By Mark Kelly via Weld for Birmingham | May 2, 2017
If you live in Alabama and pay even fleeting attention to the ebb and flow of the open sewer that has passed for political discourse in our state since time immemorial, you know that the fortunes of the Alabama Democratic Party have been on the wane for quite a while now. About three decades and counting, to be exact.
Beginning with the 1986 election of Alabama’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction — Guy Hunt, a chicken farmer, Amway salesman, and part-time preacher from Cullman County who previously had been a perennial joke of a candidate, even in Republican circles — the bright spots for the state’s Democrats have been increasingly few and far between. The GOP gained control of both chambers of the Alabama Legislature in 2010, and today enjoys supermajorities in both, with 25 of 35 state Senate seats and 72 of 105 seats in the state House of Representatives.
Republicans also hold all seven of the state’s constitutional offices, along with all nine seats on the Alabama Supreme Court and all 10 of the state’s appellate judgeships. At the federal level, the GOP holds both of Alabama’s U.S. Senate seats and six of our seven seats in Congress.
In part, of course, this state of affairs is reflective of the southern trend toward Republicanism that began taking hold with the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. It’s also due in part to the ruthless efficiency — especially over the past 10 to 15 years — with which Alabama Republicans have moved to consolidate their steady gains and entrench themselves firmly at the controls of the state’s political and governmental machinery.
Mostly, though, the decline of the Alabama Democratic Party has been due to the ineptness, lassitude, and outright corruption of those who “run” it at the state level. There are other factors as well — most notably, the decline in influence of the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, the two longtime linchpins of candidate recruitment and campaign funding for Democrats — which, in combination with the others I’ve enumerated, add up to what would appear to be a bleak outlook for Democrats in general, at least for the foreseeable future.
Enter Anthony Daniels. A 34-year-old, first-term legislator from Huntsville — he was elected in 2014 — Daniels in February became the minority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives. He is the first black minority leader in the history of the state House. More importantly, he is determined to rebuild the Democratic Party in Alabama from the ground up, and, at least to hear him tell it, is optimistic about the prospects for success.
I first met Daniels a few weeks ago, when he stopped by the Weld offices for an informal chat about his plans and hopes for his party and for Alabama as a whole. We sat down again on May 1, when I interviewed him for WeldCast, the podcast Weld launched last year. That interview will be available online at weldbham.com later this week, but it seemed fitting to devote this week’s “Red Dirt” to some brief excerpts from our 40-minute conversation. Daniels is a refreshing voice in Alabama politics, and whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or, like so many Alabamians (including this one), a little weary — and wary — of the apparent inability or unwillingness of either party to address issues that affect the lives of the vast majority of our citizens, what he has to say is worth listening to.