For Alabama Democrats, as the saying goes, “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and for once it isn’t a train!” That’s because the state party has undergone an enormous transformation under the leadership of Chair Chris England, Vice-Chair Patricia Todd, and Executive Director Wade Perry. Under these new state party leaders, Alabama Democrats are finally seeing the quality, frequent social media engagements, new and recurring donorship, and regular opportunities to volunteer and get involved. If you’ve paid even scant attention to Alabama politics, the difference in just eighteen months is extraordinary, almost miraculous. Finally, the Democratic message is getting out there, being heard/ discussed, and most significantly, resonating deeply with voters who want to see tangible results in tough times.
The same type of energy is also emanating from Democrats in the Alabama House who has proposed key bills to improve health care, job creation, education, infrastructure and implement long-overdue reforms to criminal justice and law enforcement. It’s a bold and substantive agenda for a minority party, but the message is getting out that constituents are tired of business-as-usual political games and bombastic, divisive partisan rhetoric. Alabama House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels has proven himself to be a strategic thinker and skilled negotiator when it comes to leading the Democratic House Caucus and getting results. He’s shown a willingness to work across the aisle without sacrificing core Democratic principles for short-term political gain.
Despite this good news, Alabama Democrats have a long and very bumpy road ahead. Sadly, Alabama’s partisan divide runs incredibly deep. Democrats face extraordinary obstacles, like widespread gerrymandering, straight-ticket voting, and a gargantuan, relentless right-wing media echo chamber, that all stand in the way of ending Republican Supermajority rule in the state. Since “storming the Statehouse” about a decade ago, Alabama Republicans have relentlessly, absurdly labeled all Democrats as socialists and used fear-mongering rhetoric to try and paint them as nefarious, conspiratorial enemies of the state. Of course, it’s nothing more than red meat for their ravenous, base, but, hey, if you repeat things over and over for a long enough time- no matter how slanderous, malicious, or far-fetched… sadly, a lot of folks will believe things to be true that are easily disprovable or demonstrably false.
That’s why it’s refreshing to see Democrats strike a more aspirational tone focused on healing, growth, and prosperity. They’re promoting an agenda that addresses “kitchen table” issues that affect the lives of everyday people, not just the privileged donor class. Truly, folks are wary of Republicans’ blathering misinformation over immigration, monuments to the confederacy, gun worship, and impending, almost always imaginary, nightmarish visions of financial apocalypse. Instead, ordinary people would like to know that their jobs are secure, they can see a doctor without going bankrupt, and that their kids are going to a good school with great jobs waiting for them when they finish.
Democrats have long known what they’re up against, but in Alabama, they finally seem up to the David v. Goliath challenge. The truth is that we all know that our democracy is healthier when one party doesn’t hold all the levers of power in all three branches of government. Also, Alabama Democrats are paying close attention to what just happened in Georgia, as well as taking a hard look at how Alabama could elect someone like Tommy Tuberville as a U.S. Senator. The recent announcement of Sen. Richard Shelby’s retirement is also helping to mobilize Democrats even though they are keenly aware of the crimson political landscape.
What began as a breeze is starting to shape up as a strong political wind. If Alabama Democrats continue along their new path, the state may be in for some big and positive changes soon.
If Republicans aren’t careful, that breeze they’re feeling, as the winds change direction, may turn into a big, blue hurricane before they even know it.
Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.
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