The Jones Act: Lessons from Alabama

I was wrong.

I didn’t think Doug Jones had a chance in hell. I figured that at the end of the day, the Alabama electorate would give the guy with the (R) next to his name the benefit of the doubt, no matter how corrupt or craven. I figured that too many voters would be deaf to Jones’s message, would not be able to place country above party, would dismiss Jones as a Pelosi parrot.

That did not happen.

Jones’s victory was the biggest special-election win in modern United States history; Scott Brown’s 2010 capture of the seat Ted Kennedy held for nearly five decades was nothing compared to this. Jones’s victory, more so than even Ralph Northam’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election last month, is a testament of the power of the Indivisible movement—and a demonstration of the titanic force a mobilized Democratic electorate (including African-American voters) can wield.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is often fond of saying that in the face of political adversity, “we Democrats don’t agonize, we organize.” That’s exactly what happened in the Jones-Roy Moore election. That may well happen in 2018 and 2020 as well.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Jones’s victory is that he did so without hiding or obscuring his progressive credentials. In particular, seven years after Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) was conquered in a primary largely because of his support for action on climate change, Jones proved that those who stand foursquare against climate-change denial can indeed win in red states:

Alabama will be sending a new senator to Washington who believes in science, opposes President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, and supports future investments in renewable energy over fossil fuels.

While environmental issues weren’t at the forefront of Doug Jones’ victorious Senate campaign, the former federal prosecutor ran on a decidedly progressive platform in a deep red state — including clear stances on climate action and clean energy. And after his surprise win on Tuesday, Jones will be in a position to deliver greater federal funding to protect Alabama’s environment. At the national level, Jones’ election to the Senate gives the Democrats another weapon to fight Trump’s anti-environment agenda.

“Jones ran a campaign that highlighted environmental issues. He wasn’t at all guarded about talking about the environment,” Matthew Gravatt, associate director of federal and administrative advocacy for the Sierra Club, [said]. “He said he believes in science. He put that front and center. He talked about his support for the Paris agreement.”

The fact that Jones felt obligated to express his belief in science demonstrates the times we live in. The Trump administration is filled with officials who deny the science behind climate change and other environmental and public health hazards. Among congressional Republicans, climate science denial has increasingly become party doctrine over the past decade.

I apologize to Doug Jones and his supporters for assuming he was going to get his rear end kicked in this election. I figured that if the Alabama electorate would stoop to electing Jeff Sessions, they’d stoop to electing any right-winger. I was wrong, and I’m sorry.

To paraphrase the famous line from pro football, on any given Election Day any candidate can beat any other candidate. No election—none—is a foregone conclusion. No election is beyond hope. No electoral outcome can be taken for granted–especially in the aftermath of public backlash to the GOP tax-cut bill, now on the verge of passage.

That means we should not assume that Jones cannot be re-elected in 2020. It took an extraordinary candidate, Elizabeth Warren, to defeat Scott Brown in 2012, and in all likelihood, it will take an extraordinary candidate to defeat Jones. It’s not beyond possibility that Republicans will nominate someone even more repugnant than Moore in 2020–someone Alabama voters once again find too vile to vote for.

I mentioned before the critical role that African-American voters played in this election. If Republicans want to blame anyone for this loss, they can start with Barry Goldwater, whose decision to reject the 1964 Civil Rights Act and effectively commence the GOP’s Southern Strategy has poisoned the party permanently. 53 years of actively scorning and attempting to suppress black votes came back to bite the GOP so hard you can still see the teeth marks. What are Republicans going to rely upon to deal with the pain of that bite? Obamacare?

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D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.