If you were wondering how Alabama could possibly top the tawdry, successive sagas of "Luv Gov" Robert Bentley and "teen dream" Roy Moore, a shuttered nonprofit and a retiring state representative may have just delivered the thing you were waiting for.
Republican Kay Ivey, who replaced Bentley after his resignation over a sex scandal and cover-up, is trying to win a full term in the governor's mansion. She leads in both polls and fundraising.
But now Ivey is getting hit with inflammatory accusations from both sides of the sex-and-gender culture war, and she is pushing back hard. Here is everything you need to know about Alabama's juicy new political scandal.
1 - It started with an anti-violence organization
Free2Be is an LGBTQ organization which works "to address Intimate Partner Violence, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Bullying, and other forms of violence which damage all of us as individuals and as a society," according to their website. Services include "free counseling, support groups, and public advocacy" that are "designed to meet the culturally specific needs of LGBTQ people."
On Tuesday, Scott Dawson, an evangelical pastor and June 5 primary opponent of Ivey, criticized $1.7 million in state funding that Free2Be has received since 2014, saying that the arrangement had "betrayed Alabama values" by promoting "lifestyle activities." Via AL.com:
"This grant is about selective rights," Dawson said. "The seriousness of this grant is we have placed one world view over another. To put the shoe on another foot, it would be like if I were governor and gave state taxes to a ministry that I personally support - Focus on the Family. If I gave them taxpayer dollars in excess of $800,000, it would cause an uproar across the state."
Get that? In Dawson's eyes, a hate group that works against equality for LGBTQ citizens is exactly like an organization that talks people out of suicide. By that measure, anti-violence organizations in the African American community are exactly like the Klan.
2 - Ivey got "outed" for throwing Free2Be under the bus
In response to her opponent, Gov. Ivey blamed federal mandates related to the grant program overseen by ADECA. "I certainly don't agree with the agenda or the values of that organization," Ivey told AL.com.
Ivey's quote seems to have set off Rep. Patricia Todd, an openly-lesbian state representative, who tweeted her displeasure on Tuesday night.
"Will someone out her for God's sake....I have heard for years that she is gay and moved her girlfriend out of her house when she became Gov. I am sick of closeted elected officials," Todd wrote.
A Democrat, Todd has removed the comment from her Facebook page but stood by her words this morning. "I hate hypocrites," she added in an interview with John Archibald of the Birmingham News.
Todd said she has long heard rumors of Ivey's personal life. Asked if she had personal knowledge or proof, she said "ask her directly if she has ever had a relationship with a woman."
Todd has locked her Twitter account but here is a screenshot.
3 - Ivey denies reports of a lesbian relationship
Within hours of Todd's tweet, Ivey issued a statement denying the rumor.
"This most recent personal attack against me is beyond disgraceful. It's a disgusting lie being pushed by a paid left wing liberal political operative," she wrote. "There is absolutely no truth to it. It's false. It's wrong. It's a bald faced lie. And I'm not gonna let them get away with it. Whether these attacks are malicious or ignorant or both -- they represent everything that's wrong with politics today."
Ivey specifically denied being in a lesbian relationship while she was lieutenant governor, calling Todd's tweet an "attack" on her "good name and character" in an interview Wednesday morning with NBC affiliate WVTM 13.
An Ivey campaign spokeswoman called the rumor "a disgusting lie being pushed by a paid liberal political hack."
4 - Todd is being criticized for outing Ivey
The act of "outing" conservative politicians has always been problematic and deeply controversial in LGBTQ communities. Todd's tweet drew swift rebuke from other people who share her concern for these issues, but who disagree with her reaction to Ivey's handling of the Free2Be story.
Openly gay or not, how does a political leader not realize the shitty implications of openly and actively advocating for OUTING a person!?
— idiot_girl (@idiot_girl) May 16, 2018
In a Facebook post Tuesday night, drag queen and activist Ambrosia Starling wrote "While Alabama Republicans fight to see who can treat minorities the worst, one of my LGBT community just showed how bullying is DONE #brokenhearted"
Any political damage to Todd will be limited, however. She is retiring from the legislature, which is no longer in session, and has already accepted a new position leading an LGBTQ organization in Orlando, Florida.
"I'll catch some flak for it," an unrepentant Todd tells Archibald. "But I feel a responsibility -- not as the 'head queer' -- to hold people accountable."
5 - There are other rumors about Ivey
Todd is not lying that persistent rumors about Ivey have circulated for years, though they remain just that -- unsubstantiated rumors. "It's never been a secret in Montgomery," a prominent civil rights activist tells me on condition of anonymity. "The 2nd worst kept secret to (ex-governor) Bentley's girlfriend."
So far, no source with direct knowledge has stepped forward to confirm the story on the record. Yet it is worth noting that this is not the only widespread personal rumor about Kay Ivey.
Dawson is a male, and a Republican. He used a dog whistle this morning when he went after Gov. Ivey for spending money on a gay rights organization. His attack was without merit, but it served it's purpose of getting the gossip that Ivey was gay into public attention.
— Elizabeth Potter Graham JD (@Ms_Liz2) May 16, 2018
Ivey's primary opponents seem happy to play around the edges of all this gossip. Dawson's swipe may have been meant to invoke the rumors about her sexuality. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Ivey's top challenger, recently accused her of attending too many cocktail parties, which is perhaps a shaded reference to her supposed drunkenness.
Of course, it's possible that none of these rumors is true -- that Kay Ivey is a victim of the same misogynistic tropes about powerful women that assailed Hillary Clinton. However, it's also possible that the 2018 Alabama gubernatorial race will be yet another nationwide embarrassment for the Heart of Dixie.