‘Friends and Neigh­bors’ pol­i­tics in Dixie

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS -

There is a proven the­ory es­poused by po­lit­i­cal schol­ars that has pre­vailed in south­ern po­lit­i­cal history for decades. The pre­mier po­lit­i­cal scholar, Dr. V. O. Key, first il­lus­trated this rep­e­ti­tious theme that has weaved its way through the south­ern elec­torate. He called it “Friends and Neigh­bors” pol­i­tics. It is not a com­pli­cated hy­poth­e­sis. It sim­ply means that south­ern­ers tend to vote for some­one from their neck of the woods. It is a tru­ism in all south­ern states. How­ever, it is most pro­nounced in the Heart of Dixie.

This friends and neigh­bors vote comes to light in open races for gov­er­nor and U.S. senator. Folks in Alabama will con­sis­tently vote for some­one from their county or sur­round­ing coun­ties or re­gion of the state over­whelm­ingly.

I tell my univer­sity south­ern pol­i­tics stu­dents that this ten­dency is so per­va­sive and tena­cious that Alabama vot­ers will vote for some­one from their neck of the woods even if they know he is a crook or a drunk. They are prob­a­bly think­ing, “I know ole Joe is a crook and a drunk, but by gosh he’s our drunk or crook.”

The ear­li­est and best il­lus­tra­tion of Alabama’s “Friends and Neigh­bors” oc­curred in the 1946 gov­er­nor’s race. Big Jim Fol­som was born and raised in Coffee County in the wire­grass area of the state. At about age 30, he moved to Cull­man, sold in­sur­ance, and worked for the WPA get­ting lots of folks’ jobs. In that 1946 race, he ran against the Pro­bate Judge of Cal­houn County. Big Jim beat Judge Boozer be­cause he had two home re­gions. He ran over­whelm­ingly in both the Wire­grass and North Cen­tral Alabama.

On elec­tion night in 2010, I was sit­ting on the set of a Mont­gomery tele­vi­sion sta­tion do­ing elec­tion com­men­tary and anal­y­sis. As I pe­rused and stud­ied the county-by-county re­turns, I broke into a smile that bor­dered on a laugh. When I saw what was hap­pen­ing, it was ob­vi­ous that friends and neigh­bors pol­i­tics still per­sists in Alabama.

Dr. Robert Bent­ley was car­ry­ing Tuscaloosa and the sur­round­ing coun­ties of Fayette, La­mar, Pick­ens and Bibb so over­whelm­ingly that I saw that the home­town vote was go­ing to pro­pel him past Tim James and Bradley Byrne and into the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

He ran like a scalded dog through Tuscaloosa where he had been a pop­u­lar med­i­cal doc­tor for 30 years and there are a good many votes in Tuscaloosa. Bent­ley won be­cause of “Friends and Neigh­bors” pol­i­tics.

How will “Friends and Neigh­bors” play out to the ad­van­tage of the po­ten­tial can­di­dates for this year’s open U.S. se­nate race and next years open gov­er­nor’s race?

It is early and all the horses are not in the race yet for gov­er­nor. If Kay Ivey runs, she’s been around Mont­gomery so long that she is thought of as a pro­fes­sional politi­cian who has camped out in the Capi­tol City for decades. There are so few Repub­li­can votes in her na­tive Wil­cox County that she can’t reap any home­town ad­van­tage.

Just the op­po­site for Huntsville mayor, Tommy Bat­tle. He is well known and liked in the Rocket City. If he is the only ma­jor can­di­date from the Ten­nessee Val­ley and it’s a large field, that North Alabama vote might land him in the runoff.

Mo­bile and Bald­win coun­ties have a long history of sup­port­ing one of their own. There are a lot of votes down there. Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner, John McMil­lan, has been around Mont­gomery for a while, but he has deep roots in Bald­win County, which is now one of the most pop­u­lous Repub­li­can coun­ties in the state.

What about the cur­rent on­go­ing open U.S. Se­nate race: The two fron­trun­ners, Roy Moore and Luther Strange, are thought of as statewide can­di­dates. Al­though Moore will carry Etowah and Strange will carry Moun­tain Brook, this race il­lus­trates and re­flects more of a class ide­o­log­i­cal struggle that is play­ing out in the na­tional as well as state Repub­li­can Party. It’s the evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian/Don­ald Trump/Ge­orge Wal­lace voter ver­sus the Wall Street busi­ness big mules.

Moore be­lieves he can out re­li­gious any­one. It is Moses with the He­brew chil­dren of North Alabama ver­sus the Philis­tine Moun­tain Brook gi­ant. The two tribes in the Repub­li­can Party will col­lide with the bat­tle­field being around the Black War­rior River.

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 www.steve­flow­ers.us.

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