There’s been rampant corruption among state leaders in Alabama, and it’s escalated in recent years. Voters have noticed. And judging by the anti-corruption political ads and fliers blanketing mailboxes and screens, candidates in Tuesday’s primary are responding.
Here’s one example from an ad for incumbent Republican Governor Kay Ivey of how this is playing into the GOP governor’s race.
To understand where she’s coming from—never mind the mountain oysters reference– it helps to know how Ivey got to the governor’s seat. When former Gov. Robert Bentley resigned last year amid a sex scandal, Ivey—then the state’s lieutenant governor, took over. Since then, she’s been quick to point out how she has “righted the ship of state.”
But Bentley’s transgressions weren’t the first for an elected leader in Alabama in recent years – not by a longshot. John Archibald is a Pulitzer prize winning political columnist with the Alabama Media Group.”Of course over the last couple of years we’ve had the Speaker of the House convicted of ethics violations,” he says, referring to former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, convicted of 23 felony corruption charges.
There was former Alabama chief justice Roy Moore, fired from the bench twice for questionable ethics. And most recently Moore was accused during his run for U.S. Senate of sexual misconduct by women who, at the time, were in their teens.
“And going back over the last six governors we had, half of them left office with corruption charges,” Archibald says.
The list goes on. And this stain of corruption has rubbed off on voters. Take Sean Grehalva, a Republican from Hoover. He’s tired of it. Corruption, he says, is something people in Alabama just can’t seem to escape.
“And it is embarrassing at times, especially when I travel. I get questions a lot about well what’s happening with this investigation or that investigation,” he says.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle meets people at barbeque restaurants and coffee shops, and he sees this anxiety among voters who dread the idea of yet another ethics scandal.
“I think one of the saddest things that you hear when you’re on the campaign trail is people say, ‘Well just don’t embarrass us.'”
He says that’s a low bar. And, he says, people need to be able to regain confidence in government because right now, there is none.
Jeff Vreeland, an Alabama-based Republican strategist, says in a place where voters are desperate to feel confident in their elected leaders, the whole drain-the -swamp theme works really well.
“A lot of politicians want to drain the Montgomery swamp. And that is, you know, exactly what President Trump ran on when he ran in 2016 was to drain the swamp in DC.”
Vreeland says to Alabama voters, that message signifies a clean candidate. And it aligns the candidate with Trump, who, of course, has strong support in Alabama.
But if there has been a silver lining to Alabama’s corruption problem, it’s that it’s pumped some energy into the race, especially down-ballot.
“To me, the easiest thing to look at is the overwhelming slate of candidates that are running both on the Republican and Democratic side,” Vreeland says.
He says one way or another, people here are motivated to vote out shady politicians.