By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
A month after embattled Republican Roy Moore lost a safe Republican Senate to Democrat Doug Jones, a group of young conservatives hopes to provide a platform for young leaders, perhaps disenchanted with politics on both sides of the aisle, to speak up and get involved in the future of the state.
The founders of Young Alabama, a growing group that currently hosts a podcast and blog, also called “Young Alabama,” want to provide a seat for young people at the table in political conversations guiding the state’s path. Between hosting prominent young conservatives to media personalities, Young Alabama intends to provide an outlet for young leaders and “young-minded” leaders to bring new and bright ideas to the forefront of political discussion and debate.
“We want to invite young people to that seat,” said David Wisdom, president of Young Alabama. “We want to be a resource for legislators to assess what young people are thinking about and be a resource for young people to communicate to higher-ups and those involved in the political process.”
Wisdom, 26, who is finishing his final semester at Cumberland School of Law, and Collier Tynes, 27, vice president of Young Alabama, who served as chief of staff to former First Lady, Dianne Bentley, both of whom have held leadership positions in the Young Republican Federation of Alabama or the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans, identify as Christian conservatives and have been consistent Republican voters. But the ALGOP’s continued support of Moore, despite several accusations of sexual assault, served as a catalyst for Wisdom and Tynes to start the new group.
“This election is a wake-up call for ALGOP,” Wisdom said. “This election and the things that have happened in the last few months can make ALGOP the best it’s ever been. But if they decide to go after each other, they’re not going to be successful in 2018. We take this as a learning opportunity.”
The Greater Birmingham Young Republicans became the first Republican organization in the state to pull its endorsement of Moore in November, just weeks after the allegations surfaced. The next day, the Young Republican Federation of Alabama did the same, censuring Moore and pulling their support. While the two largest young Republican groups in the state pulled their support, no prominent Republican leaders spoke out against Moore and the state party, led by the ALGOP Steering Committee, stood by Moore until the end.
Tynes said the election accentuated a generational void between a large group of younger Republican voters whom she says prefer quiet, more moderate pragmatism and often older Republicans who prefer Moore’s brand of outspoken, firebrand social conservatism.
“That entire situation really highlighted the void,” Tynes said. “It’s always been there but it just kind of came to a head. We realized there needs to be an organized group and consistent voice for the young and young at heart.”
That void was nowhere more clear than in Madison, Lee and Tuscaloosa counties, which boast large young and college-educated populations and the state’s largest universities. Jones was able to flip all three counties from red to blue, decimating President Donald Trump’s 2016 leads, which ranged from 16 percentage points in Madison County to nearly 22 percentage points in Lee County. Jones won all three counties by about 16 percentage points.
In the first few months of the U.S. Senate election, before any allegations surfaced against Moore, Wisdom and 23-year-old Michael Bullington, executive director and a co-host of the “Young Alabama” podcast who considers himself a staunch conservative and pro-life Republican, directed their frustration with the race into the new podcast — the start of what would turn “hot take from young guys about #ALPolitics” into a fledgling political organization.
“This election was kind of a rallying point and a wake-up call for a lot of people who were just sitting by and accepting that somehow the best outcome would happen,” Bullington said. “That doesn’t always happen, and that’s where maybe if people had spoken up more, at several steps along the way, then this election wouldn’t have happened or it might have played out differently.”
Bullington, Wisdom and Tynes are all graduates of Auburn University with deep ties, particularly for their age, to the Alabama Republican Party. None of the three have backed away from the party. They say they just want change, and change for the better.
“We need to look at what these younger Republicans are saying and what these more moderate Republicans are a saying and move on from there and really up the conversation within the party,” Wisdom said. “How can we take into account this rising generation who are going to be a bigger voting bloc than Baby Boomers ever thought about being?”
The scene for political activism among Millinneal-age voters in Alabama is already lively, and there are other active organizations vying for young politicos’ attention, from Young Republicans and Democrats, College Democrats and Republicans, to the left-leaning Indivisible, libertarian Young Americans For Liberty and the non-partisan No Labels.
Bullington says Young Alabama can not only be an Alabama-centered group but one that’s open to both parties and all ages, encompassing not only those who are young in age but also “young at heart” and “young in thought.”
“This isn’t aiming to take away from Young Republicans or College Republicans. I was involved in both,” Bullington said. “This is non-partisan with a focus on better leadership overall, better people and not limited to a certain age group. When we say young, it’s a state of mind and a policy perspective.”
While the three say it would be dishonest to say the group’s membership isn’t mostly Republican, Wisdom said he wants his organization to “work with everyone” and “come up with solutions that help the entire state.” Bullington said they aren’t afraid to work and alongside Democrats.
“We need a better Democratic Party to have a better Republican Party and a better state overall because competition builds better results,” Bullington said. “Just because a Democrat has an idea, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
The group, between their blog and their podcast, will highlight the ideas they deem brightest, strongest and most innovative, Tynes said. That may include endorsements or interviews that could provide the group a leadership opportunity not available to the Young Democrats and Young Republicans, which aren’t allowed to endorse primary candidates.
“We don’t have to worry about towing the party line if we face another circumstance where the party is not being intellectually consistent with its values,” Tynes said. “We hope Young Alabama can provide a consistent voice of pragmatic, innovative leaders and leadership that I believe are in touch with the majority of Alabama voters.”