Brown-Salaam battle recalls Graddick fiasco

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 30, 2002

One day, the Alabama House of Representatives District 67 primary runoff will be a topic of discussion in political science classes around the state.

LaTosha Brown, who lost the runoff to Yusuf Salaam by 138 votes, has contested the election results. One of her main contentions is that a number of people who voted in the Republican primary “crossed over” and voted in the Democratic runoff.

In Alabama, a famous election was overturned by the state Democratic Executive Committee under the same circumstances.

The year was 1986 and Charlie Graddick defeated Bill Baxley for the Democratic nomination for governor. Graddick apparently would take on Guy Hunt &045;&045; a virtual political unknown &045;&045; in the November general election.

One of Graddick’s strategies for beating Baxley was to get Republican voters to cross over during the runoff and support him against Baxley. Graddick publicly asked Republicans to do that.

When Graddick won the runoff, Baxley contested the results &045;&045; much like Brown has contested the results of her race against Salaam.

A five-member panel of the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee agreed with Baxley. The state’s Democratic Party has a rule which states that people who vote in the Republican primary cannot vote in the following Democratic runoff. Republicans, however, do not have such a rule, and they allow Democratic primary voters to participate in Republican runoffs.

Baxley was named the Democratic nominee and he eventually lost in the November general election to Hunt &045;&045; the first Republican governor in Alabama since Reconstruction.

Dr. D’Linell Finley, a political science professor at Auburn University-Montgomery, says the Democratic Party’s move cost the Democrats the 1986 gubernatorial election.

“Voters resented what they did,” Finley said. “It looked like if the right person didn’t win the election, then the Executive Committee would hand-pick their own candidate.”

For that reason, Finley said it will take a lot for the Democratic Party to hear Brown’s challenge based on cross-over voting.

“Ms. Brown filing a challenge is one thing, but getting them to hear the challenge is something completely different,” he said.

According to Finley, the Executive Committee is “not going to force the entire state party into a situation that could embarrass the party.”

In the 1986 election, Hunt had little or no chance of defeating the Democratic nominee. After the squabble within the party, though, voters decided to vote against the Democrats.

“There may have been some merit in that case,” Finley said of the Graddick-Baxley feud. “It was a statewide election.

“But you have to be very careful when you do these kinds of things. You can create resentment in the state party, and I think [Gov. Don Siegelman] would be concerned if there was conflict in the Democratic Party.”

At the same time, Finley said that solid proof could enable Brown to have the results overturned.

“They would have to come up with some major proof of wrongdoing,” he said. “If they do find irregularities, then that’s a whole different story.”

Monday, the Alabama Democratic Party is scheduled to certify the runoff elections. It is unclear what the Democratic Party will do with Brown’s contest of the election.