Republican state Sen. Harri Anne Smith had a fundraising reception Tuesday night in Enterprise for her campaign for the AL-02 Congressional seat. A noteworthy name on the Host Committee list was developer Ronnie Gilley.
This session Smith introduced a bill to reverse regulations allowing electronic bingo at Gilley’s Country Crossing development without a vote of the people.
From the Alabama Baptist:
“My personal stance is this is not bingo this is gambling, and I am opposed to any form of gambling,” said Smith, a member of First Baptist Church, Slocomb.
“When the citizens of any community face a political and moral issue as significant and important as whether or not to allow a casino into their county, the people not the elected officials should have the right to make the decision,” she said. “The people should have had a voice in this, and that’s what we are trying to give them.”
But her bill was said to put the future of the development in doubt and in 11 days Smith changed her mind. In an awkward reversal, Smith announced that she was asking that her bill be “stopped, permanently.”
Last month, developer Ronnie Gilley stood on the opposite side of the issue, but this week he is a member of the Host Committee for her fundraising reception.
“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.” – attributed to Alexandre Ledru-Rollin during the French Revolution of 1848.
The whole episode is reminiscent of Smith’s party switch in 1998.
Smith had been quite the active Democrat. She was President of the Geneva County Democratic Club. For the state Democratic Party, she served on a Small Business Roundtable that actively sought to engage small business owners in the Democratic Party.
Ken Walker, Democratic Party County Chair of Dale County, remembers when Harri Anne Smith switched. “I got a call from the E.D. [Executive Director] of the Democratic Party saying we had to have a Senate candidate right away and could I find somebody that would run. [Democratic state Senator] Chip Bailey was going to switch parties and run as a Republican, and we didn’t have much time to find a candidate. I thought of Sheriff Lamar Glover and called him to ask if he knew of someone. He calls me back to say Mac Palmer will run. So I call the E.D. back in about an hour to say we have somebody.”
“‘No, no, no,’ he says. ‘We have to wait. Harri Anne Smith is trying to decide if she is going to run as a Republican or a Democrat. I said, ‘No, we already have somebody. You asked me to find somebody, and I already talked to him.’
“‘No, no, no,’ he says. ‘We need to wait to see what Harri Anne Smith is going to do.’ I said, ‘No, I gave my word to Mac Palmer, and the way I was raised I don’t go back on my word. She can run if she wants to, but Mac Palmer is our guy.’
Smith ended up running as a Republican against the incumbent Chip Bailey, and I asked Walker if he thought Smith would have run as a Democrat if she could have had a clear primary field.
“No. The Republicans were mad at Chip Bailey. The Dothan folks, Saliba and those folks. They told her they would support her with a lot of money if she ran as a Republican against Bailey. It wasn’t about ideology or political stances. She had a chance to get a lot of money supporting her, and so that’s what she did.
“I always teased her after that, that she was on the wrong side. She had always been so active with the Democrats. Came from a big Democratic familiy. Her daddy was a big Democrat. I really hated to see her go.”
Another south Alabama Democratic party activist tells essentially the same story about when she switched. “These folks were going to back her if she ran against Bailey as a Republican. It didn’t have anything to do with party positions or anything like that. She had a chance for a big win, and she took it.”
“She was close to Siegelman for a while. Her daddy was a big Wallace man. We watched her grow up active in the Party. It really broke my heart to see her go. Not just mine. Broke a lot of people’s hearts.”
She defeated the incumbent Bailey and won the seat. But after she was elected, she gave thought to switching back to the Democratic Party. Giles Perkins, then the Democratic Executive Director, has been known to tell the tale of driving down to the Wiregrass to meet with Sen. Smith to discuss it as she, in his telling, thought seriously about switching back.
The common thread here is the demonstration of expediency over ideology. Her critics would see it as a weakness, her supporters would see it as a strength. Ronnie Gilley sees it as a $250-300 million development, and for that, he’d see you at Harri Anne Smith’s fundraiser.