In 2002, after being buzzed by a dope-hunting helicopter and harassed by a pack of narcotics officers hungry for a bust, Alabama housewife Loretta Nall wrote a letter to her local paper criticizing the marijuana laws. That got Nall a visit by the local drug squad and an arrest for possession of 87/100 of a gram of pot. And that helped turn Nall into a drug reform dynamo, as a reporter for Marc Emery's Vancouver-based Pot-TV and as founder of the US Marijuana Party. Late last month, Nall took aim at her home state capital, announcing that she is running for governor of Alabama in 2006.
While Nall continues to support marijuana legalization, she is not running under the US Marijuana Party banner, but as an independent with an eye on picking up the state Libertarian Party nomination. And while "drug policy and prison reform" is a primary campaign plank, it is certainly not the only one. In fact, Nall is staking out some uniquely Alabama political territory with a platform that mixes the weed with anti-Washington sentiment, Second Amendment rights, libertarian social ideas, and an anti-Iraq war position. Her platform, published on her web site is fairly succinct:
"There's a lot of black people in Alabama who understand states' rights is not just about George Wallace," she said. "They understand that the federal government is not their friend." And Nall does have some ties with black Alabama, having co-organized a march for prison reform with Montgomery radio personality Roberta Franklin, who went on to organize this year's national Journey for Justice to Washington. "I am known in the black community," she said. "I've been doing the morning radio show with Roberta for awhile, I've been working with black ministers in Montgomery, as well as folks down in Dothan, and I'm getting black people calling in volunteering to work on campaign literature distribution and ballot petitions."
Yes, ballot petitions. Alabama has one of the toughest ballot access laws in the nation, especially for independents and third parties. Democratic and Republican candidates for state office need the signatures of only 500 voters to gain ballot access, but independents need to garner 41,000 signatures just to get on the ballot. To keep that ballot access, independents or third parties must then win at least 20% of the votes in the next general election, or else its back to minor party purgatory.
With her campaign effort already gearing up and the three-month signature-gathering window not opening until early next year, Nall said she anticipated being able to pass that hurdle. "I am very confident I can the necessary signatures," she said.
In the meantime, Nall is looking forward to being part of the colorful cast of Alabama characters vying for the governorship. Former Democratic contender Don Siegelman, who was barely defeated by sitting Gov. Bob Riley, is being challenged by Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, while Riley is facing a fundamentalist insurgency led by former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore, who was kicked off the bench after refusing to obey a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse.
"With Roy Moore in the race, that gives me the chance to be the sane one," laughed Nall. "The Republicans will be busy trying to out-Jesus each other and the Democrats will be trying to out-socialist each other, and while they're dicking around with each other, I'll be talking to the voters. I'm conservative, but not religious, and my base understands that. And unlike Roy Moore, my platform is radical, but sane."
And if early press attention is any indicator, Nall will be noticed. "I've gotten good coverage so far. My local paper, the Alexander City Outlook, didn't run my press releases, but they did finally show up last week and I got an excellent article out of that," she said. "The Montgomery Advertiser has been good, and I did an interview yesterday with the Auburn Plainsman. And I also did an interview with the Associated Press, which will run in various papers across the state on Sunday. I've also been doing radio shows."
While Internet polls are notoriously unreliable, often demonstrating nothing more than the ability to engineer an email campaign, Nall can still enjoy a solid victory in the first such poll matching her against the four other contenders. In that poll, conducted by NBC-13, Nall led with 31%, followed by Baxley at 22% and Riley at 20%, with Moore and Siegelman both trailing with 14%.
Nall's low budget campaign will feature a walking tour of the state. The idea has historical resonance in the South, where Lawton Chiles won the governorship in Florida after a similar months-long stroll. In Alabama in the 1980s, a politician named Fob James rode a bus complete with goats and chickens across the state. He was later known as Gov. Fob James.