Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’
There is a hard to miss media bias against the relevance of trends that start in Alabama. That partly explains why a popular, effective governor like Bob Riley received not a sliver of response to his nascent presidential ambitions, despite a record that compared well to Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry; and why the weirdness of the state’s teacher union linking arms with a conservative Republican in the last governor’s race drew no national coverage–despite an ad by the union (an arm of the liberal NEA) pillorying a more moderate Republican for backing “Barack Obama’s federal takeover of our schools”. The theory seems to be that the state is too self-consciously parochial, too doused in racial embers, for its politics to deserve much scrutiny. The state’s controversial immigration law and its perennial political corruption merit national mentions largely for the stereotypes they reinforce.
No surprise, then, that one of the most striking primary races this cycle is a week away and entirely below radar. On March 13, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus, faces a challenge from a state legislator who has cultivated Tea Party support and challenged the incumbent as a Washington enabler. The race is thought to be competitive and the 20 year incumbent could well lose.
The challenger, a state senator named Scott Beason, has the kind of tangled history that makes Alabama politicians so confounding for outsiders to understand. A few years ago, Beason was entangled in the same grassroots snare he has set for his current rival: a clumsy vote to raise legislative pay brought him the ire of conservative activists, and a reputation for being a Republican with vaguely moderate inclinations.
But Beason discovered the potency of two lightning rods: immigration and the state’s powerful gambling lobby. He refashioned himself as the champion of a hawkish immigration law whose open purpose is to make the state unlivable for illegal immigrants by threatening them on as wide an array of fronts as possible. It is reviled in national liberal circles, but wildly popular with the state’s Republican electorate. Then, in a twist that sounds like John Gresham crafted it, Beason wore a federal wire in the spring of 2010 to snag the state’s casino bosses in a bribery scheme. The Democratic Party’s ferocity in attacking that probe has given him, in a Republican primary, the gift of convenient enemies.
In a climate where lengthy congressional service is already suspect, Bachus bears two extra burdens: the revelation that he made potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars (a number he hotly disputes) in stock transactions has gotten him labeled as an inside trader who profited from his access to sensitive economic data. Second, the largest county in the district, Jefferson, has spiraled into a bankruptcy that is tied to a disastrous refinancing of the county’s sewer repair bills by Wall Street investment giants. While Beason has handled the issue of bankruptcy gingerly (in most Republican circles, corruption by local Democratic officials is the real culprit), local media has been less circumspect, and has tied Bachus to the same banks through a history of campaign dollars. Beason has had no qualms in probing the same connections through Bachus’ support of the TARP bailout.
The peculiarities of Alabama politics have given the campaign a shape than an outsider wouldn’t recognize. Bachus’ latest ads improbably tie the allegations of insider trades to Barack Obama inspired Democrats and invite the district’s primary voters to send Obama a message. Beason has assailed banks with a zeal that Democrats in other states would recognize. Neither the slew of bad publicity around the immigration law, nor a federal judge’s findings challenging Beason’s credibility, have figured prominently in the race. This much is familiar: the whole of the state’s Republican establishment has rallied around Bachus over Beason, whose broader ambitions and sharp intra-party elbows have won him numerous GOP detractors; in turn, Beason has worn the outsider’s mantle as a point of pride.
Bachus, even with his liabilities, might well win. He is a certifiable conservative who has some of the deepest roots in the state’s relatively young Republican Party, and he is substantially better funded. Presumably, he will have a strong edge in the upscale suburbs that house most of Jefferson County’s white professional base, which happens to have strong links to the financial services sector and the law firms that represent it. But the 6th District’s rural and its middle income base–its quota of what the DC elite calls Walmart Republicans–was strengthened in redistricting; there, Washington and its sins are as anathema as gambling and illegal immigration, the populist edge is distinct, and Beason’s enemies seem liberal and sanctimonious.
This is all, perhaps, the shadow of another fight on the horizon. The southern Republican Party has grown by absorbing both suburbanites in the region’s metropolitan corridors and rural downscale voters who are ancestral Democrats: they have been forfeited by machine dominated, interest group controlled local Democrats who have drifted steadily to the left on social issues. The price of gaining so much new ground is fissures in substance as well as tone. Bachus and Beason are perfectly emblematic of two different strands of southern Republican partisans: a business oriented, image conscious establishment whose conservatism is grounded in an antipathy toward taxes, regulation, and predatory trial lawyers; and a more raw, emotionally charged conservatism that has a sore spot toward elites, and a willingness to stir the passions on social issues.
If Beason prevails, the southern Republican establishment’s grip seems just a little more tenuous. Beason’s brand of confrontation topped with populism will be credited with his rise, and nothing breeds imitation in politics like success. The Sixth District is worth watching for the rumble of a storm brewing. Then again, the national media would say, it’s only Alabama.
On Thursday, February 16th, Artur Davis spoke with WAPI’s Matt Murphy on Birmingham’s Talk FM to discuss pertinent state district issues, class warfare and the economic recession, reducing inequality and indeed the launch of Official Artur Davis.com.
Click the link above to hear the podcast in full or view the original website link for 100 WAPI.