By Mike Cason
The Alabama Democratic Party today elected Huntsville pastor Randy Kelley as the party chair.
Kelley, a longtime leader in the party, replaces Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa, who did not seek another term. Kelley had the support of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the party’s dominant Black political organization led by Joe Reed.
The election of Kelley appeared to be a reassertion of the influence of Reed and the ADC. Reed had opposed changes in party leadership and bylaws that were approved in 2019.
Kelley, pastor of Lakeside United Methodist Church in Huntsville, thanked a cheering crowd for their support and said he was blessed to be in a party that he said stood for biblical values about helping the poor.
“I personally know that we’re more in line with what Jesus stood for,” Kelley said “He was for the least of these. And our opposition is for the most wealthy of these.”
“And also this is a party of diversity,” Kelley said.
Kelley received 104 votes. Josh Coleman, deputy director of the division of social justice and racial equity for the city of Birmingham, finished second with 56 votes. Tabitha Isner of Montgomery, who was the party’s nominee in the 2nd Congressional District four years ago, finished third with 42 votes.
Isner was later elected vice chair today.
The vote came at the meeting of the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. It was the SDEC’s first meeting since electing England as chair in November 2019. That was after more than a year of sharp disagreement between factions of the party.
England replaced Chair Nancy Worley, who had led the party since 2013. Worley died in December.
Kelley was first vice chair under Worley and was also replaced during the party split that culminated in the November 2019 meeting.
Kelley, 70, said he has been working in the party since the 1970s. He said his goals would include mobilizing more young people and encouraging them to take on more important roles and promoting diversity.
“Diversity is our strength,” Kelley said. “And the future generation, the young people have been totally neglected. I would like to see them in substantive leadership positions in the party. And I’m going to promote it; I’m going to encourage it.”
The Republican Party has dominated for more than a decade and holds every statewide office and about three-fourths of the seats in the Legislature. Democrats have no candidate on the ballot in seven statewide races in November.
“We’ve got to do a better job in organizing our communities,” Kelley said. “And we’ve got to do a better job in fundraising. And I think that those are some weak areas in our party.
“We work too much in silos and we can do a whole lot collaboratively, in a collaborative way. And that’s what I believe in, building coalitions. Because we’ve got much more in common than we have in differences.”
Kelley was on a slate of candidates nominated by the ADC that consistently won elections this afternoon for vacant seats on the committee.
Before electing Kelley as chair, the committee took a long recess mid-afternoon and disagreement surfaced over the reason for the delay.
Reed said it was a stalling tactic that came in response to what appeared to the ADC’s dominant influence in how the votes were going. England disputed that and said it was an issue being resolved in the party’s youth caucus. England said it was not his intention to delay the meeting but wanted to get it right.
The meeting resumed shortly before 4 p.m.
The first order of business after the meeting resumed was to add at-large members from the party’s diversity caucuses representing youth (under 36), Hispanic, LGBTQ+, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American. The diversity caucuses were created under new party bylaws that passed in 2019.
The party added 41 at-large members to the youth caucus, seven to the Hispanic caucus, five to the LGBTQ+ caucus, and one each to the Native American, disabled, and Asian/Pacific Islander caucuses.
The committee then moved on to electing officers. Reed nominated Kelley and talked about Kelley’s extensive experience as a party official. It took a majority to win without a runoff, and Kelley narrowly cleared that threshold, receiving 104 of the 202 votes.