A loaded election year in 2018

INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE

 

 

The much-anticipated 2018 election contests have been pushed back by about three months due to the unanticipated race for the Senate seat formerly held by Jeff Sessions. This ongoing contest will occupy the news through late September.

It was previously thought that June 6 would be the opening bell since fundraising for next year’s June 5 primary could begin at that time. However, the bell will probably commence to chime in full force by Labor Day.

It will be a year for the record books. The ballot will be so long that it will take most folks 15 minutes to vote. We will have an open governor’s race with at least six to nine viable candidates. That same number of folks will be in the open lieutenant governor’s race. You will have a hotly contested open race for attorney general. There will be five seats up for election on the Alabama Supreme Court. There will be a fight among two sitting justices, Tom Parker and Lyn Stuart, for chief justice, all probate judges, and many circuit and district court judges in the state will be running, as well as all 67 sheriffs.

However, the most money will be spent on the 35 state Senate races and 105 state House seats.

In recent years, special interest money in Montgomery has gravitated more than ever to legislative races. The 2018 legislative fundraising could begin on June 6 but the jockeying and final decision making will be delayed by not just the U.S. Senate race – there is also a large cloud of uncertainty as to how the districts will look when all is said and done by the federal courts.

In January, a three-judge federal panel struck down the current district maps, which were drawn in 2012. The three federal judges were following precedent sent down from the U.S. Supreme Court. Alabama Democrats, led by the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Black Legislative Conference, prevailed in what appeared to be a “Hail Mary” suit with a decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high tribunal’s decision said that the Alabama Legislature (with a Republican majority) had intentionally moved black voters who overwhelmingly vote Democratic into loaded majority-minority districts that made it difficult to form alliances with likeminded white voters.

This new theory embraced by the courts advised that it muted minority voices in the political process. The court is right about that. Democratic senators and representatives have been run over repeatedly over the last six years by the Republican majority.

The courts told the Legislature to fix the lines to suit the court order. The Republicans ignored the directive and ran over the Democrats again in the regular session. All of the black Democrats voted against the plan, with the most contentious issue over local politics. The Republicans’ maps gave Republicans a one-seat advantage in the House and Senate delegations in Jefferson County. They brought in GOP legislators who live in the suburbs surrounding Birmingham to give them a majority in the Democratic county.

The courts were essentially ignored in favor of politics. The GOP supermajority continued to use the whip handle with the Democrats.

However, they are not holding the cards in this poker game. When the court hears the case in September, the GOP plan will be discarded. The court may wind up drawing the new districts that legislators run under in 2018.

The last time the courts drew the lines was in 1983. In that case, the judges sent the demographics and judicial requirements to cartography experts in New York and they fed them into a computer. The court ordered computer-drawn districts that had no regard for county line boundaries or political enclaves, much less protecting incumbents. Several GOP legislators may wake up one morning in October and see that the courts have put them in the same districts.

Therefore, most lobbyists and special interests are keeping their powder dry. They will probably not be doling out large legislative donations until qualifying time around the first of the year.

The most hotly contested state Senate race will be for the Dick Brewbaker seat in the Montgomery River Region. Brewbaker is not running for re-election.

Most insiders expect Sen. Harri Ann Smith to retire from her Houston/Geneva Wiregrass seat. Regardless, popular Dothan mayor Mike Schmitz is not running for a third term as mayor and is expected to run for that state Senate seat.

We will see.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state Legislature. Steve may be reached at ww.steveflowers.us.