Vestiges of 2-party system survive

Published 1:28 am Saturday, November 10, 2012

My friend Emilie lost her bid for reelection as the probate judge of a neighboring county this week.

She was appointed to the post, and has worked hard to grasp the issues of her office, specifically mental health. The probate judge often is required to make judgment calls about the mental health of those who appear before them, to commit them to mental health facilities, and/or otherwise provide for their care.

It was the election in which the Republican nominee for president won about three-fourths of our popular votes, and the last statewide Democratic office holder, Lucy Baxley, fell. Political pundits would tell you that those two factors should have helped Republicans down the ballot also win.

Not in this case.

As has been the practice of the national GOP for the past four years, the county’s Republican chairman placed a full-page ad on the last day before the election painting county-wide Democratic candidates with a national brush, claiming that the qualifying fees they paid to run were contributions to support President Obama’s reelection. The ad placed their photographs with the president’s, and went on to say that the local candidates supported a national agenda that included government-funded abortions, legalization of gay marriage, and other hot-button issues.

It’s worked in many places, but this time it backfired, and two GOP candidates – my friend included – lost in a big way. The Democratic party chairman was practically giggling over how badly it backfired. And members of the Republican executive committee were distancing themselves from the ad, saying they neither saw nor blessed it.

This is a party that has approached elected officials and said, “We think you do a good job, and if you change to our party, we’ll support you. If you don’t, we’ll work against you.” For this group of the GOP, at least, party affiliation appears to be the only thing that matters.

Only 204 votes separated Emilie and the man who will now become probate judge. I am sorry for my friend, who has worked very hard, campaigned very hard, and has a heart for the work she was doing.

But I am encouraged to know there are voters who can separate local races from national ones. Romney won in Escambia County, too, but voters were smart enough to vote outside of national party politics “down-ballot.”

It happened in other pockets of our state, as well. Every Republican on the ballot in Jefferson County lost.

Perhaps there is hope that a two-party system will survive in Alabama. I hope so.