Thursday, November 4, 2010

Digital Roundtable: CCFP editors examine the Alabama general election results

Editor's note: This discussion between Capital City Free Press Editors Joseph Patton and Josh Carples examines the results of Alabama's most hotly contested races from the November 2 election.


Patton: No true surprise in the race for governor. Robert Bentley polled well ahead of Ron Sparks throughout this race. What intrigues me about the situation is we really don’t know Bentley. He was not a high-profile member of the Alabama Legislature and he was a counted-out dark horse candidate in the Republican primary. He arguably jetted into the nomination by default as a result of Republican voters’ distaste for Bradley Byrne’s and Tim James’ negative campaigning. Anyone among us know what we’re getting into with Bentley? He seems to be respected across party lines, which is always a plus, but it’s not necessarily indicative of how he may govern.

  It took less than 24 hours for him to make a statement about the anti-gambling task force in place under Bob Riley, and I find that promising if only for the fact that he’s following through on a promise and didn’t just use it as ammo to get elected. He is also sounding a bipartisan note in the wake of his victory, which is also a positive sign. By virtue of being a member of the Alabama House - a rare characteristic among Alabama governors - I would hope that will ensure better relations with that body unlike the contentious link between recent governors and the legislature.

  Variables aside I think Bentley’s biggest challenge will be acting - and doing so quickly - to get the state’s budgetary woes in check and do what he can to spur job creation. Citizens are notoriously impatient, especially in a climate like this.

  Where do you see Ron Sparks landing after this? He was widely praised across party lines for his work as Alabama Agriculture Commissioner. I just don’t see him getting out of the game altogether. Do you see him running for elected office in the future? If so, which one?

Carples: I hope Bentley continues to push for bipartisanship and uses his legislative experience as a way to bring both sides together to help Alabamians.

  As far as Sparks, I won’t speculate as to what he will do after this. He seemed to do well at the Department of Agriculture; he was especially instrumental in promoting agriculture trade with Cuba. As far as his political future goes, he still has time and a record to run on, so I would not count him out.

Lieutenant Governor

Patton: I was absolutely floored by the outcome in this race. I expected it to be close, but I’m genuinely surprised that Alabama voters chose Kay Ivey, known for being quite partisan, to a position in which she’ll have to foster cooperation and bipartisanship among state senators. It should also be fresh in voters minds how the PACT program dropped into a tailspin under her watch. Her resume doesn’t stack up to Jim Folson’s either. In fact, her campaign was marked by contradictions. Despite her sharply partisan demeanor, she nonetheless scolded Folsom for not making the Alabama Senate more harmonious and productive. Yet how does she expect to remedy that when she’s so apt to engage in partisan bickering herself?

  I’m also concerned that Ivey has a responsibility issue. Instead of doing the responsible thing and dealing with the PACT’s failing head-on, she dropped the ball and let the legislature deal with it. She then had the nerve to blame Folsom for the mess by virtue of him serving on the PACT board, when ironically enough he was heavily involved in the senate bill to save the program.

  Given the experience gap between these two candidates, is this evidence that Alabamians are increasingly voting by party lines rather than weighing the ideas and experience of the individual candidates? Do you think that’s a positive trend? Are we,  the voters, going to be well-served by that type of approach to electing our representation?

Carples: This election was a lot about anger towards Washington, so there probably was a lot of straight-ticket Republican voting this time, which certainly would have helped Ivey. Of course, to be fair, we saw similar straight-ticket Democrat voting in 2008. I also think many people saw gridlock in the legislature, gambling indictments and general nastiness to the point that they put some of the blame on the lieutenant governor, fairly or not. Enough voters also seemed to overlook the PACT problem in this race, too.

Attorney General

Patton: This race was closer than I anticipated. It’s virtually a lock in Alabama every four years that a Republican will be elected to this position. Anderson - despite the money gap between himself and Luther Strange - ran a surprisingly close race. I think it’s further proof that party affiliation counts more than anything else to Alabamians because a cursory look at the resumes of these gentleman leaves little doubt as to who is more qualified.

  I’m also dumfounded that for decades voters of both parties and independents alike have expressed a universal disgust of those who make a living representing the interests of large corporations. And yet, Alabama voters have embraced Luther Strange who has spent his adult life in this capacity. Can you make sense of that? Is it purely voters’ partisanship showing again?

Carples:  I think the national anger affected this race, too, especially since the lobbyist label was affixed to Strange when he ran against Jim Folsom, Jr. for lieutenant governor four years ago. This time, people seemed to want a party change.

Public Service Commission, Place 1

Patton: I’m deeply disappointed that Twinkle Cavanaugh was able to bump off long-time incumbent Jan Cook. It has nothing to do with party affiliation though, or any kind of attachment to Cook. Cavanaugh - as chair of the Alabama Republican Party - was one of the most dirty-playing, divisive and insulting political operatives in the state at the time. Considering she’s now charged with representing all Alabamians when it comes to items pending before the PSC, I hope she’ll evolve into the role and be competent and drop the hateful demeanor. After years of us being subjected to her incendiary, low-brow rhetoric, I have little faith in that happening though.

Carples: Cavanaugh’s partisan background is one of the reasons this publication endorsed Cook in this race.

Public Service Commission, Place 2

Patton: This seems to be more blind partisan voting. Dr. Susan Parker has been a tireless advocate for Alabamians in this position, just as she was in during her service as state auditor. Among other achievements, Parker launched the Consumer Education Initiative and made available the Consumers’ Bill of Rights to citizens. Very few people in this state - Democrat or Republican - even know who Terry Dunn is. He was endorsed by a Tea Party outfit, so I guess that’s all voters were concerned with. I hope we haven’t seen the last of Dr. Parker in the political world though.

Carples: I think party voting plays a lot into Public Service Commission races anyway. It’s a smaller position in state politics, not by importance necessarily, but by profile. In that case, people are more likely to pick based on party than individual candidates, unless a high-profile, recognizable name is attached – PSC President Lucy Baxley, for example.

District 2, House of Representatives

Patton: I’m not at all surprised Martha Roby edged out Bobby Bright. This race became laughable, with each candidate trying to prove who was the bigger conservative, and with Roby so fixated on now outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that an outsider would think Roby was running against her instead of Bright.

  But aside from giving the Republican Party a pick-up number-wise in the House, I don’t see the impact of this result. From everything we’ve heard it seems Bright and Roby would have voted the same on most legislation anyway.

  Do you think Bright essentially disowning his own party led to his defeat, as in loyal Democrats not bothering to vote in this contest because they rightfully did not have a genuine Democrat candidate in the mix? And do you think this is the last we’ve seen of Bright pursuing elected office?

Carples: I don’t think Bright’s independent stance affected him too much. Considering he and Roby agree on most of the big issues anyway, this race shows how much the “D” or “R” next to a name is worth in this district. I think what this district traded, however, was a conservative who would buck his national party leaders for a conservative who will, most likely, be a rubber stamp for the national Republican party.

District 7, House of Representatives

Patton: It was over before it started, but kudos to our Congresswoman-elect Terri Sewell, making history as the first black woman elected to Congress from the state of Alabama. In a sea of proverbial red, she should be a reliable ally for President Obama. Sewell readily voiced her support for many of his major initiatives and voters in D-7 overwhelmingly approved of those stances.

Alabama Legislature

Patton: I was somewhat surprised that the majority flipped in both Houses to such an extent. It will be fascinating to see whether after all these years of playing the part of the loyal opposition, Republicans will be able to change course and step to the front when it comes to offering viable solutions to problems facing this state. They can no longer slouch back and blame the Democrats for any and every failing or problem, especially since they now control every branch of government in Alabama. As LBJ once famously said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a skilled carpenter to build one.”

  There is great potential for Republicans to implement their agenda, and yet there is an equal if not greater risk of them being blamed for continuing economic problems, including high unemployment as well as budget-related strains. The party in power always takes the blame, and across the country voters have overwhelmingly shown how impatient they are. They’re essentially saying, “We’ll give you a chance… but we’re watching the clock.”

  A shining spot for Democrats was political newcomer Joe Hubbard’s defeat of incumbent Alabama House District 73 Representative David Grimes. Hubbard is ambitious and came armed with a slew of policy goals. Grimes seemed content to sit on his record and simply hope for the best.

  Do you think Hubbard’s break-out campaign may be used as a template for future Democrat office-seekers in Alabama as it was the most notable upset favoring a Democrat in a state where voters sided with Republicans in a landslide?

Carples: There are some issues that people in both parties have talked about for years. I guess we’ll see if important ethics issues like banning PAC to PAC transfers will actually come to pass under new leadership.

  And Hubbard should be congratulated for putting forth a plan instead of relying on party labels. That was still a close race, but he shows an enthusiasm not seen in quite a while in that district.

  As far as this race being a template for others, I think that’s a good idea. While politicians are known for talking about problems, he made his platform about listening and crafting solutions. My hope is that he will be able to deliver on those ideas now.

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