Election 2000 Across the South

Election 2000 Across the South

By Sarah E. Torian

Vol. 22, No. 2, 2000 pp. 10-13

Across the South, affirmative action, felony disfranchisement, the environment, and public education hang in the balance as states elect new governors, legislators, congresspeople, and judges. From the potential Republican ascension to complete statewide control in Virginia to the removal of more than sixty senior legislators in Florida due to term limits, this fall’s elections will determine who is in control during the post2000 redistricting, whose agendas will be proposed and endorsed, and the extent of minority and female political representation as we enter the next century. Following are brief summaries of some significant elections and issues on the ballot across the South this November.

Disfranchised Voters in Alabama

In the state with the highest percentage of disfranchised black voters in the country (31.5 percent) and the highest percentage of disfranchised voters overall (7.5 percent), Alabamians are gearing up for an important judicial election year. Four seats on the state supreme court, currently with a five-to-four Republican majority, will be up this year, including that of Republican Chief Justice Perry Hooper. Etowah County Circuit Judge Roy Moore (R), who gained fame for defying a judicial order to remove the Ten Commandments from the wall behind his courtroom bench and stop Opening court sessions with a prayer, will face Civil Appeals Court Judge Sharon Yates (D), the first woman to sit on the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals, in the race to fill Hooper’s open seat.

Currently, there are two African-American judges sitting on the state’s highest court-Judges John Henry England (D) and Ralph D. Cook (D).Although that number on a Supreme Court bench of nine correlates with the percentage of the Alabama population that is African American, they are the only two minority judges on a statewide bench in Alabama. Both will be facing Republican challengers this fall. England, who was appointed to his seat last year by Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, will be running against Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tom Woodall and Cook will face Baldwin County Circuit Judge Lyn Stuart Jerome Gray of the Alabama Democratic Convention believes that both England and Cook will prevail but that the races will be tight “Blacks do not make up a majority of the Alabama population and there is racially polarized voting. Those two factors will combine to make these close races.”

Alabama is one of only ten states in the country to disfranchise first-time felons while in prison, under probation or parole, and after their sentences have been completed (Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Virginia are other Southern states that disfranchise first-time felons for life.) Currently, more than 80 percent of Alabama’s disfranchised citizens have completed their sentences, and many of these are African American. Of the 241,100 adults disfranchised in Alabama, about 105,000 (43.5 percent) are African-American men. In a state where African Americans compose 26 percent of the population, this figure demonstrates the importance of having fair representation in the criminal justice system. Robert Smith, field coordinator of the Alabama Democratic Party Black Caucus explains, “The current system of disfranchisement is incredibly unfair. Most [disfranchised citizens] have already served their time, paid their retribution to society. And still they are required to go through along, difficult application process to the board of pardons that includes DNA testing and can take more than a year.”

“Eight Is Enough” Term Limits Pose Threat in Florida

Florida is gearing up for more political action than usual between now and November 7. This year the state’s “Eight is Enough” term-limiting constitutional amendment will take effect, opening up more than sixty of the state’s 160 legislative seats. That is nearly one-half of the house seats and one-fourth of the senate seats. Two-term Republican U.S. Senator Connie Mack is retiring this year and a three-way battle is underway to fill that seat Also, spurred by state legislators Kendrick Meek (D-Miami) and Tony Hill (I)Jacksonville), efforts are underway to energize the African-American vote in response to Governor Jeb Bush’s “One Florida” plan which eliminated affirmative action from the state’s public colleges and universities.

Many longtime legislators were forced to step down at the end of the 2000 session due to Florida’s term limits law, including dean of the legislature Senator W.D. Childers (R-Pensacola) and house Democratic leader Representative Us Miller, Jr. Having taken control of the House and Senate in the 1996 elections and currently holding a seventy-five to forty-five majority in the House, the GOP is expected to retain control of the state house. But with a twenty-five to fifteen majoiityin the senate and eightRepublicansbeingtennedoutcompared to onlythree Democrata, the GOP could potentially lose control of the senate. Demo.’ crats are working hard towards that end with hopes of having strong representation as the state begins the 2000

Page 10

redistricting process.

With the term limit-imposed turnover this year, there is a serious threat to current minority leadership. There are twenty, African-American legislators and about fourteen of these are being forced to step down because of term limits. There are also fourteen Latino legislators in Florida, four of whom will be stepping down because of term limits this year. For most of those seats, minorities are among the major candidates running for election, but they will lack the boost in name recognition and experience provided by incumbency.

Maneuvering for retiring U.S. Senator Connie Mack’s seat are three candidates. U.S. Representative Bill McCollum became the presumptive Republican candidate in June as state Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher dropped out of the race. McCollum, called a “pugnacious ideologue” by the St. Petersburg Times, played a key role in the impeachment of President Clinton and is beloved by the Christian right.

Florida Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, the only Democratic candidate thus far, served twelve years in the U.S. House before being elected to his current position in 1994. Since his Republican challenger had been consumed in his battle for the Republican nomination until June, Nelson has only recently begun to campaign full force, emphasizing traditional Democratic issues from preserving Social Security and Medicare to enhancing public education and protecting the environment.

State Representative Willie Logan (D-Opa-locka) rounds out the field of contenders for Mack’s seat. The victim of a statewide controversy in 1998 when white House Democrats dumped him as their choice to be the next speaker, Logan endorsed Jeb Bush for governor in 1998 and could potentially cost Nelson black votes this fall if he stays in the race. With $310,000 raised and mostly spent, Logan campaigned in May and June on a motorcycle tour that covered the length of the state but has received little media attention.

Since Gov. Jeb Bush pushed through his anti-affirmative action “One Florida” plan this spring and Ward Connerly postponed his anti-affirmative action referendums until 2002, that issue will not be on the ballot this fall. State Representative Tony Hill (D-Jacksonville) and State Senator Kendrick Meek (D-Miami), however, are working hard to inject affirmative action into the election season. Neither representative is up for reelection, but both are travelling the state, campaigning for “Keep Florida Alive – Take Five,” a get-out-the-vote drive that encourages people to take election day off and carry, five other voters to the polls in order to make their voices heard ‘about affirmative action.

Flag Controversy Enters Georgia

With the Confederate baffle flag now moved from atop the South Carolina capitol to the statehouse grounds, the flag issue is moving into the neighboring state of Georgia Remembering the repercussions of then-Governor Zell Miller’s attempts to have the flag changed in 1993. most anti-flag Georgia legislators are “ring to hold oft the debate until after the 2000 elections when all 236 seats of the legislature are up for a vote. African-American Rep. Calvin Smyre (1)-Columbus) explains, “We made a decision this session to forego it and wait until 2001. I don’t know if we would be able to put our finger in the dike again and keep the dam from breaking.” Legislators might not be able to avoid the debate for long. Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta) predicts that Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) will try to force the issue of the flag into the debate. “It’s a windshield issue. They will try to make people take a stand on it one way or the other and use that against them in the fall.”

The Confederate battle flag, popularly termed the ‘Stars and Bars” was incorporated into the Georgia state flag in 1956, in direct protest of court-ordered integration. Mississippi and Georgia are the only two states which include the Confederate battle flag in their state flags.

With GOP Senator Paul Coverdell’s death in July, and Governor Roy Barnes’ subsequent appointment of former Georgia Governor Zell Miller to fill Coverdell’s seat, battle is underway among Republicans to determine who will run for the seat this fall. Although many Republicans have considered a candidacy, the field has narrowed to one-term U.S. Senator Mack Mattingly (1981-1987). Mattingly, a longtime friend of Coverdell, argues that he

Page 11

has the experience to assemble an effective campaign team. Democrat Zell Miller maintained high voter approval during his two terms as governor (1990 to 1998), making him a formidable foe for any Republican challengers.

U.S. Representative Bob Barr (R-7th district; Rome) is up for reelection this year and may be facing a significant challenge in Altanta businessman and Bartow County farmer Roger Kahn. A moderate Democrat, Kahn is not attacking Bands infamous role in the Clinton impeachment trials, but rather is suggesting that Barr’s time would have been better focused on issues that impact his constituents such as Social Security, education, traffic congestion, and urban sprawl After Jim Williams, Barr’s Democratic challenger in 1998, garnered 45 percent of the vote on a budget of less than $10,000. Kahn, with his $700,000 and conservative positions on many issues, may be a strong challenger against Barr in the conservative district

North Carolina: Vouchers and Vinroot

For twenty years, the Tar Heel State has exhibited a trend toward voting Republican, and has consistently gone Republican in the last four presidential contests. That fact bolsters GOP hopes to replace Democratic Governor Jim Hunt this year with a Republican and they are hanging their hopes on Richard Vinroot, a corporate lawyer and former two-term mayor of Charlotte (1991-1995). Vinroot, who battled with in the Republican primary to position himself as the most conservative candidate, gained prominence while mayor of Charlotte by privatizing thirty-three of the city’s public services.

Vinroot will face State Attorney General Mike Easley and Barbara Howe at the North Carolina polls in November. Easley, in his second term as state attorney general, won the Democratic nomination with much party support and currently leads both Vinroot and Howe in the polls.

Howe is a homemaker and part-time aerobics instructor in Oxford and is targeting home schoolers, drug legalization groups, and death penalty opponents in her efforts to gain support and raise campaign funds.

A recent statewide poll conducted by the Raleigh News and Observer showed that education was far and away the highest priority in voters’ minds this year. Both major party candidates have proposals to improve the state’s public education. Easley is proposing a lottery with the proceeds going to reduce class sizes, especially in kindergarten through third grade. Vinroot’s agenda supports “parent choice” with an expansion of charter schools and tax-paid vouchers for private schools, and an end to busing for the purpose of desegregation.

John Dornan of the Education: Everybody’s Business Coalition, a nonpartisan coalition of education and business organizations that have surveyed this year’s state candidate’s education proposals and hosted debates, recognizes a stark difference between Easley and Tlmroot’s education plans. ‘The biggest divide between the candidates is their stances on vouchers,” Dornan explains. “Vinroot, his proposals, and his campaigning style are very similar to Governor Jeb Bush’s in Florida. He is calling for a voucher and opportunity scholarship plan very similar to Florida’s.” Dornan also noted that, although his organization and the broader coalition were nonpartisan and did not endorse candidates, all member organizations of the coalition, including North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, the state School Board Association, and the North Carolina Public School Forum, had “taken a strong opposition to vouchers and opportunity scholarships.”

Republican Control in Virginia

Will Virginia, as it has for the past seven years, continue its Republican revival? In 1993, after a twelve-year run of Democratic governors, Virginians elected George Allen. Since then, the Republican Party has gained control of the state senate, is one seat shy of controlling the House of Delegates, and holds every statewide office except for the seat of U.S. Senator Chuck Robb. Robb, a two-term incumbent; faces former governor George Allen this fall. If he should lose, it will be the first time in more than a hundred years that no Democrat holds a statewide office.

Allen has amassed a campaign war chest almost twice as large as Robb’s. If successful in his Senate bid, Allen. with close party ties across Virginia, is expected to gain the mantle of state party leadership. Toward that goal, he is running on an anti-“Clinton-Gore-Robb” platform in a state that has voted Republican in all presidential elections since 1964, while proposing a $58 billion tax cut-including elimination of the “marriage penalty” and estate taxes, and a $1000 education tax credit During his tenure as governor (1994-1998) though, Allen had a poor record on environmental issues and is already facing critical television ads sponsored by the Sierra Club. The state’s more than 140,000 state employees will also likely remember the derogatory statements Allen made about them while governor, while parents in the state exhibit mixed reactions towards the state Standards of Learning achievement tests that Allen implemented.

Senator Robb, who defeated Oliver North (of Iran-Contra notoriety) in his last reelection, combines a conservative stance on defense and fiscal issues with a long-time support of civil rights issues, including support for gays in the military, federal affirmative action programs, and a woman’s right to choose.

Three unexpected Congressional retirements and a change of party also add interest to Virginia’s 2000 elections, as well as the situation of representation of minorities and women. Currently, all thirteen Virginia Congresspeople are male and white except for African-American Represen-

Page 13

tative Robert Sisisky. Nine-term Republican Representative Herbert Bateman (1st district, Newport News), will be stepping down this fall Lawrence Davies, an African American and former mayor of Fredricksburg, will-be the Democratic candidate facing Delegate Jo Aim Davis (R-York County) for the seat If Davis wins, she would become the first Republican congresswoman from Virginia. Davis supports traditional conservative measures including federal tax cuts, increased military spending, strict limits on abortion, and opposes gun control and gay rights.

Another woman, Democrat Jody Wagner is running to fill Representative Owen Pickett’s (D-Norfolk) seat in the second district Wagner, a Virginia Beach lawyer and civic leader, will face State Senator Ed Schrock (R-Virginia Beach). With two successful campaigns in the district, Schrock is expected to beat first-time candidate Wagner.

Representative Tom Bliley, Jr. (R-Richmond) of the seventh district is retiring and vacating the chair of the commerce committee after twenty years in the house. Eric Cantor, a wealthy lawyer and businessman who served as Bliley’s campaign chairman for the past three elections, will be the Republican candidate for the position and Warren Stewart, former superintendent of the Goochland County Schools, will run as the Democratic candidate. In a district that tends to vote Republican at every level of government, Stewart faces an almost impossible battle.

Virgil Goode in the “Southside” fifth district (Danville) is causing waves by declaring a change of parties. A two-term conservative Democrat, Goode is running this year as an independent with Republican endorsement. He will face no Republican challengers in the very conservative rural district in the heart of tobacco country, but will face Democratic challenger John Boyd, the President of the National Black Farmers Association. Boyd led the NBFA’s complaint that the U.S. Department of Agriculture discriminated against black farmers in a lawsuit that won a multi-million dollar settlement against the Department.

Independent Injecting Issues into West Virginia Race

Representing the newly-formed, pro-environment Mountain Party, writer and activist Denise Giardina is raising important issues in West Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Giardina, author of The Unquiet Earth, winner of the 1992 Lillian Smith Book Award, is campaigning against the environmentally-destructive form of mining called mountaintop removal. She is also challenging the absentee landownership of much of West Virginia’s land, timber, and minerals by outside corporations that do not pay commensurate property taxes. She seeks to have corporate-owned land appraised and taxed for its actual value. Giardina also hopes to prevent the gaming industry–which in 1999 contributed more to the state’s politicians than any other industry, including coal–from spreading through the state. And, she wants to protect small community schools from the trend toward consolidation.

Giardina will face Republican incumbent Cecil Underwood and Democratic Representative Bob Wise (7th District, Charleston). In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-th-one, Republican Underwood won in 1996 with, much Democratic support after the Democrats split along business-labor lines in the primary. At age seventy-seven, he is the nation’s oldest governor and is emphasizing family values, increased technology and road construction, and decreased welfare rolls in his bid for reelection. Wise, who has served West Virginia in the U.S. House since 1992, is highlighting Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) reform, increased economic diversity, and affordable prescription medicine for seniors.

Just getting her name on the ballot has proven to be difficult for Giardina in the current climate of two-party politics. In an effort to loosen ballot restrictions last winter, the West Virginia legislature reversed the law that prevented anyone who signed an independent candidate’s petition from voting in the Republican or Democratic primaries. The law, however, did not change the requirement petitioners must state that the signee will not be allowed to vote in the party primaries, discouraging many from signing independent petitions. By the petition deadline of May 8 though, Giardina was able to submit 18,000 names, well above the 12,562 required.

Recognizing the stiff battle ahead, in which many political scientists see the election as a tossup between the two major party candidates, Giardina sees her campaign as more than the tally of votes on November 7. Here’s what is crucial,” she says. “I don’t know if I will get the most votes in this election, but I have already won’ by opening up the electoral process in this state. I have, won by starting to talk about real issues, not public relations fluff, by challenging other candidates to spend at least a tiny portion of their millions of dollars on the real needs of people in West Virginia. And all that before any vote is cast”

Although most media attention this fall will focus on the presidential election, across the South, 134 House seats, seven Senate seats, two gubernatorial seats, and hundreds of state legislative and local positions will be on the ballot in November. With only a six-seat GOP majority in the U.S. House and a five-seat GOP majority in the U.S. Senate, party control will weigh in the balance as will equal access to higher education, minority and female representation, the 2000 redistricting schedule, and the environment.

Sarah Torian is editorial coordinator at the Southern Regional Council.