There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little difference there is, is very important.
— William James
I do not reside in the 6th Congressional District of Alabama. And I am not a Republican (nor am I a Democrat, but that is a topic for another day).
If, however, I did live and vote in the 6th District, and if I were a Republican — an honest, hard-working, civic-minded one who feels duty bound to vote in the July 15 runoff election that will, effectively, choose the replacement for the retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus as my representative in Our Nation’s Capital — I’d be on the verge of doing something I could not have imagined myself doing only a few short weeks ago.
I would be preparing to vote for Gary Palmer.
Having made that statement, I’ll follow it quickly and emphatically with another: This is not an endorsement of Palmer.
No, this most definitely is not an endorsement of Palmer. It is an indictment of his opponent in the runoff, Paul DeMarco.
DeMarco is a Homewood lawyer who won a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives in a special election in 2005 and has held it since. When he won the special election, the talk among DeMarco friends and supporters with whom I was acquainted was of a progressive-minded young man who was in politics for the right reasons, and who would not be bound by party affiliation or ideology.
Today, most of those same people are disappointed that DeMarco has taken the politically expedient course at every turn. He also has developed a reputation among his legislative colleagues and others with whom he has dealt on important issues and critical policy matters as one who will tell you one thing and then do the opposite — who, to quote one in words approximated by any number of others, “will look you in the eye and lie to you.”
Palmer is a founder of the Alabama Policy Institute, described on its website as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization” that advocates for “free markets, limited government and strong families.” That philosophical trifecta is doctrine among the increasingly fractious far-right wing of the national Republican Party, including the Tea Party and other groups and individuals who think the Congressional Republican leadership is insufficiently devoted to conservative principles. Such disaffection played a major role in the defeat earlier this month of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, by an unheralded candidate running to his right.
Now, DeMarco faces a battle pitched along similar lines. This is despite the fact that, as had been a foregone conclusion from the campaign’s outset, he led the primary handily, picking up just under 37 percent of the vote against a field of six opponents, including four who were funded well and ran strong campaigns.
The real question was who would finish second and face DeMarco in the runoff. Most observers — including this one — thought that would be a race between Mountain Brook businessman and political newcomer Will Brooke and State Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale, himself a Tea Party darling for, among other things, his role in the adoption of Alabama’s controversial immigration law, which since has been gutted by federal court rulings. Instead, after an evening of intense jockeying for the second spot in which that position changed hands several times, it was Palmer who emerged, winning 18 percent of the vote.
The surprise of facing Palmer aside, DeMarco looked on election night to be well positioned to coast to victory in the runoff. In the three weeks since, however, he has looked like anything but a winner.
Part of this is perhaps the natural backlash of the strategy DeMarco followed through the primary and into the runoff. As the candidate with most of the tactical advantages on his side, he ran like an incumbent. He rarely engaged his opponents directly, opting instead for a campaign heavy on conservative-friendly platitudes — and on portraying the inevitability of Congressman DeMarco. To all appearances, the plan for the runoff was to stick with the plan that had worked so well in the primary.
But, in what appears to be a second surprise, all of that has gone by the boards. Brooke and Beason quickly endorsed Palmer, and while endorsements might or might not transfer to actual votes, it should concern the DeMarco campaign that between them, those three candidates garnered better than 48 percent of ballots cast in the primary.
Meanwhile, DeMarco hasn’t helped himself. I didn’t see the televised debate between him and Palmer last week — as noted, I am neither a resident of the 6th District nor a Republican, and thus had some several more attractive options for killing the better part of an evening — but by all reliable accounts I have heard and read, Palmer was the clear winner.
If there was any doubt about that, it has been removed by DeMarco’s subsequent move into attack mode. He has begun airing negative advertisements — something you don’t do if you’re certain that you’re winning — and blaming his “sudden” trouble in selling his conservative bona fides on “The Birmingham News and other media.” (Not much makes me jealous of our community’s erstwhile daily newspaper, but my hat’s off to them for their top billing as the villain in this one.)
Which fairly well explains why, if I were voting in the July 15 runoff in the 6th, I would vote for Gary Palmer: At least he stands for something. I might disagree with virtually everything that comes out of his mouth — indeed, believe that much of his philosophy, if enacted, would be detrimental to the country — but I respect the fact that he believes in these things, that he has an actual philosophy of how government should work.
Paul DeMarco, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to believe in or stand for much of anything, other than his own uninterrupted advancement through the political ranks. He trumpets his endorsements from the National Rifle Association and the National Right to Life organization — but one hears this and knows that if the winds of political expedience blew from the other extreme, he would come out for immediate confiscation of all private weapons and government-funded abortion on demand.
In the end, it’s the Republicans of the 6th District who must decide who will represent that portion of our community in Congress for at least the next two years. Me, I’d send someone who believes in something, and if he doesn’t pan out, vote him out in two years and start from scratch.
It’s not much of a choice, but from my view, the choice is clear.