Alabama Democratic Party members challenge new bylaws, elimination of caucuses

Chair calls critics ‘losers who embraced the adoption of corrupt bylaws three years ago’

By: - June 15, 2023 7:01 am
Chair and executive members of committee listen to arguments

Randy Kelley, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, presides over the State Democratic Executive Committee, in which they passed a new bylaw eliminating the youth, LGBTQ+ and disabled caucus. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The chair of the Alabama Democratic Party wrote in a June 13 letter to state and national members of his party that the elimination of minority caucuses in May did not cost people their membership.

Randy Kelley, the chair of the state party, also wrote that the new bylaws are “clean and clear for all Alabamians,” and that “those who are constantly complaining are the losers who embraced the adoption of the corrupt bylaws three years ago.”

The letter was in part a response to a challenge to the state party submitted in early June by ADP Vice Chair Tabitha Isner and 43 other members of the party.

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In the challenge to the state party, the challengers said that business taken at the May 6 meeting should be deemed “null and void,” including the bylaws passed at the meeting.

The adoption of the May 6 bylaws eliminated Democratic caucuses for youth, LGBTQ+ and disabled individuals, set up in 2019. It also reduced the powers of the other.

The moves, coming after a controversial party meeting, were the latest in a years-long dispute over control of the party between a faction of Democrats loyal to Vice Chair of Minority Affairs Joe Reed and a group aligned with former U.S. Sen. Doug Jones.

The 2019 bylaws were created after the Jones group managed to win control of the organization. But the Reed group claimed the new caucuses diluted the ability of Black Democrats, the source of what strength Democrats have in Alabama, to hold leadership positions in the party. The Reed group elected Kelley chair at a meeting last year.

Kelley wrote that young adult representation would increase in the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) and that the percentage of LGBTQ+ representatives on the SDEC exceeded the estimated LGBTQ+ vote for Biden in Alabama for the 2020 election.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Kelley said that former Jones coordinated a takeover of the party when the DNC instructed the state party to broaden its representation. In the letter, he called it a “racially motivated plot.”

“We had a takeover of the party by Doug Jones and his crowd, and Tom Perez, who undermined [former chair] Nancy Worley as the chair, and (when) I was the vice chair,” he said. “And by simply parliamentary procedure, I would have been automatically chair.”

In an interview Wednesday evening, Jones called that “sad and pathetic,” said the letter sounded like it was written by Reed.

“They have in the past – when they were fighting the change in the bylaws – Joe Reed called us Dixiecrats, compared me to George Wallace,” said Jones. “So none of that’s new.”

Jones said that the 2019 bylaws did not dilute Black power. Before the creation of diversity caucuses, he said, the SDEC was made up of about 60% Black Democrats. After the caucuses were formed, he said that the Black percentage stayed the same. White Democrats were the only demographic that lost representation.

“Those are facts, and that’s what Joe Reed does not want to tell people because it does not fit his narrative, or why he needs to continue to have his power,” he said.

The challenge from the 43 Democrats alleged several irregularities from the May 6 meeting, such as that a meeting notice was not given in a consistent manner to all committee members; that the meeting was not live streamed or recorded as required in the 2019 Bylaws, and there was a attempted to make the meeting close to the media, but members spoke out against it.

The challenge said the irregularities led to discrimination and ignoring rules of order “by Chairman Randy Kelley and Vice Chair of Minority Affairs, Joe L. Reed.”

Other irregularities alleged include discriminatory credentialing and unfair participation fees; a disregard for the order of business; no opportunity to vote on a delegate selection plan and inaccurate conduct, management and reporting of the voting and motions during the meeting.

The challenge asked that all official business conducted at the ADP meeting on May 6, 2023, should be declared null and void. It also seeks to have the 2019 bylaws restored and asks that the ADP create and distribute approved rosters of SDEC and Executive Board members.

man defends proposed bylaws at microphone
Joe Reed, chair of the minority caucus, defended the changes to the bylaws, saying the 2019 bylaws took power away from Black Democrats. (Alabama Reflector)

The group also wants a DNC data team to verify Alabama’s Black Democratic electorate, a critical part of determining representation on the SDEC. Additionally, accommodations should be made for disabled individuals in all meetings, with diversity caucuses provided necessary resources for their operations.

“I think people think sometimes we’re asking for more punitive resolution than anyone actually wants,” Isner said Wednesday morning in a phone interview.

The DNC signaled it could punish ADP by taking away delegates to the national party. Isner said that she wanted to resolve these issues on a state level, which is why she submitted a challenge to Kelley.

While it would be “embarrassing” to lose the state delegation, she said, “for most of us the delegate piece is far less important than wanting to have an inclusive, functioning party.”

Members of the SDEC said that they were required to pay a previously unannounced $50 fee to attend the May 6 meeting. Kelley also said that referring to the $50 qualifying fee as a “poll tax” is “ridiculous.”

The chair said the fee had been in place for 50 years. But he also blamed Chris England, who chaired the ADP from 2019 to 2022, for the mandate for the fee.

Some members brought the money needed for the fee but said they were not allowed to pay at the registration table.

Messages seeking comment were left with England Wednesday afternoon.

“The time limit, from my understanding, was over with,” Kelley said. “They had a time frame in paying their qualifying.”

According to the new bylaws, a special committee may be created by the chair. The 2019 bylaws allowed the executive board and the party’s affirmative action committee to create new caucuses.

Haeden Wright, a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC), said that what Kelley wrote in the letter was “absolutely incorrect.” She said that members that had been elected had completed the qualifying forms online prior to the August organizational meeting, and they were allowed to vote in previous elections.

“So, if they’re saying that these individuals are not part of the SDEC, then those elections are invalid because those individuals voted in those elections,” she said.

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Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.

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