Politics change in Alabama

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Picking up the pieces from the run-off elections a week ago that produced few surprises but was historic in one sense.

For the first time since blacks got the right to vote in the mid-1960s, they turned their backs on the black political machines, ignored the marked ballots and sent to Buck’s Pocket two of their biggest facecards.

U.S. Rep. Earl Hilliard, running with the endorsement of the three most powerful black political groups &045; the Alabama New South Coalition, the Alabama Democratic Conference and the Jefferson County Citizens Coalition &045;was soundly trounced by Artur Davis.

In Montgomery, Joe Reed, the long-time head of the Alabama Democratic Conference and arguably the most powerful black political leader in this state for decades, likewise was soundly defeated in a bid for the State Senate.

It didn’t stop there. State Rep. John Hilliard of Birmingham … a nephew of the Congressman … also went down to defeat as did Latosha Brown of Selma, a proteg of State Sen. Hank Sanders, one of the founders of the New South Coalition.

Quite simply, it was a very bad day for the political organizations which for so long have been able to deliver the black candidates of their choosing.

Davis, the Harvard-trained lawyer who defeated Hilliard in the congressional race, was quick to point out the significance of his landslide victory.

&uot;If we think this is simply a victory of one person then we will fail to realize the larger message of this candidacy and this campaign victory,&uot;Davis said.

Donald Watkins, a major player in black politics for years, called the vote Tuesday a &uot;political sea change … political boss politics is not adequate to victory any more.&uot;

Now for a few more quick observations from the run-off elections:

There is an old line often employed in politics which notes that if a fish would keep his mouth shut he wouldn’t get caught.

That truth could well be applied to Julian McPhillips, who took a terrible beating in his run-off with Susan Parker for the U. S. Senate nomination.

McPhillips had trailed Parker by only seven percentage points in the first primary, but his unfortunate criticism of her for not having any children ended any hope he had of overtaking her in the run-off. She won the run-off by about 30 percentage points.

A tip of the hat to Beth Chapman, who overcame what appeared to be an insurmountable lead to defeat Jim Zeigler in the run-off for the GOP nomination for State Auditor.

That defeat may have brought down the curtain on Zeigler’s political career.

After being elected as a Democrat to the Public Service Commission in 1974, he has been on a losing streak that would get most football coaches fired.

Also scoring a come-from-behind triumph was newcomer Stephen Black.

After trailing Carol Jean Smith in the Democratic primary for State Treasurer, young Black waged an impressive and costly TV blitz in the final days of the run-off to score a victory.

And if you don’t think times have changed in Alabama, Black played to the hilt in his TV spots that he was the grandson of Hugo Black.

There was a time in the past when any kinship with him would have been a kiss of death in Alabama politics.


case you don’t know, the GOP nominee for Senate District 14 … Henry E. (Hank) Erwin Jr. &045; is the son of the late Henry E. &uot;Red&uot; Erwin, who was awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II for picking up a burning incendiary bomb and tossing it out the window of a B-29.

The young Erwin is a Christian radio talk show host.

The seat in the Senate is being vacated by Bill Armistead, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor.

There will be a major change in the makeup of Alabama’s delegation to the U. S. House next year.

Three new faces will be included in the seven-member delegation.

Of course, one results from the defeat of Hilliard, but leaving by choice are Bob Riley, the GOP nominee for governor, and Sonny Callahan, who did not seek re-election this year.

The biggest turnover ever was in 1964 … the year of the &uot;Goldwater Sweep&uot; … when five Republicans were elected to the House from Alabama