By Carl Carter
Can we talk about political back rooms a bit? Because I’m hearing from some folks complaining about “back room stuff” as if it’s some evil process when they know better. How do I know? Because most of these same folks have been in back rooms themselves — some with me.
I’ve been in a lot of back rooms — both the kind with walls and the kind that are little more than lunch meetings and phone calls. They’re where the planning and grunt work get done, starting long before most people even start thinking about an election. Often as not, this has very little to do with picking candidates.
It is axiomatic that my back room is good, and yours is nefarious, especially if you win. We all feel that way, but we have to remind ourselves that it’s malarkey.
Joe Reed and Nancy Worley, who are themselves world class back-room operators, are whining because Sen. Doug Jones assigned a small part of his campaign staff to do the work the state party is supposed to do. Like line up meeting spaces, get lanyards, print credentials, collect signatures, make phone calls and the like.
That’s how things work. If you don’t do your job, somebody else may horn in and do it for you. And it wasn’t just the Jones folks. There were scores of Democrats using their gifts and time to absorb various versions of bylaws, analyze numbers and more. Tabitha Isner did a lot of logistical work herself.
Some supporters of Tabitha’s are complaining that she lost (104-63) because the senator somehow favored England. And they complain that England stepped in late, as if that somehow makes a difference.
I was never sold on Tabitha. I was completely candid with her that while I felt she was the best of those who were in the race until recently, I was hoping someone else would get in.
That’s not to say Tabitha wasn’t a great candidate. I met her during the 2018 campaign and immediately liked her a great deal. I had to follow her at a meeting to pitch union leaders for their support, and she was a tough act to follow. This woman is really, really good.
What’s more, the election for chair was better because she was in it. She brought ideas and energy to the process, and I hope she’ll continue to do so.
You can’t campaign for months without rubbing some folks the wrong way. Candidates and their supporters get invested heavily in the outcome, and feelings run high. It is, after all, a campaign. A contest. And all good teams have skilled and hardworking folks in their own back rooms planning, adjusting, jockeying for support, and whipping votes. I think of these as “locker rooms” for athletic teams. You don’t invite the other team’s coach into your locker room.
So yeah, some conversations happen in private.
I hear complaints that the senator somehow put his thumb on the scale for England. But let’s not forget that while England may not be a household name, he’s been working for our party a long time. He’s won elections. He’s earned people’s respect. Any suggestion that Doug Jones says “jump” and more than 100 members of the SDEC obey is just silly. Let’s not forget that a lot of those were new youth, LGBTQ, Hispanic, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander caucus add-ons. These new SDEC members are fiercely independent, and they’ll be a pain in the ass of us old timers because they won’t do what they’re told.
Democracy happens in the ballot box or on the voting floor. It takes place in Waffle House booths and living rooms and offices and hotel ballrooms. At every stage, in every venue, candidates appear, gain momentum and lose it. Things ebb and flow. Sometimes things get rough. It’s part of the game. Nobody ever said it was easy, but it can be immensely satisfying, because it enables us to more effectively work for positive change in our state.
And there is a great deal of satisfaction in store for Alabama Democrats.