A state House candidate in Semmes will ask the Mobile County Circuit Court to overturn a decision by the state Republican Executive Committee to disqualify him from the June 3 Republican Primary based on a residency issue.
Chris McNeil and his attorney Al Agricola filed suit late Friday against party leaders, asking for a hearing on the subject of the Semmes candidate’s eligibility to run for office in District 102. The suit asks the court to force party leaders to count the votes that come in for McNeil, whose name will remain on the ballot because it’s too late to remove it.
“We hope to be in court this week,” McNeil said. “I think a victory would be a big push for the campaign.”
The state party disqualified McNeil from the primary on May 2 after Mobile County GOP chairwoman Terry Lathan challenged McNeil’s residency. McNeil’s residence is on the District 101 side of Howell’s Ferry Road, the dividing line between the two districts.
Although he’s registered to vote in District 101, McNeil has maintained that a portion of his property extends into District 102. Also he has said he owns a business in the district, goes to church in the district and his daughter attends school in the district.
Lathan, who is named in the suit along with state party Chairman Bill Armistead, said she received a copy of the complaint via email, and initially declined to comment saying “I don’t think it would be wise for me comment since I’m a named defendant.” She did call the suit “an interesting scenario.”
“At the end of the day it doesn’t change his residency,” Lathan said. “Then again, he has a right to file a challenge.”
A call to state GOP General Counsel Colin Luke went unreturned.
The suit lists of number of reasons why the GOP’s decision to invalidate McNeil’s candidacy should be considered null and void. In one example, the suit argues that McNeil is considered eligible by state law.
The suit cites Section 47 of the Alabama Constitution where it states senators and representatives “shall have been citizens and residents of this state for three years and residents of their respective counties or districts” for a year prior to the election.
McNeil has been a resident of Mobile County for a year before the November election; therefore he’s qualified to seek election in District 102, according to the suit.
Also at issue in the suit is the opportunity the GOP’s decision gives to disenfranchise voters in the district.
“The most egregious thing for the party is picking and choosing who they want in office and not letting the people decide,” McNeil said. “It’s not fair to the voters.”
Scarlett O. Morgan, a voter in the district, is also named as a plaintiff in the suit. The suit claims that the party’s decision to boot McNeil from the primary slate will violate Morgan’s right to vote.
“I think it’s a shame that the GOP is taking a position that will necessarily disenfranchise voters,” Agricola said.
The suit also argues the decision to disqualify McNeil was influenced by Jerry Lathan, Terry’s husband being on the committee that ultimately decided it.
Through counsel, McNeil requested that Jerry Lathan recuse himself, according to the suit. Jerry Lathan didn’t recuse himself from consideration of the challenge.
“We say the whole process was tainted by Jerry Lathan, whose wife made the complaint,” Agricola said. “It was either create domestic intranquility, or vote against my guy.”
Agricola will argue the party’s decision to disqualify his client was unfair and he will site examples. The suit uses examples from two similar challenges in other parts of the state that focus on residency issues.
In February of this year, Rickey Lynn Stokes and Sandra Walden filed a challenge to the qualification of Ron Wilson, based on residency, according to the suit. Later that month, the state party heard a challenge of Wilson’s candidacy by Ruth Nelson, based on his support of Democratic candidates. The party ruled against the Nelson challenge, but never heard the residency challenge.
Agricola said in the case of Wilson’s residency, he had listed the address of a hotel in Dothan as his residence.
“That evidence was never presented,” Agricola said.
McNeil’s attorney claims the reason Wilson is still a candidate in the Dothan area is because he’s black.
“The Republican Party has gone to great lengths to publicize the fact it’s started to recruit minority candidates,” Agricola said. “Taking him off the ballot would have been very negative.”
In another example from May 6, Baron Coleman filed a challenge to the candidacy of House District 61’s Samuel Alan Harper, according to the suit. The state GOP Candidate Committee voted to not hear the challenge.
“The refusal to hear the challenge to the candidacy of Ron Wilson filed by Rickey Lynn Stokes and Sandra Walden, the refusal to hear the challenge to the candidacy of Alan Harper, and the disqualification of petitioner Chris McNeil by the Candidate Committee of the Alabama State Republican Executive Committee constitute unequal, arbitrary and capricious applications of the residency requirement set out in Section 47 of the Alabama Constitution,” the suit reads. “The result of these three decisions by the Candidate Committee of the Alabama State Republican Executive Committee is that qualified electors in Alabama House of Representatives districts 61 and 85 will have their votes counted in the June 3, 2014 Republican primary election for candidates who do not live within the boundaries of their respective House districts, but qualified electors in Alabama House of Representative District 10-2 will not have their votes counted if they case their votes for Chris McNeil, who does not live within the boundaries of HD 102.”
Agricola said the committee’s decision on the other candidate’s residency challenges “doesn’t make any sense.”
“That’s something we’re going to explore,” he said. “Favoritism is one possibility.”