Republicans reached a new level during Tuesday’s general election by electing a party member to the Colbert County Commission and the Lauderdale CountyCommission.
For Colbert County, it marked the first time since Reconstruction that a Republican attained elected office. It was the third time that a Republican was elected in Lauderdale County.
And in Franklin County, two Republicans were elected to the County Commission, another significant first.
The explanations for those victories contain some subtleties, including a prevalence of straight-party balloting by Republicans, but political observers said the over arching difference is the split with local values and the platform of the national Democratic Party.
Bill Stewart, retired professor of political science at the University of Alabama, said that split in philosophies has finally worked its way into northwest Alabama, which has been the last white Democratic stronghold in the state.
“The social liberalism of the Democratic Party nationally is not going to change; it is going to accelerate,” he said. “Given the cultural values of people in that part of the state, the association with the Republican Party makes sense.”
Jerry Mays, chairman of the Franklin County Republican Executive Committee, agrees.
“The sanctity of marriage, taxpayer-funded abortions — the people in Franklin County are not aligned with the national Democratic Party,” he said. “The sanctity of life is important to Franklin Countians and their religious beliefs.”
The surge in straight-party voting Tuesday by Republicans is likely a sign that the break with Democrats and President Barack Obama has filtered down to local elections, Mays said.
While Democrats still control courthouses in Colbert and Lauderdale counties, they recognize the challenges that lie ahead.
“This is not the national Democratic Party. Not all of us agree with what the president says, and that’s what I like about the Democratic Party; we have different views,” said Billy Underwood, chairman of the Colbert County Democratic Executive Committee.
“The Republicans always have a tar baby they like to hit,” he said. “It used to be Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary. Now, they talk about how good his economic policies were.
“Now, we’ve got a black president. The Republicans in Alabama sent out flyers
saying this is not your grandfather’s Democratic Party,” Underwood added. “You know what? They’re right. We don’t have people who make black people drink from separate water fountains and pay poll taxes. We now embrace black people as human beings.”
Former Gov. George Wallace’s daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, blasted Republicans for that flyer, saying it employed the coded language of racism — “Stand up for Alabama” — that her father once used and later rejected.
Underwood said he welcomes the new challenge being posed by local Republicans.
“It is good for the party,” he said. “If Republicans are going to have quality candidates, then the Democrats are going to have to work harder and have good candidates.”
David Black, chairman of the Colbert County Republican Executive Committee, won the open seat on the County Commission on
“David is an intelligent person, and he worked very hard,” Underwood said. “I don’t want to take anything away from him.”
Straight-party voting played a role in that and other races. There were a record 5,070 straight-GOP ballots cast in Colbert on Tuesday.
District 5 Commissioner Roger Creekmore, who narrowly escaped a close race with Tommy Oswalt, a race separated by 64 votes. Creekmore said nearly half of the votes cast from Littleville voters involved straight-Republican ballots.
Oswalt said Black’s victory is significant and he expects the trend to continue.
“We wanted to give people a choice, and they had more choices (in local Colbert races) than at any time before,” Oswalt said. “David knocked in big door (Tuesday) night and we’ve got more doors to knock down.”
Black also talked about giving voters choices.
“In Colbert County, we tried to present that entrenchment for 138 years of one party is not a good thing,” Black said. “It would not be a good thing for Republicans to in power that long, either.”
In Lauderdale County, Republican William Smith lost his bid to become probate judge. Instead, Democrat James Hall won by 1,409 votes.
“I worked hard and I’m not sure there’s anything else I could have done,” Smith said. “(The Republican Party) is not quite there yet in the county, but we’re getting closer and closer.”
Stewart, the retired political science professor, said the Tennessee Valley can no longer be assumed a safe bet for the Democratic Party.
“It shows that the legacy of the New Deal is just about completely gone,” he said. “We used to say that the Tennessee Valley remained Democratic because you had people who were grateful for what was done for them during the Great Depression through the creation of TVA. Now days, TVA seems like just another utility company. There’s certainly nothing special about it.”
Mays said Tuesday’s historic election has driven home an important point.
“People in Franklin County now realize they can be elected to office without being on the Democratic ticket,” he said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.