Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Steve Flowers: Inside The Statehouse: Stacking the courts

  Alabama’s high courts are about as Republican as any elected tribunals in the country. We have six criminal appeals court judges and all six are Republican. We have six civil appeals court judges and all six are Republican. We have nine Supreme Court judges and eight of the nine are Republican. That makes our appellate courts 20 out of 21 Republican.

  This year three seats on the Alabama Supreme Court are up for election. A Republican will win all three. The two incumbents are predicted to win and Republican Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Kelli Wise is expected to move into the open Supreme Court seat vacated by Patti Smith.

  We also have the most expensive judicial races in the nation. Over the past decade there has been more money raised and spent in election campaigns for the Alabama Supreme Court than in any of the other 21 states that elect their high court. From 2000 to 2009 candidates for the Alabama Supreme Court raised over $40 million to fund their campaigns. Total spending on Supreme Court races in Alabama was 46 percent higher than in Ohio, which was the second highest spending state and Ohio has over twice the population of Alabama. This imbalance of spending and Republicanism stems from the determination of big business interests in Alabama and throughout the country to keep Alabama from reverting back to being the plaintiff trial lawyer paradise that we were in the 1980s.

  When the dust settles in November we will still have eight extremely conservative pro business Republicans and one lone Democrat on the State Supreme Court. Ninety-five percent of Alabama voters will not be able to tell you which three Republicans they voted for a year from now, nor could they tell you the names of three of the nine justices on the high court. The fact is that Alabamians vote for Republicans for the Court.

  This Republican tendency spills over into the attorney general’s position. Probably because voters perceive that the office is for strict law enforcement and the perception is that Republicans are tougher on crime and criminals. This GOP leaning will give Big Luther Strange the edge to win this race. However, if Luther Strange and his Democratic opponent James Anderson laid their resumes on the table and voters evaluated their qualifications for the job Anderson would be hired hands down.

  The races for state treasurer and agriculture commissioner are a different story. Both of these constitutional offices are wide open. Kay Ivey has served her eight year limitation as treasurer and Ron Sparks has served his two terms as agriculture commissioner. Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for treasurer and agriculture commissioner are uniquely qualified and appear to be running for the posts to serve and do a good job rather than seeking the position to further a political career. The state cannot lose in these races.

  John McMillan, the Republican nominee for agriculture commissioner, has been in agriculture related businesses and politics his entire career, as has his Democratic opponent Glen Zorn. Both are good men and will do a good job.

  The same can be said for the treasurer candidates. The Democrat, Charles Grimsley, is a lifetime family banker and Republican Young Boozer is also lifetime banker with unique qualifications to be treasurer.

  Republican Secretary of State Beth Chapman should be reelected to her second term, as will State Auditor Samantha Shaw.

  The race for Place 1 on the Public Service Commission should be interesting. Incumbent Democrat Jan Cook has been castigated by the media as the worst person to ever serve in public office in Alabama. However, she always prevails and has never lost a race. She is being challenged by Republican Party activist Twinkle Cavanaugh.

  Democrat Susan Parker will be a safe bet to prevail in her race for Place 2 on the PSC. She is a stalwart candidate and one of the best horses in the Democratic stable. She is strong enough to add some coattails to the Democratic ticket, especially in vote rich North Alabama. We will see in less than two weeks.

  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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