Liberals seeking a future in Alabama politics don’t have many options nowadays, but that’s not all good news for conservatives.
If the state’s Republican Party is the only game in town (and it is), then it’s bound to attract all sorts of players, from liberal candidates to liberal special interests and everything in between.
Take the recent GOP primary ballot. It was full of former Democrats and, probably worse, many of the longtime Republicans on the ballot accepted thousands of dollars from Democrat-aligned special interests (more than $600,000 from the teachers union alone).
Why this matters: Marketing professionals know the value of a brand, of building its awareness and protecting the feeling it evokes. Make changes to a successful product, they warn, and you’re bound to lose customers. And in the GOP’s case, lose voters, as Democrats-posing-as-Republicans dilute the brand.
Liberals seeking elected office here are at a disadvantage, with 43 percent of Alabamians calling themselves conservatives and only 16 percent liberals, according to a Gallup survey released earlier this year.
That’s a 27-point spread in favor of conservative candidates.
Those odds probably discourage many politicians from running as Democrats even as conservative ones.
On another level, liberals who want to work in politics as aides, advisors or campaign consultants have even fewer options.
Thirty years ago, young liberals stood a better chance than young conservatives of landing politically-appointed jobs in Montgomery or with the state’s Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.
There were also many well-funded and abundantly staffed liberal-leaning advocacy groups, lobbying shops and consulting firms looking for talent. These jobs are important because they help identify, train and strengthen a party’s bench of future leaders.
Now there’s not a single member of the Democratic Party in a constitutional statewide office, their once supermajorities in the State Legislature are gone and Republicans comprise seven (soon to be eight in 2020) of Alabama’s nine-member Congressional delegation.
Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic Party establishment is a house divided and flat broke. Their candidates for statewide office this cycle, while energetic, are bound to lose by double digits.
That’s great for the Republican Party, but conservatives should remain watchful.
Where’s an ambitious liberal politician or wannabe staffer to go these days when the Democrats have lost all power?
Three places: home, the political wilderness, or for the most opportunistic individuals, the state’s Republican Party.
That’s fine for those who have actually changed their minds. There has been a rash of party-switching in recent years and conservatives should welcome all newcomers to the Republican ranks, especially former Democratic politicians.
Still, it’s hard to believe that elected officials and staffers who stood as Democrats through the decades of teacher-union dominated legislative sessions will be genuine leaders in the conservative movement.
Have they truly changed their minds or just their party?
Conservatives brought the state’s Republican Party to power based on the principles of limited government, individual liberty and family values-based traditions. It will be a challenge to hold onto those principles and the conservative brand as the party grows and welcomes new members with new ideas.
Is there a way to solve this?
Maybe. One could argue that a partially viable Democratic Party would give their candidates someplace to go, and thereby help keep ambitious liberal politicians from diluting the hard-won conservative brand.
Republicans shouldn’t purge their ranks, but conservatives will need to become more discerning as Alabama becomes more of a one-party state.
There are many indicators to watch for, including the aforementioned donations from the teachers union (more on that in the coming days).
Fundamentally, voters shouldn’t be sold on a candidate’s conservatism based on their pro-life or pro-gun rights beliefs — both givens here.
A truer test would be their belief in limited government, and whether they want to return or retain the power in Washington and Montgomery and restrict further government growth.
That’s a hard belief to verify, but their opinion on taxes is a great measure.
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge offered by Americans for Tax Reform is one of the best indicators of a commitment to limited government, even though some conservatives refuse to sign out of a principle against taking pledges other than the oath of office.
Still, it’s a simple pledge that says candidates will “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
And that’s something no ambitious liberal could ever sign with a straight face.