Alabama politics had very few clear winners and losers in 2012. With few exceptions, most of the key players and organizations ended the year with mixed results.
Republicans continued to dominate the political landscape in the lingering wake of their 2010 electoral tidal wave. However, they also experienced some of the growing pains that come along with being the majority Party.
Meanwhile, the last statewide elected Democrat went the way of the Dodo bird. But the Dem’s ever-shrinking legislative minority managed to stop some of the GOP’s priorities in the legislature thanks to some help from their special-interest pals.
With this 2012 “Year in Review” post, we’ve set out to offer a short recap of this year in Alabama politics. Keep in mind, pointing out where a person or group succeeded or failed does not mean we agreed or disagreed with what they did. This post is simply our best attempt to give you a snapshot of what happened in Alabama politics during the past 12 months.
Here’s what we came up with:
1. Governor Robert Bentley:
Governor Bentley’s approval numbers have steadily risen throughout the year. All the polling we’ve seen shows that the overwhelming majority of Alabamians think the Governor is doing a great job.
He put his popularity to use by publicly advocating for two major ballot initiatives in 2012: Amendment 1 on Sept. 18 and Amendment 2 on Nov. 6. He was successful both times. His choice for the Republican Presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, also won the Alabama primary.
The Governor hasn’t yet shown a consistent ability to advance his legislative agenda and that is one area where he clearly sees an opportunity for growth. By bringing Rep. Blaine Galliher into his cabinet as legislative director, Governor Bentley seems to be addressing the challenge head on.
Bottom line: He started the year with some possible 2014 primary contenders lurking in the shadows. He ends 2012 with no clear challenger in his bid for a second term. Governor Bentley is 2012’s biggest winner.
2. Rainy Day Patriots & other conservative grassroots organizations
Despite not having the financial resources of other advocacy groups, Alabama’s grassroots organizations proved once again in 2012 that they are force to be reckoned with.
They played a big role in Rick Santorum winning Alabama’s Presidential primary. They also helped Roy Moore beat a sitting Chief Justice & another Republican primary contender with high name ID without a runoff.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard specifically tailored his Values & Rights Commission to reach out to grassroots conservatives for feedback on the 2013 legislative agenda.
More recently, their behind-the-scenes push against the Obamacare-mandated state Healthcare Exchange undoubtedly influenced key Republican leaders. Governor Bentley ultimately refused to setup the state-based exchange and decided against expanding Medicaid.
The Tea Party consistently polls at over 50% approval statewide. The conservative grassroots movement is alive and well in Alabama.
3. The Nursing Homes Association
The Nursing Homes Association through their high-powered lobbyists managed to engineer a budget impasse that led to the entire Sept. 18 Amendment 1 situation. The Nursing Homes’ needs were met and the state’s general fund budget was adjusted accordingly. Big win for the Nursing Homes. Big loss for Alabama’s fiscal solvency.
4. Twinkle Cavanaugh
Newly elected PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh holds the distinction of being the Republican who took out the last remaining statewide elected Democrat.
1. The Alabama Democrat Party
Democrats now hold zero statewide offices. They have almost no ability to raise money, and frankly, they have no hope for a resurgence any time in the foreseeable future. It’s a tough time to be a Democrat in the state of Alabama and it won’t be getting better any time soon.
2. Trial Lawyers
The group that at one point sent Alabama to “tort hell” was extremely unsuccessful in advancing their agenda in 2012. They lost on a significant liability bill in the legislature and all the Republican appellate court judges went virtually unchallenged.
3. Alabama’s coal industry
Obama’s re-election and the subsequent ambush of the PSC by radical environmentalists has made Alabama’s coal industry a prime target for liberal attacks in Alabama. 5,000 Alabama families count on coal jobs to put food on their table. Every Alabamian with an energy bill is rooting for the coal industry which has found itself under siege this year.
2012’s Biggest Disappointment
The Alabama Education Association is still a force. They used lies and deception to kill school choice legislation and to preserve racist language in the Alabama Constitution. They also killed a major component of the GOP’s jobs package during the 2012 legislative session. With Democrats continuing to lose strength, the AEA still found some success in 2012 by dividing Republicans any way they could. That will continue to be their strategy moving forward.
2012 Insider Awards
Top association – Business Council of Alabama
No category shows the mixed results of 2012 better than Top Association.
BCA won on “card check” and heavily supported the successful Amendment 1 and Amendment 2 campaigns. They won a tough floor fight when a guns-to-work bill they strongly opposed died on the Senate floor. The BCA-endorsed slate of judicial candidates also went undefeated in 2012.
But 2012 also handed BCA some major loses. Their most notable defeats came on school choice and HB 159/160 which offered incentives to companies locating in Alabama or expanding their Alabama operations.
Some Montgomery insiders would say that the AEA had the best year. But this category is for associations, not unions.
The Business Council didn’t have a grand slam year in 2012, but you’ll still be hard-pressed the name an association who carries more weight in Montgomery.
Top Lobbying Firm – Fine Geddie & Associates
The Fine Geddie crew once again did yeoman’s work at the Alabama State House. They notched their usual legislative victories, including killing an extremely contentious coastal insurance bill for one of their clients.
Their client list still so far outclasses the competition that the contract lobbying crown will remain theirs for the foreseeable future. And in a real rarity in Alabama politics, they pull it all off while remaining well-liked and respected by friends and foes alike.
Top Mover & Shaker – Angi Smith
In a matter of a couple of years, Angi Smith has gone from a Republican grassroots organizer to arguably the most trusted political voice in the governor’s inner circle.
She stuck with Bentley through his failed state senate bid, his time in the House of Representatives and the tough 2010 gubernatorial elections. After paying a lot of dues, she now has his ear like few others.
Smith may rub some folks the wrong way with her hard-nosed approach, but no one can deny her position in the governor’s sphere of influence.