Crossover voting an issue once again
The marquee match up in next Tuesday’s upcoming runoff races is the Republican gubernatorial contest between Bradley Byrne and Dr. Robert Bentley. The winner will emerge as the favorite to succeed Gov. Bob Riley. It has been a fun and interesting Republican race with lots of twists and turns.
The obvious surprise has been the emergence of Dr. Robert Bentley. If he prevails in the runoff Tuesday he will be tough to beat in the fall. His negatives are so low that it appears hardly anyone dislikes him. His campaign mantra declaring Alabama’s economy is so bad that we need a doctor and his promise not to take a salary as governor until the economy recovers are as good a slogan as I have seen since Albert Brewer’s 1970 declaration that Alabama needs a fulltime governor.
Usually the turnout for a primary runoff is dismally low. However, the turnout was so abysmal on June 1st that it will be hard to go any lower. The only time that a primary runoff voter turnout exceeded the first primary was in the aforementioned 1970 Democratic primary for governor between Albert Brewer and George Wallace. Brewer led Wallace in the primary. Wallace’s political life was on the line. He called out all the stops and came from behind to beat Brewer in the runoff. It was a classic titanic battle.
A similar struggle occurred in 1986. Bill Baxley and Charlie Graddick fought to a virtual dead heat in the first primary. Baxley was the real Democrat in the Democratic primary. Because there was really no Republican Party at that time Graddick was the covert Republican in the Democratic primary. Over 900,000 Alabamians voted in the Democratic primary and only 30,000 voted in the GOP contest that Guy Hunt won. The Republicans were encouraged to crossover and vote in the Democratic primary runoff, which they did. This helped Graddick win the primary. The Democratic Party subsequently threw out the election results and handpicked Baxley, which so incensed Alabamians’ sense of fairness that they overwhelmingly voted for Hunt in retaliation.
In order to keep this crossover voting dilemma from occurring again, the Democrats enacted a rule that disallows crossover voting. You cannot vote in the Republican primary and then come back and vote in the Democratic runoff. At this time, the Republican Party does not have a similar rule. If you voted in the Democratic primary on June 1st and a lot of Alabamians, especially in rural counties did in order to vote in their local races, you can vote in the Republican runoff on July 13th. I suspect that quite a few of you will. The Republican Party may change that rule after this year.
We have some interesting races left to decide on Tuesday. The main contest on the Democratic ticket will be a runoff for attorney general between Montgomery lawyer James Anderson who got 49.8 percent of the vote challenged by Giles Perkins who had 31 percent.
The Democratic runoff to succeed Artur Davis in the 7th congressional district will be historic. This district is predominately African American. It begins in Birmingham and Bessemer and extends throughout the Black Belt. The winner of the Democratic primary will be the congressman or rather shall we say congresswoman because the victor and congressperson will be a female. She will be Alabama’s first female congressperson. Both women are in their 40’s, were educated up north, have roots in the Black Belt and live in Birmingham. Birmingham lawyer Terri Sowell led Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Smoot 37 percent to 29 percent in the primary.
There are two good races besides the governor’s race on the GOP ticket Tuesday. The GOP race for agriculture commissioner should be a doozy. Two very well qualified gentlemen are in the runoff to be the GOP standard bearer. Former State Representative and Forestry Association Executive Director, John McMillan, finished with 36 percent and Walker County third generation farmer, Dorman Grace, received 35 percent of the June 1st vote. The surprise in this race was how well McMillan did despite being outspent by Grace over 4 to 1. Alfa and the Farmers’ Federation endorsed Grace and gave him a lot of money.
There is also a GOP runoff for a seat on the Public Service Commission. Twinkle Cavanaugh parlayed her name recognition advantage among GOP loyalists to propel her to a 49 percent to 26 percent lead over her closest challenger Stephan Evans. She should prevail Tuesday for the right to take on Jan Cook in November.
See you next week and don’t forget to vote Tuesday.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.