Rep. Bobby Bright (D)
Alabama 2nd District
Thick green countryside blankets southern Alabama. Even in Montgomery, the stone and brick buildings of the downtown district do not mask the contours of the hills or hide the lush foliage. One can look downhill from the restored Greek Revival capitol toward Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where the young Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor in the 1950s, or out past the impressive Carolyn Blount Theater, host of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, toward new subdivisions and shopping malls, and easily imagine when this land was covered with cotton fields and pine trees. The atmosphere is even more rural in southeast Alabama’s Wiregrass region, named for the stiff native grass. There is the fishing town of Eufaula, along the Chattahoochee River; the Army’s Fort Rucker, the home of Army aviation flight training; and Enterprise, site of the Boll Weevil Monument that commemorates the insect that destroyed two-thirds of the cotton crop in 1915 and then spread throughout the South. Timber is an important resource here, and peanuts are now the main crop in the area surrounding Dothan. The region ranks second in the nation in acres harvested for peanuts. But the area is diversifying: Hyundai built its first U.S. assembly plant in southwest Montgomery County, with about 3,000 local jobs.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District covers the southeast corner of the state. It includes most of the city of Montgomery but only a small part of Montgomery County. Democratic redistricters put the rest, including the capitol and many black precincts, into the 3rd District in an attempt to make that seat more Democratic. The result was to make the 2nd District strongly Republican. The Montgomery County precincts, plus suburban Elmore and Autauga counties, vote heavily Republican, as does the area around Dothan and Houston County in the Wiregrass region. The area outvotes by a large number the district’s “black belt” counties—Lowndes, Bullock, with a large black majority, and Barbour on the Georgia border, which was George Wallace’s home base. It would be a mistake to see these preferences as purely racial, however. African-Americans here tend to support a larger and more generous government, and hence vote Democratic. Alabama whites tend to take a hard line on defense and crime and want government to promote traditional cultural values, and hence vote Republican.
Rep. Bobby Bright (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: July 21, 1952, Dale County .
Education: Auburn U., B.A. 1975; Troy U., M.A., 1977; Faulkner U., J.D. 1982.
Family: Married (Lynne); 3 children.
Elected office: Montgomery mayor, 1999-2008.
Professional Career: Practicing atty.
The new congressman from the 2nd District is Democrat Bobby Bright, elected in 2008 to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Terry Everett. He is the first Democrat to represent the district since 1964.
|Bobby Bright (D)||144,368||(50%)||($1,193,166)|
|Jay Love (R)||142,578||(50%)||($2,444,627)|
|Bobby Bright (D)||19,456||(67%)|
|Cendie Crawley (D)||5,110||(18%)|
|Cheryl Sabel (D)||4,631||(16%)|
Bright is a fourth-generation Alabamian and the 13th of 14 children. Born in the district’s Wiregrass region, Bright spent the first 11 years of his life on the farm where his father worked as a sharecropper. During those years, harvesting crops was the family’s priority, and the late-summer cotton harvest often caused him to miss the first week of school. His family moved off the farm when he was 11, and Bright started working full-time at his older brother’s sheet-metal business for one dollar per day. He continued attending school and received a partial scholarship to play football at the University of West Alabama. But Bright could not afford to pay the tuition that was not covered by the scholarship, so he attended Enterprise-Ozark Community College for two years. He went on to attend Auburn University, where he earned an undergraduate degree in political science. After college, Bright worked as a prison guard before earning a master’s degree in criminal justice from Troy University and a law degree from the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University.
As a newly minted lawyer in 1982, Bright opened a practice in Montgomery specializing in defending doctors and nurses. In 1999, the lack of economic opportunity for many city residents spurred him to run for mayor. He faced 21-year incumbent Emory Folmar, a white politician whose unpopularity among the city’s African-American population was partially responsible for Montgomery’s polarization. City law required the mayor’s office be occupied by a nonpartisan, so Bright ran as an independent and defeated Folmar 54%-46%. As mayor, Bright invested heavily in urban development and, symbolically, moved his home from the city’s eastern suburbs to a downtown loft apartment. He also focused on unifying Montgomery’s population, alleviating some of the lingering racial tensions by appointing the city’s first African-American chief of police and its first black fire chief. Bright easily won re-election in 2003 and 2007.
When Everett announced his retirement in 2007, Bright ran in the primary as a Democrat and won the nomination with 70% of the vote. In the general election, Bright faced businessman and Republican state Rep. Jay Love. Both men served as deacons at the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, and they espoused nearly identical political views, including opposition to abortion rights and support for giving the president the line-item veto. Bright touted his conservative beliefs and independence from Democratic leaders, while Love attempted to associate Bright with national Democrats. He criticized Bright for accepting campaign donations from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and claimed Bright would support Pelosi’s liberal agenda. Love embraced the Republican Party and was the first congressional candidate to feature Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a televised campaign ad.
Everett tried to help Love by promoting the notion that Bright would have little influence as a member of the “Blue Dog” Coalition, a conservative Democratic group in the House that Bright said he would join. To counter those claims, Blue Dog leaders John Tanner of Tennessee and Allen Boyd of Florida stumped for Bright in the district. He also was endorsed by two prominent local Republicans, including Love’s chief opponent in the Republican primary. Love had the upper hand financially, pouring just under $1 million of personal money into the race and outspending Bright 2-to-1. But Bright’s name recognition as Montgomery mayor helped him throughout the district. He defeated Love by 1,790 votes—less than a single percentage point. His better-than-expected showing in the district’s Wiregrass area, the most conservative part of the district, swung the election in his favor.
In the House, Bright got seats on the Agriculture, Armed Services, and Small Business committees. In his first month on the job, he was one of only two Democrats to vote against a Democratic initiative to greatly expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. He also joined 10 other House Democrats in voting against President Obama’s economic stimulus bill.