Doug Jones’ victory in the Alabama Senate race was a thrill — the biggest Democratic victory since Donald Trump’s election.
Black votes surged, demoralized Republicans stayed home, independents supported him. A dream turned plausible: that in 11 months, the 2018 election will bring a wave of support for Democrats.
But what kind of Democrat will Jones be? Southern conservatives used to stifle needed reforms. Jones was a federal prosecutor — who, no small thing, convicted the last of the KKK terrorists tried in the heinous 1963 black church bombing in Birmingham that killed four girls aged 11 to 14, nearly 30 years later, no less — but, by and large, prosecutors are the hard-asses who push the draconian sentences that drive mass incarceration.
Good news came quickly from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. Jones was active in a bipartisan group that advocated for reducing harsh sentences and increasing alternatives to incarceration. According to the Marshall Project, a vital source of news about prison reform, “after long and careful negotiations, one senator almost single-handedly torpedoed the measure: the junior Republican from Alabama, Jeff Sessions.”
Jones has a serious policy reason for opposing Attorney General Sessions. As Sessions’ successor, a comparisons of their views will be news. This history of different philosophies about crime and corrections makes an excellent backstory.
A murkier question is the role of the Jones campaign in rolling out black votes. Last year, complaints roiled the Hillary Clinton campaign that its donations overwhelmingly were spent to reach white voters. In her book “Hacks,” Donna Brazile artfully observed that a local radio announcer with a loyal black audience would become more enthusiastic if the Clinton campaign bought ads on his show.
The Jones campaign spent money on its black get-out-the-vote drive, but it also made at least one serious mistake, sending out a mailer with a picture of a black man with a wry smile asking this misguided question, “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would try to make him a senator?” The Jones literature attempted to raise Alabama’s double standard on race, but was deaf to the legacy of hurt from the state’s history of lynching black men based on false accusations that they made plays for white women.
Specialized political action committees are active in the black community. Arisha Hatch, the managing director of campaigns at Color of Change’s PAC, and Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, gained favorable notices for their work and received money from both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. Party officials are now committing to this type of spending. The myth that blacks don’t vote is dead and buried, replaced by a new truth: that without black votes Democrats lose.
Activists will now be unsparing in their insistence that Democrats make black concerns — in urban areas and elsewhere — a critical part of their agenda.
On the other hand, it’s worth acknowledging that Alabama has seven congressional districts, but only the predominantly black one supported Jones. The other six supported Roy Moore. Even if the Democrats win seats in 2018, these Democrats will represent majority white areas. The challenges this reality raise could bedevil Democrats if they can’t find ways to speak to diverse and divergent communities.
What about turnout in the LGBTQ community and among their friends? Clearly their stake in the Alabama elections was as great as the black community’s. Roy Moore, with a long history of inflammatory, dehumanizing comments about gay and transgender people, was suspended for the second time as chief justice of the State Supreme Court for instructing Alabama’s county probate judges, which he oversaw, not to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling.
On their “Gay USA” TV program, Ann Northrop and Gay City News contributor Andy Humm emphasized the rainbow hue of Jones’ victory party, showing the Human Rights Campaign posters attached to the speaker’s podium and waving in the crowd. HRC was upfront on the TV screen that night.
That Jones was good for queers became national news in the final days of the campaign. Nathan Mathis, a farmer standing outside a Roy Moore rally, held up a sign reading, “Judge Roy Moore called my daughter Patti Sue Mathis a pervert because she was gay. A 32-year-old Roy Moore dated teenage girls aged 14 to 17. So that makes him a pervert of the worse kind.” The Daily Beast’s Tim Teeman reported that Mathis acknowledged that he lost his daughter to suicide in 1995 at age 23, after she faced her parents’ rejection of her sexuality.
Mathis’ one-man demonstration of his love and loss 22 years later went viral. Moore’s hostility toward gays mobilized a protective feeling even among some who are uncomfortable with homosexuals — they don’t want gays bullied and that was what Moore promised to do. He wanted to make gay sex illegal. When Alabama elected Jones they knew where he stood on LGBTQ issues.
On election night standing behind Doug Jones on the podium was his handsome son Carson, who is a zookeeper in Denver. The day after his father’s election pictures of Carson in pink shorts at the pride parade went viral, and he came out in the Advocate. Clearly Doug Jones will support marriage equality and he may well accept the argument that discrimination against gays is a form of sex discrimination and that all the laws that protect women also protect the LGBTQ community. The Advocate reports that at a campaign event Jones, when questioned about transgender rights, including access to the restrooms appropriate to their gender identity, said, “We’ve got to protect them.” He also said of the Trump administration, “They were wrong to ban transgender [people] from the military. Just wrong, wrong, wrong.”
Trudy Ring, long a guru of sorts at the Advocate, put it nicely, writing that Jones’ “election was not just the defeat of an enemy, but a victory for an ally.”
©2017 Community News Group