Rural areas support Democrats and Republicans
Published 9:03 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Many of you have asked the question of why, when Alabama is considered such a Republican state when it comes to Presidential politics, is the Alabama Legislature so predominately Democratic.
It is quite an anomaly.
Indeed, since 1964, Alabama has become a Republican state in presidential elections. When Goldwater turned the tide that year there has been very little looking back.
This presidential leaning carries over to all Washington politics for us Alabamians. Both our U.S. senators, and five out of seven of our Congressmen are Republican. We have also made the decision that we want Republicans in our state courts. Our Alabama Supreme Court is now nine out of nine Republicans. Our state appellate courts are also majority Republican.
The line of demarcation is the governor's race. We are selective and we vote for who we think is the best man or woman for the job. We are so undecided and bipartisan that we have in recent years flipped the office every quadrennium.
In 1994 we elected a Republican, in 1998 a Democrat and in 2002 a Republican.
Therefore, in 2006 it is favored to be a Democrat. However, below the governor's office we are a Democratic state for local offices. The vast majority of probate judges and sheriffs are Alabama Democrats. Therefore, we are Republican above the governor's race, evenly divided on the governor, and Democratic below the governor.
The Legislature is still perceived as a local race, at least in rural Alabama. However, in the metropolitan areas of Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile the lines have been drawn.
The predominately white suburbs elect Republicans while the predominately black inner city folks elect Democrats. This is so true that all three of these metropolitan areas' legislative delegations are made up of either all white Republicans or all black Democrats.
So why is there a 63 to 42 Democratic edge in the House and a 25 to 10 Democratic majority in the Senate? The answer is that most of the rural counties of Alabama are represented by white Democrats. These Democrats are getting older and have served a long time in the Legislature and hold most of the leadership positions.
The irony is that these same voters who live in rural Alabama vote Republican in Presidential politics, but will still vote for their local legislator who is a Democrat. In the rural areas of Alabama they actually know their legislator. He is their neighbor, relative, fellow church member, and friend. They know old Joe and trust him and they certainly do not think of him as some wild-eyed liberal. Old Joe is safe, but old Joe is getting older.
When he passes on or does not run for reelection what happens?
Political experts believe that in the next decade these seats will go Republican. Trends indicate that rural or small town whites will join their suburban neighbors and elect Republicans to the Legislature.
The only reason these districts have not already gone Republican is that a veteran, trusted, entrenched Democrat is so popular personally that he transcends party lines. When these icons leave these districts could fall to Republicans.
The examples are obvious. In the House you can begin with the Speaker Seth Hammett. His Covington County seat will probably go Republican if he leaves. The same is true of longtime veterans such as Jack Venable of Elmore, Joe Carothers of Houston, Tommy Carter of Limestone, Albert Hall of Madison and Richard Laird of Randolph. These men are Democrats in Republican seats.
Some examples in the State Senate would be Tom Butler of Madison, Tommy Ed Roberts of Morgan, Ted Little of Auburn, Hinton Mitchem of Marshall and maybe even the Pro Tem Lowell Barron's DeKalb/Jackson district.
There is no question but that these seats will be in play when these popular incumbents retire. More than likely within a decade you will have parity in both chambers. Voting trends portend this probability earlier. However, my guess is that most of the above mentioned legislators run for and win reelection in 2006 which delays the inevitable change.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.