Everything changed on Election Day, and nothing changed.
Democrats hold the U.S. House of Representatives after Tuesday’s elections. Alabama’s government remains solidly Republican. In a contentious time when politicians aren’t inclined to reach across the aisle, it’s hard to predict what will happen next, except gridlock.
Even so, candidates have left a few crumbs — both before and after the election — to hint at what could come next in Alabama politics. Here’s a look at five things Alabamians could see as a result of what happened on Election Day.
Spin. When Republicans won the House in the Tea Party surge of 2010, President Barack Obama was quick to say his party had suffered a “shellacking” at the polls. President George W. Bush described his party’s 2006 midterm losses a “thumping.”
Those days are over. In an era when everything is partisan, any poll can be spun, even the one that happens on Election Day. President Donald Trump described Tuesday’s results as a “big win” despite the fact that Democrats took the House. Closer to home, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers on Tuesday night downplayed the idea that the election was a “blue wave,” while acknowledging that Democrats would win the House. The Etowah County GOP chairman even described the state’s results as a “red wave,” according to the Gadsden Times.
What actually happened was more mundane than either side would probably like to admit. Democrats took the House from the party in power, which is not uncommon in the midterms. Alabama stayed red, and got a little redder, with several new House seats flipping to the Republican side.
If there was a wave in Alabama, it was probably purple. Fifty percent of voters showed up on Tuesday, well above the 40 percent turnout of 2010. But the turnout didn’t move the needle much; incumbents for the most part drubbed challengers by margins that looked a lot like 2014. Both sides seemed to boost their turnout.
As Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, put it on election night: It’s “a wash.”
Roads, bridges ... and taxes. With a divided Congress, it’s likely we’ll see plenty of gridlock over the next couple of years. But the elusive Infrastructure Week may actually be drawing closer. Before the election and after, local Republican candidates said they thought a bill on road-and-bridge spending was likely after the election, even with a Democratic win.
“That’s something that both parties want to see done,” Rogers said on election night.
That could mean you’ll pay more at the pump next year. The federal government almost always requires states to pitch in a little when road and bridge funding gets handed down. Gas tax increases — which Alabama lawmakers have come close to passing in recent years — are the way governments typically pay for those road projects.
Bipartisanship, the final frontier. Rogers is perhaps the U.S. House’s biggest advocate of the creation of a separate branch of the military just for space. Over the past year, that idea caught Trump’s imagination, and “Space Force!” has since become a Trump rally cry.
After his victory speech Tuesday, Rogers sounded like he was adjusting his orbit around the Trump plan. He said he wanted a Space Corps within the Air Force, with air and space having equal footing. Trump, he said, wanted a separate branch that would include a Secretary of the Space Force.
“That still has huge support within the Congress,” Rogers said. “President Trump is proposing that we create a whole ’nother department to put the Space Force in.”
He said there was support for his version on the other side of the aisle.
Rogers will likely need that bipartisan support if he hopes to pass a Space Corps bill, now that Democrats control the House.
More conflict about money in Montgomery. With the economy booming, it’s less likely that lawmakers will face the kind of budget crises that haunted them in 2012 and 2015. But Republican candidates have said they do expect to take a serious look, in 2019 or 2020, at the massive amounts of money the state earmarks for specific agencies. Budget hawks have long claimed that too much earmarking is one cause of Alabama’s regular struggles to make ends meet. Every earmark is a secure stream of money for some agency or community, so fights over ending earmarks could be brutal.
A good economy may not be the only windfall that’s bringing more money to the state’s coffers. The state has a new rulebook for assessing property tax, and those new rules have caused a surge in assessed values. In Calhoun County, the total value of private property surged $1 billion from 2017 to 2018, and property taxes billed in the county jumped from $45 million to $49 million in a single year.
Before the election, Marsh said he may look deeper into the assessments when the Senate reconvenes.
Struggle among Democrats. After her defeat at the polls on Tuesday, Democratic congressional candidate Mallory Hagan had plenty of criticism for her own party. In a speech to supporters, captured by TV station WSFA, Hagan named party leaders Nancy Worley, Joe Reed and Randy Kelley and said the party hadn’t provided the support any of this year’s candidates needed.
“If you are mad and you are angry that we didn’t win, don’t be mad at the Republican Party,” she said. “Be mad at our own.”
Fights over the influence of Worley and Reed have roiled the party for years — ever since the Democrats went broke and lost the 2010 midterms. Hagan’s speech is a sign that the fighting probably isn’t over yet.