Alabama Doesn’t Have a Voter Problem. It Has a Democracy Problem.

In Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama has the personification of any bigotry that you can imagine sitting atop its high court. Here is a guy who believed so fervently that the nation’s courts should validate only one religion and its precepts that he was thrown off the bench after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the front of the State Capitol. After founding something called the Moral Law Foundation (doing the sort of work you would expect from it and him), he ran for the Republican nomination for Governor in 2010, expecting that the love would still be there from the right-wingers that dominate the Alabama GOP. His faith was found wanting.

Then came 2012, when Roy Moore defeated sitting Chief Justice Chuck Malone in the Republican primary to advance into the general election. Now, given the sentiment that has been expressed in opinion pieces like this one, you would be led to believe that he faced a candidate of great credit to the bench and the people of Alabama in that election.

He did eventually, but first, there was the problem of the only person who had actually filed for the primary election. His name was Harry Lyon, and he was repugnant in every sense of the word. Funny enough, it was almost like Roy Moore was running against a clone of himself given the candidate’s own views on homosexuality. Weld Birmingham accurately described the Lyon-Moore race as “the saddest, most embarrassing chief justice race ever,” and it was very difficult to disagree with that sentiment. Eventually, the Alabama Democratic Party found a way to disqualify this man from being its candidate in the general election by pointing to the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which requires that all judicial candidates:

A. A judge should respect and comply with the law and should conduct himself at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

B. A judge should at all times maintain the decorum and temperance befitting his office and should avoid conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute.

Having found this loophole to fix the embarrassment of having no real candidate file for the state’s top judicial election before the deadline, the ADP recruited Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Bob Vance, Jr. to run as a replacement candidate. He ran about as well of a campaign as one can hope for given that he only had nine weeks until the finish line. However, he fell just short, losing by a little less than 28,000 votes in a race where nearly two million votes were cast.

Despite what one may think of the result, we have numerous places where the Alabama Democratic Party shat their britches before the voters ever got to make its choice:

  1. No candidate. It boggles the mind that there would be no credible Democratic candidate for the Chief Justice spot. But then there were no Democratic candidates for any of the seats on the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012. And, we cannot forget, I am talking about the party who could not recruit a candidate to challenge U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions in the last general election. The opinion piece from the Montgomery Advertiser lists all these instances where Alabama voters were duped, but Josh Moon would do well to remember that Chip Beeker found himself with no Democratic challenger for his seat on the Alabama Public Service Commission. In fact, no Democrats ran for any of the seats on the PSC, giving Alabama Power full control over the entity charged with regulating it. He also mentions U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who once claimed that the Democrats were “anti-white”. Guess what? There was no Democratic candidate on the ballot in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, either.
  2. No money. This point needs no elaboration.
  3. No leadership. Given that ADP Chair Nancy Worley stated that she was just fine with leaving many seats unchallenged in the 2014 elections, this also needs no further elaboration (begin the video at the two-minute mark).

There is something else that many people like to forget about this whole marriage equality fiasco that is occurring in Alabama: it is bipartisan. While Roy Moore is definitely a Republican, Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge W. Hardy McCollum definitely is not. Marengo County Probate Judge Laurie Hall definitely is not. You can be fairly certain that Greene County, a county that Barack Obama won in 2012 with 85 percent of the vote, would not elect a Republican to lead their county commission (which is the job of the Probate Judge), so it is a safe bet that Earlean Isaac does not fit the bill either. And yet, all of these people are following Roy Moore’s order to not issue licenses to same-sex couples. It’s an embarrassment.

The fact is that the conservatism that we constantly deride the Republicans for is also very much present in the Democratic Party here in Alabama. The voters, who Moon calls “the world’s biggest suckers, consistently fooled by blatant religious pandering, kindergarten scare tactics and good-ol’-days rhetoric from hypocritical, moronic politicians,” do not have a real choice in who governs their state. They can choose the primitive backwardsness of the GOP here, or they can choose the “conservatism with a smile and a pat on the head” that the Democrats have on offer. Remember that the Democratic Party controlled the Legislature for over 100 years (and do not give me that “oh but the party was different” mess, unless you think that George Wallace Democrats populated the party in 2008), and did not create the institutions that people claim that they would fight for: better health care, a lottery, and expanded opportunities for the state’s poor in education.

It is easy to blame the voters for not getting the job done. After all, they are largely a faceless and formless cipher onto which policy entrepreneurs of all stripes can write their projections onto without much of a fear that their words will cost them anything. But if Alabama is to truly move forward, we have to move beyond the cowardly obeisance to power that Josh Moon personifies in his Montgomery Advertiser editorial; we must engage in offering the people of Alabama real solutions and an honest choice in determining who runs their affairs. That means standing up for a woman’s right to choose, standing up for the working class’s right to form labor unions without fear of termination, and ensuring that the zip code you live in does not determine the kind of education that you will receive. It means that as much attention is given to the classrooms that our college students learn in as the well-manicured mansions that a few chosen students get to live in. And it means a recognition that, absent all of these things, the average voter will stay home and decide that democracy ain’t worth all trouble.

Maybe that does not get thousands of shares on Facebook and backslaps from liberals talking about folks “voting against their best their interests”, but it would be a lot more honest.