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Alabama Elections Directory 2006

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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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great site!

If you can comment on the city council run-off results in Tuscaloosa and Mobile, that'd be nice...

Baxley seems like a well-regarded politician, but how capable is she? I wonder whether there might be increased concern about having a woman as a governor given Blanco's poor performance in nearby Louisiana. If Baxley doesn't show that she's a decisive, strong leader, I would think that characterizing her as a nice lady who would be in over her head in the gov's mansion would be effective...

I think its unfortunate but it seems to me that Blanco's poor handling of the hurricane may be used as a verification of stereotypes that suggest women can not be strong managers and may be a setback for women officeseekers, particularly in the region? Do you think this observation has any merit?

One more thing...I looked at the congressional data and I'm curious as to whether you see any decent Riley challengers on the horizon...


5:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW, who's in contention to replace Jones on the county board?


5:29:00 AM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate you reading...I'll address your questions one by one...

In Tuscaloosa, the most intersting runoff was between incumbent James Cunningham and challenger Bobby Howard. Cunningham has been fairly popular but in recent months he was caught and convicted of soliciting a prostitute. Howard won 55/45. The other two runoffs were less controversial. In District 6 Bob Lundell beat Mike Zeilner in a reversal of the primary results and in District 7 Tinker beat Achterof in the newly black majority district. The Tuscaloosa city council now has 3 out of 7 black members.

In Mobile, the only runoff was between longtime incumbent Thomas Sullivan and newcomer William Carroll. The race revolved around Sullivan's misuse of discretionary funds. Carroll won by about 10%.

These council races didn't result in much change politically on the council's, they just revolved around local personality.

I think you are dead on about Baxley and Blanco. Since Blanco was elected in 2003, I saw her as a model for Baxley to follow if she wanted to be elected. Now that Blanco has looked dazed in a crisis, I think it's vital that Baxley look strong and decisive in her campaign. As you said, her weakness is that she has never been tested in the political spotlight and has no strong association with any agenda or positions. But in my mind it shouldn't be that difficult for her to develop some broadly popular positions to run on since she isn't encumbered by her past record. So that is her primarily vulnerability and I expect Siegelman and the GOP to try to exploit it, but if she is smart then she can counter it before it does her any harm.

About the 3rd district, I don't see any challenger on the horizon for Rogers. 2006 is the year to give him one last final challenge before he is secure for a long time. That district is fertile ground for a Dem challenge and there are plenty of strong Dems in it, but Rogers' easy win against Bill Fuller probably has intimidated the strong Democrats. An X factor in that race is that Joe Turnham is now the state Dem chair. Turnham ran for that seat in 98 and 2002. I am not sure if Turnham will put extra effort into that seat now that he is chair, or if he would prefer to keep a GOPer in that seat until he is in a position to run again.

I hope I answered your questions, feel free to respond if I didn't. Thanks for reading!

3:28:00 PM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...

And about the vacancy left by Sam Jones' ascension, I don't have much knowledge outside of what the Mobile Register has reported.

Bob Riley will probably get to appoint someone to serve until 2008. This is a heavily black Democratic district so I am not sure if Riley will appoint a GOPer as he usually would do or find an acceptable Dem.

The names bandied about so far are... (from the Register)

"Assistant County Attorney Merceria Ludgood, a member of Mobile United and a past president of the Vernon Crawford Bar Association of Mobile, said she is interested in the post, as did Troy Ephriam, president of the Prichard City Council and a biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Andre Reid, a lobbyist from Eight Mile, said he would be "honored to be considered." Reid is a former state trooper who was an executive security officer for Gov. Fob James and Lt. Gov. Steve Windom.

Former County Commissioner Douglas Wicks announced Thursday he is seeking the appointment. Wicks, elected to the District 1 post twice, was convicted of extortion. Jones succeeded him.

Four-term City Councilman Thomas Sullivan, who lost a re-election bid Tuesday night, had said he would run for the commission post. Sullivan said Thursday he would instead seek the appointment.

Among those contacted by the Mobile Register, State Insurance Commissioner Walter Bell and Prichard City Attorney Willie Huntley Jr. said they were not interested in the office. Huntley said he lives outside District 1, which covers eastern and far northern Mobile County. "

Those are the names I've seen so far and there is still some confusion as to whether an election is required or if Riley can appoint the successor. So it is still up in the air.

Again, thanks for reading!

3:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your responses...

I suppose I'll ask a few more questions then...

I was looking at the AL political maps and the dems, iirc, designed congressional district 3 to be competitive. I don't understand, though, why they didn't bring it down farther south to include some of the black-belt counties that are still in district 2.

As a thought experiment, I'm just curious as to whether you think an extra minority-influence district could be drawn in the state...(without reducing the competitiveness of district 3 and Davis' chances.) I don't see why North Mobile and Houston counties and maybe even Lounden aren't included in Davis' district... I'd then combine the wiregrass region with the remainder of the mobile area and carve out a toss-up Birmingham-based district...

BTW, is AL slated to keep all of its seats after reapportionment?

6:24:00 PM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...


Happy to respond. The redistricting process in 2002 focused mainly on incumbent protection. The six incumbents who ran for re-election in 02 (Riley ran for gov) supported this map because it reaffirmed the status quo for another decade. However, to appease the Democrat-controlled legislature the 3rd district was made more Democratic. State Democrats, I think, thought that they had tweaked the 3rd enough to turn it into a Democratic leaning seat.

There was a map floating around drawn by House Majority Leader Ken Guin (D) that would have made greatly increased the Democratic perfomance in the 3rd and (I think)the 4th. However, this plan was opposed by the congressional delegations and was more controversial on the local level because the districts weren't as geographically compact and it split several counties. Also, the Dems in the legislature were wary of antagonizing the GOP over congressional districts because it might have upset a delicate truce over the legislative lines (which will probably keep Democratic majorites in the legislature until the next remap).

Also some Democrats think that if the 2nd (Everett) and 4th (Aderholt) districts open up then a Democrat has a chance there. So diluting the Democratic performance % in those districts to bolster surrounding districts was a non-starter.

There is no doubt that a more Democratic favorable map could have been drawn in 2002 (at least at the congressional level). However, most of the powers that be were satisfied with the status quo and thought they had drawn a Democratic district in the 3rd only to see it fumbled away.

11:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing up the details of the congressional redistricting process...

I suppose that it was also important to keep the African-American seat (the seventh I think) very heavily Democratic because the incumbent at the time--Earl Hillard--wasn't exact the type of politician who could withstand much competition, as his immediate primary loss to Artur Davis showed.

Since I'm not from the region, when I was reading up on the Jones campaign, I was struck by the fact that Mobile has that significant African-American/Democratic community... and since there's no way the Mobile District goes for the Dems, I was thinking that it wouldnt be difficult to grab parts of Mobile to be extricated from the surrounding suburbs...


11:50:00 PM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...


You make an interesting point about the Mobile black voter base. That is essentially "wasted" by the current map. The problem is, I think, that that black population is fairly isolated from the other black hubs in the state. That makes including it in a black majority district difficult.

And as I said above, there have been maps that have really carved out Democratic friendly districts. But to do that the districts usually end up looking awkward. Politicians prefer districts that are compact that consist of voters with similar interests. So even though a Dem friendly map is possible, it is very difficult to get through the legislature.

I would note that the 7th is not in any danger of being won by a Republican. Earl Hilliard was defintely a weak congressman, but he was only vulnerable in the Democratic primary. Hilliard could have still won fairly easily in the general election. Also, I think Dems would be smart to reduce the black majority in the 7th to as little as possible (and still able to comply with the Voting Rights Act). If Dems could put some extra black precincts into the 3rd or 4th it would of course help bolster Democrats in those districts without seriously weakning the Dem hold on the 7th.

I appreciate your questions and you seem to have a better instinct for political geography than I do. One weak point I may have in my knowledge of Alabama politics is how counties break down along partisan lines. And of course that is the key component in redistricting.

I've enjoyed the dialogue with you. Hope you become a regular reader.

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