Ballot Watch: The South (Part 1, The Solid South)
This is Ballot Watch. Today is the 13th in the series of articles on the upcoming ballot initiatives and some key local elections. Some of these covered topics in common with multiple states, but the remainder look at a state level. With the second of the two-part article on the South which runs next Monday, our series closes.
Of the ten states in this region, the only competitive states for Democratic Presidential candidates are North Carolina (15 electoral votes) and Florida (29 electoral votes). I’ll cover those two states (what I call the “Swinging South”) in my last Ballot Watch on Monday October 8.
In the Senate, the South (as depicted here) is represented by four Democrats (Kay Hagen, North Carolina; Mary Landrieu, Louisiana; Mark Pryor, Arkansas; and Bill Nelson, who is retiring both to and from Florida) and 16 Republicans.
The only white Democratic member of the House of Representatives from the South, Georgia Congressional District 12 Representative John Barrow (D-Savannah, GA) is running, but his seat is in danger of flipping to the Republicans. Overall, 65 Republican and 25 Democratic House members represent this region.
How did the Solid South get this way? Simply put, racial politics and gerrymandering.
The partisan turning point for the South was during the 1960s. From the post-Civil War era to the 1960 election, almost a century, the Republican Party of Lincoln was the party of Reconstruction and carpetbaggers. Republicans were widely hated in the post-Civil War South, hence the term “yellow dog Democrat”: “I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket.” Dissatisfaction with Roosevelt and Truman, however, had bubbled up during the Depression and in the 1948 election. The South was hit hard, economically, by the Depression and recovery was slow. To make matters worse, African-Americans (then called “Negroes” in polite society) had served with distinction in World War II and were no longer satisfied with the second-class citizenship offered them by most Southern political institutions.
In the 1960 election, Democrat John F. Kennedy won by a razor-thin margin in Illinois (winning its then-27 electoral votes by 0.19 percent, amidst allegations of electoral fraud by the Daley machine in Chicago) and new state Hawaii (three electoral votes, 0.06 percent margin), and thereby defeated Nixon, 303 electoral votes to 220. Both Kennedy and Nixon had publicly committed to standing up for Negro voting rights, a stance that angered white conservatives in the Deep South. Rather than electing a civil rights supporter on the Democratic ticket, Mississippi and Alabama voters were given a choice of an “unpledged” elector slate. This slate won all eight of Mississippi’s electors with 39 percent of the vote, a plurality. Six of the 11 total electors from Alabama were also unpledged. These electors cast their Electoral College votes for Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. for President and Senator Strom Thurmond for Vice-President and were joined by one “faithless elector” from Oklahoma who voted for Byrd for President and Goldwater for Vice-President. Byrd therefore received 15 electoral votes. As the addition of Alaska and Hawaii had temporarily created an Electoral College with 537 members, the Electoral College would have been almost evenly split had Hawaii and Illinois gone the other way. In that case, the unpledged electors from the South would have held the balance of power in the Electoral College. That year, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida all voted for Nixon. Note that Florida had the same number of electoral votes as Louisiana, and fewer than Tennessee and Alabama, in the 1960 election based on 1950 census apportionments.
Reflecting an increase in social strife, electoral strife in the Southern U.S. continued in the 1964 election. On June 21, 1964, civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Their burned-out automobile was found on the nearby Choctaw reservation, which Federalized the crime, and the FBI became involved, adding to the siege mentality among segregationist whites. An integrated slate of delegates from Mississippi, calling themselves the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), made a claim to be seated at the 1964 convention, arguing that the elected slate of delegates was illegitimately elected on a segregated Jim Crow ballot. Eventually, President Johnson and party leaders effected a compromise, in which they would pick and seat only two of the MFDP delegates and asked for a promise (which the Mississippi delegation refused to sign) that Mississippi have no more Jim Crow primary ballots. The all-White Mississippi delegation threatened to abandon Johnson in the general election if the MFDP delegates were seated. MFDP Vice-Chair Fannie Lou Hamer, when asked why she persisted, responded with her famous quote: “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The compromise satisfied neither side of the dispute. MFDP delegates left the convention, the South abandoned Johnson anyway, and the delegate selection rules were changed for the 1968 convention.
In the 1964 Republican primary and convention, the conservative (Goldwater) and moderate/liberal (Rockefeller) wings of the Republican party were in open warfare as well. Rockefeller’s well-deserved reputation as a ladies’ man weakened him, and Goldwater prevailed in the primaries. (Rockefeller later served as an appointed Vice-President under Ford and died of a heart attack in 1979, age 70, while “editing an art book” with his 25-year-old aide, Megan Marshack.) In the general election, Goldwater got shellacked, winning only his home state of Arizona and the southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
In 1968, the Democratic primary process was disrupted by ongoing civil rights battles and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Nixon and Kevin Phillips developed “the Southern Strategy” which involved taking back the South for the Republican Party. The South still had plenty of yellow dog Democrats and they were apparently not entirely convinced that the Republicans could be trusted, and Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia all voted for the American Independent Party ticket of Alabama Governor George Wallace and General Curtis LeMay (the inspiration for “General Jack D. Ripper” in the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove), who ran on a platform of hatred for blacks, hippies and anti-war protesters.
Since 1968, however, the South (with the exception of Florida) has been almost exclusively Republican territory in Presidential elections. The Democrats’ last gasps were in 1976, when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was the Democratic nominee, and 1992, when Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was the nominee. Georgia went for Carter in 1980, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia went for Clinton in 1992, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida voted for Clinton’s re-election in 1996, and then the Democrats completely lost the South except for Florida, which remained the swing state it is today. Outside of these exceptions, since 1972, the Southern states pictured here were solidly Republican through the 2004 election.
The so-called “solid South” may be starting to break up. North Carolina was a narrow (0.3 percent margin) surprise victory for Senator Barack Obama in the 2008 election. Florida, now with three times as many electoral votes as Louisiana or Alabama, went decisively for Obama, who won by almost three percent. Virginia (not part of this post, but part of the old Confederacy) also swung from Republican to Democrat between 2004 and 2008.
Republican legislatures have used their gerrymander to corral African-American voters into a few “majority minority” districts, and we see these as the blue islands on a sea of red in the map below. This map, modified from The New York Times, shows the Times’s estimation of the state of House seats in the 2012 election: yellow for tossup, striped blue for Lean Democrat, and striped red for Lean Republican (the Times has no “likely” category.)
Out of 97 House seats in this region, there are only three tossups and only 12 (12 percent) total seats in play (Florida 2nd, 9th, 10th, 16th, 18th, 22nd, 26th; Georgia 12th; Kentucky 6th; North Carolina 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th, according to The New York Times). Excluding the swing states of Florida and North Carolina, there are only two seats (3.5 percent) in play out of 57 House seats in the other eight Southern states. Compare this to the national totals: with 435 House seats, the Times estimates 81 (19 percent) are in play, so this is one of the least competitive regions in the country. This is the deplorable state we find ourselves in, at least until the American electorate wakes up and discovers the advantages of a non-partisan reapportionment process. (Compare the Iowa map to the map above.)
I’ve surveyed House race ratings from as many sources as I can find, and those who want to check on individual races can use the following links: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball; Cook Political Report; New York Times; National Journal; Roll Call; Real Clear Politics (RCP).
Alabama’s House districts are all safe territory for incumbents. The House delegation is six Republicans and one Democrat, Representative Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) who represents Congressional District 7, which has been gerrymandered (under the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) into a misshapen majority-minority district (63 percent African-American, 33 percent Caucasian). Sewell was a freshman in the 112th Congress, taking over from Artur Davis, who ran for Governor and then repudiated the Democratic Party.
Alabama’s House district Cook Partisan Voting Indexes (PVIs) range from a “low” of R+12 to a high of R+29. This gives Congressional District 6 the “distinction” of tying the Texas’s Congressional District 13 for the most partisan Republican House district in the country. The sole Democratic district in Alabama is similarly partisan, D+20.
(New York Congressional Districts 15 and 16 are D+41, the most partisan in the country. In New York, the Democrat-controlled Assembly and the Republican-controlled Senate tussle over the redistricting process and have resisted Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for an independent commission.)
Sabato, Cook, Roll Call and The New York Times all rate the four Arkansas seats in the House of Representatives as safe, but RealClearPolitics figures Congressional Districts 1 and 4 are competitive at the margins (rating them “Likely Republican”) so I’ll cover them briefly.
Congressional District 1 (PVI R+7) is in the northeastern section of Arkansas. The general election pits incumbent Republican Representative Rick Crawford (R-Jonesboro) against the Democratic challenger, prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington. Even though RCP rates this as competitive, they list a single poll from mid-September that has Crawford at 53 percent vs Ellington at 28 percent.
Congressional District 4 (PVI R+9) in southwestern Arkansas is served by retiring Representative Mike Ross (D-Prescott). Republican Tom Cotton faces Democratic state Senator Gene Jeffress, who won a June 12 Democratic Primary runoff. RCP lists the same poll as for District 1 that has Cotton at 51 percent vs Jeffress at 22 percent.
Five measures are on the ballot. Issues 1 and 2 were referred by the Arkansas Legislature, and both were discussed in the Ballot Watch on Taxes. Issue 1 would increase the diesel fuel tax by five cents to pay for highway improvements. Issue 2 would increase the state sales tax by 1⁄2 percent to pay for a statewide four-lane highway system. The only polling, from March, has Issue 2 down by 10 percentage points.
Issues 3, 4 and 5 were initiated by petition. Issue 3 would allow 24-hour casinos in seven Arkansas counties (Boone, Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, Miller, Pulaski, and Sebastian). A July poll shows 66 percent opposition. Issue 4 is a similar casino amendment filed by professional poker player Nancy Todd and would allow casinos in Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski Counties; if both get a majority (though it seems unlikely), then the one with the largest vote total will be enacted. Issue 5 authorizes the use of medical marijuana in the state, and was covered in our Ballot Watch on Marijuana. It has just cleared an Arkansas Supreme Court challenge from The Coalition to Preserve Arkansas Values. If the measure passes, Arkansas would be the first southern state to allow Bill Clinton to inhale.
Incumbent four-term Representative John Barrow (D-Savannah) faces an uphill battle to hold onto his seat in Congressional District 12, which was formerly PVI D+1 but has now been magically transformed by a Republican-controlled statehouse to a PVI R+10 district. Barrow’s opponent is Republican farmer and State House member Lee Ivey Anderson. September polling had this as a tie, with Anderson at 44 percent and Barrow at 43 percent. As mentioned above, Barrow is the sole white Democrat representing a southern state. The New York Times and Roll Call figure this one’s a tossup. Sabato, Cook, and RCP all rate it “lean Republican”. Barrow has a three-to-one fundraising advantage ($1.9 million vs. $530 thousand).
There are two legislatively-referred Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. Amendment 1 allows for the establishment of public charter schools. This is a response to a May 2011 Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the Georgia Charter School Commission, created in 2008, is unconstitutional because it approves and funds charter schools over the objection of local school boards.
A 4–3 Court majority opinion said,
No other constitutional provision authorizes any other governmental entity to compete with or duplicate the efforts of local boards of education in establishing and maintaining general K-12 schools.
Accordingly, the ballot text reads,
Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?
It is supported by Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Kyle Wingfield and many state legislators. It is opposed by public school administrators and the organization Vote Smart Georgia.
Amendment 2 is an uncontroversial “housekeeping” amendment that allows the State Properties Commission to enter into multiyear lease agreements.
In the Congressional District 6 contest, in a PVI R+7 district which includes and surrounds the city of Lexington, four-term incumbent Representative Ben Chandler (D-Lexington) faces Republican attorney Garland “Andy” Barr. Chandler should win a close race; The New York Times, Sabato, Cook and RCP all rate this seat “leans Democratic” while Roll Call says it’s a “likely Democratic”. In 2010, Chandler barely squeaked by Barr (50.1 percent to 49.9 percent) Polling released in May showed Chandler a 49–42 favorite. Chandler has raised $1.5 million to Barr’s $1.0 million. Coal executive Heath Lovell is threatening to sue Chandler for slander. Lovell appeared in a pro-Barr TV ad dressed in mining gear; Chandler’s alleged slander was to claim in his own TV ads that Lovell is “not a miner”. This probably won’t affect the outcome of the election, as it appears to be a miner tiff.
The Kentucky legislature, like the Idaho and Wyoming legislatures, has somehow determined that hunting and fishing rights might be curtailed by rampaging Magic Ponies, and so they’ve put a legislatively-referred Constitutional Amendment on the ballot. Anyone think ALEC might be behind this?
None of the House seats (six Republicans, one Democrat) are competitive this cycle, according to pundits.
The Louisiana Legislature referred no fewer than nine Amendments to the Louisiana Constitution, which apparently needs a lot of patching.
Amendment 1 puts state Medicaid funds for the elderly in a “lock-box”.
Amendment 2 reaffirms the right of Louisiana citizens to keep and bear arms, but doesn’t mention a militia. The text which appears on the ballot reads:
Do you support an amendment to the Constitution of the State of Louisiana to provide that the right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right and any restriction of that right requires the highest standard of review by a court?
Amendment 3 requires a 45-day period between filing bills to alter the public employee’s retirement system and the start of the legislative session.
Amendment 4, like popular amendments in other states, allows for a property tax exemption for widows and widowers of military spouses.
Amendment 5 requires public employees to forfeit benefits if they are convicted of a felony related to their public service. In “the most corrupt state” of Louisiana, this might actually have a fiscal impact.
Amendments 6 through 9 appear to be non-controversial “housekeeping” provisions.
Nothing in Mississippi will be heavily contested this year. The three Republican House districts are safe with their incumbents, and the one Democratic House district (in the same benighted region that was Fannie Lou Hamer’s home) is now represented by Congressional Black Caucus member Representative Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton). He is standing for his 10th reëlection bid and is expected to cruise to a victory.
Like Mississippi, the political situation is South Carolina is unremarkable. In the House, Sabato rates all six Republican seats and the single Democratic seat, served by Representative James Clyburn (D-Columbia), as non-competitive.
The South Carolina Gubernatorial Elections Amendment is a legislatively-referred Constitutional Amendment that would require candidates for governor to pick a lieutenant governor candidate as their running mate.
Tennessee’s seven Republican and two Democratic Representatives are safe, according to all analysts.