December 12, 2019

#152 The Real Enemy, Part 1

by Reply All

The Alabama Democrats fight an unlikely foe in a struggle for Alabama’s future: themselves. Emmanuel Dzotsi reports.

Transcript

[Opening theme music]


PJ VOGT: From Gimet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman. 


[Music ends]


ALEX: And we are here today with producer Emmanuel Dzotsi. Hi, Emmanuel. 


EMMANUEL DZOTSI: Hey, Alex.


ALEX: You have a story for us. 


EMMANUEL: I do indeed. So, um, I’m a–the story I’m working on, I just want to start off by saying I’m a really big political junkie. So I actually used to be so into politics that I like wanted to do it, like for a living. 


ALEX: Oh.


EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, I, I was a Political Science major in college and back then even though I wasn’t like a citizen of the United States yet, I would like sign up to volunteer to help–like go work on polls.


PJ & EMMANUEL: (laugh)


EMMANUEL: Um, I was super, super into it. When I’m supposed to be doing work, I’m–like a lot of the time I’m just reading about political stories.


ALEX: Can I be honest, I’ve looked over your shoulder–


PJ & EMMANUEL: (laugh)


EMMANUEL: I can see it in your face. (PJ &ALEX laugh) You’re like, I know what you’re about to say because I’ve seen it.


PJ: Whatever that’s better procrastination than me or Alex is doing.


ALEX: Yeah, we just play video games.


PJ: Yup.


EMMANUEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


And there’s just like this thing I’ve been thinking a lot about going into 2020, which is just like how the hell like the Democratic party is going to be able to coalesce and come together. Like in a way that people are saying they need to to like, defeat Donald Trump. 


PJ: Like, rather than constantly fighting with each other.


EMMANUEL: Yeah.


And as someone who finds like all those narratives about that fighting so boring, (laughs)  like what I found so fascinating about this story, it’s more than just the fight and the fact that, you know, people are fighting in politics. It’s that there are all these issues of race and like what it means to have political power and representation that are just bubbling beneath the surface. 


Um It’s a story that takes place in Alabama...and the Democrats there are having a fight that is  way uglier and crazier than anything that you’re seeing on the national stage. 


And the first thing that I just want to show you is this video that I found online a few months ago…


PJ: And you’re saying you found this on the internet?


EMMANUEL: I did find it on the internet PJ.


PJ: Hahahahaha.


EMMANUEL: (laughs) As is my job. 


PJ: Hahaha.


EMMANUEL: Which apparently I have only slightly done. But this is really good I promise. 


PJ: Hahahahahaha. 


[Meeting video ambi]


EMMANUEL: Okay so this is a video of like the Alabama Democratic Party. Specifically, like, a special committee that runs the party.


These folks are the bosses and they all sit on a sort of like special committee, um, that’s called the SDEC. 


PJ: The SDEC.


EMMANUEL: Yes, not to be confused with the SEC, the football conference, or the SEC the governing body. 


PJ: I would only make one of those confusions, but anyway.


EMMANUEL: You just see a bunch of peoples–


PJ: Looking bored in an institutional building. Sitting in–


ALEX: Mhm. And a guy at a podium.


PJ: Chairs that look uncomfortable.


EMMANUEL: Yeah. And like the reason all these people are meeting is because there are open seats on the committee. 


[Meeting ambi]


PJ: And so this is like, this is a meeting of the people who run things, deciding whether they want to bring on more people to help run things. 


EMMANUEL: Yeah. And this guy that you see, like up at the podium…


PODIUM GUY: Counting on county Democrats… 


EMMANUEL: He is nominating somebody to fill one of those vacancies on this committee. 


ALEX: Okay.


PODIUM GUY: It’s my pleasure to nominate Ms. Sheila Gilbert for District 29.


EMMANUEL: Her name’s Sheila Gilbert. And if she wins she’ll be representing her voting district on the committee.


And Sheila’s really qualified to take this spot. She’s worked for politicians in the state for years. She runs like the county democratic organization where she lives. And there’s one more thing you need to know about Sheila, which is that she’s white. 


ALEX: Okay. 


PJ: And who’s she running against?


EMMANUEL: Nobody. Like, that’s actually kind of the amazing thing about this is that she’s like a done deal. Like–


PJ: Qualified, no opposition. 


EMMANUEL: Yeah. 


PJ: Okay, so they’re putting her up to the vote.


WOMAN SPEAKER: All those in favor of Sheila Gilbert please stand. 


ALEX: It is a small smattering of people. 


EMMANUEL: Yeah and they’re mostly white. 


WOMAN SPEAKER: Thank you. All opposed please stand. 


EMMANUEL: And watch right here. Like, look at that like giant bloc of black people stand up.


WOMAN SPEAKER: Thank you, Ms. Gilbert. You have not been elected…


EMMANUEL:So, the person running the meeting just said ...“you have not been elected.” Like, Sheila Gilbert didn't get that position, even though she was running completely unopposed. 


ALEX: So what does that mean? 


EMMANUEL: Well, what that means is that her seat just stays empty. There's literally no representative from that voting district on the committee.


PJ: So it's like there's no party leader in that area to defend against Republicans. 


EMMANUEL: Yeah, basically. And what's even crazier is that that happens 20 

other times that day. Again and again, the black people just vote down white candidates, which, you know, obviously does not make sense as like a logical strategy for winning a state.


Um, but when I started making calls to people, what they told me was like, Oh, oh, this–everything you’re seeing in this video, it all stems from the influence of one person who controls the party. 


ALEX: Hm.


EMMANUEL: And that one man is this guy named Joe Reed.


[MUSIC] 


He's 81 years old, he’s black. And he's kind of a legend. 


And I called him...and was like hey I’m a black journalist and I’m fascinated by all of this...and I got him to talk me


EMMANUEL: So Dr. Reed, by all accounts and reports, I’m talking to the most powerful man in the Alabamba Democratic Party right now. 


JOE REED: Well, some folks say that. Some folks say that–


EMMANUEL: (laughs) Would you say that?


JOE: I don’t say that. I’m just, I’m just a public servant, trying to help the Democratic Party. 


EMMANUEL: Uh huh.


JOE: And I volunteer now, I don’t get paid for any of it. But I–I’m a man who’s very much at peace with himself. And I’m not looking for anything, I’m not trying to grab anything. I am just simply one to serve. 


EMMANUEL: Joe wasn’t exactly lying to me, but he’s sort of being criminally humble about this whole thing. Right? 


PJ: Mhm–


EMMANUEL: Like, for the last 30 years, Joe's had complete control of the Alabama Democratic Party. And in that room, like the room where we watched the meeting, like, nothing can happen on that committee unless Joe wants it to.


PJ: Huh.


EMMANUEL: And I actually asked Joe Reed about this video and I was like, “What is going on? It looks like you're blocking like a whole slate of candidates and most of them seem to be white.” And what he told me was, “Oh, well, of course I did.”


PJ: (laughs)


JOE: I’m going to tell you exactly why we did it. If somebody came into your house, (laughs) and said they were going to tear up your house, would you let them in? 


EMMANUEL: No, if someone came into my house and said they were going to tear it up, I wouldn’t.


JOE: Now let me tell you what happened. These folks met. And they were coming together to organize against us. And that’s why we didn’t vote for them. If they’re coming to destroy me, I’m not going to sit there and be granite and let them destroy me.  


[MUSIC]


EMMANUEL: So basically Joe is telling me that the reason he kept those seats vacant is because the people trying to fill those seats-- like were trying to destroy him and destroy the democratic party.


I gotta say like in general, watching this video and like learning about Joe Reed, the thing I noticed was like that almost all of these people who he thinks are trying destroy the Democratic party…


PJ: They’re all white.


EMMANUEL: Yeah exactly. Um, But like the thing that complicated like the picture of Joe Reed for me is that it’s not as simple as him hating all white people, like the one person he seems to trust above everybody is a white woman. Um this white woman named Nancy Worley, a very divisive person who is the chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. 


And if like Joe Reed is the unofficial head of the Alabama Democratic party, Nancy Worley is the official head. They together form kind of like a bit of a political dynamo in Alabama. 


PJ: Got it.


EMMANUEL: That ugly fight that’s consuming the Democratic party in Alabama right now, all you need to know is that it centers around these two. 


PJ: Okay. Do you want to take the story from here? 


EMMANUEL: Yeah. So I want to start this story by just telling you about a woman who wandered into this enormous fight completely by accident. 


[sound of footsteps]


EMMANUEL: Hi. 


TABITHA: Hi!


EMMANUEL: How are you?


TABITHA: I’m good. How are you? 


EMMANUEL: Her name is Tabitha Isner. She runs a nonprofit and she's an ordained minister. But for the purposes of this story, all you need to know is that Tabitha is extremely passionate about political organizing. 


TABITHA: That’s what grassroots organizing looks like. Volunteers know my address and know that they can just show up when they’re bored. (EMMANUEL laughs) But no one steal my–that’s like $200 worth of stamps just sitting on the front porch...[EMMANUEL laughs] 


EMMANUEL: If Tabitha seems surprisingly upbeat for a Democrat in Alabama, that’s because she’s living in the aftermath of an actual honest-to-God political miracle. Like, if you’ve heard anything about Alabama politics at all, this is the thing you’ve heard of.


[MUSIC]


NEWSCAST LADY: Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones are vying to take over the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 


EMMANUEL: Doug Jones. An attorney famous in Alabama for prosecuting the KKK was up against Republican Roy Moore, a very far right judge. 


It seemed like Roy Moore was gonna take the seat, until this thing happened just four weeks before the election.


NEWS ANCHOR 1: And just in from the Washington Post, they are reporting a potentially seismic allegation. A woman is alleging Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was just 14 years old


NEWS ANCHOR 2: Polling shows the two candidates are neck and neck ahead of Tuesday’s special election…


EMMANUEL: The night of the election, Tabitha was at a watch party in Montgomery. She didn’t expect Doug Jones to win, but she was working the room... networking.


TABITHA: I’m with a clipboard going around trying to make sure I get every last person’s contact info and then (laughs) and then all of a sudden, the place erupts into cheering. And I’m clueless, looking around, like what happened? And then see a TV and realize, you know, we have won this thing. 


WOLF: CNN projects Doug Jones the Democrat he will be the next United States Senator from Alabama.


(crowd cheers)


[MUSIC] 


DOUG JONES: Oh, my. Folks, I got to tell you, I think that I have been waiting all my life and now I just don't know what the hell to say.


(crowd cheers)


EMMANUEL: Tabitha was looking around at the other people in the room, and she says that for all of them that moment felt like a revelation. Like whoa, Democrats can win in ALABAMA: 


TABITHA: It was like it occurred to all 150 people in the same 30 seconds. You could just watch people’s eyes all of a sudden realize, oh my gosh, what if we won other things?


EMMANUEL: Across the state, Democrats were having that same realization. People who had always sat on the sidelines of Alabama politics were now chomping at the bit to get involved. If there was gonna be a revolution, they wanted in. So by the time the midterm elections arrived the following year, a whole bevy of Democrats were ready to run against Republicans.


But that year, most Democrats would all hit their heads against the same brick wall. Their own state party. 


One of these Democrats was Tabitha. When she decided to run, she knew that one of the first things she had to do was go and see Nancy Worley.  Because as state party chair, Nancy’s job is to have the whole bird’s-eye-view of the party’s election strategy. It’s her job to know who’s running where, and how the party’s going to support them.


So Tabitha makes an appointment with Nancy and heads to her office.  


EMMANUEL: Where’s the headquarters?


TABITHA: Uh, it is, um, downtown Montgomery. Um, it’s a pretty small one-story building. There are very few people there. There are no volunteers. It is so silent in that place. It is crickets.


EMMANUEL: Tabitha says she waited for 45 minutes before Nancy appeared. And when she did, Tabitha asked her the big question: 


TABITHA: I need to know if there’s a candidate that you have in mind. Are you preparing someone for this seat? Um, and you know I’d be happy to support somebody if you’ve got a good candidate already lined up. And if you don’t, what do you think about me running? And here are the things that I think would be good about me and the things that wouldn’t be. And she said, “I don’t care if you run.” And–


EMMANUEL: She said, “I don’t care if you run?”


TABITHA: Yeah. “That’s your decision.”


EMMANUEL: Like, in like a what kind of way? Like, in a like, “yeah, go ahead.” Or like a, “I like don’t know why you’re talking to me?” Like, how did she say it?


TABITHA: The look on your face of confusion, that was the look on my face of sort of what- what are- what–what just happened?


[PAUSE]


EMMANUEL: So, did she, did she offer you phone banks?


TABITHA: No.


EMMANUEL: Did she offer you like, volunteers?


TABITHA: No.


EMMANUEL: Did she offer you money, like fund–fundraising dollars?


TABITHA: No.


EMMANUEL: So what did she offer you?


TABITHA: Literally nothing. 


[MUSIC]


EMMANUEL: Tabitha’s experience of Nancy was pretty typical. The Alabama Democratic Party is known to be disorganized and underfunded. But this meeting convinced Tabitha that it was actually worse than that, that Nancy had no plan to capitalize on this post-Doug Jones energy, no plan to win. So Tabitha decided that she was going to just do this on her own. 


She hired a campaign manager, cobbled together a team of volunteers, raised over half a million dollars. She was doing really well for a first timer.  But Tabitha knew that if she really wanted to win, she’d need the support of the all-powerful Joe Reed. 


Because as a white Democrat running in Alabama, Tabitha couldn’t win without the black vote. Which meant she needed an endorsement from Joe Reed’s organization, a black political group called the ADC.  


So Tabitha asked Joe Reed and the ADC for their support and she got it. However, there was a catch.  


TABITHA: They endorsed me. And then three days later, I got a phone call saying, um, in order to tell voters that we endorsed you, you need to pay us $15,000.


EMMANUEL: Wait, $15,000 as in like, like, we need you to–like, why would they need $15,000?


TABITHA: To get the word out to black voters in my district.


EMMANUEL: How did they tell you that it needed to be $15,000?


TABITHA: They call you on the phone. Dr. Joe Reed calls on the phone and says, “You need to pay this money.”


EMMANUEL: What did you say?


TABITHA: I don’t–I was not planning to spend $15,000. I already have my get out the vote plan for the primary. I can’t just write you a check for $15,000. And he said, “Well, it’s what you need to do.” And we were very quickly at an impasse where there was no negotiating about it. And I was like, “Well, let me- I- let me see what I can–let me see what I can do.”


EMMANUEL: Tabitha didn’t want to lose the endorsement so she wrote a check for the maximum amount her campaign is allowed to give, five thousand dollars. And she dropped it off at Joe Reed’s office.


TABITHA: And said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know at this point how I can give you more than $5000 legally.” I said, “You know, if you’re, if you’re doing get out the vote for me, if you’re a service provider, a business, send me an invoice for the services that you’re providing, and I can pay it.”


They never did. Um, they asked me to pay some more money into a different PAC, um, but I could find no record that that PAC existed.


EMMANUEL: To Tabitha, this whole thing felt a lot like pay to play. But when I talked to Joe about this, he said he hadn’t done anything wrong, Getting out the black vote takes money. 


In any case, Tabitha didn’t have to fight about this, she had an election coming up. So she went about her business, kept campaigning and just sort of hoped that Joe Reed would go ahead and get out the black vote for her. 


NEWSCASTER 1: Decision 2018.


NEWSCASTER 2:  We have been with you all night long as the votes continue to come in across Alabama...


EMMANUEL: November 6th, 2018. Nearly every single Democrat, like around the state in Alabama, who runs against a Republican loses.


NEWSCASTER 3: Obviously a great deal of disappointment here at the democratic watch party at Jackson County… 


EMMANUEL: Including Tabitha. And when it comes time to give her concession speech. All that frustration she’d stifled during the campaign. It just comes out.


MUSIC — DEVASTATED 


TABITHA CLIP: Y’all don’t often get to see me angry. 


CROWD: (laughs quietly)


TABITHA: I haven’t shown my anger much.


WOMAN IN CROWD: Preach it, girl.


TABITHA: On this campaign trail. But I can get angry. I am angry.


EMMANUEL: At one point in the speech Tabitha starts listing all the insurmountable hurdles her campaign faced and, to that list, she adds her own party. 


TABITHA CLIP: We didn’t have the support of the state party. 


CROWD: No, no. What state party? 


TABITHA CLIP: What state party.


CROWD: (laughs)


TABITHA: It never occurred to me that I had said anything that was gonna upset some of the party. A, there’s not a party to upset. I stand by my statement, what party? There’s not an active party. But, but it certainly wasn’t–I wasn’t trying to start that fight. I knew I was starting fights that evening. That wasn’t the one I meant to get into.


[MUSIC]


EMMANUEL: Tabitha had accidentally enlisted herself in a war. A war that would pit Democrat against Democrat, putting people like Tabitha against Nancy, and ultimately Joe Reed. The video clip of Tabitha’s speech, it went viral in Alabama.


Across the state Democrats were making accusations. The problem in Alabama wasn’t the GOP, it was the Democratic Party. People compared notes. Nancy didn't run campaign ads. She didn't plan for the legislative session. Nobody could even get a hold of her, like, not even on the phone. And I personally can attest that I too was victimized by Nancy's voicemail, which was always full. 


Anyway, the problem was so many of the people who wanted to fix the party and replace Nancy didn't have any power. What they needed was somebody with real clout.

EMMANUEL: Hi there, Senator Jones. Pleasure to meet you.


DOUG JONES: I’m Doug. (cross talk) Nice to meet you. 


EMMANUEL: Emmanuel Dzotsi.


DOUG: Good to see you. 


EMMANUEL: Hi. 


EMMANUEL: I met Senator Doug Jones in his office in downtown Birmingham and, even though it’s been almost 2 years since he ran for Senate, and won, he’s still so angry about how the State Party treated him. 


EMMANUEL: I’m curious, when you ran for Senate in that special election in 2017, what did the Party do for you?

[MUSIC OUT]

DOUG: Not a damn thing.

EMMANUEL: Not anything?

DOUG: Nothing. We tried to get them- they wouldn’t–they wouldn’t even agree to help manage some, um, get out the vote monies that we could bring into the Party because they wanted to completely control and not even coordinate with us. And I’ll be damned if I was going to do that. So we built our own infrastructure for that special election, without regard to the Party because the Party couldn’t do it. They had no mechanism to do it. 

We have nothing that challenges the Republican Party today, which is passing some horrible legislation. And you got nothing but crickets coming out of the State Party. 

EMMANUEL: Here’s the thing...Doug Jones knows that in just a year he has to run for re-election,and this time, he can’t count on running against an alleged child molestor. So to have a fighting chance Doug Jones is going to need an actual, functional state party. Led by somebody who’s not Nancy Worley. And Doug Jones knew that if wanted Nancy gone, he’d have to get permission from Joe Reed.


DOUG: I went to visit Dr. Reed in March after I got sworn in to say, “Doc, look. There’s a lot of people out there that want your scalp. I don’t. I- that–that’s not my issue. I am in a position now that I can really help this party. We can do things, we can raise money, we can pay off debt, we can recruit candidates. There’s such an energy. But we can’t do it as long as the current leadership is in place. We can’t do it. I can’t aff–I can’t ask people to give money for a state party that no one has any confidence in. 


I told Joe, I said, “Help me find somebody that can run. If we can get new leadership, we can do a lot of things.” But I got completely shut out.


EMMANUEL: I asked Joe Reed about this meeting.


JOE: After Doug Jones was elected he, uh, he came, uh, and said he wanted to change party chairs. And I asked him, "Who do you want?" He named the person he wanted. I said, "[indistinct] Nancy Worley is the party chair." And he said, "Well when she's gonna be up for election, we want you to help defeat her." I said, "No I'm not gonna do that ‘cause you want me to get rid of my friend for your friend."


EMMANUEL: You were offended that he was trying to interfere.


JOE: Well I, not only was I upset, or not necessarily offended, hell I didn’t care because I was with Nancy Worley either way. (laughs)


EMMANUEL: (laughs)


JOE: It didn't bother me one way or the other. When I make a commitment I stay hitched.


EMMANUEL: Yeah.


JOE: You know, my–one of my political philosophies is, of all crimes, the worst crimes is ingratitude. You stay loyal to your friends. Make as many friends as you can but don't leave an old friend to make a new friend.


EMMANUEL: What Joe was saying made sense in like a basic schoolyard kind of way, but his choice felt insane. Like Joe Reed is choosing to pick a fight with a sitting US senator.  The superstar Democrat in Alabama. Why not just strike a compromise?


What I didn’t understand yet was that, while Doug Jones thought that he and Joe were on the same side, fighting the same opponent, the Republicans, that’s not actually how Joe saw it. 


So let’s just look at it from Joe’s perspective for a second. 


[MUSIC]


I want to take you back to Montgomery in the 1960s.


MLK JR: We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet can get us there!


EMMANUEL: When Joe Reed was a young activist and he met his enemy for the first time. 


(Chanting and clapping: Hey!)

 

EMMANUEL: Montgomery was one of the biggest battlegrounds of the civil rights movement. 


It’s where Martin Luther King Jr. marched for voting rights. Where Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus. It’s where George Wallace gave his notorious inaugural address

GEORGE WALLACE: And I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever! (cheering)


EMMANUEL: Joe would face off against George Wallace quite a few times in his career. And George Wallace, like most politicians Joe was fighting back then, was a Democrat. Democrats ran the state. And the Alabama Democrats were so racist, a bunch of them once split off from the national party because they wanted to keep segregation. They were called Dixiecrats.


JOE: See Alabama's always had this struggle for power between what we call the Loyalists and the Dixiecrats. The Loyalists, were the white folk who were what we call on the progressive side of the fence.


EMMANUEL: Okay.


JOE: The Dixiecrats were those who wanted to keep black folk out, keep black folks in subjugation and wanted to keep well wanted to keep the status quo.


EMMANUEL:  Dixiecrats would be Joe Reed’s constant enemy. In fact, for him, the word “dixiecrat” became like a personal shorthand for any white Southern Democrat he thought was racist. 


In the 1960s, Joe Reed joined this black activist organization called the Alabama Democratic Conference, the ADC. They wanted to organize black people to vote Dixiecrats out of office. But the Dixiecrats made just getting to the voting booth nearly impossible. 


I spoke to Randy Kelley, a member of the ADC, and a close ally of Joe Reed’s.


EMMANUEL: Before organizations like the ADC.


RANDY: Yeah.


EMMANUEL: Like if the ADC doesn’t happen, what is–what is it like? Like what is political participation like for black people in Alabama?


RANDY: If the ADC didn’t exist?


EMMANUEL: Yeah.


RANDY: Oh man, we wouldn’t hardly have any political progress at all. Because, um, you could get killed for registering to vote. You could get your head bashed in and people were afraid to vote. And, uh, that movement came out of bloodshed. And Dr. Ralph David Abernathy used to tell me that if we walk as smooth as we do as black folks it’s because we walk over a carpet paved with blood. So everything we’ve got in Alabama, we’ve had to fight for.


EMMANUEL: A carpet of blood.


RANDY: Carpet. Paved with blood.


EMMANUEL: The ADC took their fight to the courts, knocking down obstacles between black people and the voting booth.


RANDY: The Alabama Democratic Conference has sued the municipalities, they’ve sued the counties, they’ve sued the school board to bring about city council persons, county commissioners, even registrars. All–


EMMANUEL: Sued everybody?


RANDY: Yeah, all those thing–Cutie Adams used to say, my mentor, he would say that they woke up in the morning looking for somebody to sue and went to bed upset at night because they couldn’t find anybody to sue.


EMMANUEL: (laughs)


EMMANUEL: The ADC also fought back against Dixiecrats’ aggressive gerrymandering.


RANDY: Tuskegee was, it was cut like a sea monster to keep black people from voting. 


EMMANUEL: And how, what do you mean by that? Like how was that?


RANDY: It was gerrymandering because Macon County is a heavily populated black county. So they had to draw it in a very skewed way to keep from black people being elected.


[MUSIC]


EMMANUEL: By the late 1970s, Joe Reed is running the ADC. And black people are voting in huge numbers. Numbers big enough to finally vote the Dixiecrats out of office.


But now, there wasn’t a Dixiecrat in sight. And it wasn’t because they were gone. It was just that white Democrats who wanted to win elections, now knew there was no way for them to win without convincing black voters they were on their side.


Even George Wallace, George, “segregation forever,” Wallace didn’t call himself a Dixiecrat. And by his last run for governor in ‘82, he was courting the black vote. 


So now black voters have to decide who was a Dixiecrat in disguise. And one person they relied on to tell them was Joe Reed. He would actually hand out sample ballots to black voters, telling them which politicians were safe to vote for.


[Music ends]


Joe had helped to organize a real black electorate in Alabama and if he’d stopped there, his legacy would have been secure. He probably would have spent his 80s, I don’t know, hanging out with his grandkids and appearing in PBS documentaries. 


But in 1990, this thing happens kind of by accident, that gives Joe the keys to the Alabama Democratic Party for decades to come.


[MUSIC]


And it started with a problem. Which was that, even though the Democratic Party was increasingly made up of black people, the party leadership, the people on the SDEC, were still mostly white. It’s an imbalance.


So, Joe and his allies file a lawsuit and as a result of the settlement that follows, Joe is handed an extraordinary amount of power.


What follows is a slight simplification, but the solution that the party comes up with to fix the imbalance, is they decide on a new rule. And they didn’t do this on purpose, but that rule made it so that Joe, for the next 28 years, could add seats to the SDEC and fill those seats with his allies.


It’s like the political version of a license to print money.


I’ve never heard of a rule like this so much so that I call it, The Joe Reed rule. 


Which brings us back to the present. Joe has turned himself into a political juggernaut in Alabama, which is why when Doug Jones wants Nancy Worley gone, he has to go ask Joe first. 


[Music ends]


So, Doug Jones, like countless white Democrats before him, asked Joe Reed to trust him.


And what Joe hears is a man asking him to give up control of a party he's built. A white Democrat trying to put black people in their place.


JOE: George Wallace tried to do it in 1974. He tried to get Bert Haltom to be chair of the party. Well we beat Bert Haltom.


EMMANUEL: Yeah.


JOE: So fasting forward, that happens so, Doug Jones was trying to do the same thing. He’s trying to dilute black influence in the Democratic Party. They want to get rid of the at-large members who are black.


EMMANUEL: But I guess, my, my question is like, why would somebody like Doug Jones, like Doug Jones is famous for representing like the girls who were killed in that bombing in Birmingham–like why would he want to get rid of black people on the, on the board?


JOE: He’s not so much trying to get rid of the blacks, well he, he just wants to be able to control them. (laughs)


EMMANUEL: But is it- I guess–I guess my question is, is it about controlling black people or just controlling the party?


JOE: Both. If you can control the black folk you can control the party. Because blacks are majority in the party. And we're not gonna stand by and be water boys and water girls for Doug Jones or anybody else!


[MUSIC]


EMMANUEL: For decades, Joe Reed has protected his Democratic party against the people he believes would destroy it. Once you understand that, you understand why he does anything he does. 


Why he voted down Shelia Gilbert and 20 other candidates on that day back in 2015. Why he refuses to give up on Nancy Worley.


Joe Reed will not walk away from a fight, even if that fight means risking everything he’s fought for. 


PJ: Emmanuel Dzotsi is a producer on our show. 


We’ll continue this story over the next two episodes. Before this is over, you’ll see democrats going to war with each other in public, ugly ways. 


Secret plots, coups interrupted by other coups,a gun-toting party official, a heated dispute over who has cleaned the most toilets…. By the end, the Democratic party in Alabama will be changed forever. 


Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. We’re produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Emmanuel Dzotsi. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We’re mixed by Rick Kwan and Catherine Anderson. Fact-checking by Michelle Harris. Our intern is Rachel Cohn. Our theme music is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Music in this episode from Breakmaster Cylinder and Luke Williams. 


Special thanks this week to Kyle Whitmire, Cindi Branham , Natalie Davis, Jack Drake, Greg Schmidt at Auburn University Libraries, Holly Roper at the University of North Carolina, and Dr. Howard Robinson at Alabama State University. 


Matt Lieber is a window that keeps the cold out.


You can find out show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening. Our next episode is in your feed right now. Go listen to it.