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Sunday, November 12, 2006
PoliColumn II (More Alabama Politics)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:31 am

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

Lessons of the’06 Alabama election
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Special to the Press-Register

E lections are events that always answer one set of questions while raising others. Alabama’s electoral journey of 2006 is no exception to that notion.

So, what did we learn last Tuesday and what new questions should we be asking?

One clear lesson is that Alabama voters are more than willing to split their tickets. Despite the electorate’s clear preference for Gov. Bob Riley (he won the most votes of any candidate on the ballot this year), his coattails were limited.

While the composition of the executive branch of the state government did become slightly more Republican after the elections (with the switch in the secretary of state’s office), it is clear that Alabama voters were not simply straight-ticket voters.

Specifically, we saw this fact in the Jim Folsom victory in the lieutenant governor’s race and, especially, in the chief justice race where Sue Bell Cobb handily bested Drayton Nabers.

The chief justice race may also have told us that there is still some resentment in segments of the state GOP electorate over the removal of former Chief Justice Roy Moore, whom Nabers replaced in late 2004. Nabers won only 565,571 votes as compared to Riley’s 717,287.

Further, Luther Strange (who lost to Folsom) won more votes than Nabers as well. To me, it’s obvious that there were Republicans who voted against Nabers or who decided to avoid the chief justice race altogether.

Another key lesson was an ongoing one: the broken nature of our state constitution. All three of the statewide amendments illustrate the flaws of the 1901 charter quite dramatically.

All three underscore the degree to which local issues are being decided by cumbersome statewide procedures.

Amendments One and Three affected only individual localities in the state — the city of Prichard and Macon County, respectively. Why should the state have to go to the trouble and expense to deal with issues that only affect very specific places in the state?

And do the voters really know what the issues are when they cast their votes?

Amendment Two did have some statewide significance, as it affected 31 school districts, but that is a clear minority in terms of the overall number. As such, the amendment was approved in large measure by voters who did not have a direct stake in the outcome.

All three amendments should, therefore, add fuel to the fire on the issue of constitutional reform. Surely, localities should be empowered to take care of local business.

I must confess to finding it wholly baffling that anyone in the rest of the state would care whether the citizens of Prichard want to create a zone in their city for economic development, but such is life in the land of the Constitution of 1901.

The elections also raise an ongoing question about state party politics: From whence will come the next big Democratic hope?

At the moment, it is true that the Legislature remains in Democratic hands, but like other Southern states, Alabama will hit a point in the next several cycles where that will likely no longer be the case.

The process of two-party competition taking hold in the once solidly Democratic South is a slow one, and typically starts at the congressional level and filters downward.

For example, it only hit the legislature in Texas, a very Republican state, in 2002, and the Georgia Legislature during the last electoral cycle.

While we may be waiting to see how that plays out in Alabama, it is clear that for statewide offices (and for the congressional delegation), the GOP has a considerable foothold.

Congressionally speaking, we may see a Democratic move by Artur Davis in 2008 or 2010 for the U.S. Senate, which would mark the first quality opposition that either of the current senators has faced in some time (if ever).

In terms of governor, the Democrats have some recruiting to do. One wonders if Jim Folsom is interested in another run at the governor’s mansion. Such a move could be seen as the Democrats dipping into the past rather than seeking a clear future.

The chief-justice-elect, Sue Bell Cobb, is the other major Democrat in a statewide position. Does she represent a possible future for the party, or is she content to remain in the judiciary?

Two other questions arise in terms of the immediate future.

First, how will Gov. Riley and ex-Gov./Lt. Gov. Folsom work together? Will the relationship be one of cooperation or conflict? And will it matter one way or another in terms of governance?

Second, the governor again faces a Democratically controlled Legislature. How will that affect his ability to achieve his “Plan 2010″ goals?

Along the same line, will the state continue to perform well economically, which will allow the Legislature to have ample revenues? As we all know, if tax dollars demonstrate a healthy flow, Goat Hill is a fairly harmonious place; but when it slows to a trickle, the fisticuffs begin.

In any event, the ongoing story of state politics continues, giving the political junkies among us plenty to contemplate.

Filed under: US Politics, My Columns, Alabama Politics, 2006 Elections | |Send TrackBack

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