Issues not always important to voters

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Jonathon McElvy / Times columnist

For the better part of this campaign for governor in Alabama, there’s a good chance we’ll spend a lot of time talking about “the issues.” What issues are important to voters? What issues are important to candidates? What issues will determine the winner of this election.

The reality, of course, is that we’ll spend a lot of time wasting our breath when we do talk about “the issues.”

Email newsletter signup

Bob Riley has his issues: His first term has focused on government accountability, economic growth and, yes, Alabama’s Black Belt. Riley also spent the first year of his administration advocating an increase in property taxes – among other things.

If you’re unsure of Roy Moore’s issues, you shouldn’t vote in this election: Moore is considered a viable candidate in Alabama only because of his stand for the Ten Commandments. Moore also proposes having the Alabama Legislature meet every other year, while opposing gambling, increased taxes and same-sex marriages.

Don Siegelman has a proven track record of issues: He advocates a statewide lottery to fund education, he doesn’t support increased taxes, and he believes Alabama has become complacent in its desire to recruit new car manufacturers.

As for Lucy Baxley, well we’re still kind of waiting on her: Baxley supports all the right things, including better education, a strong economy, and health care for veterans and seniors. (So does every other candidate.)

So what issues will be important to Alabama voters over the next few months? Probably none of them, save ideas from Siegelman and Moore.

There’s a good chance Siegelman will again propose a statewide lottery. In fact, he’s already done so in campaign stops around the state. There’s survey data to indicate this gambling idea may earn him the Democratic nomination.

In 2004, the Alabama Education Associations polling firm, Capital Survey Research Center, surveyed nearly 800 Alabamians and found an interesting amount of support for legalized gambling. The survey, made up of 46 percent Republicans and 43 percent Democrats (the rest were independent or didn’t know), asked a very specific question about gambling.

“… How do you feel about the Governor signing a voluntary agreement with the Indian tribes in Alabama that would allow the state to receive some gambling revenue from Indian casinos to be used to help fund state government?”

The answers may surprise you. Among all Republicans and Democrats (remember, there were more Republican respondents than Democrat respondents), 66 percent said they would support such a gambling idea.

In other words, Siegelman may have an issue that actually resonates with voters. If Siegelman spends his time talking about education, healthcare and new business, he’ll get lost in the platforms of every other candidate.

Moore is the other exception to the “issues don’t matter” line of thinking. The only reason Moore was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court was his stand on the Ten Commandments. That is an issue to many Alabama voters, and though Moore may have alienated many of his supporters through his arrogance toward the law of the land, he still has an issue that tugs at the moral strings of many state voters.

Riley and Baxley, on the other hand, don’t have specific issues that will carry them to a primary victory. Voters will judge Riley on one, and only one, thing: How did he perform in his first term as governor. So far, the polling numbers look good for Riley, but he hasn’t had to withstand a serious campaign from Moore yet.

Baxley will be judged on her ability to manage the state’s highest office. To make it even more succinct, voters will have to develop a trust in Baxley. Sure, Baxley needs to develop a strong platform. Even more important, though, will be Baxley’s appearance, her determination, and her capacity for generating support among black voters.

Some believe issues are important to a campaign. Others say issues don’t really matter. As is normally the case with Alabama politics, there’s no black and white here. Issues will matter to some voters, and they won’t matter to others.

Contact Jonathan McElvy by e-mail at