Building a New Party in the Heart of Dixie

by Matthew Tyson

Beginning in the 1960’s, the Southern Strategy brought about a war between the Republican and Democratic parties in Alabama. That war dragged on for decades. Then, in the early part of the 21st century, the GOP took down Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and clinched a Republican-controlled state house and senate for the first time in over a century.

The effects of that victory are still very prevalent today. The Democratic Party in Alabama isn’t waning. It’s dead. Outside of a few districts in the Black Belt, Alabama is as red as the day is long. The war is over, and the Democrats lost.

Being a Democrat in Alabama is rough. I should know. As both a proud Alabamian and dedicated Democrat, I’ve dealt firsthand with the frustration of living in such a divided house. Thanks to the burning rhetoric and idealism of the right, Democrats in the Heart of Dixie might as well be card-carrying communists. The GOP has so successfully predicated us as socialist, big government, America-haters that we can’t even have a constructive conversation without the dark cloud of presumption hanging over our heads.

Our state party is in shambles, and we have little to no voice, but worst of all, we are forced to sit and watch as two decades of total Republican leadership have pushed Alabama even deeper into economic turmoil.

Alabama is consistently ranked at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to healthcare, education, poverty, and unemployment. Our prisons are overcrowded. Our jobless rate is higher than the national average. Even worse, it was recently revealed to the public (conveniently after Bentley waltzed back into the governor’s mansion) that our debt is hundreds of millions of dollars worse than originally thought.

All this under the watch of the GOP.

Part of the problem is that the Republicans in my state run entirely off idealism, and whatever doesn’t fit into the red state narrative is ignored.  Initiatives that could help the people of Alabama, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid under the ACA, or actually investing in infrastructure aren’t even up for discussion due entirely to deeply held partisan convictions.

We’ve got hundreds of thousands of uninsured, unemployed, poverty-stricken citizens, and not the slightest change of pace in Alabama government. Rather than any initiatives to actually bring jobs to our state, legislators continue to cut taxes, reduce much-needed welfare, and expect the market to simply sort itself out (it hasn’t).

Rather than fixing our broken education system, they’ve systematically attacked the teachers by killing their tenure, cutting their pay, and heaping irrational expectations on their shoulders.

Instead of drafting bills to counter any real issues facing Alabama citizens, our state legislature has been busy pushing egregiously unnecessary bills that ban Sharia Law and reiterate the 2nd Amendment (just in case).

My state is in trouble, and though we desperately need it, there is simply no room for bipartisan discourse in Alabama.

We must find a way to regain our Democratic voice. But how? How does the Democratic Party swim to the surface of Alabama’s red sea?

Though possible, it will require a necessarily different approach, one that comes in two steps. First, the Democrats must concede defeat. We must accept that we have lost, not a battle, but an entire war. Second, we need to prepare a brand new offensive, a second war, waged this time by the Democrats, restructured under a pro-life banner.

Over the past couple of decades, the Democratic Party in Alabama has lost a lot of voters over one, singular issue: abortion. In the ’90s, pro-life Democrats were more of a reality, with former President Bill Clinton at one point identifying as such. However, as the party platform has moved further and further towards a complete, non-negotiable, pro-choice stance, moderate to conservative Democrats and Blue Dogs have felt their hand forced to vote Republican.

One of the biggest mistakes the Democratic Party has made this century is shutting out the pro-life voices under the big tent, and many people, who might otherwise vote blue, can’t bring themselves to do it on moral grounds, regardless of how terrible GOP leadership has been.

It doesn’t matter how well we can defend our policies or prove their effectiveness, all the GOP has to do is remind voters that the Democratic Party supports abortion. That fact alone swallows everything else we have to offer. It turns people off immediately. All the other political spitballs hurled our way are child’s play compared to this one problem.

If the Democratic Party wants to regain Alabama, it has to regroup as a pro-life entity. Such action, combined with the constant highlighting of the Alabama GOP’s failure to lead, will almost certainly pull voters back in the blue.

Honestly, it’s not as farfetched as some might think. If you stretch the meaning of pro-life to mean more than pro-birth (as it should be) then the Democratic Party is by far the more pro-life party. Democrats consistently support causes that seek to sustain and protect life through anti-violence and anti-poverty  efforts, whereas our Republican counterparts are “pro-life” until the point of birth. They seek only to pass measures to restrict access to abortion, and then expect everyone to fall in line with their particular moral ideology rather than seeking to sever the root causes of abortion–issues such as economic desperation and a lack of access to healthcare.

Pro-life Democrats are virtually impervious to any Republican talking point. By openly advocating an anti-abortion stance, they sweep the rug right out from under the GOP coup-de-grâce, and thus open the door to real dialogue with the voters.

Of course, such an initiative is easier said than done. Not only do Democrats have a mountain of Republican opposition to wade through, the state party would have to openly advocate for the pro-life cause, something that flies directly in the face of the national platform. In truth, the best chance we have of reorganizing the party lies in the grassroots and hinges on direct action from the people, backed by Democrats for Life of America.

Right now, DFLA is working with groups of pro-life Democrats to establish state chapters throughout the country. Alabama is next on the list. Through this effort, we can advocate more aggressively for a pro-life Democratic Party and better reach out to local voters. More importantly, we can target specific seats within the Alabama legislature to fill with a pro-life Democratic candidate.

This change could be the Democrats’ ticket to a new voice in an otherwise long-lost territory. The initial steps have already begun, but more support is needed. Through a pro-life platform, I truly believe the Democratic Party can regain a foothold in the Heart of Dixie.

If you want to support the DFLA cause in Alabama, please contact Matthew Tyson @