Inside the Statehouse
October 30, 2013 - Steve Flowers
The greatest partisan change in American political history has occurred during my lifetime. The transformation of Alabama and our sister Deep South states from an all Democratic region to an all Republican territory has been remarkable and historic.
Exactly 50 years ago today Alabama’s entire delegation in Washington was Democratic. Democrats held all seven constitutional offices. Every member of the Supreme Court ran as a Democrat. Sixty-six out of 67 sheriffs were Democrats and 138 of 140 members of the legislature were Democrats.
Fast-forward 50 years to October of 2013. You see just the opposite picture. All seven executive constitutional offices including governor are held by Republicans. Every member of the Supreme Court and all ten appellate judges are Republican. Six of our seven congressmen are Republican and both U.S. Senators are stalwart members of the GOP. Both the State House of Representatives and our State Senate are overwhelmingly Republican. That is quite a change.
This titanic shift began in the Fall of 1964 when Republican Barry Goldwater carried the Heart of Dixie. He not only broke the ice, he shattered the Democratic hold on the South. When it comes to presidential politics, we are the most reliable Republican region of the country.
Since the Goldwater landslide of 1964, the GOP candidate for president has carried Alabama in every presidential election with the exception of 1968 when George Wallace won the state as an Independent and 1976 when Georgia Democrat peanut farmer Jimmy Carter carried the state. It has been 37 years since a Democrat carried Alabama. In the last 50 years the score is Republicans 11 and Democrats 1.
I am not saying the Democratic Party is dead. However, the odds of a Democrat winning a statewide race in Alabama would be analogous to and have the same odds as Tulane beating Alabama in football.
The Democrats failed to even field a single candidate in our Supreme Court races in 2012. It looks like the same thing will occur this year. Our sister southern state of Louisiana had no Democratic statewide candidates for their constitutional offices in 2012.
However, some of our southern neighbors are seeing some brave souls seek statewide offices as Democrats in the upcoming 2014 elections. In Georgia, the daughter of their last Democratic U.S. Senator is seeking her father’s former seat as a Democrat. Sam Nunn was a very popular long term Senator from Georgia, the last of his breed of conservative Democrats from the South. His daughter Michelle Nunn is running a serious campaign. She is working to portray herself as a moderate to conservative candidate to Georgia’s rural voters who are overwhelmingly Republican. She takes heart in the fact that Atlanta is now a cosmopolitan melting pot. It has one of the largest gay communities in American and its significant African American population makes it a Democratic target in future years. In fact, Obama only lost Georgia by five percentage points in 2012.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, is taking a similar approach in her attempt to knock off U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In Arkansas, former Rep. Mike Ross is running for Governor of Arkansas as a Democrat and is given an outside chance since popular Republican Governor Mike Beebe is retiring.
South Carolina boasts of being the most Republican state in the country. However, Vincent Sheehan is running against incumbent GOP Governor Nikki Haley. He ran against Haley four years ago and lost by 60,000 votes or about 5%. South Carolina voters fall almost exactly along racial lines with most whites voting Republican and most blacks voting Democratic.
All of these southern Democratic candidates are striving to distance themselves from President Barrack Obama and the national Democratic Party. They are stressing their lifelong roots in their respective states and portraying themselves as real southerners. They are also focusing on bread and butter issues and trying to sell themselves as problem solvers. These folks are facing an uphill battle in the Deep South. We will see.
November 6, 2013 - Steve Flowers
Alabama is without a doubt one of the most heavily laden military employee states in the union. In fact, if you took the federal military employment and automobile manufacturing employment out of Alabama we would be decimated.
When the federal furloughs occurred recently it had a profound affect on Alabama. When the furloughs hit more than 20,000 Alabama workers, mostly civilians, were affected.
We have tremendously important and significant federal bases in strategic parts of the state. These military bases are the heart and soul of their regions. These bases are vitally important to Alabama.
Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal, Dothan’s Fort Rucker and Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base are the most important economic engines of these areas of the state. When you throw in Mobile’s Corp of Engineers, you are talking about a lot of good paying jobs.
Recently, while visiting with Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, I asked him about the most important and largest employer in his city. I assumed that with Montgomery being the capital, state government and state employees was number one. My second assumption was that the tremendous Hyundai plant located in Montgomery was number two. He said neither is number one. The number one economic impetus and largest employer in the River Region is the Maxwell-Gunter Air Force facility. I was amazed.
Strange further elaborated that there are additional benefits to his city that do not show up in statistics. Thousands of military retirees have chosen Montgomery as their retirement home. These Air Force officers, who retire in Montgomery and throughout the state, are extremely important to Alabama’s economy. They may have been born in Minnesota but decide they like the climate in the South and do not want to pay the high property taxes on the Florida Gulf Coast. Strange said if you throw in the ramifications of military retirees, the importance of Maxwell/Gunter becomes even more significant.
If you think Maxwell is important to Montgomery, then you ain’t seen nothing when you compare how important the Redstone Arsenal is to Huntsville or Fort Rucker is to the Wiregrass. These two bases are the premier economic centers of their regions. Redstone Arsenal and NASA built Huntsville. Like Montgomery, most of these high paid NASA engineers choose to retire in the beautiful Tennessee Valley area of our state.
Folks, there are over 400,000 military retirees living in Alabama. We are and have always been a very pro military state. Our state merit system is even designed to give preferences to military veterans. We also have 12,000 Alabamians on current active military duty. In addition, we have 22,000 in Reserves and in the National Guard.
You can thank a congressional delegation of bygone years for these vital federal facilities located in our state. We had a tandem in the U.S. Senate for close to 30 years that spanned the 1940’s through 1960’s that were instrumental in securing and nurturing these important bases. Senators Lister Hill and John Sparkman spearheaded the efforts to locate Redstone Arsenal, and other bases to their state. We are reaping the benefits today of these two distinguished gentlemen’s efforts.
Lister Hill was from Montgomery. He worked diligently to sustain Maxwell and Gunter in his hometown. John Sparkman was born in Hartselle and moved to Huntsville as an adult to practice law. Both men were SGA presidents at the University of
Alabama. Both men graduated from Alabama Law School and practiced law a short time before going to Congress at an early age. They both served about 10 years in the U.S. Congress before garnering their U.S. Senate seats before they were 40 years old. Hill was the scion of a prominent Montgomery family. Sparkman was the ultimate Horatio Alger story.
Both left an indelible mark on the state. We are reaping the harvest from their labors today. As mentioned, Redstone Arsenal and NASA are what built Huntsville. Therefore, John Sparkman’s being the father of that base leaves quite a legacy. They probably should change the city’s name from Huntsville to Sparkmanville.
Our Senior Senator Richard Shelby has done a yeoman’s job of protecting and sustaining these facilities over the last 20 years. He has been especially instrumental in the funding of Redstone Arsenal.
We have had some outstanding U.S. Senators from our state. However, history will record that our three greatest senators have been Lister Hill, John Sparkman and Richard Shelby.