With Roy Moore’s attempt at the U.S. Senate and a gubernatorial sex scandal that ended in Robert Bentley’s resignation, Alabama politics has become something of a national spectacle.
Led by three Auburn University alumni, Young Alabama is a conservative group with a podcast and blog that intends to amplify the youthful voices of the state with a tumultuous recent past.
“I think this past election showed that young people maybe have a slightly different idea of how politics should look stepping forward,” said 26-year-old law student and Young Alabama President David Wisdom. “Stepping away from the Roy Moore type candidates, we want more pragmatic candidates that can win elections.”
In the 2017 special election, Democrat Sen. Doug Jones captured 60 percent of voters aged 18 to 29, according to exit polls from The Washington Post.
Though the leadership team are all conservative and affiliated with local Republican organizations, Wisdom said Young Alabama isn’t necessarily going to tow the Alabama Republican Party’s line.
“We do want to work with all Alabamians, and we do want to work to push policy that’s for the betterment of the whole state, not just highlight what Republicans are doing,” he said. “Just because an idea came from the other side, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.”
While an undergraduate student at Auburn, Wisdom met fellow conservative Michael Bullington, who is now Young Alabama’s executive director, through the University’s student government.
“(Wisdom and I) became really good friends and got to know a lot of other people, particularly Auburn grads, who were kind of fed up with the ineptitude that seemed to surround certain areas of state politics and state government,” the 23-year-old Bullington said. “A couple of years ago, we started talking about how we ought to do something to get young people more involved because we would constantly hear these sort of patronizing tones and attitudes about how we’re young.”
One of those Auburn grads was another SGA veteran, Collier Tynes, 27, who witnessed a recent Alabama political scandal from a unique perspective. Tynes was the chief of staff to former Alabama First Lady Dianne Bentley when she filed for divorce from the governor after discovering his affair with a staffer.
Collier said she’s used the skills she learned working in SGA during her four years at Auburn to navigate through Alabama politics and her subsequent career at a nonprofit in Birmingham and as vice president of Young Alabama.
“I have really seen some disheartening situations over the past four years,” Collier said. “There needed to be some sort of platform for the policy wonks who want to talk about solutions to actual problems.”
A few months ago, Wisdom and Bullington started recording a podcast akin to a local conservative version of “Pod Save America,” a liberal political podcast hosted by young former Obama staffers.
Guests on the Young Alabama podcast include Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill and former Alabama GOP chairman Bill Armistead.
Bullington said he views the Republican Party as a “big tent” — a phrase often used to describe the more demographically diverse Democratic Party — with room to grow if it is able to get past the “overly nostalgic” views held by some, often older, leaders.
In its infancy and without specific policy stances finalized, Young Alabama is gearing up for the 2018 Alabama Legislature session that began on Tuesday with ideas more moderate than what the Republican Party in one of the nation’s most conservative state holds.
“We’ve been talking about things like mental health training for teachers,” Bullington said. “One thing I really care about is municipal consolidation in the metro [Birmingham] area. These aren’t big, sexy issues or anything, but it’s the small incremental pragmatic steps that can make a huge difference in the long run.”
The leaders of Young Alabama haven’t fled the state with a political leadership they think so poorly of — Bullington said he thinks Auburn’s SGA could run the state as well as the Legislature — even in the wake of the Senate election, when Moore, a man who made bigoted comments about numerous minority groups, still received over 48 percent of the vote.
Instead, they have doubled down and see the recent political climate as an opportunity to reform their home state.
“When people say disparaging things about my home, I know there are great people who live here; I know there are great things about Alabama, that I love — I never want to leave, I love this state,” Wisdom said. “When people say bad things about my state, I don’t think of it as, ‘Oh, we have a sucky place to live,’ I think of it as, ‘We’ve got work to do.’”