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The Collective
Sunday, September 3, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

On a two-fer Sunday, here’s another piece from me from today’s Press-Register:

State Democratic Party narrowly avoids electoral shame
Sunday, September 03, 2006
By STEVEN L. TAYLOR
Special to the Press-Register

The Democratic Executive Committee recently avoided a public relations nightmare, and — more important — also righted an injustice that had been made by a lower-level party committee days before. But the closeness of the vote (95-87) suggests that there is an unsettlingly large number of party leaders who would have preferred to stick with the unjust outcome.

The issue at hand was the primary for Alabama State House District 54, which pitted Gaynell Hendricks, an African-American, against Patricia Todd, a lesbian, for the party’s nomination for an open seat.

It should have been a win-win for state Democrats: The district had no Republican candidate, so the seat was as safe as it could be.

However, because the primary itself was for all practical purposes the actual election, the stakes were high and things got nasty.

At issue was a rule that was instituted in 1988 requiring all candidates to file a financial disclosure form with the party chairman five days before the election.

Patricia Todd failed to do so, and Gaynell Hendricks’ mother-in-law filed a challenge to Todd’s nomination on that basis.

Of course, the fact that Hendricks also failed to follow the rule didn’t come up in the challenge. As Todd’s lawyer noted at the original hearing which temporarily disqualified Todd, none of the state’s Democratic nominees — including Lucy Baxley and Jim Folsom Jr. — followed the rule in question.

Indeed, it bears repeating: The rule has never been applied.

What was really going on here? There are three factors at play.

The first is that Todd is openly gay. The second is that District 54 is a predominantly African-American district (Todd is white, while Hendricks is black). And the third factor is that elements of party leadership (i.e., Vice Chairman Joe Reed) preferred Hendricks over Todd, even though Todd won the popular vote.

These elements all collided on Aug. 24, when the subcommittee voted 5-0 to disqualify Todd, thus setting up the Aug. 26 Executive Committee vote. (The subcommittee voted to disqualify Hendricks, too, but clearly some party members were hoping that with some maneuvering, Hendricks or another black person would end up as the nominee.)

It is difficult to look at this situation and not see anti-gay prejudice.

Indeed, the logic of the anti-Todd complaint was that the disclosure form noted that Todd had received funds from a pro-gay organization, and that had that information been made public in time for the election, she would not have won.

Given that Todd’s sexual orientation was a matter of public knowledge, this argument lacks merit.

Had Todd been denied the seat, it would have sent a clear signal of intolerance that would have resonated across the country.

Of more significance in this matter are racial politics.

The vote of the Executive Committee was along mostly racial lines; and afterward, Reed stated, “I don’t apologize in regard to trying to preserve a black seat.”

It is always unfortunate when identity politics trump democracy. At a minimum, it is odd to think of a specific seat as belonging to anyone other than the voters in the district as a whole.

The fact that Reed was directly involved in manipulating the subcommittee that ousted Todd is also significant. The New York Times reported that at least three of the five committee members were from a pool selected by Reed.

Further, Reed was a supporter of Hendricks during the election, and a group he chairs gave money to Hendricks.

While Reed has every right to support whomever he chooses, using his position within the party hierarchy to manipulate the rules to his chosen candidate’s advantage (and to the detriment of the democratically elected candidate) is unconscionable.

Elections are supposed to be settled by the voters, not by party bosses.

Even though the situation was properly resolved (i.e., the candidate with the most votes — Todd — won the election, a fact that is not under dispute), it revealed some serious problems.

In fact, the entire situation stinks: It reeks of petty racial politics, the worst of power-broker politics, and anti-gay prejudice.

If that’s not a trifecta of shame for the Democratic Party of Alabama, I don’t know what one would look like.

Politics, as with much of life, is filled with complexities, and reasonable people can disagree over the meaning of a given set of events. However, there are times when the prima facie nature of the evidence is such that there should be no debate.

First, if there is a rule that has never been applied to any candidate for the entire 18 years of its existence, then basic fairness dictates that the arbitrary application of the rule to a specific candidate is simply wrong.

Second, of all the factors on the table here, the most important fact should be who won the most votes (so long as there is no evidence of illegal or improper voting). This is, after all, an electoral process, not the Bureaucratic Olympics.

I would suggest that some serious introspection is due by Democratic Party leaders.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks (a second time) for the insightful comments on a case where I represented Patricia Todd.

    Comment by Edward Still — Sunday, September 3, 2006 @ 11:41 am

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