5-29 JM Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Since the day my old man ran for city council some 20 years ago, I’ve always been what psychologists dub a “political junkie.” It’s a painful affliction, but one I’ve learned to manage with proper medication.

On Tuesday, I need to double up my dose. Then again, the June 1 primary may be one of the most boring I’ve watched in two decades of political addiction. Here are some observations, which are strictly my opinion:

For starters, the 18-month whirlwind U.S. Rep. Artur Davis has traveled will pay off Tuesday. This isn’t a public endorsement — small newspapers rarely take part in those — but Davis has won his toughest critics and likely will breeze through Tuesday’s election.

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Albert Turner Jr., the lone challenger to Davis, hasn’t spent money in our area, hasn’t made many stump speeches to local organizations, and probably doesn’t stand a fighting chance of pulling more than 25 percent of the votes on Tuesday.

Turner’s record in Montgomery — the ticket fixing scandal — and his Perry County run-ins haven’t helped a thing. On the other hand, Davis has found a way to balance his Washington, D.C., work with his duty of representation and has won the hearts of a great majority of his constituents.

The endorsements of New South and the Alabama Democratic Conference — both staunch opponents to Davis in 2002 — show Davis has an uncanny ability to win friends in every party.

What’s most interesting about the Davis race is the biggest backer of Turner. Stan Pate, who made a futile run at governor on the Republican ticket in 2002, has thrown money at Turner. In this case, I don’t think it would help if Bill Gates opened his wallet to the Perry County Commissioner. Voters are smarter than we think, and I believe voters are happy with the work Davis has done during his freshman term in office. We’ll see if the prediction holds true.

There are two other races on Tuesday that have captured the attention of voters.

In Hale County, incumbent commissioner Lois Fields faces challenger Elijah Knox. Getting Knox on the ballot was about as easy as breaking into Fort Knox, and it may not do any good — whether he’s on the ballot or not.

What’s interesting about that race is the emotion it has stirred among some voters. Fields has rubbed a number of people the wrong way, and she has groups who want to see her off the commission.

Hale County’s political landscape has become tainted with skepticism and an apparent sense of real hate. There is more than one reason for the real hatred, but some point to Fields as one of a few divisive leaders.

The issue for Hale County will not go away in this election; nor will it go away anytime soon. The people of Hale County need politicians like Artur Davis. They need sensible leaders who one day look beyond race as the cornerstone of elected office. I don’t see that happening this year.

Finally, the District Attorney’s race in the 17th Judicial Circuit pits a former DA against the current DA.

This race has been hard to pinpoint. Greg Griggers, the current DA, has spent a great deal of money on advertising. He’s worked hard to shake as many hands as possible, and all but recently, has stuck to a positive campaign centered on his record.

In the past week, Griggers has answered some of the issues raised by challenger Barrown Lankster, who once held the DA’s position.

Lankster hasn’t reported having a lot of money for his campaign, though he has spent money in area markets. His state finance report indicates he loaned $8,000 to himself to fund the majority of his campaign.

Money may not play a large role in this campaign, though political advertising doesn’t hurt. Instead, turnout likely will determine who wins this race.

Though neither candidate would ever say he wanted the turnout to be low, I believe Griggers benefits from a light turnout. Lankster, on the other hand, benefits from a large voter turnout.

Voters normally turn out en masse only when there’s a heated election. This year, the only opportunity local voters had for a heated race was the contest between Davis and Turner. Despite the backing of Pate (yes, politics do make strange bedfellows), Turner never had enough momentum or money to pose a serious challenge to Davis.

If that campaign had been more heated, it might have provided a coattail effect to our local races. If Turner would have brought more voters to the polls, Lankster could have ridden the coattails.

It doesn’t look like that will happen — barring some last-minute idiotic move by Davis. Obviously, he’s too smart a politician, and he won’t pull any fourth-quarter blunders. (If you asked me, Davis would do well to take a vacation until Tuesday.)

The tone of that race, I believe, has limited the emotion surrounding this year’s primaries. And when there’s no passion for an election, most voters stay home.