It was an appropriate activity for the location, for the old house at that address was officially opened Friday morning as the party’s Calhoun County headquarters. From there the Democrats are looking to young voters to revive their shrinking ranks in the county.
Paul Hathaway, an assistant professor of political science at JSU, told Democrats rallying outside of the new headquarters that young voters are where the hope of the party lies. He said he gives a political ideology quiz to his freshmen class each semester which is based not on party lines, but rather ideology: liberal, libertarian, socialist, conservative. Based on the answers, the majority of his students consistently land in the liberal quadrant, but when asked to identify with a party, about 80 percent identify as Republican.
“There’s a lot of influence from family, from church, and peers, and I think when they start looking at the individual issues and they start voting for their self-interests, they’re realizing they’re really not a Republican like mom and dad.”
Calhoun County party chairwoman Sheila Gilbert said a big mission for Democrats is to change what seems to be a negative connotation associated with the label of Democrat in Alabama.
“To be a Democrat is not bad,” she said. “Democrats are good people.”
The strategy, she said, is to just continue doing good works and to try to keep on electing good people.
Good works and improving residents’ quality of life is what drew Foster Marshall to the Democratic Party in the first place, he said. The circuit judge candidate said Democratic legislation such as such as the Civil Rights Act, the GI Bill, the Affordable Care Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and those that allowed such developments as women’s suffrage, Medicare and Medicaid and Head Start have improved people’s lives.
“Obviously, the party can’t just rest on its laurels and on its history,” he said. “In my opinion, the best thing the Democrats can do is not be Republicans. Be Democrats, come forward with new ideas, bold ideas, risk being ridiculed to try something new, to try something different.”
Despite setbacks in recent years, no one should count the Democrats out just yet, said Lori Owens, department head for the Political Science and Public Administration Department at JSU. Owens has previously served as a Republican on the Cherokee County Commission and teaches the Southern Politics course at the university. “The Republicans had a perfect storm in 2010,” she said. The party went out and recruited a number of candidates and funded them, she said, and coupled with the rising tide of the Tea Party and conservative movement against President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a lot of these state and local candidates swept into office.
Some Democrats have managed to retain their offices, and Owens said that local politics is an entirely different animal. A lot of the races are individualized, she said. These candidates are the local person that voters see at Little League games, at the grocery store, at church. If Democratic candidates are working hard to connect with the local base, Owens said, they have a chance to compete with the Republican tidal wave.
Missy Hall, a candidate for Calhoun County circuit clerk, has been working hard to do just that. She said she’s been working to emphasize her nearly 11 years of experience in the legal field and the nonpartisan aspect of the clerical position.
“Missy Hall will be the one to show up and do the job every day,” she said. “Not the Democratic Party.”
“Even though Democrats may be in a very weakened state right now, they’ll never be as weak at the Republican party was,” said Bill Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama. Stewart said this is due partially to a very loyal base of black voters and the establishment of minority-majority districts under the Voting Rights Act.
“They’ll always have a presence in political office,” Stewart said.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.