Why conservatives need a (partially) viable Democratic Party in Alabama

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, it’s bound to attract all sorts of players – including liberals.

Liberals seeking elected office here are at a disadvantage, with 50.6-percent of Alabamians calling themselves conservatives and only 14.6-percent liberals, according to a Gallup survey released last February. That’s a 36-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 Democrat in statewide office, their once supermajorities at the State House are gone and Republicans comprise eight of Alabama’s nine member Congressional delegation. There’s even talk that the Democrats may fail to run credible candidates for statewide offices next year.

Meanwhile, the state’s Democratic Party establishment is a house divided after its leaders clashed about control and budget issues, creating competing organizations in the aftermath. Now the once dominant Democratic Party of Alabama is leaderless and nearly homeless after the landlord threatened eviction from the building containing the party headquarters because the rent is always late.

“We’re broke, broke, broke,” said Nancy Worley last May, after she assumed the role as acting state Democratic Party Chairwoman.

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?

Marketing professionals know the value of a brand, of building its awareness and protecting the feeling it invokes. Make changes to a successful product, they warn, and you’re bound to lose customers.

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 – the conservative brand – as the party grows and welcomes new members with new ideas.

A viable Democratic Party – partially viable, at least – would 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 if Alabama becomes more of a one-party state. Republican Party primaries may take on the significance of general elections where candidates should be challenged to prove – and pledge – their conservative credentials, not just party affiliation.

Specifically, 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.