After 10 years in office, Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson is running for her third full term, but to get there she’ll have to win a GOP primary race against challenger Robert Lee Turner — a Chunchula man running a campaign that he says is “all about property rights.”
Speaking with Lagniappe, Turner expressed grave concerns about the permitting and inspection process for new construction and improvements to residential or commercial properties. In unincorporated areas, those permits are issued, overseen and inspected by Mobile County’s Public Works Department.
To Turner, those permitting requirements shouldn’t apply to private property and enforcing them is an intrusion on his personal liberties and an overreach by the county government. He’s running on the platform of reining in those county departments and, if needed, abolishing them altogether.
“It boils down to this: They can vote for me and they’ll be voting for liberty and freedom, or don’t vote for me and they’re voting [for] socialism and dictatorships run by unelected bureaucrats,” Turner said. “If I get in there, I’m going to take [the] stinger out their tail. They’re going to be servants of the people, and if they don’t want to do that, I’ll abolish them and give them a recommendation to Russia or China.”
While Turner said he understands the requirement for building standards on the interstate system or other state or federal properties, he likened county permitting requirements on private property to a broader erosion of freedoms and liberties in the U.S. — describing them as “communist” and “socialist.”
“The government has got no business micromanaging everything that we do or want to do,” Turner added. “We’re getting so far away from our founding principles. I imagine if the [founding fathers] were here, they’d be calling for another revolution to turn this country around.”
Born in Virginia, Turner has spent the past 57 years in Mobile County. He attended college at The University of Southern Mississippi, but did not finish school. Instead, he and his wife settled on a bit of farmland in Chunchula. Turner is currently retired after working 32 years for Scott Paper Company.
It’s worth noting that every property in Alabama is subject to statewide building codes and most counties and cities have adopted their own set of standards on top of those.
Hudson said she’s discussed some of Turner’s concerns about county building codes with him before, and told him the commission is only adhering to international building codes that every governmental entity “basically has to” adopt in order to protect citizens and avoid potential legal liability.
“There’s a responsibility to make sure things are built to a certain standard,” she said. “That’s to protect consumers, businesses, homeowners and the people who actually do the work.”
As for her campaign, Hudson has been somewhat quiet, but speaking with Lagniappe last week, she touted some of projects she has championed during two and half terms in office as well as the improvements the county has seen since she was first elected to the commission in 2010.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress in terms of economic development, public safety, public services, road infrastructure and recreation,” Hudson said. “I think we’ve really accomplished a lot, and I think the future is bright. I want the opportunity to continue serving the citizens I represent.”
Specifically, she mentioned the addition of recreation centers for seniors in his district, like the one named after her in West Mobile and the Semmes Senior Center. Hudson also noted projects she’s spearheaded that have had a countywide impact like the Mobile County Soccer Complex, the Mobile County Recycling Center and the purchase and renovation of the Escatawpa Hollow Park and Campground.
Hudson said the commission has been able to leverage grant funding and bond initiatives and tackle large scale projects while still adhering to a self-imposed $10.5 million debt ceiling, improving the county’s credit rating, building up its reserves and extending raises to employees over the past several years.
“We’ve been very fiscally responsible. Our bond rating agencies, of course, they look at all of these areas,” she added. “We have to be prepared, and I think that’s really something that we, as a commission, have stepped up to do — make sure the county is fiscally prepared.”
The March 3 primary race between Hudson and Turner will decide who represents the second district, but the party nominations for another commission seat were both decided without a primary contest.
As the only Republican to qualify for the race, Mobile County Sheriff’s deputy Rand Dueitt won the nomination. State Rep. Margie Wilcox, R-Theodore, announced her candidacy last summer but never actually qualified for the race. Dueitt’s name won’t appear on the March 3 GOP primary ballot.
Dueitt will face Democrat Jennifer Arass, a professor of literature at the University of South Alabama, during the general election in November. As the only qualifying Democrat, Arass’ name won’t appear on her party’s primary ballot, either.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Mobile County Commission Connie Hudson was first “appointed” the district 2 seat of the commission in 2010. Though she did not serve a full time, Hudson won the seat in a special called election that year and then went on secured her first full term on the commission during the 2012 election cycle.
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