Lessons reside in Bill Baxley versus Charles Graddick


“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana

History teaches us some valuable lessons. Learning the ins and outs of Alabama’s politics has been one of the most fascinating parts of launching this news site. Today, Alabama is one of the reddest states in the nation. Gallup puts it second behind Mississippi in self-identified conservatives. It was not that long ago, however, that Alabama was blue.

I’ve been told of an Alabama that was bluer then than it’s red now.  I’ve heard stories of the days when the teachers unions, big labor, and trial lawyers ruled the state. The Democratic Party was king.

We’re not talking lifetimes ago; we’re talking in the mid- to late ’80s.

Fast-forward to today and I’m not even sure there is a Democratic Party in Alabama. In looking back at this latest election cycle it seemed every man or woman running as a Democrat was going at it alone or with local camps as opposed to a state operation.

So I’ve asked around about when the turning point was and what caused it. The answer from most was Bill Baxley versus Charles Graddick in 1986.

Just hearing Baxley versus Graddick one would think this was a landmark legal case or state legislative battle. Most people involved in Alabama politics have been around since then or long enough to have heard the stories and even know the actors involved. Countless articles and even a book have been written on the fight and the gubernatorial race that changed everything.

The short version, for those who don’t know the story, is that the Democratic Party allowed a power struggle between a few to divide everyone.  It was a story where one group became so concerned with its own political interest it forgot the people it was supposed to represent.  So in that year people decided to make a change.

It wasn’t around any issue, but because internal party politics had become so nasty. It began that cycle with the election of the first Republican governor since Reconstruction and culminated in 2010 the Republican control of the governor’s office, Legislature and every statewide constitutional officer. Only one Democrat has been elected to the governor’s office between then and now, Don Siegelman.

One of the authors of the book After Wallace documenting the fall of the Alabama Democratic Party, Patrick Cottel, said in a 2009 interview with the Tuscaloosa News, “I think when people feel where they are left out of the process and there are people making decisions for them, they don’t necessarily like that when it comes to Election Day … politicians learn it over and over again.”

With some much change it’s interesting to see how much is the same.  Republicans have taken up the mantle of power and unfortunately it looks like they have started their own infighting. Punches are thrown every day and not just behind closed doors. Let’s just admit it’s not in a productive way.

I disagree wholeheartedly with Gov. Robert Bentley about raising taxes or expanding Medicaid, but calling him names or citing others who will call him names isn’t helping the case against his policies.  Whose best interest is that in and what good does it do? Surely it’s not the party I love or the state I have made my home that benefits from that.

There is nothing wrong, in fact it’s impossible to avoid, disagreements within political parties these days. With a two-party system umbrellas have gotten big, leaving a lot of room between the moderates and extremes within both parties. It’s important that both sides challenge one another and come to conclusions that are in the best interest of everyone, but let’s do it civilly.

What should be avoided is letting it become personal and the political fights in this state seem to be pretty personal right now.  The Republican Party is splintering or has splintered into camps, and now seems like a good time to remind everyone that we’ve seen this before and the results … well you can ask the Democrats how it works out.

Graddick spoke to a reporter at AL.com this past year about his party’s downfall and succinctly said, “I’d like to say it was me, but it was more the Democratic Party hierarchy. They shot themselves in the foot.”

Here’s to hoping those in the circular firing squad within the Republican Party hierarchy put down their gun before its too late.

File photo