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.