MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) — Alabama Democrats have new leadership for the first time in four years.
At the party’s meeting on Saturday, Huntsville pastor Randy Kelley was elected from a field of three candidates as the new Chair of the Alabama Democratic Party. He bested the president of the Alabama Young Democrats, Josh Coleman, and former congressional candidate, Tabitha Isner.
Kelley received 104 votes, enough to win without a runoff. Coleman earned 56 votes and Isner got 42 votes. State Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) did not seek another term.
Coleman, the LGBTQ+ liaison for Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and President of the Alabama Young Democrats, said he was backed by both his boss Woodfin and 2020 U.S. Senate nominee Will Boyd, as well as Huntsville City Councilman Devyn Keith.
Kelley’s other challenger, Isner, was elected vice chair.
In an interview with News 19 on Thursday, Kelley stated party officials were more enthusiastic than he was about him taking the job.
“They were more concerned about me getting in this position than I was,” he explained. “And I’ve never seen the type of passion and enthusiasm they had in terms of getting me elected as chairman of the party.”
Alabama Democrats have proven to be a divided party over the last decade. Kelley, a longtime activist, plans to lean on his social justice background to promote party unity and make a difference in Alabama.
As previously reported, the 2019 election that saw England and former state Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) sworn in as party leaders was contentious. Ahead of that vote, state Democrats voted to remove Nancy Worley and Kelley, who was serving as vice-chair at the time, from leadership.
Worley, who passed away last December, attempted to block the meeting from happening.
“Being chair of the party is something I looked forward to a few years ago,” Kelley said. “However, circumstances intervened and caused be to have some doubt. My ascension to this position is the culmination of a long struggle to give the people of Alabama an effective voice in national and state politics.”
At the 2019 meeting, the state Democratic Executive Committee also elected members to new minority caucuses, including groups for those 35 and under, Hispanic voters, LGBTQ+ voters, and Native Americans.
“The party has a lot of hard work to do, so it’s going to require collaboration like we’ve never seen before,” Isner wrote on Twitter. “There’s no better way to build trust than to work together on a shared goal.”
Kelley said there are challenges ahead for Alabama Democrats and unity must come first.
“The first thing we must do is unite the party, where possible, and recognize that there will always be honest disagreements,” he explained. “This party must extend a hand to everyone because this party must be loyal to the people of Alabama.”
Kelley, the pastor of Huntsville’s Lakeside United Methodist Church, laid out an agenda for the party moving forward. He listed issues like Social Security, public education, and supporting the right to vote.
“Historically, Alabama has voted across racial line, but hopefully we’re gonna wake the people up so they can vote across interests because we’re got more common interests that we have differences,” he stated.
Kelley has worked alongside some of the most notable civil rights activists and leaders in American history like Coretta Scott King, Congressman John Lewis, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. Kelley was even inducted into the Morehouse College of Pastors, an honor reserved for activists that exemplify the spirit and ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Kelley’s role as an activist pastor is what he believes gave the community the confidence to believe in him to get the job done.
“I am very ecumenical and very open and I believe in building coalitions,” said Kelley. “I tend to say everybody operating but very few people are cooperating. If we’re going to make progress, we have to cooperate.”
That cooperation, he says, begins in the Black community and encouraging people to vote.
“This party must look to the future and work for the betterment of the people of Alabama,” Kelley stated.
Read Kelley’s full statement here.