Three Republicans will face off during the June 3 Republican primary for state House District 102, although qualification questions swirl around one of the candidates.
Chris McNeil, a small business owner from Semmes, will seek the GOP nomination against nursery owner Jack Williams, of Georgetown, and Constable Anthony Clarkbanks.
McNeil qualified for the race to replace Chad Fincher. While a small piece of his property is in District 103, his residence is actually part of the 101st District, where he is also registered to vote.
McNeil said he belongs in the race because issues facing the 102nd District are close to his heart for a number of reasons.
“I am that district,” McNeil said. “I live in Semmes, I own a business in Semmes, I own property in Semmes, I attend church in Semmes and my daughter goes to school in that district. I am 110 percent District 102.”
McNeil said the state constitution allows for candidates who live in the county to run for a House district in the county, however Article IV, Section 47 is a little bit ambiguous.
“(Representatives and senators) shall have been citizens and residents of this state for three years and residents of their respective counties or districts for one year next before their election…and they shall reside in their respective counties or districts during their terms of office,” Article IV, Section 47 reads.
It is up to the state Republican Party whether to challenge McNeil’s qualification; McNeil said he believes the party will stay neutral.
“One reason we believe they will stay neutral is anytime there’s an open seat for any elected office normally you’d have four, five, or six people run,” he said. “If I was to be disqualified that would take this open seat down to two. The best thing the GOP can do in giving the people their right to vote is giving them the choice and letting them make that choice.”
Multiple calls to state GOP Chairman Bill Armistead went unreturned.
McNeil’s opponents are split on the issue. Clarkbanks said he’s “comfortable” with McNeil running, while Williams has an issue with it.
“I feel like if he doesn’t live there he shouldn’t be able to run there, but other than that we’ve been running our campaign not focusing on his campaign,” Williams said. “We don’t really care either way, you know if he runs or doesn’t run. Like I say, we’re paying attention to our campaign and running ours and not looking at other candidates right now.”
The candidates differed on how they felt the area had been represented in the past. While Williams and McNeil agreed that Fincher did a good job while in office, Clarkbanks disagreed and said the district hasn’t been represented well.
“I’m going by what the residents told me, not by what I know,” Clarkbanks said. “The people reflect your residents and they felt it wasn’t represented well. That’s the way it stands.”
The candidates disagreed on the biggest challenges facing small business in the area. Clarkbanks said there are very few challenges in Semmes right now and that if business comes in there “they’ll do fine,” but Citronelle, he said, is another story.
“At one time the population of Citronelle was high and now it’s low,” he said. “You’ve got to give the people more motivation and backing in Citronelle. You’ve got to bring something in.”
Williams said he believes the state should continue to keep taxes low in order to encourage business growth. He added that mandates attached to the Affordable Care Act would “kill” small business. McNeil said he didn’t know what the biggest issue was, but would work to find solutions if elected.
“When you put the right group of people in the room and you listen to the citizens you’ll come up with solutions that work for everybody,” McNeil said.
The candidates also shared different ideas on how to help create jobs in the district.
McNeil said the area should be opened up to prospective industry leaders.
“District 102 has everything that you need,” he said. “We have the infrastructure. We have the roads. We have the people. We have the people that are willing to work and are ready to come to work.”
Williams said he didn’t have a specific plan to help create jobs, but would use his experience in building a business to help make the best decisions possible.
“I’ve been in business all my life so I definitely know how to run a business,” Williams said. “So, I can look at it from that point of view. You know, we started out from nothing and built up from there, which is pretty big.”
Clarkbanks said he would use his connections from other areas of the country, including Atlanta to help bring in industry.
“I just know who to call and they come in and can look at the area and say what we can do,” Clarkbanks said.
The candidates share different views on term limits, while they agree on other statewide issues, like constitutional reform, or Medicaid expansion. McNeil said he supports term limits and doesn’t think he’d stay in office more than two consecutive terms, if elected.
“I think, you know, we bring in some new people and some new ideas,” McNeil said. “I think anytime you can get new and fresh ideas in there, we need to do that. There needs to be a change of leadership.”
Williams and Clarkbanks each said they don’t support term limits, but neither endorses the idea of being career politicians, either.
Each candidate supports Gov. Robert Bentley’s stance against accepting federal money for the expansion of Medicaid. None of the candidates believe a rewrite of the Alabama Constitution is a good idea.
McNeil said some aspects of the document could be changed, but “overall I’m happy with it,” he said. Clarkbanks and Williams both took a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality toward constitutional reform.
No Democrat has qualified to run for the District 102 seat, so the winner of the GOP primary will take the seat.