Thursday, June 17, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: The Ron Sparks, Jim Folsom dynamic

  As the 2010 gubernatorial contest began to formulate almost two years ago, the premier face card in the mix was Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. He was expected to skate through the Democratic primary unscathed and arrive at the general election dance unblemished by negative ads and with his campaign coffers untapped. It was expected that a strong field of Republicans would clash over the GOP nomination. Throughout their family feud they would pummel each other with negative ads and the winner of the primary would emerge in mid July beaten up and broke. This bruised and broke nominee would face the fresh and flush Folsom with only three months to recover and Folsom would waltz to victory.

  However, a funny thing happened on the way to the dance. A young African American congressman from Birmingham boldly declared his candidacy for governor. Once it became apparent that Artur Davis would not back down and was dedicated to running, Folsom had to reevaluate his plan to run for governor. It was really an easy decision for Folsom. He probably did not want to run for governor anyway.  He prefers the life of lieutenant governor. You can make money in the private sector and enjoy your family life with plenty of hunting and fishing because the lieutenant governor does not do anything anyway. Folsom likes having the best of both worlds. Therefore, he graciously and happily acquiesced to Davis’ kamikaze mission to end his promising congressional career.

  Folsom also realized that a family brawl on the Democratic side would be suicide. The Party’s base is dwindling. African Americans now make up the majority of the party in Alabama. You almost have to have a straight flush to win as a Democrat for Governor of Alabama.

  Folsom made the right decision. His departure from the race rearranged the chairs on the deck. Ron Sparks was poised to run for Folsom’s job as lieutenant governor. He made no secret of the fact that he would defer to Folsom and whatever race Folsom made he would choose the other. Therefore, Sparks ran for governor out of default. As we now know, Sparks exposed Artur Davis as a weakling and captured the Democratic nomination for Governor of Alabama.

  Folsom’s decision to opt out of the governor’s race also affected the Republican primary. Every major GOP player who surveyed the playing field saw a clear shot at being governor. The only hurdle they faced was the Republican primary. They could pull out all the stops, spend all their money and beat up on their GOP brothers in the primary because once they emerged they would be facing a mild-mannered, uncharismatic, African American opponent.  In the Heart of Dixie that is called a free pass. In basketball terminology it is referred to as a slam dunk.

  The GOP hopefuls only had to look at the numbers from the 2008 presidential election to see that Barack Obama got a meager 39 percent of the total vote in Alabama. That translates into about 12 percent of the white vote in the state. You need to get at least 33 percent of the white vote even if you get 96 percent of the black vote, which Obama achieved in Alabama. Therefore, it was apparent that Davis was on a Don Quixote trip to Buck’s Pocket. When white voters saw Artur Davis, they saw everything they disliked about Barack Obama. However, as we now know, Davis lacked Obama’s appeal to black voters.

  This scenario emboldened the GOP aspirants. They saw a clear path to governor if they could only win the Republican nomination. However, they knew they would face a strong field of Republican brethren in this family feud because the race was wide open and there would be no incumbent governor in the mix.

  We will continue next week with the development and analysis of the Republican race to succeed Bob Riley as Governor of Alabama.

  See you next week.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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