It is being called the most important special election in the history of the Alabama Legislature. And some are hoping that it signals a new day of enlightened thinking in our state.
James Fields, a black Democrat, handily defeated Wayne Willingham, a white Republican, in a special election yesterday to fill the District 12 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives.
District 12 is not just any district in Alabama. It encompasses Cullman County, an area filled with racial symbolism.
Cullman County is more than 96 percent white and 1 percent black, according to statistics from the Cullman Economic Development Agency. The city of Cullman long has been known as a "sundown town," meaning people of color are advised to be out of town once the sun goes down.
Willingham's family reportedly has ties to the Ku Klux Klan, but that did not keep Alabama Governor Bob Riley from campaigning for him. Riley's pleas, however, fell mostly on deaf, white ears.
Fields' victory seems to show that even in an overwhelmingly white county in the Deep South, a quality candidate with a strong, well-articulated message can overcome any divisions that might exist over race.
Doc's Political Parlor, a top resource for political news in Alabama, has an excellent analysis of the special election in Cullman County.
Does this truly signal the beginning of a more enlightened age in Alabama politics? I think it certainly says good things about the electorate. But as we noted in a recent post, the Republican Party hierarchy has launched a two-pronged plan for taking over the Alabama Legislature. The two prongs? Raising tons of money and using the U.S. Department of Justice to go after Democratic legislators who might have run afoul of the law in the state's two-year colleges scandal.
Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the two-year system, has pled guilty to multiple corruption-related charges. And as part of his plea, he has agreed to assist the Justice Department in pursuing state legislators and state school board members. The scandal has focused almost entirely on Democrats, and with Bush appointee Alice Martin at the investigative controls, look for a number of Democratic legislators to wind up with indictments.
News reports indicate that Republicans were counting on the Cullman County race to give their plans momentum. Instead, James Fields threw a serious wrench into those plans.
Don't look for the GOP to take that defeat with good cheer.