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Monday, December 12, 2005

BCA Backs Murdock, Spurns Brown

When State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Harwood (R-Tuscaloosa ) announced he wouldn't seek re-election in April, the Republican primary to fill his seat looked like it would host one of the more competitive races on the June ballot. GOP heavyweights Ex-Justice Jean Brown and Appeals Judge Glenn Murdock quickly voiced interest in the race.

On its surface a Brown/Murdock faceoff looks like another in a long line of recent GOP primaries pitting "business conservatives" against "religious conservatives". A race between Brown, who has always been a BCA (Business Council of Alabama) ally and Murdock, who got his political start as an attorney defending Roy Moore, seemed to fit the bill. However, that analysis is not only much too simplistic, but also fundamentally flawed.

I am told that the BCA is actually backing Murdock at the exclusion of their erstwhile ally Brown. Without BCA support it will be very difficult for Brown to raise enough money to compete against a well-funded Murdock.

But the real question is why the BCA would abandon Brown after being supportive throughout her political career.

One obvious is answer is that Brown's 2004 loss has tainted her as a loser and the BCA doesn't want to suffer the same fate again. But that logic doesn't necessarily hold up under scrutiny. Brown's political career actually stacks up pretty well against Murdock's. In fact Glenn Murdock is actually the only Republican to lose a Supreme Court race to a Democrat since 1996. Though he rebounded from a 1998 loss against Democrat Dugger Johnstone with an easy win for State Appeals Court in 2000, Murdock's political resume is no more sterling than Jean Brown's.

The real reason that the BCA is abandoning Jean Brown is not that she lost in 2004, but how she lost. You'll remember that Brown was bested by Tom Parker in 2004 not just because she voted against the Moore 10 Commandments display but also because she subsequently portrayed herself (dishonestly some might say) as a supporter of the Moore cause. This waffling outraged and energized her opponents and resulted in her narrow defeat in the June primary.

The BCA desperately wants to avoid such intraparty warfare in 2006 and ignoring Brown's candidacy helps keep that recent unpleasantness squarely in the past. And unlike some of his conservative brethren (Roy Moore and Tom Parker), Glenn Murdock has never flirted with trial lawyer interests. So in backing Murdock, the BCA is trying to find common ground with the Moore faction and attempting to prevent any more intraparty divisiveness than is necessary.

One another interesting note on the race to replace Bernard Harwood is that presumptive Democratic nominee John England has also lost a race for State Supreme Court. Which means that all three of the major candidates each lost their most recent race for the state's highest court. Fortunately it looks like one of them will break their losing streak in 2006.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Zac, for another interesting post and apparent scoop. What's next -- a friendly acquisition of Inside Alabama Politics?

8:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You're right on the money here. That's exactly what happened.

1:16:00 PM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...

Thanks for the compliment and confirmation to the above posters. It'll be interesting to see if Brown does anything unorthodox to get some attention and traction in this race now that she is running uphill.

5:14:00 PM  
Anonymous SouthernLawyer said...

"... [I]n backing Murdock, the BCA is trying to find common ground with the Moore faction and attempting to prevent any more intraparty divisiveness than is necessary."

I think Zac's analysis is basically correct. But I also think the BCA is more concerned about their own interests than party interests. The BCA is afraid that if they don't back Murdock, they will be faced with yet another public defeat by a strong evangelical candidate and a consequent loss of power in Alabama politics.

Since at least the 1980 Reagan election, the winning formula of the Republican Party has been the combination of business funds and evangelical Christian footsoldiers. In the perfect Republican world, the funds and the footsoldiers support the same candidate.

But what if the funds and the footsoliers don't support the same candidate?

In many states, business interests have been able to have their way in disputes with evangelicals. But not in Alabama when evangelicals field strong alternative candidates.

In fact, in the last two Alabama statewide races that have provided the clearest contrast between strong business-backed candidates and strong evangelical-backed candidates, the evangelicals have won even though outspent by 6-to-1 or more.

Those two races were the Roy Moore v. Harold See race for Chief Justice and last year's Tom Parker v. Jean Brown race for Associate Justice. In both cases, strong political newcomers backed by evangelicals defeated veterans backed by business interests. Two other evangelicals lost in Supreme Court races last year, but they were weak challengers to strong incumbents.

Murdock, by contrast, is a strong candidate, and he is running for an open seat on the Alabama Supreme Court. Once Tom Parker threw his full, public support behind Murdock, the business interests had to join in or face the probability of yet another humiliating defeat and consequent loss of political influence.

As Murdock's voting record as a judge wasn't anti-business (even though not explicitly pro-business) and he was likely to win anyway, given strong evangelical support, the BCA quickly realized that backing Murdock was in their best interest.

9:14:00 AM  
Anonymous SouthernLawyer said...

Correction -- In the 2004 Republican primary, Tom Parker was the only evangelical candidate for the Alabama Supreme Court to challenge an incumbent backed by business interests. The other two Supreme Court races did not include incumbents in the Republican primary, and more than one candidate for each seat claimed evangelical support. So these two races did not present the clear contrast between business and evangelical interests of the Parker v. Brown race.

Thus, my main point -- that evangelical candidates in statewide races have the advantage in clear matchups between strong business-backed candidates on the one hand and strong evangelical-backed candidates on the other -- survives my correction.

10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judge Murdock's official announcement of his candidacy is scheduled for today at 1:30pm in the judicial building rotunda.

11:34:00 AM  
Blogger PoliSciZac said...

Excellent analysis Southern Lawyer, I think you are dead on.

I didn't mean to imply that the about cared more about the party than their agenda. My main point is that that they are trying to undermine Brown's campaign, in part because they don't want to energize the Moore faction any more than they already are. If they got behind Brown, then the increased evangelical participation could threaten BCA faves like Riley and Nabers and a whole host of down ballot races.

Anyway, nice analysis SL.

3:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isnt it nice to watch the spineless BCA cave-in to a perceived threat from the right?
It must be those crack BCA political analysts drawing these conclusions. Parker and Moore are Trial Lawyer owned. Give an inch, BCA, you lose every race. The "christians" will be coming anyway, as a payback for roy moore. As a veteran of more years than I care to remember in national politics, I must say the BCA's political logic leaves much to be desired, but then again, this is Alabama so why am I surprised?

3:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glen Murdock exposed.

3:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Glen Murdock exposed"? What does that mean? I've known Glenn Murdock for years. He is well liked by both the business community and the evangelical community. Both groups supported him in his successful run for the Court of Civil Appeals in 2000. It's not surprising that both groups are doing so again. His record, as both an attorney in private practice and as a judge has been one that is both pro-business and pro-family. He is one of very few Republican politicians who bridges the gap between both sides of the party.

1:50:00 AM  
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