Political season is just beginning to warm up

Published 10:32am Wednesday, October 30, 2013

It’s been a long time since there was a competitive race for the Statehouse here in Elmore County. The last one I recall was the special race right after the venerable Jack Venable retired.

Barry Mask took “The Venable Seat” that year in a hard-fought battle with current Tallassee Mayor Bobby Payne. And in the years since, Mr. Mask was in control, with no major challenges for House District 31 and the title of Elmore County’s only resident lawmaker.

Now that Mask has moved on to find greener pastures – and then sell them, presumably, as CEO for the Alabama Realtors – it looks like a tight race is shaping up for the last few months of Mask’s term.

There are four Elmore County men who qualified to run as Republicans. No Democrat saw fit to throw his or her hat in the ring, understandably. Judging by the usual voting proportions – 70/30 percent in the GOP’s favor – there must be better ways to waste a few grand.

This field is of particular interest to me, since I’ve known three out of the four candidates for quite some time. Frank Bertarelli, Jimmy Collier and Mike Holmes are fixtures of the county’s political and business scenes.

Bertarelli is the well-known owner of ZAP Pest Control and the founder of the Anglers for Kids youth bass fishing program. Thousands of county residents likely know Jimmy Collier as the guy who talked them into that new Ford. And after retiring to the area after a successful career, Holmes became active in county Republican politics, including a stint as chairman of the Elmore County Republican Executive Committee that only ended when he decided to run. The fourth entrant, Tallassee attorney Michael Griggs, is a name well-known on the eastern end of the county and is president of the city’s chamber of commerce.

Griggs and I had an interesting conversation Monday, as I tried to get up to speed on the battle lines in this sprint to the Dec. 3 primary.

Expect ideological lines in this race to overlap a good bit. Expect to hear a lot about fiscal responsibility, business-friendly environments and taxpayer protection. The unpleasant tunes of burdensome taxes and regulation and politics-as-usual will probably be sung in unison by the quartet, as well.

It’s up to us as voters to find the issues that set each man apart. Where does he stand on home rule, whether limited or otherwise?

Rep. Mask got into shaky territory over gambling the last few years. He was openly against it, and proved as much with regard to the McGregor gambling empire. But the elephant in the room was the 20-story casino looming ever larger at the heart of his adopted hometown.

Where do the candidates stand on the gambling issue – both Indian and non – in this latest race for the Statehouse, especially as they all claim economic development and job creation in high-points of their websites?

What’s the best way to exploit the aquatic riches Elmore and Coosa counties possess for revenue and job creation?

How does Elmore County move from the top five in growth to dethrone Shelby County as number one?

Do any of us even want that?

There are dozens of other issues specific to residents of District 31, and its important not to make this a popularity contest with generic national conservative issues as background music.

And now that I’ve spilled 500 words about this race, do want to know the really funny part? There’s a chance that the winner of this race will never take his seat in the Statehouse. The 2014 Regular Session will be a month old when an almost certain primary runoff is held Jan. 28, 2014. And if a third-party or independent candidate pops up to force a general election March 25, that’ll be another two months before the 45,000-plus constituents of House District 31 get their voice in Montgomery.

Then the winner will get right back to campaigning, because the deadline to qualify for the 2014 election is just a few days later, April 4, with the non-special primary in early June.

And that’s just for House District 31. With Prattville State Sen. Bryan Taylor’s decision not to seek re-election in 2014, the race for Senate District 30 will start to heat up soon.

So if you’re already tired of political ads and poll-taking or vote-begging phone calls at dinner time, sorry. It’s going to be a long winter.


David D. Goodwin writes a weekly political column for The Wetumpka Herald.

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