When Did Alabama Last Have A Democratic Senator? It’s Been Awhile
Late on Dec. 12, 2017, the unthinkable happened — well, almost unthinkable. Democrat Doug Jones won the hotly contested Alabama Senate seat in a contentious campaign against Republican Roy Moore. For casual observers and wonks alike, Jones's victory is nothing short of monumental for several reasons, not least of which due to the rarity of Alabama Democrats. When did Alabama last have a Democratic Senator? Well, let's just say that Cardi B. wasn't even born yet.
In fact, Alabama is so deep-red that Jones is the southern state's first Democrat to be elected to Senate in 25 years. According to Business Insider, the last time Alabama sent a Democrat to Senate was in 1992, when Richard Shelby was elected. But there's a catch to Shelby's story: he initially ran (and won) as a Democrat in 1986. 1992 was his successful reelection bid, but two years later, in 1994, he switched to the Republican party. In 2017 he is still Alabama's senior senator — and he reportedly didn't vote for Moore. In fact, he said he was "relieved" when Moore lost, according to The Hill.
After Shelby switched, he told CNN in 2001 that he was happy with his decision seven years later. "Philosophically, I was not tuned in to the Democratic Party; I had not been. The party had become more liberal," he said. "I'm glad I left. I feel very comfortable in the Republican Party, with the Republican philosophy, and I wish everybody well."
And it seems, 16 years after that interview, that Shelby is still down with the GOP.
Perhaps most interestingly, Shelby was, per Business Insider, the first senator to switch between the two major parties in 30 years. Look at you Alabama, breaking barriers, making waves, setting trends.
Unlike Shelby, however, Jones is not likely to switch parties anytime soon, because Jones is pretty solidly blue. He's a moderate Democrat, despite some leftists feeling he's too far to the right. How so?
Well, for starters, while Jones believes that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare) has room for improvement — like, a lot of room — he is staunchly opposed to an ACA repeal, according to his campaign site. Further, he is opposed to the Trump birth control mandate roll-back. Jones also scored an endorsement from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation's largest LGBTQ organization. The GOP, on the other hand, states in its official party platform that they "do not accept the Supreme Court’s redefinition of marriage and we urge its reversal." (In other words, they're against marriage equality.)
So it doesn't seem like he'll be pulling a Shelby anytime soon.
And anyways, it seems that Jones is starting off strong. Despite the fact that he's likely not going to take office until after the new year, Jones, as Alabama's first Senate Democrat in a quarter of a century, is already advocating for progressive policies. In his victory speech, he called for his future colleagues to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), whose funding lapsed in Sept. and has yet to be reauthorized by Congress.
Though CHIP has historically been popular across the aisle, it has gotten caught up in the bitter partisan bickering over the federal budget, and Republicans have not yet come up with a compromise to fund the program. More than 80,000 children in Alabama rely on CHIP for health insurance, and the state is slated to run out of funds by early next year, so, hoo-boy, Jones is coming out hot on behalf of Alabama.
And he'd better. He has a good impression to make as the first Democrat in his seat in a quarter century.
To put things into perspective, the last time a Democrat was elected to Senate by Alabama, Cartoon Network had just been established by Turner Broadcasting. Aladdin and Sister Act were released in theaters. Miley Cyrus was born. Bill Clinton was elected President. MTV's The Real World premiered for the first time. Gas was, on average, $1.19 per gallon. And, of course, Whitney Houston's cover of "I Will Always Love You" topped the charts.
I could go on, but you get my drift. 1992 was a different time, a different world. Though Jones isn't the first Alabama Dem in Senate by any means, he is still breaking barriers. So congratulations, Senator-elect. Welcome to the shitshow.