By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — In coffee shops, empty warehouses, churches, brewpubs and even wine bars around the country, Democrats are coming out of the woodwork to meet and get involved in public affairs again, appalled at the election of reality television celebrity Donald J. Trump as president and what he is doing in the White House.
Day after day, the Trump administration seems to be taking a wrecking ball to long established democratic traditions, all while claiming on TV and Twitter to be on a mission to “make America great again.” The administration just can’t seem to untangle itself from scandal.
The latest controversy over the firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey has the administration on the defensive, taking heat from print, broadcast and web reporters and even TV comics such as Steven Colbert. The president could not help himself and stay off of Twitter. He just had to criticize Colbert on Twitter as a “no talent guy,” even though he had to know it would increase Colbert’s ratings on CBS even more.
From the women’s march on Washington to the marches for science, there is ample evidence that huge swaths of the American public are appalled and willing to take to the streets in protest. Even in the American South, where the Republicans have come to dominate elections since the days of Ronald Reagan, local and state Democratic Party committees are hoping to capitalize on the anger with Trump.
Down in Mobile, Alabama, a very conservative port city on the Gulf Coast where even the Democrats tend to be fairly conservative and Christian, compared to the more liberal New Orleans where activists recently fought and won a battle to take down monuments to Civil War figures such as Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee, there is a feeling that the timing may be right to make a political move to revive the struggling Democratic Party. Even in the home town of controversial Attorney General Jeff Sessions, where Trump launched his campaign with stadium rallies, there is a feeling that Democrats may have a chance in local and state elections again.
Thursday night at a fairly swanky place downtown called the Firehouse Wine Bar and Shop, just a block from Dauphin Street, Mobile’s answer to Bourbon Street, Democrats got together to hear from Ron Crumpton of Shelby County, who has been running for office as a Democrat for years in races where Republicans would have otherwise gone unopposed.
“There has not been as good a chance for Democrats to do something in this state in a long time,” Crumpton said (see more in the video).
Republicans Booted From Office
It’s only been a month since conservative Christian doctor Robert Bentley resigned as governor in the face of pending impeachment hearings and possible jail time for using state resources to cover up an alleged sexual affair with a top aide. The former speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, left office after being convicted for using his position for personal gain, although the case is on appeal and he is yet to serve a day in prison.
Last year, the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court was suspended for defying federal court orders to enforce a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage. Judge Roy Moore, who got famous for being kicked off the Supreme Court before for defying a federal court order to remove a hand carved granite monument to the Ten Commandments from the Supreme Court rotunda, has already announced that he will seek the same Senate seat Crumpton is running for, the seat held for two decades by Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It is now occupied by Luther Strange, the former state attorney general who critics say made a deal to slow down the investigation of Bentley and was rewarded with the governor’s appointment to the Senate seat.
Unfortunately for Crumpton, on the day before he was scheduled to speak in Mobile, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham announced that he would run in the special election. Jones may have the name recognition and the heft to make the election a real race, since he got famous in his own right back in 2002 for prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan for the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.
But Crumpton wonders where Doug Jones and other Democrats who have jumped into the race were two years ago, when he challenged long-time U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, who used to be a Democrat.
“People are starting to come out of the woodwork,” Crumpton said.
There could be five candidates in the Democratic primary.
“That’s good,” Crumpton conceded. “My question is, where have y’all been?”
In the 2016 general election against Shelby, Crumpton may have only taken about 36 percent of the vote. But that amounted to nearly three quarters of a million votes, 748,709 to be exact, according to Ballotpedia.org.
In 2014, Crumpton, now disabled with a bad back after years in the landscaping and irrigation services business who has become known as an advocate for medical marijuana, ran for the state Senate in his home of Shelby County, southwest of Birmingham, against incumbent Republican Jim McClendon. Crumpton only got 22.3 percent of the vote, but again that was 6,981 out of the 31,330 votes cast.
He has built up some name recognition as a result of those races, and with an active Facebook campaign, where he has the maximum 5,000 friends that Facebook will allow on a personal page.
Diane Jones, secretary of the Mobile County Democratic Party, who invited Crumpton to speak and introduced him, said the local party has maxed out its membership list as allowed by the state party due to all the renewed interest because of Trump.
“If it took Donald Trump to do it, fine, whatever,” she said. “It’s just great to see people getting involved in the Democratic Party again.”
Whether the renewed interest will translate into reviving the party in Montgomery or result in election wins remains to be seen. The controversial Joe Reed and party chair Nancy Worley, who have been resoundingly criticized by many members of their own party for years from one end of the state to another, have refused to step aside and allow new blood into party leadership positions. As a result, many Democrats have advocated starting another party and even supported moderate Republicans in some races.
Key constituent groups have left the party, including liberal trial lawyers, who put their money behind Judge Roy Moore a few years back simply because the judge was not a big advocate of “tort reform,” a code word for eroding jury rights in lawsuits against big corporations.
While some of the union leaders in Alabama have attempted to help Democrats in recent years, Trump got probably 90 percent of the rank and file vote in 2016.
Since the Democratic Party lost a key Congressional seat a number of years back by having their candidate attacked as “too green” on the environment, the party and none of it’s candidates will ever take a stand on environmental issues, a key voting block in the state with nowhere to turn but the streets.
Nowhere is this more critical than Mobile and Baldwin Counties, where the BP Gulf Oil spill disaster of 2010 had such devastating effects not just on the coastal ecosystem but also the economy of the area. It created activists out of ordinary citizens from Pensacola to New Orleans. Why should they help Democrats if the party’s candidates will not take a stand on the critical issues they fight for?
“Politicians could gain by standing up to protect creation, our natural life support system, and to advocate environmental justice for communities already suffering from neglect of this duty,” said David Underhill, a long-time resident of Mobile who has been an activist on civil rights and the environment for decades. “But both the Republican and Democratic parties have fled from this fight. If the Democrats are to prosper from the opportunity Trump has handed them, they must start reaching out to the aware in this state.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.