The state of Alabama is in the throes of another very critical election cycle: the race for governor. At least that is what we are told.
However, given the general lack of public interest, many do not seem to recognize this race’s apparent importance. The phenomenon is mildly surprising given the fate of Alabama’s last elected governor, Robert Bentley, and two of the four elected governors that preceded him.
Over the past two weeks, gubernatorial candidates from both parties have participated in multiple debates in Birmingham. (Sorry, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile — your TV markets didn’t quite meet the criteria, at least not yet.) Every announced gubernatorial candidate has taken the stage in a debate, with one lone exception: incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey.
If you believe the polling data, Ivey is on the cusp of meeting the 50 percent-plus-one threshold that would allow her to avoid a runoff election for the Republican nomination.
Therefore, strategically it makes little sense for Ivey to participate in these debates. If she did, would she steer any additional votes her way? Unlikely. If she avoids them, as she has done, is she going to lose any votes? It doesn’t seem so.
Disappointed and somewhat aggravated by her absence, AL.com, one of the media outlets Ivey shunned by skipping its hosted debate, has gone into attack mode.
How dare this Republican governor, who wasn’t even elected, turn down an opportunity to be berated by the Pulitzer Prize-winning John Archibald, a sensible, left-of-center voice in the wilderness of an insanely right-of-center state! Who does she think she is not agreeing to take this stage or any other one, but especially this one, where it is likely to be a three-against-one scenario?
For this unforgivable crime, Ivey is getting heat from the media, especially from AL.com, which despite its name is to Alabama what the Olive Garden on Airport Boulevard is to Tuscan architecture.
AL.com’s junior, sensible, left-of-center voice in the wilderness of an insanely right-of-center state columnist Kyle Whitmire, who is waging a war on dumb, recently derided Ivey for “dog-whistling” “Dixie.” For, not only did Ivey not kiss AL.com’s ring by appearing in their debate and responding to their out-of-touch questions, Ivey subsequently ran an ad voicing her support for a new law that protects monuments, and which passed both chambers of the Legislature overwhelmingly.
For some, taking flak for touting a bill that protects Confederate monuments will probably be perceived as a badge of honor. The media has and will disparage it as shameless demagoguery.
There have been other questions raised about Ivey. Why isn’t Ivey attending this week’s opening of Montgomery’s lynching memorial and museum? Might she call a special session to raise the gas tax later this year?
Fair enough. If you pick a fight by declining an invitation to play in a sandbox with people who buy ink by the barrel (even if they only need it three days a week), you should expect some pushback.
What about democracy? If you think the media are generally pretty awful, and they are, you can still be critical of the governor for not participating. If she has little to gain and little to lose by not showing up, she should because it is the right thing to do. After all, we’re at a critical time in our state, which is every time there is an election.
Before last year’s United States Senate special election, the last time a major statewide office was up for grabs was Alabama’s other U.S. Senate seat in 2016. That seat has been occupied by Sen. Richard Shelby since 1986 and continues to be held by Shelby.
In that year’s Republican primary, Shelby had four opponents who qualified for the ballot. Shelby spared no expense that cycle. His billboards were all over the state. He flooded the airwaves. He left nothing to chance, likely because two years earlier, then House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) blew off his party’s primary and was upset by college professor Dave Brat.
Also during that primary contest, one of Shelby’s opponents, Jonathan McConnell, called on Shelby to participate in a debate. Shelby declined the invitation and said his record and positions on issues were well known, and therefore a debate was not necessary.
There were no objections from the media. There was a presidential election at the top of the ticket, and the U.S. Senate race was a yawner. McConnell wasn’t going to beat Shelby, not with Shelby’s millions and his yearly tour of all 67 counties in Alabama.
There were no signs of righteous indignation from AL.com or any other outlet aimed at Shelby for not getting on a stage and subjecting himself to the same scrutiny Ivey was expected to face.
That strategy paid off. Shelby won the primary by a whopping 37 points and sealed the nomination without having a runoff.
How is what Ivey is doing any different?
All these media outlets want their time to shine. The local TV affiliates want to use their “Alabama votes” graphics at the bottom of the screen and showcase their on-air talent. Alabama Media Group wants you to see just how fantastic the word “reckon” looks in all lower-case lettering with a black background.
That’s fine. We get it. But don’t pretend that because the frontrunner doesn’t want to come to your soiree that it is a slight on democracy in Alabama. It really isn’t.