MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Sue Bell Cobb was elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2006 in a campaign that emphasized her decades as a judge and featured catchy commercials with the gospel tune “This Little Light of Mine.”
It was one of the last times a Democrat won a statewide race in Alabama. Republicans since 2013 have held a lock on all statewide offices.
Now ten years later, Cobb is considering making a run again — this time for governor. Cobb said she is getting encouraged to run by supporters, but has not made a decision. But she said she believes it is time for a change in the political landscape.
“People are sick and tired of politicians who care only about the next election and not the next generation,” Cobb said.
Cobb is not the only Democrat eyeing 2018. Saying they refuse to cede the state without a fight to the GOP, a number of prominent Democrats — including former congressman Parker Griffith, who unsuccessfully challenged Bentley in 2014 — are weighing runs in 2018.
While Republicans dominate state politics, scandals and troubles enveloped Republicans at the heads of all three branches of state government in 2016.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard— a former party chair and architect of the 2010 GOP takeover of the Legislature — was removed from office after being convicted of felony ethics charges. Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended from the bench after a judicial discipline panel found he urged probate judges to defy the federal courts on gay marriage. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was politically wounded and faced an impeachment push after revelations regarding his relationship with a former staffer.
“I think the people of Alabama are discouraged by the Mike Hubbard, Roy Moore, Robert Bentley tactics,” said outgoing House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. Ford is also considering a run in 2018.
“Just because someone has Republican by their name doesn’t automatically make them a good person or a good leader,” Cobb said. Cobb, who endorsed Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, criticized what she called a “toxic partisanship” in politics.
Cobb, who resigned from her post in 2011 before her term was complete, said the state has substantial problems, including in education and the loss of rural hospitals.
“We need someone who is going to support public education, give our teachers what they need,” Cobb said.
The deeply red state has not been kind to Democrats in recent elections, a fact not lost on the potential candidates.
Trump won Alabama with more than 62 percent of the vote. It is nearing two decades since a Democrat won the governor’s office. The late Lucy Baxley, the last Democrat to hold statewide office in Alabama, lost re-election to the Public Service Commission in 2012. Griffith’s underfunded campaign against Bentley in 2014 captured just 36 percent of the vote.
Griffith, an oncologist, a former state senator and congressman who briefly switched to the GOP, said he “probably” will run in 2018.
“We are 46th or 47th in education. We are pulling up last in health care results… The middle class is melting away,” Griffith said.
Griffith said to win, he thinks a Democrat would have to put together a grassroots coalition that includes young voters “who want to stay in Alabama and see it at least try to reach its potential.”
“Maybe that’s possible. Maybe it’s not. The polling says it’s not, but the polling said Hillary was going to win,” Griffith said.