The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 14, 2012

Ala. Democrat Party's future hinges on 74-year-old


Associated Press



MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Democrat Lucy Baxley and Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, two women who broke the political glass ceiling in Alabama, are battling each other for the second time for Public Service Commission president. However, this time, the outcome could relegate the state Democratic Party to minor party status.

Baxley, 74, is the only Democrat currently holding a statewide office in Alabama. She is one of only two Democrats seeking statewide office in the election Nov. 6. The party fielded no one for the 10 other statewide offices on the ballot.

Cavanaugh, 46, has already ousted a sitting Democrat once. In the 2010 election, she defeated Democratic PSC member Jan Cook, who at the time was the longest-serving Democrat in statewide office. Now, she wants the president's seat on the three-member board.

Baxley narrowly beat Cavanaugh for the presidency in 2008, but she trails her badly this time in fundraising. Baxley described her fundraising as "pitiful because people won't give me money."

She said many Democratic contributors are focusing their money on the chief justice contest, which is the only other contested race for statewide office.

"They say things like, 'Lucy, you don't have anything to worry about,'" she said.

A campaigner who once thought nothing of 30 to 40 appearances week, Baxley is now in a wheelchair due to a stroke in 2006 and two bad falls that followed. She says three or four appearances a week are about her limit. Much of her work for the campaign and for the PSC is done from home by email and phone.

When asked if she's healthy enough for another four years, she said adamantly: "Yes, I can still serve the people of Alabama."

Cavanaugh, 46, has a busy speaking schedule around the state. She said she's not trying to destroy Baxley's lengthy career of state service, but the PSC needs a more active president who can be at work every day.

"I believe the people of Alabama have a real choice this time. They can vote for a conservative who wants to go to work every day and keep their prices down," she said. "Their other choice is someone who wants to sit on the sidelines and draw a paycheck."

Cavanaugh, a longtime worker in GOP politics, was elected chair of the Alabama Republican Party in 2005, making her the first woman to lead the state party.

Baxley, the ex-wife of former Lt. Gov. Bill Baxley, served two terms as state treasurer before becoming the first woman elected lieutenant governor in Alabama in 2002. She lost the 2006 race for governor and then made a comeback with the PSC presidency in 2010.

Cavanaugh sits beside Baxley when the state's utility regulatory board meets each month, and her vote counts as much as Baxley's. But she wants to slide over one seat, which would allow her to preside at meetings and give her a more prominent platform to speak out on issues.

She said she will use it to step up her criticism of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"They are doing their best to put our most abundant resource, which is coal, out of business. If Obama and the current EPA were able to get their way, they'd have it out of business and drive up our costs in Alabama," she said.

Both talk about rate reductions that have occurred during their service. Baxley touts a Consumer's Bill of Rights implemented at the start of her term, and Cavanaugh points to an ethics policy enacted at the start of her term.

For Baxley, though, the campaign is about a long record that she's not ready to end.

"People know me because I've been in office all these years and they've never heard a hint of misdoings. That helps me a lot because people are saying we need a few good people we can believe in," she said.

Baxley knows how important her race is for the future of her own party, as well as for the GOP. She said she feels like she's campaigning with a target on her.

"They want to get even for the length of time Democrats were in office and Republicans didn't have any," she said. In 2010, Republicans won control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. "It's to get revenge for a long time ago."