Plus, if Jim Gibbons starts attacking Nancy Worley we'll know where he's getting his material.

(Full text of original Chapman speech)

Governor Harri Anne?

Harri Anne Smith has been publicly feeling out a run for governor for the past week. Smith is not exactly a household name in most circles, but she would make an interesting candidate. She made her leap from being politically active in her hometown of Slocomb to the State Senate in 1998 where she defeated longtime incumbent Chip Bailey in the Republican primary. Bailey had served in the Senate as a Democrat since 1982, but switched parties prior the 1998 election and lost his first foray as a Republican.

In the State Senate, Smith has compiled one of the most conservative voting records. Smith says that a poll she commissioned has given her a reason to be optimistic. But if the poll numbers were especially good, she'd make them public which at this point she has declined to do.

While at first glance her candidacy would seem quixotic in the face of the Riley/Roy faceoff looming, she could make an interesting alternative if the two heavyweights knock each other out. Smith starts off with almost no name recognition and certainly couldn't raise the money of an incumbent governor or a martyred ideologue, but assuming Riley and Moore spend all their money attacking each other, then she might not need much. Certainly most Republicans would find her a suitable alternative if both Riley and Moore collapsed. Since Riley and Moore both have strong detractors in their own party, maybe many Republicans would welcome a non-threatening conservative state senator to support.

One thing that a Smith candidacy would make much more likely is a runoff. One silver lining the Republicans had even if Riley and Moore both go to the mattresses, is that if they are the only serious candidates running, it is likely the GOP nomination would be won in the primary. With the addition of Harri Anne Smith as a third, credible candidate, a runoff seems more and more likely. And with a runoff could come another month of Republican hand-to-hand combat.
I don't have a clear concept of which candidate Smith would draw her voters from. She doesn't really share a geographical base with either Riley or Moore and though her arch-conservative voting record should appeal to Moore voters, her personality seems to reflect the more collegial pragmatism of Riley.

Smith' best bet would be too steer her candidacy directly between the pragamatism of Riley and the ideology of Moore and become all Republican's second-choice and if the chips fall right, maybe she'd have a real shot at the nomination.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory Politics Blog Top Sites