A Democratic Party committee Thursday night disqualified an openly gay candidate for the Alabama Legislature and the woman she defeated in the primary runoff because both women violated a party rule that party officials said no other candidate has obeyed since 1988.
The committee voted 5-0 to disqualify Patricia Todd, who was attempting to become the state's first openly gay legislator, and Gaynell Hendricks.
Committee chairwoman Amy Burks said earlier Thursday the party's executive committee would make the final decision and select a nominee for the seat from Birmingham's House District 54 at a meeting in Montgomery Saturday.
Committee members said they would issue a formal order Friday morning.
Must disqualify goveror, lieutenant governor candidates?
Attorney Bobby Segall told the committee earlier Thursday that if the party disqualified Todd for not filing a financial disclosure form with the party chairman it would also have to disqualify the party's nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, and for lieutenant governor, former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr.
"Lucy Baxley is out of here. Just let the Republicans take over the state Senate and the House. Jim Folsom is out of here," Segall said in an emotional presentation to the committee. Committee members announced their decision about two hours after the hearing ended.
Committee members and party officials said the committee's decision would not affect any other Democratic Party nominees — like Baxley — because the results of other races have already been certified.
Todd defeated Hendricks by 59 votes in the July 18 runoff election in District 54, a diverse district that includes some of Birmingham's richest and poorest neighborhoods. There is no Republican opposition in the race and the Democratic candidate will likely be the district's next House member, replacing retiring Rep. George Perdue, D-Birmingham.
A challenge filed by Hendricks' mother-in-law, Mattie Childress, claimed that Todd filed her campaign financial disclosure form with the Alabama secretary of state's office late to hide a $25,000 contribution from a national gay rights group.
‘Unfair, undemocratic, un-American and unwise’
Dennis Dison, a spokesman for that group, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, issued a statement Thursday night decrying the committee's decision.
"Patricia got the most votes in two separate elections — the primary and the runoff — but party bosses didn't like the outcome, so now they want to simply handpick a candidate. What happened today in Montgomery was unfair, undemocratic, un-American and unwise," Dison said.
Another Todd attorney, Ed Still, told the committee that Todd filed her form on July 17, the day before the July 18 runoff. While the filing was in violation of a requirement that the forms be filed five days before the election, Still said the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that candidates can't be disqualified if they file before the election.
But the attorney for Childress, Raymond Johnson, said Todd should instead be disqualified for violating a 1974 Democratic Party rule that requires Democratic candidates to file financial disclosure statements with the party chairman five days before the election. Democratic Party executive director Jim Spearman testified that as far as he knew, no Democratic candidate had filed a disclosure statement with the chairman since 1988, when the state law requiring financial disclosure was passed.
Spearman said no candidate this year, including Todd or Hendricks, had filed the disclosure form with the chairman.
But Johnson said Todd should be disqualified for violating the rule because the challenge was filed against her and not against Hendricks.
"No direction has been given to candidates telling them not to file that report," Johnson said.
Hendricks said after the hearing that she believes the outcome of the election would have been different if voters had known the source of some of Todd's campaign funds.
"If her disclosure form had been filed on time the public would have had that information to make a decision on," Hendricks said.
‘If I was black I don't think they would have contested’
Todd said she believes the challenge has nothing to do with the fact she is gay, but is about the fact that she is white and won in a majority black district.
"Of course if I was black I don't think they would have contested the election," Todd said. She blamed the contest on Joe Reed, longtime chairman of the black Democratic caucus, who wrote a letter before the election urging black leaders to support Hendricks because of her race and stressing the need for keeping the seat in black hands.
Segall also alluded to Reed's influence in his closing statement to the committee.
"This is about race. Folks are upset that a white woman won in a black district. There are some times you just have to say 'this isn't right,'" Segal said.
Contacted after the hearing, Reed said he was not responsible for filing the election challenge, but he said he believes Todd should be disqualified for violating the party rule.
"The rule requires everybody to file it. The rule doesn't exclude anyone from filing it," Reed said.
He said Todd should be punished for not following the rule, because the challenge was filed against her and not against other candidates.