When you go to the polls next week you’ll be voting on several issues, for — or against — certain candidates, and on the future of the Democratic party. Well, not really. But there is one race that’s seen as the last vestige of a storied democratic history in Alabama. Democrats controlled Alabama for 136 years. Alabama was basically a one party state. But that dominance slowly started unraveling over the past two decades, and two years ago the GOP grabbed a majority of the state legislature. Going into next week’s election there’s only one statewide Democrat in office: Lucy Baxley, president of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
“Lucy baxley is the last one standing,” according to Natalie Davis, a political scientist at Birmingham Southern College. “She has a following. You know there are people who still have I love Lucy Baxley buttons” from her successful campaigns for a first term as PSC president and as state treasurer and lieutenant governor.
Baxley hasn’t been out campaigning much for re-election. She’s had health problems and has limited mobility. But her opponent, republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, has been beating the campaign trail.
A loss on Tuesday wouldn’t be just the likely end of Lucy Baxley’s political career. If Baxley loses and republican Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Roy Moore beats challenger Judge Bob Vance, it would mean there would be no democrat in statewide office in Alabama.
“The democratic party is really in serious straights,” says Natalie Davis. “If people believe that political competition is not only a good idea, but a necessary condition to judge the health of democracy, Alabama is not in a good place.”
And the republicans smell blood. After seizing the statehouse, they’ve targeted county races this year.
“We’re working real closely with about 30 counties right now helping them orchestrate very effective and efficient campaigns. We’re really focused on a couple races on each of these counties. Probate judge and circuit clerk are two of the races that are up in every county,” says Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
Democrats still hold about 61% of county elected positions, but Alabama democratic party chairman Mark Kennedy says after 136 years they’ve gotten lazy.
“When I came in I was surprised at the lack of organization we had at the county level. Great democrats all over Alabama, but there didn’t seem to be a defined organization that we could count on to turn out the vote. And we’re fixing that,” says Kennedy.
Still, political scientist Natalie Davis believes it will take a generation before the democrats become a viable second party in Alabama, at least at the state level.