Republicans were elected to local county commissions this fall for the first time since Reconstruction, marking what some observers said is the beginning of the end of Democratic dominance in local courthouses.
David Black became the first Republican elected to a Colbert County office in living memory when he won the District 2 County Commission race over Democrat Lane Roland. In Lauderdale County, Republican Roger Garner defeated incumbent Democrat Rhea Fulmer to become the first elected GOP member of the County Commission.
In Franklin County, the two challenged commission seats and the probate judge’s seat went to Republicans.
“It (election results) cements Alabama as a red state because if that area is going Republican, then there is not much hope for the Democratic Party,” said Bill Stewart, a retired political science professor at the University of Alabama. “That is where the Democrats should be strong, given the presence of organized labor and TVA, and the loyalty that area had to the Democratic Party for such a long time.”
Republican gains in local courthouses was voted the No. 4 story of the year by the TimesDaily news staff.
Stewart, a native of the Tennessee Valley, attributes much of the change in local voting patterns to the national Democratic Party’s liberal social agenda, which seems to clash with the deeply-held religious beliefs of many in the region. He also said the fact that Democratic President Barack Obama is an African-American works against Alabama Democrats.
“I’m not saying it is racism, but being African-American in Alabama is not an asset historically,” he said. “Blacks and whites identified with different parties years ago. With the New Deal, blacks switched to the Democratic Party. Today blacks have a majority of the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee, which means (chairman) Joe Reed can pretty much call the shots. Whites just aren’t comfortable with that.”
Stewart’s assessment of the Democratic Party’s liberal stand on social issues was echoed immediately after the Nov. 6 general election by Jerry Mays, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Executive Committee.
“The sanctity of marriage, taxpayer-funded abortions — the people in Franklin County are not aligned with the national Democratic Party,” he told the TimesDaily. “The sanctity of life is important to Franklin countians and their religious beliefs.”
Stewart said Alabama has once again become a one-party state, this time with Republicans in the majority.
“When you have one party dominating everything, they can take it easy and not worry about challenges from the opposition, which are healthy for our system of government,” he said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.