Insights: In Roy Moore's Alabama, old times there are not forgotten


It was unusually cold and snowy across Alabama the Saturday morning before the special election, when I burst into a local Republican club’s Christmas breakfast. I knew a handful of the large group gathered in the back dining room at Kelly’s Kitchen.

I offered to tell some Roy Moore jokes, but an uneasy laugh rippled up Monty Darwin’s oblong table. I decided against it. Blasphemy takes many forms in Alabama, and the heart of Dixie beats here. DeKalb County is redder than the Crimson Tide.

Afterwards I lingered to catch up with Monty, who I shared farm work and football with as a boy. He is running for county school board. The local state representative, Banjo Ledbetter, officially Nathanial, joined the conversation about the politics of grievance, destruction and Judge Moore.

Monty said the allegations that Moore dated young girls as a local prosecutor decades ago were all made up.

“A 14-year-old girl would tell her daddy, or she’d tell somebody who would tell her daddy,” Monty said outside the restaurant in the cool Alabama chill. “You can’t tell me that wouldn’t get out in 40 years until right before the election.”

Donald Trump was also accused of sexual misconduct; he carried Alabama with 62 percent and DeKalb County with 82. On Election Day, Moore got 71 percent of the 5,000 or so votes here.

This is the same county where a local high school led a national debate on prayer in schools 20 years ago. This it was back in the national news when a local drive-in refused to show “Beauty and the Beast” because of it’s gay undertones. Gay gay not gay happy, at least not around there.

Old times here are not forgotten, unless it’s a member of your church or political party. To most of Alabama, Moore seemed like both.

He campaigns with the Bible in one hand and the heart of faith-voters in the other. Moore is a martyr in a state that’s loves martyrs, from George Wallace to the aptly dubbed love gov, former Christian conservative hero Robert Bentley, who resigned in April over hanky panky with a much-younger also-married staff member.

Democrats couldn’t lose this one no matter what happened on Election Day, in a state where they’re been thrashed in every Senate election for 25 years. A Moore victory could have put a hurting on the GOP’s House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterm by poking national Democrats’ interest and investment in Southern liberal politics. The Moore loss, however, imperils President Trump’s immediate agenda.

Shaking a fist at the establishment is a tradition for rural Southern voters, whether they were called Dixiecrats, Reagan Democrats, the Moral Majority or the alt-right.

It was no Dixieland delight when Trump, beloved here enough to safely resurrect his tirade on kneeling NFL players at a speech in Huntsville, backed Luther Strange in the primary, and Luther lost. The former Republican attorney general first lost interest in prosecuting Bentley, when Bentley appointed Strange to Session’s vacant seat this year. Yes, that’s strange, but that’s Alabama.

In 2001 and 2002, when he was a federal prosecutor, Jones convicted two Klansmen who conspired to blow up an African-American church in  Birmingham, killing four little girls in 1963. In his victory speech, he quoted Martin Luther King Jr. “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I flew back to Denver on Election Day, and watched my friends on both sides on Facebook weather the returns that night.

Dutch Rotschka, a local concrete finisher, wrote on Facebook Tuesday night that he didn’t want to “face God if I voted for Doug,” because Jones supports abortion rights. and to Dutch those who support Jones also support murder.

To Paul Miller, a mill worker who builds stock cars to race, it’s about Democrats taking something as much as it’s about one candidate.

“If Moore gets elected all he can do is help Trump,” Paul told me on the phone the day after the election. “He can’t outlaw abortion, but you’d think he could. He can’t put prayer back in schools, so what’s the point? The point is fighting Democrats and telling people who want to run Alabama to stick it.”

Steve Bannon, Trump’s political rainmaker, invested heavily here, joining Moore on stage in Fairhope, a Spanish moss-draped coastal enclave founded by hippies of the 1890s that today is populated by wealthy conservatives. The former White House adviser told them a week before the election that establishment Republicans took Alabama for rubes. Moore got 62 percent here.

Moore’s downfall might well signal the backside of Bannon’s political arc after the alt-right fiasco in Charlottesville, Va., his dismissal from the White House and now this Waterloo in the Deep South. Bannon could prove critical to Tom Tancredo’s run for governor in Colorado, where he’s lost that race twice before.

Former reporter Eddie Curran for decades dogged politicos such as Moore, following politicians, Republicans or Democrats, practically to the jailhouse door, for the Mobile Press Register.  He’s a political realist.

“Not to throw cold water on the celebration, but the only reason Democrats are celebrating … is because in Roy Moore they had an utterly repugnant, clownish opponent who was made all the more awful by the Washington Post stories revealing him as having been a predator of teen girls,” Eddie saidt. “Did he rape a girl? I don’t know. But he damn sure was hound-dogging high school girls while he was well into his 30s, and seemed to think that was normal.”

Steven Stiefel, a high-fashion photographer who grew up in DeKalb County, is an unabashed liberal. He sees himself as a blue dot in a sea of red in DeKalb County. He saw history being written here, even as he predicted a dreadful future.

“He’s a modern-day George Wallace baiting Alabamians with his contemporary version of blocking the schoolhouse door,” Steven said of Moore before the votes were counted. “Even if you don’t believe the multiple accusers who say he preyed on teenagers at the Gadsden Mall, know that his ultimate goal is to whip up a frenzy among people of faith – once again playing the victim — so that he can con his way into the governor’s mansion once he’s forcibly removed from the U.S. Congress.”

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