In Alabama politics, anything can happen. The state has overpaid sheriffs and underfed prisoners, underemployed youth and overcrowded prisons, twice removed judges, convicted politicians, and scandals both personal and political. Lately, out of that rank political potpourri, a couple of strange senate arrangements have simmered to the surface and may soon make their mark on the capital.
In the Alabama Senate, the body’s president, Del Marsh, has decided the state’s legislative redistricting plan should go through the tourism and marketing committee. You’re probably scratching your head. I am, too.
Then, when it comes to the U.S. Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has drawn a red line for GOP workers in the Yellowhammer State: Don’t fight against Luther Strange. That’s a lifesaver for Strange, but it’s a raw deal for average Alabamians. Together, these developments are a set of senate arrangements that could only happen in the free-for-all that has — sadly — become our state’s political standard.
Look away, Dixie Land
Alabama junior U.S. Sen. Luther Strange — the last vestige of the Robert Bentley sex scandal — has received a gift from above: the powerful backing and protection of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has put out the word Strange is to be an ally, not an electoral opponent, of establishment GOP consultants.
“We have made it very clear from the beginning that Sen. Luther Strange would be treated as an incumbent,” Katie Martin, spokesperson for the NRSC, told Politico. “It has also been a clear policy that we will not use vendors who work against our incumbents.”
That “clear policy” may help shield Strange from primary opponents come this summer, of which there are already several, including former Chief Justice Roy Moore and Alabama House Rep. Ed Henry.
Henry, who spearheaded the Bentley impeachment probe, has said the NRSC’s move will hurt competition for the seat.
“I’ve run across a few [consultants] that do work for [the NRSC], and they’re not willing to take on anybody that would get them in trouble with [them],” Henry has said. “If [Sen. Strange is] going to have $10 million worth of TV ads bombarding the state of Alabama, and no one in the state of Alabama has the ability to compete with that type of media presence, [then] Washington, D.C., through Luther Strange, will be dictating what the message is, and it’s just another example of how far our country has fallen,” he continued.
Strange was previously Alabama attorney general, but was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Bentley, whom Strange was charged with investigating in a criminal probe, one he had paused. That eventually led to the governor’s resignation and guilty plea on misdemeanor charges. Because of the shadow this casts over Strange’s incumbency, he shouldn’t be getting the protection NRSC is offering him — but he is.
“Anyone who runs against Luther is going to have every oppo shop in DC and elsewhere digging up their past and airing their dirty laundry,” said West Honeycutt, a political consultant and Alabamian.
Tour de farce
After multiple courts — including the nation’s highest — rebuked their original plan as racially motivated and unconstitutional, Alabama lawmakers are proposing a new legislative redistricting map, and instead of going through the normal process, Senate President Del Marsh has assigned the bill to the tourism and marketing committee.
After each census, states must redraw the districts from which lawmakers are elected to reflect population changes in order to adhere to the principle of one person, one vote. After the 2010 census, Alabama Republicans — who controlled state government for the first time in 136 years — drew up the best plan they could think of, and it turned out to be unconstitutional. The map the GOP majority had drawn up — and which we’ve been using in elections for half a decade — is, according to judge after judge, racially motivated, packing black voters into a small number of districts in order to dilute their political power.
“Had the District Court not taken a contrary view of the law, its … conclusions … might well have been different,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court condemning the drawing of Alabama’s districts. “There is strong, perhaps overwhelming, evidence that race did predominate as a factor when the Legislature drew the boundaries of Senate District 26, the one district that the parties have discussed here in depth.”
The result of that original act of racial malice on the part of state Republicans has been years of legal battles and a harsh reality in the Legislature: If your senator or representative is Republican, he or she is white. If they’re a Democrat, they’re most likely black. That racial division, compounded by the color-by-numbers map the GOP drew up, is still apparent in Alabama’s halls of power.
“Now we’ve got down to a situation where you have blacks in the Democratic Party in the Legislature, at least in the Senate, and you have whites in the Republican Party. What that does it take us one step closer to the past, and that’s not good in my point of view,” Sen. Hank Sanders, a black Democrat, told Salon.
Blackening the ranks of Democratic officials — or at least eliminating white Democrats remaining in the state — has been a successful tact for the GOP thus far, winning them elections on the dog-whistle visuals of yesteryear.
And sadly, Sen. Del Marsh doesn’t want the bill aimed at fixing the map — because of a court order to do so — to go through the regular process. He wants to oversee it himself, in a committee he chairs, outside of regular procedure, and somehow that will help minorities “get a fair shake.”
“I wanted the minority caucus to know they will get a fair shake, especially in committee,” he said.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon has also said changes “will come through the process.” Not the regular process, apparently.
After Marsh oversees the bill in committee, he says, the process will go back to normal.
“Once it goes through committee, it will have the normal process,” he said.
Let’s hope “normal process” doesn’t mean once the bill passes committee, lawmakers will treat black voters as political pawns and not full citizens — for the second time in a decade. That’s a senate arrangement for which we all should be ashamed.