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Ron Paul Revolution in the Heart of Dixie
August 18th, 2007 by Steve
Sorry it’s long, but here are my personal on-the-scene observations of the day that Ron Paul supporters overwhelmed the GOP machine and totally dominated the Alabama GOP Straw Poll.
For me, the day started around 6:30AM, when I woke up to find another couple dozen e-mails from various Ron Paul Meet-Up groups, as well as libertarian and conservative e-mail lists reminding me about the Alabama GOP Straw Poll to be held today.
I’d set my clock a bit earlier the night before, as right before I went to bed, there were a couple of e-mail alerts stating that CBS News was going to film us at our Birmingham area caravan rally point.
The drive towards Birmingham was relatively uneventful, except that I passed a small caravan of Ron Paul supporters, presumably driving from Athens or Huntsville. It was hard to tell where they came from based on their vehicle tags, as they represented a lot of north Alabama counties. Of course, I honked and gave them a thumbs up; they honked and waved in return.
When I arrived at the rally point, there were probably around 20 Paul supporters and one news camera there. The cameraman was interviewing Carol Hagan, an old friend of mine. I waited until he was finished and went over and gave Carol a big hug ol’ hug. BTW, CBS News didn’t show, but ABC and NBC did.
There were probably about thirty people there by then. I ran into a lot of old friends, both from the movement and campaign to fight Governor Riley’s tax plan. I also met a lot of new and wonderful people from all walks of life.
I was starting to worry that thirty people might not be enough to compete effectively in the straw poll, but fortunately more and more people started pouring in. Everyone decorated their cars; pins and signs and such were distributed and folks seemed to be having a good time.
By folks I mean all sorts of folks from all walks of life, but I’ll get to them later. There were also all sorts of cars: An old van carrying a trailer full of signs, a fairly new BMW, an oversized pickup, a caddy (or Lincoln, not sure on this one), a motorcycle, KIAs and Toyotas, old trucks and new trucks, a small foreign convertible, me in a red Mustang convertible.
One of the cameramen commented, “This is it?”
I knew that the 60 or so people assembled there would be enough to probably win the straw poll, but I kept my mouth shut for the moment.
About this time, former Libertarian Party of Alabama Chair Mark Bodenhausen provided me with a walkie-talkie for medical emergencies, traffic control, etc.
One of the cameramen appeared to be leaving, and the other wanted some footage of us leaving as a caravan. We lined up and honked while waving signs as we left the parking lot and headed for Tuscaloosa.
Prelude to the Straw Poll
Once we got to Tuscaloosa, our group created a long line at the check-in desk. In order to vote in the poll, you either had to have a paid-in-advance $25 ticket or pay $35 at the door. They checked for a state-issued photo ID to ensure that each voter was a state citizen and old enough to vote by Election Day. I’m not sure if the age rule pertained to the primary or general election, though.
Once things were orderly enough, I did a quick informal head count and figured there were indications (t-shirts, buttons, campaign signs) that around eighty of the people there were Paul supporters. Based on their attire or some tidbit of personal knowledge, there were around twenty people I could tell supported other campaigns. There were another hundred or so people in the auditorium for whom I couldn’t initially gauge support — but assuming that this was a Republican assembly, I guessed this support would be relatively evenly split between the candidates.
I was talking with my friend Dr. Jimmy Blake and we were doing the same mental calculations. We both agreed, at this point, that we might do more than just win the straw poll, but take over 50 percent of the vote.
Jimmy and I have a lot in common. Both of us have jumped back and forth between the GOP and the LP. Jimmy and I have both chaired the Libertarian Party of Alabama. We’ve both supported and worked on GOP and Libertarian campaigns. Our differences are that he’s run for and served in public office and I won’t do that. He’s a medical doctor; I married one. In other words, he’s more of a glutton for punishment than I am. I did learn that Jimmy was at the Libertarian National Convention that nominated Ron Paul as their presidential candidate, though. I was a Republican at that time.
While Jimmy and I were talking, we realized that the Auburn crew of libertarian Ron Paul supporters wasn’t there yet. We both tried to call them, but were interrupted by media questions, shaking hands with old friends and VIPs and walkie-talkie calls (Jimmy had one by then, too).
More and more people kept trickling in, and a handful had left by then. I counted 227 people at this time. But I noticed something. The tricklers were overwhelmingly Paul supporters, mostly sporting Ron Paul T-shirts or carrying homemade signs.
I was talking with Shana Kluck, who was handling the prepaid tickets (these were paid by an anonymous donor, and not by the campaign) for people who couldn’t afford tickets. At this point, I’ll say that I provided gas money for one supporter and found out too late that one supporter couldn’t make it because she didn’t have enough gas money. Shana was running out of prepaid tickets because so many people were showing. I chipped in enough for ten more tickets, and I found out later that Jimmy Blake had already done the same.
If anyone was the hero of the event, it was Shana. She organized the tickets, contact information, Meet-Up groups, etc. in order to make this a spectacular event. I found out later that Shana is originally from Ron Paul’s congressional district. I’ve got family in Katy, TX and worked a campaign in the area, so I knew her home political turf — but we were both too busy to talk for long.
Finally I saw the first of the Auburn supporters, Mark Thornton. He’s a former Auburn economics professor who is now working at the Mises Institute. Like Jimmy and me, he’s also chaired the Libertarian Party of Alabama before. Mark also served as an economic adviser to Governor Fob James.
Following Mark were around ten or so Paul supporters from Auburn, most of whom I knew from lectures and other activities with which I’ve been involved on campus. We joked a bit about how unsafe it might be for them in Tuscaloosa (for those readers from out-of-state, it’s an intensive football rivalry thing). The event was held in a conference center named after Bear Bryant, BTW.
I ran into James Hines, another former LPA Chair. He’s writing a book on the Second Amendment right now.
At this point, unless the rumored busfull or two of Thompson supporters arrived, we had this one in the bag. They never showed and and I never learned the source of the rumor.
All of this time, there were speakers for candidates and campaign videos on the screen. I hear that Duncan Hunter called in to address the audience. While I caught an occasional screen clip, I was usually too busy to pay much attention to the stage. Occasionally I’d hear a groan or polite, but not enthusiastic, applause from the audience. None of the presidential candidates or key out-of-state staffers or supporters showed up, so the playing field was indeed level.
Jimmy introduced me to John Killian, a local minister who would be speaking for Ron Paul. Unlike my reaction to many Baptist preachers (I grew up in the Church of Christ, but left it years ago because of their dogmatic beliefs), I instantly took a liking to him. He was intelligent, open minded and knew a lot about politics. I found out later that he knew who I was, as he used to read me at HammerOfTruth. I knew there was some reason I liked him.
We broke for lunch and I sat down with Jimmy and John, but was interrupted by cell phone calls — mostly from people wanting to know what was going on in Alabama. I called Dave Weigel of Reason to give him a head’s up that it looked like we had a sure win here.
I talked with as many Paul supporters as I could during the lunch break. There were people there of every description: A medical doctor, a guy wearing a peace sign necklace, an attorney, a girl in hippy attire, four or five political consultant types, a couple of John Birchers, a homeschooling mom, a homeshooling grandparent, a writer, a 9/11 Truther, an economics professor, dozens of people you probably wouldn’t pay attention to if you passed them on the street, a stay-at-home mom, a retired teacher, a few dozen fairly typical college students (most of whom I already knew), a handful of older people who voted for Goldwater, a few people who will cast their first presidential primary vote for Ron Paul, people with piercings and tattoos, people who looked like they were once Homecoming Queens or Kings, people I knew from the Riley tax campaign, people I knew from Birmingham City Council and mayoral campaigns, Fair Taxers, Flat Taxers, no taxers, anarchists, Republicans, Libertarians, independents, at least one Democrat, a Baptist preacher, an atheist.
A lot of people brought their children. Even the youngest ones were well behaved.
I noted that a lot of people who previously weren’t wearing Ron Paul apparel had stopped over to one of the Paul for President tables and were now wearing Ron Paul buttons (or in a couple of cases, bumper stickers).
Finally, John Killian spoke for Ron Paul. It was such a great speech that I’ll not describe it much, but wait for the YouTube to be posted. The words were pretty good, but the delivery was incredible, which is why the YouTube will be required (hope the sound comes out good) to envision it. In the meantime, it was a better delivery than I’ve heard from any presidential candidate since Reagan. It was fiery and animated, as one might expect from a Baptist minister, but not full of fire-and-brimstone. It was so good that this writer, who hasn’t stepped foot in a church for years, is considering going to listen to one of his sermons. Think of Patrick Henry saying “Give me liberty, or give me death” to get a temporary picture.
The audience went absolutely wild!
Even some Romney supporters were moved.
Actually, it didn’t look so much like a state GOP Straw Poll, but a Ron Paul rally. A Ron Paul rally with a handful of Romney supporters sitting in the back of the room, as though they weren’t full-scale members of the club whose meeting they had just crashed.
Anytime the neutral announcer mentioned Ron Paul’s name, the crowd went wild.
There were a few more speakers, who may have even delivered great speeches, but it was all anticlimactic. I’m not sure if anyone will remember what any of them said.
Local businessman (and pain-in-Gov. Riley’s-side) Stan Pate arrived for a few minutes and Jimmy and I walked him around to ensure that he was introduced to the people he should meet.
We ensured that we had a Paul supporter (who is an attorney) to help watch the vote count.
I ran into a reporter from a local paper in the hallway. Someone asked him what he thought about all of this Ron Paul support. All he could manage to say was, “Wow!”
I congratulated John Killian for his speech. He actually apologized and said that it should have been better prepared. I learned later that George Oldroyd wrote a few paragraphs that Killian used, then he ad-libbed the rest of the speech.
As they took the two big metal boxes (no Diebolds, here) which held the votes back to be counted, I ensured that our attorney was there to watch the count. Then I milled around a bit and noticed that a lot of the Ron Paul supporters were leaving. I asked one older gentleman (don’t know who he supported, but he wasn’t wearing any Ron Paul gear) why he wasn’t sticking around for the announcement of vote totals. His reply: “It’s a foregone conclusion.”
I was born in 1962. In my earliest football memories, an Alabama victory was considered a foregone conclusion. I’m sure many of you remember some of the names from that general era: Bear Bryant, Joe Namath, Bart Starr, Johnny Musso. That Ron Paul would win the Straw Poll had been a foregone conclusion for some time. It was now a foregone conclusion that Paul would take over fifty percent of the total vote.
My family moved to Nebraska when I was in High School. Aside from the years when the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Crimson Tide traded off national championships, it was easy to support both powerhouse teams. The one thing of which Nebraska was often accused was running up the score. Jimmy Blake and I were concerned that perhaps we ran up the score a bit too much with the Alabama GOP Straw Poll.
Finally, they walked out with the votes. I managed to snap a photo (the one at used in this article) of the results. I called Dave Weigel and left him a short message with the Ron Paul totals.
They announced the vote totals.
Sam Brownback with 2 votes.
Giuliani with 7 votes.
McCain 2. [I remember hearing chuckling at this point]
We’ll skip this candidate for a minute. (Obviously, we all knew who and why).
Ron Paul with 216 votes.
There is no other way to describe it but to say that everyone went apeshit crazy!
The West Alabama Republican Assembly was kind enough to let us take the stage. Jimmy acted as the impromtu MC. He thanked everyone, but reserved special thanks for John Killian for the speech and Shana Kluck for her superb organizational skills.
While this was going on, Chris Brunner posted the victory at LewRockwell.com and I spoke with Dave Weigel to get the word to the Reason crowd.
Shana took the stage and thanked Meetup coordinators and others. She did very well on stage; afterwards I learned it was her first political speaking engagement.
We held a short organizational meeting and went our separate ways, each of us knowing that played some role in this most extraordinary event.
With respect to running up the score, I’m not worried about it. For Alabamians, it was important that we beat the Riley’s tax plan. For the rest of the nation, it was important that we beat it soundly enough that raising taxes in the name of Jesus didn’t become a rallying cry around the country. While certain people are still trying this abysmal tactic, our two-to-one defeat of the tax increase has clearly saved other states from the fate we almost faced.
Likewise, the victory today was important in other states. Our decisive win illustrates that we aren’t a handful of pimple-faced teenagers spamming online polls from our parents’ basements. This was reality and people drove hours and hours while spending hundreds of dollars to give their team a win.
Iowa showed we could compete. Illinois showed momentum. Alabama showed we can win. It also showed that we can dominate — if we put our minds, our wallets and our backs into it.
To the best of my knowledge, the presidential campaign didn’t financially promote or support this event. To be sure, there were probably very minor shipping costs to get the campaign video to Tuscaloosa, a few telephone expenses. They may have even shipped a few bucks worth of buttons or literature or something.
The signs were locally printed or hand made. The buttons were purchased, some probably from the campaign; many were unofficial, though. Grassroots volunteers made it all happen.
I was told by various sources that 160, 164 or 168 people who had committed to this event through MeetUp showed up. To be sure, they made for a very significant grassroots victory. Even without them, Ron Paul could have received around 50 percent of the total votes cast.
I’ll probably never know, but I expect that the sheer numbers and enthusiasm of the Paul supporters swayed a few uncommitted attendees. Killian’s speech may have moved a few more. Supporters talking to undecided people probably convinced a few more.
One person told me that he hadn’t seen anything like in Alabama this since George Wallace. Several of the old-timers brought up Barry Goldwater.
No matter how many of his supporters admire, respect or adore him, this wasn’t about Ron Paul. At this point, Ron Paul is the face of the movement and his political accomplishments combined with his consistent conservative/libertarian track record have more than earned him this spot.
However, this is about a movement. A movement of an eclectic bunch of people who are very serious about freedom. This is the first time I’ve seen these groups of people work so well together to produce a tangible political result.
As the old-timers and political consultant types discussed the issue, there seemed to be almost universal agreement: No matter how Ron Paul does in the presidential election, there is a new movement afoot. Like the Goldwater era, this movement alone can transform the entire political landscape for an entire generation, or even more.
Posted in Articles, It’s a Southern Thang, Alabama Politics, National Politics, Libertarian Movement
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