Republicans push forward with plan to take over Legislature
The Alabama Republican Party rolled out the latest phase of its Campaign 2010 program on Monday, trying to inform voters that "136 years is long enough" and launching the website http://www.136years.com/.
"That is a message we intend to send throughout the state of Alabama," said state Rep. Mike Hubbard, who is also chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
Democrats have controlled the Legislature for 136 years. They hold an eight-vote advantage in the 140-member House and a three-vote margin in the 35-member Senate.
Republicans launched Campaign 2010 in 2007, seeking to raise $4 million, to recruit quality candidates and to target specific districts.
Joe Turnham, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, said Democratic legislators have balanced budgets in the worst economic environment since the Great Depression without major layoffs, helped save the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program, reformed juvenile justice laws, and worked with Republican Gov. Bob Riley to help land major economic development projects.
Instead of "chest-thumping," Turnham said people need to be talking about how to put people back to work, the large anticipated budget shortfalls in the state, and cleaning up the Gulf after the oil spill.
Hubbard said the party is currently targeting about 15 seats in the House of Representatives and eight or nine Senate seats, which he said they will probably trim down to six.
Looking at polling, he said there is an opportunity to win virtually all of them.
Hubbard believes the retirement of some Democratic lawmakers, the national political climate and President Obama's low approval rating also bolster the Republicans' chances.
Those targeted Senate seats include that of Sen. Wendell Mitchell, a Luverne Democrat who represents portions of Elmore and Autauga counties; the east Alabama district represented by Kim Benefield of Woodland, who is retiring; and the district represented by Sen. Ted Little of Auburn.
Turnham said Democrats here, unlike those in most other southern states, have stopped Republicans from taking control of the Legislature.
Because they are in power, Democrats "have more ground to defend," he said. That, Turnham said, creates more opportunities for Republicans.
He said the Democrats will also be on the offensive.
"There are a number of bright starts running in these Republican districts," Turnham said. " ... They're going to have to play some defense too."
The state GOP has raised more than $4 million, which was the goal and more than the party has ever raised, Hubbard said. The party did spend to pick up seats in special elections, picking up one seat in the Senate and two in the House. Those wins, the chairman said, are evidence their plan has worked.
Turnham said the Democrats have done well to defend Democratic seats in Republican-leaning districts in other special elections.
Hubbard said the Republicans have spent some of that money on the special elections, polling, data and looking at the districts they intend to target. He said they continue to raise money.
"We won't be able to match the Democrats," Hubbard said.
He said the Democrats can lean on the Alabama Education Association, which is run by two vice chairmen of the Alabama Democratic Party, for financial help. The AEA heavily funds legislative races and other campaigns.
Turnham said about a third of Alabamians are independent so neither party will be able to win on partisan rhetoric.
Turnham said the Democrats have recruited quality candidates who can speak to the issues of the day.
Hubbard also slammed the Democrats' Covenant for the Future, a 2006 campaign promise to bring up certain issues early in the next legislative session if Democrats remained in the majority. The Democrats did not pass substantial reforms outlined in the covenant.
They did, however, give themselves a pay and expense allowance increase of 62 percent, Hubbard said.
Turnham said Democrats tried to make progress on many of the issues in the covenant.
He said Republicans have worked to deny people the right to vote on whether to tax and regulate gambling, whether to remove the state sales tax on groceries, and whether they want a constitutional convention to rewrite the state's constitution.