Maybe there’s hope still for political process

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 7, 2004

Four years ago, a zip code of deformed chads fashioned a political cynicism more contagious than a made-for-TV murder trial. Simply put, Americans lost faith in their government.

I lost the faith years earlier. Over the past two decades, we’ve elected enough incompetent political leaders to turn our great country into a melting pot of, well… melted pot.

On the local level, unemployed, bankrupt candidates have been elected — never mind they struggled to spell words like judge or district attorney or legislator. On the national level, mayors caught with crack dealers have been re-elected. And even on the state level, some voters continue to demonstrate an utter lack of apparent responsibility.

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In Tuesday’s election, a district judge in Pickens County won the Democratic primary even though he’s been suspended from the bench for charges of bankruptcy fraud.

Debbie Tucker Corbett, of Deatsville, won her party’s primary Tuesday — the same day she appeared in court to pay off three bounced checks. (Media reports also revealed she pleaded guilty to writing six bad checks and paid off another 16 bad checks recently.)

No, you can’t judge books by their covers, but in some of these political novels, you need only to read the first few pages to understand the plot.

Though I’ve maintained a pessimistic view of our democratic process the past few years, I’ve also established a conviction that no form of government better serves its people than ours does. I also realized, this week, that maybe our form of government — at least in West Alabama and the Black Belt — has progressed, not digressed.

Most in our area know the political stature State Sen. Hank Sanders holds in Montgomery. Some consider Sanders, D-Selma, one of the most (if not the most) powerful political leaders on the state level.

For nearly five years, I’ve known and worked with Sanders on a professional level. In terms of political reporting, there’s no better source in our area. At the same time, if I were a politician and sat across the senate floor from Sanders, we’d probably cancel out each other’s vote on a majority of issues.

During my professional relationship with Sanders, and his law partner J.L. Chestnut, I’ve compiled a mental textbook of local political lessons no university class could offer. Sanders and Chestnut worked their way to the tops of the legal and political profession through a set of circumstances I’ll never fully understand. At the same time, I’ve never shied away from expressing an opinion when I absolutely felt they had things all wrong.

One of the most defining differences I’ve always had with Sanders relates to his leadership of the Alabama New South Coalition, a political organization that seeks to educate voters and support the candidates it endorses.

As a journalist whose job it is to educate voters — and thus study political issues and the candidates who create them — I have always believed New South places too much importance on race. In one election, two years ago, New South did endorse a white candidate. That was the exception to the rule.

Like most political organizations, New South has a purpose — theirs obviously centers on finding strong black political candidates who can win government positions. And two years ago, when New South’s field of candidates lost at least two high-profile state elections, I surmised that New South’s influence over its constituency was all but dead.

After Tuesday’s primary election, I believe New South has re-established itself as a worthy political organization capable of promoting the democratic process.

The organization’s decision to back Artur Davis over Albert Turner Jr. was the first sign of progress. From what I’ve heard, New South members struggled over the vote, and Turner had a chance to win the group’s endorsement.

“There were three things that helped determine that endorsement for [Davis],” Sanders told me Friday. “He had only been in office for 16 months, and that’s not a lot of time. Second, he’s been very active across the district. He’s also done a good job with the PR aspect.”

Sanders and Davis weren’t exactly supper-club buddies two years ago, but they’ve developed a professional relationship beneficial to all in the area. In the same light, New South took an enormous step toward credibility when they endorsed Davis over Turner.

In West Alabama and the Black Belt, we’ve still got a long way to go in terms of the candidates we elect to office. New South, also, has some progress yet to be made when they endorse candidates. But then again, so does every other political organization in the country.

Our region of the state has always been considered a little backwards in our political process. We aren’t exactly pointed the right way, just yet, but we sure found a compass on Tuesday.