The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

September 19, 2013

Time to even legislative odds: Former justice stumps for Dems

By Karen Middleton

— With Republicans holding 60 percent of the Alabama Legislature, bipartisan debate is a thing of the past, former state Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy said.

Kennedy made a swing through North Alabama this week to promote voter education efforts on issues of obtaining proper identification and evening the odds in the legislature.

Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Majority, said Democrats must take back five House seats and four Senate seats to break the “supermajority” and begin to have a say in passing legislation.

Starting with the 2014 June Primary Election, Alabama voters will have to show a government-issued, non-expired photo ID at the polls.

Kennedy said the new requirement might pose hardships for some voters.

“The photo ID is provided at no expense to voters,” Kennedy said. “Now, we must reach out to the elderly, the working class that has to be on the job from 8 to 5, and people with disabilities. They will have to go to a designated site and often they do not have transportation. That is an issue we’re working on with the Secretary of State’s office.”

Kennedy said that the state Democratic Party has a large volunteer base and is looking to recruit more volunteers before the 2014 primary to help with the transportation issues and to educate voters on issues in this mid-term election.

“The majority of legislation passed in the last three years has not been in the best interests of the middle class,” Kennedy said. “In areas of education access, health care, supporting seniors, and affordable college, there is no discussion now.”

Kennedy said that with the 60-percent supermajority Republicans can cut off debate – or cloture the Democrats – shutting down the members’ ability to debate or offer amendments to legislation.”

“The supermajority in the Legislature makes it impossible for fair debate,” Kennedy said. “We need to win the elections for all Democratic incumbents plus win back five districts back and keep them.”

State Democrats have 32 teams of volunteers, but only 18 teams are active, said Kennedy’s assistant Sherri Ragsdale. By the time of the June 2014 primary, the party hopes to have 40 teams with 4,000 volunteers, she said. 

The volunteers will man regional “grassroots” offices throughout the state to talk to voters and make sure to provide transportation to those needing a voter ID and to get the Democrat’s message out.

“We need to cross party lines and talk to moderate Republicans,” Ragsdale said. “We need to talk to them and make them realize that we are on the same page. Mark does a good job of getting the message out. I know we can win races because we’ve done our homework.”

Kennedy said the Democrats can accomplish their electoral goal by defending all of the current seats and picking up four new seats. He said Democrats must defend incumbents Tammy Irons in District 1 and Mark Keahey in District 22. At the same time, they must defeat Paul Sanford in District 7, Shadrach McGill in District 8, Phil Williams in District 10 and Gerald Dial in District 13.