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Politicking

Why I Became a Partisan Politician

Chapter 7 of Picking, Politicking, and Pontificating,  titled "Justice Denied",  shares how a ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court  [Ex Parte Campbell, 574 So. 2d 713 (Ala. 1990)] precipitated my foray into the world of partisan politics. 

A Morgan County Jury  had convicted Johnny Wayne Campbell of murder and first degree burglary as the result of a automobile collision that resulted in the the death of five-week-old Patrick Jordan Smith on June 5, 1986.  Because of his lengthy criminal history, Campbell received a mandatory life without parole sentence. 

The reversal of the conviction by the Alabama Supreme Court was troubling to me in that it was based upon "insufficiency of evidence".  To me, the jury, and almost everyone else involved in the case the evidence seemed overwhelming.  As a criminal investigator with the Alabama Bureau of Investigation when the Supreme Court ruled on the case in 1990, it was imperative that I understand what the court required for a conviction in order to properly perform my duties.

After struggling for several weeks to make sense of it, I eventually spoke to a woman who worked for one of the Supreme Court Justices who had made the ruling.  As the law clerk struggled to understand it herself while attempting to help me make sense of it, she eventually suggested that the real reason for the reversal could have been that the justices believed the mandatory life without parole sentence was too severe for a murder conviction based upon an automobile crash.  

Based on my knowledge of the case, the theory provided a more reasonable explanation for the reversal than "insufficiency of evidence".  Activist judges are those who intentionally place their personal opinions and values over an impartial interpretation of the law, which many would argue exceeds their constitutional authority.     

For our constitutional system of checks and balances to work properly,  it is imperative that public officials recognize the limits of their authority and have the ethical discipline to remain within those limits.  Most judges I have known seem to recognize this important tenet of our system of governance and tend to exercise judicial restraint. But I have too often seen politically motivated judges put their finger on the scales of justice.  This seemed to be one of those times.  

Alabama was a one-party state at that time and that party was the Democratic Party. All of the elected Supreme Court Justices at the time were Democrats and had been since reconstruction. Republicans were just beginning to challenge the political monopoly held by the Democratic Party.  

Whether my assessment of the motive behind the ruling was correct or not, it was the catalyst that caused me to get involved in the political campaigns of judicial candidates who believed in judicial restraint most of them were Republican.

By 1994, I had identified myself as a Republican and participated in judicial campaigns, being careful to keep a clear line of separation between my law enforcement duties and my political activities during my off-duty time.   Soon my political activity expanded beyond judicial races to other races as I attempted to support the efforts of the rising Republican minority in challenging the power brokers in the Democratic Party who continued to dominate Alabama politics. 

  

As the 1998 legislative elections approached, I was encouraged to run for the House District 9 in Morgan County.  As the Republican nominee, I narrowly lost in what was then a heavily Democratic district to a strong candidate who ran a clean race.   

 

A couple of years after the loss, I moved from my hometown Hartselle to Madison for a fresh start away from politics.  However, the move did not turn out as I had planned and I found myself running again for the legislature in House District 10 in 2002.

This time, I was elected to the legislature and remained in office until 2022.   

Why I Stopped Being a Partisan Politician

I knew the 2018 campaign would be my last.  My appetite for partisan politics had been waning  since being overwhelmed by an epiphany that began October 2013 while reading Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. 

The book caused me to reflect upon the journey that had brought me to that particular point in time and to notice something that too easily overlooked.  As I relived numerous hardships, challenges, and struggles throughout the course of my life in my mind and the guiding touch of an unseen hand came into focus, it became apparent that each of them were intricately connected moving toward some purpose, unknown to me.  

The realization that I have always been a  misfit and will always be one helped me to focus more on the immense power of the hand of grace that had led me through many dangers, toils, and snares. Many, if not most, of them involved battling  giants as an underdog.  I began to understand politics from a much wider perspective. 

 

As I was contemplating all of this, I received an email from the  family of baby Charlotte Dalton who was suffering from debilitating seizures that were destroying her brain. The email requested that Alabama make medical cannabis legal to help control the seizures.

Although I was opposed to the legalization of marijuana for any reason, I believed the family deserved an honest response.  It was the beginning of an eye-opening struggle against the politics that had stigmatized a plant and prevented it from being legally utilized to  ease pain and suffering.

 

It eventually became apparent to me that the same hand that had led me into the public office was gradually and deliberately orchestrating my exit. And I was willing to follow.  I knew the 2018 campaign would be my last.    

 When Gena Dalton shared her compelling story for my 2018 campaign, it further reminded me of reason I entered politics and why I had to  run for a final term.   

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