Baxley has nice name; she needs issues

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 4, 2006

She’s got name recognition. She’s won three statewide elections. And oh, did I mention she has name recognition?

If my math is accurate, Lucy Baxley began her campaign for governor sometime around 1988. That’s when she and former Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley divorced. About six years later, after Lucy Baxley had won statewide election as treasurer, she remarried a lobbyist named Jim Smith but, for some reason, she kept Baxley as her last name.

The reason is simple: Baxley is a household name around Alabama. Bill Baxley has a reputation for his role in prosecuting civil rights crimes during his tenure as attorney general, and he successfully won election as lieutenant governor before a failed attempt at the governor’s seat.

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If Lucy Baxley relies solely on name recognition in her Democratic primary race against former Gov. Don Siegelman, there’s a good chance she’ll join her ex in the annals of “failed attempts.”

Baxley’s political resume is as impeccable as any other candidate seeking election next year. Twice she was elected state treasurer – in 1994 and again in 1998. She took the logical step in the Montgomery political chain when she ran for lieutenant governor in 2002, defeating Bill Armistead by less than two percentage points. Now, with a scandal circumventing her opponent, Siegelman, it seems natural that Baxley will win the Democratic primary and face either Bob Riley or Roy Moore in the general election next November.

Hold on to your tarot cards for a minute. This election won’t be quite so simple for Baxley.

Besides name recognition, most Alabama voters have absolutely no idea where Baxley stands on issues important to the state. A scroll around her campaign web site doesn’t help much either. According to, here’s what we know about her campaign platform:

She wants to improve public schools, keep the economy strong, make healthcare available and affordable, and finally – this one’s the clincher – she wants to make sure senior citizens and veterans are taken care of. (Go to the web site and read it for yourself if you don’t believe me.)

This may seem like a stupid question: Are there any gubernatorial candidates who want to destroy public schools, weaken the economy, reduce healthcare, or ignore senior citizens and veterans?

That’s the biggest problem with Baxley’s campaign for governor: She hasn’t distinguished an issue as her own, and while those who vote in the treasurer and lieutenant governor races may not care about issues, the same certainly isn’t true for the governor’s race. In fact, voters really do care about issues and, so far, Baxley has none.

Baxley must overcome one other stigma in order to defeat Siegelman in the Democratic primary: She needs the support of black voters, and Siegelman has a firm grip on that voting bloc right now. In her 2002 campaign, Baxley received enormous support in Jefferson and Montgomery counties – struggling in Tuscaloosa, Shelby and Mobile counties. She also won a strong majority in most of the Black Belt counties.

This time, that won’t be the case. Unless something drastic happens – like a Siegelman conviction on conspiracy and racketeering charges – Baxley won’t get the same support she received in 2002 from black voters.

So how can Baxley win this election? The easiest way would be a Siegelman conviction. There are more traditional routes, though. First, she must develop a platform that differs from every other candidate that ever sought office in the United States. Education, healthcare and seniors are a nice starting point, but those issues won’t do the trick. Where does she stand on a lottery? Does she have another idea for raising public education funds? Does she have an actual plan for improving health and veteran care?

Baxley, much like Roy Moore, must become a serious candidate if she stands a chance of winning the Democratic primary. Just because people don shirts proclaiming “I love Lucy” doesn’t mean she can win this election. Voters will need her to develop an issue that voters love just as much as their red-and-white bumper stickers.

Name recognition is important to major political candidates. Unfortunately for Baxley, every candidate in this election is a household name around Alabama.

Contact Jonathan McElvy at, or read more of his opinions at