Our friend and former editor Matt Osborne has some unique insights on how things work in Alabama. We’re reposting a recent article Matt put up on LinkedIn.

There are at least one thousand variations on this old joke: “Catholics don’t recognize Protestants as legitimate, Protestants don’t recognize the pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other at the liquor store.” In Alabama, these jokes are funny because they are true.

Southern Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, accounting for at least 1 million of our 4.8 million residents, and churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have always promoted teetotalism, both as private and public policy. They have led resistance to liberalization of alcohol laws since the heyday of the temperance movement. When Clarke county residents voted on the issue in 2017, Baptist pastors were at the forefront of opposition.

Although he speaks to all sorts of churches, Roy Moore is a Southern Baptist. His abstinence from alcohol is a point of pride, and Breitbart has emphasized it in their promotions of his candidacy. As a candidate, he seems to perform best in the most rural parts of the state:

Out of Alabama’s 67 counties, Moore was the top vote-getter in 59 of the 62 least populated counties. Given that it was in a contest that had 10 candidates on the Republican ballot, Moore could even improve upon his rural vote totals going head-to-head against Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in Tuesday’s runoff.

Those counties have historically also been the driest, though lines have become increasingly blurred. Twenty-five of Alabama’s 67 counties are “dry counties” which ban the sale of alcohol, yet all of them now contain wet municipalities. Conversely, there are still dry municipalities in wet counties.

Alabama seemed to reach a tipping point regarding alcohol politics over the last decade. In 2010, a referendum to allow liquor sales failed in Rogersville, a small town at the eastern end of Lauderdale County, by a single vote. Baptist churches fronting Highway 72 had opposed the measure on their signage. Following a controversy over non-resident ballots, the same law passed 290-213 in 2012, with presidential-year turnout making the difference. That seems to be a pattern: the city of Hartselle, Alabama’s largest dry community, said no to alcohol four times from 2002-2014, with the last referendum failing by 231 votes. It finally passed in November 2016, 3,791-3,032. Sunday sales were almost impossible to imagine in most of the state just 20 years ago, but they have become common since 2005. Regulation has also begun to shift. Last year saw the Alabama Beverage Control board rescind an unpopular decision to ban margarita pitchers, for example.

It is important to note that this change of climate has coincided with the Republican takeover of the state. After many years of Democratic decline, the GOP swept all state offices and took supermajorities in the legislature in 2010, whereupon the industries with an interest in liberalization (bottlers/distillers, hospitality, municipal convention centers, etc.) finally found their voice and emphasized that such measures were “pro-business.”

As one looks through news reports on the various liquor laws passed in Montgomery over the last decade, they will find a single name recurring in almost all of them: Joe Godfrey. When a House committee considers a bill to allow wine and beverage tastings in liquor stores, Godfrey denounces alcohol as an “addictive and mind-altering drug” that “destroys families.” When the House passed a bill to lower the barriers to wet-dry votes, Godfrey responded by calling for constituent pressure on legislators.

Known around the statehouse as “Brother Joe,” Godfrey gave the following quotes to a state political blog in 2013. I have added emphasis:

“I remember after the Republicans took the leadership in both houses and the constitutional offices; that I had a representative from a business come to me and say that she had been hired to try to get the business community working together with the religious community,” said Godfrey. “I told her we are pro-business. The problem is that the businesses are not supporting our social issues. We want them to support the things that we are in favor of on the social agenda.

Godfrey Continued, “We are for people having the opportunity to make money and to generate wealth, but they don’t seem to see the importance of the social issues.”

One of Godfrey’s main areas of work in the legislature is lobbying against expanding the sale and distribution of alcohol. “There were a lot of alcohol bills that were passed [this session]: local bills allowing Sunday alcohol sales, local bills allowing draft beer and keg beer. Of course there was HB9, the home-brew bill which we were disappointed to see that pass.” Godfrey said his concern is that “people don’t think that alcohol is a dangerous drug, and it is. It destroys lives and families. It is not good for business, and yet that is the argument they use, ‘Oh it is good for business.’” The expansion of alcohol sales has been increasing every year since the GOP took over the Alabama Legislature, and this has social conservatives like Godfrey scratching their heads.

“ I have laughed about the fact that apparently conservative Republicans like to drink liquor as much as liberal Democrats because they have been passing oodles of liquor bills over these last few years,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey added that he hopes that in the final legislative session of the quadrennium the legislature will push back against the alcohol lobby.

“ [The alcohol lobby] keeps flexing their muscles in the state,“ Godfrey said. “I keep telling legislators that we are talking about a mind altering, addictive drug. It needs to be controlled. It needs to be limited. Taking away the limits, taking away the restrictions and keep liberalizing the laws is not in the best interest of the state.”

Godfrey is also one of Moore’s most important political allies. The leader of the Alabama Council on Alcohol Problems, he is also the head of ALCAP, the Alabama Citizens Action Program. Depending on the audience, ALCAP is either described as “interdenominational” or as “the Alabama Baptist Convention’s public policy auxilliary.” Either way, the organization wants to be “Alabama’s moral compass.” ALCAP is one of the two organizations that gave Moore and the Alabama Supreme Court a pretext for their Obergefell nullification decision by suing to uphold the state’s same-sex marriage ban. When that led to Moore being suspended from the court, Godfrey became his most vociferous defender.

One more historical aspect deserves to be understood here: the role of racism in shaping Alabama’s liquor laws in the first place. The temperance candidates of the 1910s ran on explicitly-racist platforms: “Negroes vote wet.” Ex-confederates were the first and most ardent proponents of temperance across the South, and nowhere more than Alabama. The Ku Klux Klan was a particularly strong organizing influence against alcohol in the 1920s.

And nobody is more popular with their latter-day admirers than Roy Moore.

The first time Moore was removed from the bench for ignoring a federal court decision regarding the famous Ten Commandments monument, he had a rabid new political base of support in the Constitution Party, and caused a bitter disappointment when he declined to run for president on their ticket in 2004. A direct descendant of George Wallace’s American Independent Party, the Constitution Party coalesced in 1992 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, re-branding themselves under their current name in 1999. Moore remains very popular with them, and particularly with their eventual 2004 presidential candidate, Michael Peroutka. Of course, today Peroutka is a Republican sitting on the Anne Arundel, Maryland county council. He is also a major donor to Moore’s foundation and has abiding ties to the League of the South, a racist neoconfederate organization that has held rallies at the offices of Moore’s foundation in the past.

While neither the Constitution Party or the League of the South has an anti-alcohol stance like Joe Godfrey’s ALCAP, they are clearly part of the legacy of temperance and Jim Crow, and their love of teetotaller Roy Moore is telling.

Finally, it is worth understanding that Moore relies very heavily on this very same network of teetotaling pastors as his primary means of mustering voters to the polls. Indeed, his 2017 US Senate campaign almost exclusively relied on that mostly-Baptist pastor network for GOTV activity until the national party came to his rescue. However, that alliance was interrupted for almost three weeks during the last month of the campaign when the Washington Post reported a series of stories alleging past sexual misconduct. Because Moore has always had trouble bringing the “business wing” of the state party into his fold, this failure to motivate voters left him vulnerable to social media campaigns aimed at driving this alcohol policy wedge.

Which is exactly what happened. Hoping to deter white male suburban voters from voting for Roy Moore, a campaign targeted Facebook users with ‘false flag’ pages for thirteen days prior to the election. This limited run was a smashing success that reached 3 million targeted voters, achieving 4.6 million impressions with 97,000 engagements, posting videos that were watched 430,000 times, and presenting links that received 403,000 clicks. At least one of the associated memes received unexpected amplification on the Facebook page of a Grammy-winning celebrity. Debates broke out in the comments, with “piety Republicans” and “economic Republicans” disagreeing over the issue.

By every available metric, the campaign succeeded in spreading the message that a vote for Roy Moore was a vote against service industry jobs, against brewing industry jobs, and for going backwards to a “Dry Alabama.”

Given that Doug Jones won by less than 21,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million ballots cast, this campaign — which was inspired by, and modeled on, the Facebook voter suppression efforts that Roy Moore backer Steve Bannon undertook in 2016 — appears to have made a real difference at a very small cost compared to TV advertising or other forms of election communications.

While it is impossible to prove that this one effort was solely responsible for Moore’s defeat, it is a good example of how to use local culture war wedge issues to limit an opponent’s turnout in races that will be won at the margins.

By The Portly Pundit

After four months in the belly of the right wing media beast, and after a full four days of hot showering, everyone's favorite Portly Pundit is once again weaving tales of progressive pulchritude on Breitbart Unmasked.

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