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Steve Flowers: A Democrat wins a House seat in Alabama

The national media has been keenly interested that a Democrat has been elected to an Alabama House of Representatives seat. I have had several inquiries from national news and political publications asking me to explain and analyze this phenomenon. They are particularly interested in the fact that women’s reproductive rights was a central focus of this special election in Huntsville.

Democrat Marilyn Lands indeed won a resounding victory in House District 10, a Madison County seat, in a special election last month. She made woman’s reproductive rights the primary issue of her campaign. 

Alabama is without a doubt one of the most Republican states in America. Every statewide elected office is held by a Republican, and the Republican dominance in the Alabama Legislature is categorized as being a super-Republican majority. Therefore, the lines are drawn to favor Republican incumbents. 

However, I might add, that Democratic incumbents are complicit, and very happily go along with Republicans when drawing heavily favored partisan districts because they entrench them in their seats also. This gerrymandering drawing of Alabama legislative seats is more to protect incumbents, than to help a party.

When the dust settled after the last reapportionment, it was recognized and acknowledged that there were only two competitive, swing purple House seats in the state – one in Montgomery and the one in Huntsville, which Marilyn Lands won as a Democrat in last month’s special election.

This Huntsville district is really an anomaly. It is more reflective of the nation than Alabama.

Huntsville itself is really like a different state. It is as though the people in the research triangle of North Carolina and the Silicon Valley of California, were plucked up and placed in North Alabama in the super high-tech aerospace City of Huntsville.

Ms. Lands’ House District 10 seat sits in the center of the Redstone Arsenal and has the highest percentage of Ph.D.’s in the nation. In fact, a few years ago, I spoke to the Huntsville Rotary Club. It was the largest Rotary Club I had ever seen, probably 300. They met in the Von Braun Civic Center.

As I was getting up to speak, my observation was that I was looking at one of the most intellectual and sophisticated Rotary Clubs I had ever seen. So, I posed this question to the group, as I began my talk, “How many of you have an advanced degree, master’s, or doctorate, in aerospace engineering?” Almost half raised their hand. When I began to regale them with past Alabama political stories and legends, they looked at me as though I was talking about politics on Mars.

In short, Ms. Marilyn Lands’ district is truly a purple, nationally reflective district. In the 2020 Presidential Election, it split almost evenly between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

A special election also blurs the distinction between party labels. There are no heavyweight GOP standard bearers, like Trump and Gov. Ivey, on top of the ticket to steer voters to simply voting a straight lever-pulling party vote. It becomes a local vote for the person running the race, similar to a mayor’s race, which is nonpartisan.

Marilyn Lands was a better candidate and campaigner than her Republican opponent. She was an experienced campaigner. She lost a narrow race to her GOP opponent in 2022. She outworked her opponent, significantly. She did run a one-issue campaign. She ran on women’s reproductive rights, and it worked and resonated.

So, in answer to the national media’s inquiry, “Is this a bad sign for the Republican Party, nationally, in this year’s election,” my answer is a resounding, “Yes.” The abortion issue is a losing issue for Republicans. It has been since Roe v. Wade was overturned almost two years ago in June 2022.

The proof is in the pudding, Republicans have lost every election since then, when they should have won. That issue was defeated two to one by voters in the most conservative state in America – Kansas. Trump is wise enough to avoid this issue, it is an Achilles Heel to the Republican Party come November. Mainstream women voters, Democrats, Independents, and yes, Republican women want the right to make that choice when it comes to reproductive rights.

Marilyn Lands might have won this Special Election closely because she was a better candidate. However, she would not have won this purple swing national seat with a 62 to 38 landslide, if she had not run on the reproductive issue.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at [email protected].

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