Nowhere in South Alabama are campaign contributions flooding in more than in Baldwin County, where rapid growth and a booming tourism industry have fostered consequential political races for both the County Commission and the State Legislature.
While voters countywide can cast ballots for all four seats on the County Commission, the candidates for Senate District 32 and House District 64 will only appear on ballots in the precincts within those districts.
More than $583,000 has been funneled into the race for Senate District 32, where the resignation of Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Trip Pittman will leave Baldwin County with one fewer senior voice in Montgomery, in a particularly vital role. Pittman, who was first elected to the seat in 2007, also sat on eight other legislative committees.
The district includes all of the Eastern Shore and South Baldwin County, along with Magnolia Springs, Perdido Beach, Elberta, Foley, Summerdale, Silverhill and portions of Loxley.
Four Republican candidates are vying for the seat in the primary election June 5; the winner will face Democrat Jason Fisher in the November general election.
Jeff Boyd is a two-term Orange Beach city councilman and also serves on the Orange Beach Medical Authority. Professionally, he is a specialist in infection-prevention technologies with the Steris Corp. who said he decided to pursue the Senate seat after building relationships in Montgomery and Washington, D.C., for several projects in the Orange Beach area.
“My support has been incredible,” he said. “We have more than 45 volunteers making phone calls, door knocking … almost all my contributions are personal, individual contributions in the $5 to $20 range. I have been offered PAC money but I’ve declined it.”
Boyd has reported $98,100 in contributions to the Secretary of State’s office.
“For me this campaign is all about growth … people are scared to death of growth so we have to manage it better,” he said. “We’re losing a third of the Senate and a third of the House in this election and who we send [to Montgomery] will be a most crucial vote. We need to send people up there who can build consensus and command respect and get Baldwin County what it deserves.”
Boyd said he’s been instrumental in securing road-widening and paving projects, the dredging of Perdido Pass, establishing a “Leave Only Footprints” beach campaign and extending the recreational red snapper fishing season.
Chris Elliott has represented the Eastern Shore on the Baldwin County Commission since 2014. He is a principal or partner in three eponymous, family-owned businesses focused on real estate development, construction and disaster recovery.
Elliott has reported $248,725 in campaign contributions to the Secretary of State’s office since June 2017, which were largely individuals until political action committees began contributing in April.
“The support from the community has been outstanding both financially and at their front door,” Elliott said of his campaign. “I have been completely humbled at the response I’ve gotten going door-to-door across the district over the last two months.”
Elliott also emphasized the importance of fair representation in Montgomery.
“Baldwin County raises a lot of money for the state of Alabama with our tourism. We generate by far the largest amount of tourism income. Montgomery wants us to bring in more money but we are going to need to demand that Montgomery start picking up a little more of the expenses, including more frequent road work, infrastructure repair and improvements to our amenities that are being used up by the tourist coming to Alabama.”
In regard to the PAC money, Elliott said his challengers were given the same opportunities to support the related associations and organizations, but “I am honored that they chose to support me over the other candidates in this race.”
Speaking specifically of the local political action committees, Elliott said, “In almost every instance they interviewed at least three and in some all four candidates and they can tell you why they chose me in almost every instance. I can tell you I was surprised because in some instances I refused to make commitments and I know that some of my answers were not what they wanted to hear, and yet they ended up choosing to support me anyway, which I take as a huge compliment.”
David Northcutt is a dentist who along with his wife, Dr. Tracy Northcutt, has opened dental practices in Daphne, Bay Minette, Semmes and two in the Birmingham area, together employing about 12 doctors and 120 employees.
“I’m the only one running who is not a politician,” he said. “The heart of the campaign is we’re trying to fight for the citizens of Baldwin County. Between Mobile and Baldwin counties we have around 10 percent of the population but we’re approaching nearly 30 percent of the revenue generated for the entire state … Baldwin in particular is paying way more than its fair share. I’ll be fighting to keep those resources in Baldwin County … we don’t need to be continuing to fund the rest of the state.”
Northcutt suggested a combination of budget reform, tax reform and spending cutbacks.
He has reported $207,970 in contributions to the Secretary of State’s office, with “the vast majority coming from Mobile and Baldwin counties,” he said.
Bill Roberts is a retired human resources professional who served a single term in the state House of Representatives, from 2010-2014. A resident of Foley, Roberts has reported $29,057 in contributions to the Secretary of State’s office.
Unavailable for an interview prior to press time, Roberts’ campaign website lists infrastructure, the promotion of tourism, government reform and education as priorities.
Baldwin County Commission
Elliott’s absence from the Baldwin County Commission would pave the way for either John Lake or Joe Davis to win the Republican primary election and face Democrat Amber Smith in November’s general election. Lake was on the Daphne City Council for 24 years before running for mayor in 2016, when he lost to appointed incumbent Dane Haygood.
Davis, who moved to Daphne in 2006, was appointed to the City Council after mayor Bailey Yelding’s death in 2013. Davis briefly resigned from the council in 2015 because of “political” fallout related to the initial rejection of a technology park development in Daphne, but he was duly elected to the council in 2016.
“I’m running for the job itself, not against or a part of some point of view,” Davis said this week. “I’m just getting out there and telling my story and letting people know I’m looking at the challenges we have and know we have an opportunity to improve the status quo.”
He defended his brief resignation from the City Council as an act to “draw attention to the political nature and hypocrisy” of the council’s vote. When it came before the council a second time two years later, the DISC technology park was unanimously approved.
“It was corporate welfare,” Lake said of DISC, which he voted against at the time. He later left the Daphne City Council to run a mayoral campaign, which was unsuccessful.
“What I’ve been hearing on the road for years are people are concerned about the growth and how it is being managed and they are tired of it,” Lake said. “Developers have been allowed for years to build and build and build and the residents are on the hook for nearly all improvements to infrastructure … Citizens have to pay for it when we’re not the ones who are creating the problem.”
The County Commission race is less attractive to donors, but money is still being spent. Lake has reported roughly $12,500 to the Secretary of State’s office compared to Davis’ $22,500
District 3 incumbent Tucker Dorsey has reported $84,170 in contributions. He faces primary challenges from Will McDaniel and Billie Jo Underwood, who have reported contributions totaling $358 and $40,216, respectively.
In District 1, longtime commissioner Frank Burt is seeking re-election to his ninth term on the commission, having served every term since the 1988 election. Burt has served on numerous boards and panels during his 29 years of service.
Running against him is Jeb Ball, who served in the Baldwin COunty District Attorney’s office from 1998-2007. He later founded Baldwin Substance Abuse Services Inc., a company certified by the Administrative Office of Courts to provide court-ordered Level 1, Level 2 and educational classes involving drug- or alcohol-related crimes.
In District 4, Orange Beach Councilman Jerry Johnson is seeking to beat three-term incumbent Skip Gruber.
Financial reports and additional news stories and profiles of the candidates are available on lagniappemobile.com/series/election-2018.