By Steve Flowers
Legendary Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tip O’Neill is credited with coining the slogan “All politics is local.” He often quoted and lived it.
The old Democratic politician from Boston drove home to his Irish neighborhood every week. He knew everyone in his working-class neighborhood. He knew who was related to whom. He knew their names, birthdays, parents, grandparents and children. He did favors, made sure their mail was delivered, found lost Social Security checks, and even made sure potholes were repaired and streetlights replaced. He lived the saying “All politics is local”.
He also worked in Washington in an era of bipartisanship. They worked and socialized regardless of party affiliation to get things done. It was well known that Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan were best friends and drinking buddies when Reagan was the Republican President and O’Neill was Speaker. That’s why Reagan was so successful as President. He had O’Neill as a friend.
It was certainly a different day in Washington than today. Democrats and Republicans not only don’t work together now, they don’t even talk to each other. They despise and condemn each other more than Reagan and O’Neill hated and condemned the Russians.
For years, in my column, as well as in college classrooms, lectures, and speeches across the state, I have proclaimed the cornerstone of political theory, “all politics is local,” as a truism. However, as we end this 2022 election year and begin the 2024 presidential campaign, I am changing my song and dance.
My theory now is that all politics is no longer local. All politics today is national. It’s all partisan and derived from national and Washington politics. People belong to either the Republican tribe or the Democratic tribe and it applies nationwide and especially in Alabama.
75 years ago, Alabama was a rural state. Alabama voters cared far more about the sheriff’s race than about the presidential race. In fact, Alabamaans very rarely voted in presidential elections. More sheriff and governor votes were cast in the non-year Democratic primary than in presidential years. That has changed dramatically. Alabama is more of an urban than a rural state. Today, Alabamaans follow national congressional and presidential politics, and they don’t care who the sheriff of their borough is.
In the Jefferson County sheriff’s race that just ended, it was a contest between Democrats and Republicans. Personalities were irrelevant. Democrat Pettway won because he was a Democrat. Hudson lost because he was a Republican. They could have been Jones and Smith instead of Pettway and Hudson and neither would have fought and the results would have been the same.
These 2022 elections confirmed and solidified the fact that Alabama is a hardcore ruby Republican state in statewide elections. Republicans hold 23 of the 23 nationally elected offices.
Three candidates, Kay Ivey, Katie Britt and Wes Allen, each with a Democratic opponent, received 66% of the vote. Republicans who had only Libertarian opposition, like Rick Pate, Young Boozer and Will Ainsworth, got 84%. Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth received the most votes, approximately 960,000. He also received the most votes of any controversial candidate in 2018. This will stand him in good stead as he keeps an eye on the 2026 governor’s race.
The Democratic Party is dead and irrelevant at the state level in the heart of Dixie. Anyone with a running mind knows that. That’s why no serious candidate will run as a Democrat. Some idealistic Democrats will write to me complaining that the leadership of the Alabama Democratic Party is incompetent. My answer is that it is irrelevant whether you have a Democratic Party office in Alabama or not, the outcome of the Alabama races will be the same, all politics is national now. The vote is driven from Washington.
The same is true of the Alabama Republican Party. It doesn’t matter who the chair of the Alabama GOP is, the Alabama GOP vote will be the same. In fact, the current GOP chairman is a butterfly breeder, and his butterflies probably know more about Alabama politics than he does.
Folks, Alabama is a Republican tribe, make no mistake about it. Our largest metropolitan counties, Jefferson and Montgomery, are in the Democrat column.
As I’ve said for the last 20 years, if Mickey Mouse is the Republican presidential nominee, he’ll wear Alabama even if he’s not campaigning or spending money there, and the same goes for the governor’s race. Why? Because all politics today is national.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve can be reached at: www.steveflowers.us.