If you worked in a national newsroom in 2013, Alabama as a topic had an above average year for a few reasons. Football and politics drove most of the news coming from the state, but other human-interest stories also made national headlines. Here are the top 10 newsmakers who -— for better or for worse — brought the national spotlight home to Alabama.
1. Bradley Byrne versus Dean Young: Jo Bonner’s announcement of his eventual resignation back in May set the stage for southwest Alabama to be the focus of the inside-the-Beltway media for the first time since 2012 — when a heated Republican presidential primary forced front-runners Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to invest time and effort in the Yellowhammer state.
But this wound up being much grander.
As an off-cycle election process played itself out a year before the 2014 midterms, it served as what some thought of as a barometer to gauge the strength of the Tea Party against the well-funded, better organized so-called Republican establishment, after a crowded primary whittled itself down to Bradley Byrne, playing the establishment role, and Dean Young, playing the Tea Party role.
While that storyline was overplayed a little by the national media, when the establishment did decide to step in, Byrne cruised to a runoff win and then ultimately a general election win. Byrne will be sworn in on Jan. 7, 2014.
2. “Turdtanic:” Some may like to forget this one, but the Carnival Triumph cruise from hell is one that Alabama got tagged with for none of its own doing.
After an engine fire rendered the Triumph without power, this Carnival cruise ship had to be towed to Mobile, which added five days to a journey for roughly 4,000 people back in February.
National media flocked to Mobile to await the arrival of the ship — an effort some saw as the media going a little overboard in its effort to document the plights of the passengers. But that stop in Mobile was short-lived as many of those passengers were taken to New Orleans before arrangements could be made to get them home.
3. Auburn’s late season surge: This may come off as a little homer-ish (as I am a proud Auburn alumnus), but back-to-back games against Georgia and archrival Alabama with dramatic endings will continue to be talked about regardless what the Auburn Tigers do in three weeks as they play for the BCS national championship against Florida State in Pasadena, Calif.’s Rose Bowl.
The ending of the Auburn-Alabama game last month, with Chris Davis’ touchdown run garnered the attention of nationally broadcasted morning and evening news programs… the play even caught the attention of the ladies on ABC’s “The View.”
Making it to Barbara Walters and Brian Williams’ radars is no small feat. But since it was done in the storied Iron Bowl rivalry game, it’ll rank up with Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s last-second heroics against Miami in 1984 for a dramatic 47-45 win, and the ending to the 1982 California-Stanford game that gave Cal a 25-20 win in this rivalry as Stanford’s band had marched onto the field before the game completed.
4. Voting Rights Act decision: In June, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
A 5-4 decision in the Shelby County v. Holder case ruled that Section 4 of the law was unconstitutional. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion that the formula in Section 4 “is unconstitutional in light of current conditions” and called on Congress to revise the formula based on that.
With Congress mired in gridlock, correcting Section 4 as Roberts had advised doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. And without Section 4 defining what areas are held to Section 5, the so-called “preclearance” portion of the law, Section 5 was rendered inoperable.
Now states that were regulated under the Voting Rights Act, which includes almost all of Alabama, no longer are required to gain approval from the Department of Justice when drawing the boundaries for districts.
5. Katherine Webb: Call his commentary ill-advised, but when Brent Musburger ogled Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s girlfriend Katherine Webb and described her on-air, he created something of a new national celebrity.
“Wow, you quarterbacks get all the good looking women. What a beautiful woman, whoa!” Musburger said as the TV cameras showed Webb in the stands at the Notre Dame-Alabama BCS game on Jan. 7. “If you’re a youngster in Alabama, start getting the football out and throw it around the backyard with pops.”
After that, the former Miss Alabama lit up social media in an otherwise lackluster contest that Alabama had won.
ESPN later apologized for Musburger’s remarks, but a star was born.
6. Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka Tea Party: Back on June 4, Gerritson testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the heels of the revelations that the IRS had allegedly been targeting her organizations and others for their political beliefs.
“I am a born-free, American woman – wife, mother and citizen – and I’m telling MY government that you have forgotten your place,” Gerritson said in the hearing.
Those emotional remarks were played on Fox News and circulated throughout conservative media over the next few weeks and made Gerritson the face of someone directly affected by the IRS’s indiscretion.
7. School bus kidnapping/hostage crisis: Back in January, a very troubled man named Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded a school bus in Midland City in Dale County, killed the driver and took a 5-year-old Midland City Elementary School student hostage to his underground bunker.
Dykes was later killed by law enforcement after a nearly seven-day-long hostage crisis ensued, with the 5-year-old being freed.
But that tragedy had come at a time when the country was still reeling from the Newtown, Conn., Sandy Hook Elementary massacre as the country was embroiled in a hot-button debate and the Second Amendment.
8. The Alabama Crimson Tide and Nick Saban: This is still one of the most feared programs in the country and despite the unlikely loss to Auburn last month, people will still talk about the prowess of the current national champion University of Alabama football program.
Head coach Nick Saban had made the Crimson Tide’s run possible. But the rumor mill stayed cranked up through the second half of the 2013 season as Texas head coach Mack Brown looked to be good as gone with the Longhorns’ struggles.
Eventually Saban put those rumors to rest as he signed a new contract with the University of Alabama.
9. Jeff Sessions emerges as the elder statesman of the conservative movement: Most members of Congress turn up the rhetoric when they come back to their home base and tone it down while serving on Capitol Hill.
But that’s the opposite of Sen. Jeff Sessions. Sessions had been outspoken conservative champion on some issues, including the federal budget and immigration. And while he may not be one of the rising stars like Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., of the movement, he is looked upon by some of the more conservative members as a mentor who understands the protocol of the U.S. Senate.
10. The plight of University of Alabama College Republican Chairwoman Stephanie Petelos: When the Alabama Republican Party decided to attempt to crackdown on Petelos for being open to the idea of same-sex marriage, the party landed some serious bad press, not for being so stridently anti-gay, but for a harsh tack aimed at the University of Alabama student, who was also head of the College Republicans Federation of Alabama and had certain voting privileges within the state party.
Petelos would ultimately win this minor political skirmish, but it came with some seeing beyond the state a younger generation of Republicans open to the idea of legal same-sex marriage.
Honorable Mention: Paul Finebaum joins ESPN