The Tea Party in Alabama

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Tea Party members are celebrating big wins in several states after yesterday’s primaries. Party favorite Christine O’Donnell knocked out nine-term Republican Congressman Mike Castle in Delaware. And in New York’s Republican gubernatorial race political newcomer Carl Paladino beat the establishment choice, former Congressman Rick Lazio. Across the country, the Tea Party movement has been continued to put pressure on incumbents. But here in Alabama the movement has been relatively quiet. WBHM’s Tanya Ott wondered why.

On a rainy afternoon in Ft. Payne, the speakers at the DeKalb County Tea Party rally are fired up, but the crowd is much more subdued than the usual Tea Partiers seen in television news reports. They’re mostly older people parked in lawn chairs. One guy does wave a bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, but there are only a few handmade signs and none with the offensive images that have made the rounds on the internet. Most of the people are pretty mellow. Al Cherbonneau is a retired pastor from Massachusetts who now lives in Mentone. He wears a t-shirt while he hands out leaflets.

“This is a group of people who believe that this country is basically going in a wrong direction at this point.”

Cherbonneau says he’s voted across party lines. He voted for Jimmy Carter. But, he says, more recent Democrats have been taxing and spending with little regard for everyday people.

“If I can’t spend twice what I make, you know, there’s no reason the government should be doing that.”

For lifelong republican Carley Windsor, who came over from Sylvania up on Sand Mountain, social issues are number one.

“Homosexual marriage – it explicitly says in the bible that it’s not the way god created it to be. And abortion. Life begins at conception. That’s another thing that’s biblical.”

“Professional Politicians Have To Go”

“A lot of people have come together and said the establishment is just not working the way it should,” says Chip McCallum. “These people who are entrenched in party politics are not the people we need down there.”

Sounds like a Tea Partier, right? Well maybe. Or maybe not. McCallum is an attorney (and son of former UAB president and Vestavia Hills mayor Scotty McCallum) who’s running for Alabama House District 47. McCallum had planned to run as a republican. But the party disqualified him after it discovered he’d made a handful of donations to democratic candidates over the years.

“My wife and I have a very broad and diverse group of friends and they are very active in a lot of different causes including campaigns and we’ve been asked some times to support their candidate that they’re working with and we have given money to those campaigns, just like I’ve asked those same friends to give money to republicans that I have supported.”

McCallum maintains he’s a lifelong republican. The first person he ever voted for was Ronald Reagan.

“The people in my district and me are for fiscal accountability and are for small government and for free markets… and that’s what the people in my district stand for and that’s what I stand for, so I think we’re already there.”

McCallum has been thinking about the Tea Party a lot lately. While it might not be very active in Alabama, nationwide its influence is starting to put a lot of pressure on republicans like McCallum who might be more open minded and willing to work across party lines.

Aligning with Tea Party Doesn’t Help Alabama Candidates

Some of the most conservative Alabama candidates didn’t do well in the primaries. Roy Moore, Dale Peterson, and Tim James all lost. Birmingham Southern College political scientist Natalie Davis says she’s not surprised.

“Third party candidates never do well here. Write in candidates never do well here. For all of our talk about being individualist and almost libertarian, establishment candidates tend to do better, over time.”

Back at the tea party rally in Ft. Payne, Carley Windsor suspects she knows why.

“A lot of Alabamians are old school democrats and will be democrats until they die. Just like there are some that are old school republican like my grandparents. I think there’s a lot of people that don’t want to involve themselves in something else and stray away from what their mamas and their grandmamas and their great grandmamas taught them.”