How big will the GOP get in Alabama?

Published 5:45 am Friday, July 8, 2011

There is a time honored maxim that says power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a fact that the Republican Party is the dominant party in Alabama. We are now a totally red state from our choices for the White House to who represents us in the halls of the nation’s capitol. On the state level our choices for governor and all six of our other constitutional offices as well as eight out of nine of our State Supreme Court justices are Republicans. Now our legislature is also predominantly Republican.

This Republican mandate has been established for probably the foreseeable future. The question is will it be corrupt because it is total? From a party standpoint probably not. We have always been basically a no party state. We were a no party state when we were all Democratic and we will be a no party state now that the GOP rules. We do not get too excited about party politics. Personality has always been larger than party in Alabama and indeed throughout southern politics.

Because it appears that the current and future state political battles will be played out in the GOP primary, personality will loom even larger. Therefore, factions will develop within the Republican Party. Indeed, intense GOP intra party wrangling is currently occurring and has been intense since Robert Bentley’s election in November.

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Bob Riley loyalists did not want to let go of the reigns. It was apparent that the Riley side was sorely disappointed that the independent minded Bentley defeated their choice, Bradley Byrne. As early as March, Bob Riley’s daughter Minda sent an email to certain campaign contributors informing them that a new fundraising group had been formed consisting of her father, former Gov. Bob Riley, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh. The purpose of this committee was to elect “real” Republicans and defeat “fake” ones. This committee, which will circumvent the real Republican Party, irritated the new GOP Party Chairman, Bill Armistead, who was the Bentley candidate for chairman. The Riley team supported Jay Love, who lost to Armistead.

Not to be outdone or left out of the spotlight was the GOP gubernatorial runner-up Bradley Byrne. At about the same time that the Riley, Hubbard, and Marsh team set sail, Byrne started his own oversight committee. Byrne created Reform Alabama, a foundation to monitor state government. It is simply a thinly veiled campaign committee for governor in 2014. Byrne has made his intentions clear. He plans to run for governor again whether Dr. Bentley chooses to or not.

The question becomes, which of these shadow government intra party, extra party, GOP groups will get the most traction? Both groups are laden with Riley zealots. Already mentioned as possible contenders for governor in 2014 are three Riley regulars, Bradley Byrne, Mike Hubbard and Luther Strange. Even Bob Riley’s son, Rob Riley, gets thrown into the mix.

Gov. Bentley has to be amazed or at least amused at all the interest in throwing him overboard when the ship of state that Riley left him is like being captain of the Titanic. This new Republican Party is now a very big tent in Alabama. Most Alabamians identify themselves as Republicans. However, most Alabama voters will tell you quickly, “I vote for the man, not the party.” Most of these folks voted for Robert Bentley and my guess is that most of them will vote for him again in 2014.

It is apparent that since the GOP is now a big tent in Alabama, it will not be a monolithic entity. Those that aspire to higher office in Alabama will need to go directly to the people and seek the support of the folks at the branch heads and forks of the creek rather than in the boardrooms or party leadership conclaves.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at