State politics ‘evolve’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2002

BNI Newswire

Marsha Folsom laughs when asked how the state’s Democratic Party recruits candidates to run for office.

"I don’t want to share our secrets," she says, then admits "it’s a sensitive process."

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"It’s a very intensive, one-on-one process," says Folsom, a state party leader and wife of former Gov. Jim Folsom.

The state’s Republican Party, whose qualifying period has already begun, has also been heavily involved in recruiting.

But for the GOP, recruiting is a way to effect a shift in political power, while Democrats are looking to hang on to their traditional dominance.

State party chairman Marty Conners says the Republicans examine each office and district for weaknesses as well as watch for voting trends and histories.

"We look at where the fish are biting," he says. "We look where there’s a Democrat who’s done some naughty things, and we look for someone who might be a person we can call on (to run for office)."

Conners believes the old notion of Alabama as a "solid South" state is no longer true. Statistically, he said, Republicans hold 72 percent of the statewide elected offices.

Still, Democrats hold a clear majority in the Legislature.

"That’s where we get a little softer," he says. "But the Democrats are in power, and when they redraw the lines they gerrymander themselves in."

Party chairman Redding Pitt would disagree.

Pitt preaches "that old-time religion," as he did at a recent meeting of the Tallapoosa County Democratic Party.

"There’s the old song, ‘may the circle be unbroken.’ That’s what we are as Democrats," says Pitt, who admits he is so "old-school" he won’t mention the names of his Republican opponents.

But Pitt is also singing a new tune: He wants his party to be aware that there is a second party in Alabama ­ one that is more organized than its opponents might think.

Pitt warns that Democrats "don’t think in terms of political party," simply because they haven’t been conditioned to, while Republicans do.

"We’ve moved into a different era," Pitt says. "We’ve got a two-party system, but our own party until recently has not been cognizant of that."

Still, Pitt believes a cohesive message ­ along with equal support for all of the party’s candidates ­ will ensure success this election season.

Pitt’s message encourages Democrats to hold on to their values ­ while they look to the future.

"We have got to keep that old-time religion and hang together and keep our hearts together," Pitt says. "We’ve also got to get a real modern election."

But Conners believes voters are tired of what he calls "corruption" among state Democrats. He points to the "greatest example" of the shift in political power ­ the 1986 primary between Charlie Graddick and Bill Baxley. In that election, 31,000 people voted in the Republican primary, while 940,000 voted in the Democratic primary, which Graddick won. But what happened is that Republicans crossed over and voted in the Democratic primary ­ a fact Baxley contested, leading Democrats to declare him the winner.

Voters, apparently disgusted by the process, overwhelmingly elected Guy Hunt in the general election ­ the first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Conners says such actions by the Democratic party have influenced Alabamians to vote Republican.

"There is a perception of backroom deals ­ they have done a lot of that even today," Conners says.

Folsom disagrees. The Democratic party, she said, is more inclusive.

"That runs counter to anything we believe in," she says of the perception of backroom deals.

"Politics is an evolving process, with different pressures and different issues," she says. "We pay attention to what is at hand and the issues of the day."

Identifying voters ­ especially those who are not diehard members of either party ­ is another important aspect of the party’s job, she says.

"I’m just not convinced that people can’t be reached with a message that talks about the dignity of individuals, preventing control of the powerful few or the special few, that talks about securing a decent environment, decent education," Pitt says.

But Conners expects even more people this year to vote Republican than Democrat.

""This state is no longer a Democratic state."