In preparing for a speech I recently gave to college freshmen, I was asked to read The American War, a fiction about a future civil war caused in large part by global warming. The Deep South, or, as the author called it, the “Free Southern State,” was the venue. The author wrote, “It [is] said in the South there is no future, only three kinds of past — the distant past of heritage, the near past of experience, and the past-in-waiting.” I fear that the recent elections for the State Executive Committee of the Alabama Democratic Party (SDEC) illustrate this prophecy of doom, that we have no future, just a “past-in-waiting” where we don’t learn from the past and continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
The SDEC held officer elections on August 11. Although these officer elections impact the future of our state, an overwhelming majority of Alabama citizens, even self-identifying Democrats, were unaware the elections even took place. What the majority of Alabamians missed was that for the first time since the resignation of former Justice Mark Kennedy, a viable alternative to current leadership sought to lead the party. That candidate lost because our party continues to repeat past mistakes and continues to allow Joe Reed to control it.
A fine man, husband, father, attorney and life-long Democrat, Peck Fox, opposed Chairman Nancy Worley for the position to lead the state party. Fox was recruited by newly elected U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in an effort to reform the party and create a structure capable of recruiting and electing qualified candidates who can win. The reformers of the Democratic Party know a viable, successful party requires the recruitment of qualified candidates who can attract voters from all walks of life and, importantly, candidates who can win in a general election. Jones, the only Democrat to win statewide office since 2006 when I was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has proven he can create the structure necessary to win statewide, but the current party leadership opposed him as he tried to give Alabama Democrats a “future.”
Fox lost because he was unable to secure the support of Reed who, along with Worley, have a death-grip on our party’s politics. Reed and Worley’s goal is simple: maintain the status quo and their power. It should pain Worley to know how many Democrats throughout the state have told me that she and Reed, her lifelong friend, “needed to go,” and for a successful party that “they had to go.”
If the Democratic Party were a business, it would have become bankrupt long ago. Although the Alabama Republican Party lacks an agenda to help the majority of Alabamians, Republicans continue to win because our party leadership doesn’t compete. It provides no outreach, no social media, no recruitment and no training and support for our candidates. Reformers in our party have grown in number due to the growing despair from this lack of leadership and have recruited a number of sharp, caring individuals. These energized citizens have offered to serve on the State Executive Committee, a job that pays nothing and some would say is more trouble than it’s worth.
The party election results disappointed many Democrats, but the candidates selected in the recent Democratic primary want a better Alabama that values compassion over division, and an Alabama with greater justice both in access and quality. These candidates want public policy that truly reflects Alabama values that are rooted in the Old and New Testaments.
The upcoming November election has given Democrats in Alabama an opportunity to achieve measurable gains. Republicans in our state are proven to be corrupt, with the former governor, speaker of the House and chief justice all being ousted for wrongdoing. It should be easy to take advantage of the embarrassment caused by the former Republican governor’s love affair, subsequent divorce and resignation. It should be easy to take advantage of the felony conviction of the former Republican speaker of the House and for his violation of the ethics laws he championed in his rise to power. And it should be easy to take advantage of the twin removals of a Republican chief justice. Sadly, Worley and Reed were unable or unwilling to do so.
I fear that Worley and Reed’s victories illustrate that we have no future, just a past-in-waiting, that we are always making the same mistakes over and over again. Reed can appoint delegates at large. At the last minute he did, and his hand-picked delegates to the state committee then sealed the victory for him, their benefactor, and Worley, his sidekick, who were given another opportunity to lead the state Democratic Party into oblivion.
The time is now for Reed and Worley to make a sacrifice worthy of their lifelong dedication to racial and gender equality and their decade-long contributions to the party. New leadership can recruit and support qualified, electable Democratic candidates who appeal to the growing number of independents in our state. Stepping aside for new leadership would earn them praise from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico and the only ones upset would be Republicans, who are counting on Democrats’ inability to innovate. It is time for them to take that step.
Sue Bell Cobb, who recently lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, is the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.