The race for the Republican nomination in Mobile’s House District 101 pits an experienced legislator against a political newcomer.
Chris Pringle, who represented the district from 1994 to 2002, will face Don Hembree in the June 3 GOP primary, as incumbent Jamie Ison won’t seek re-election after 12 years.
The two candidates agree on several issues, but each has a different view when it comes to term limits in Alabama.
Hembree, a Mobile native and business owner, believes the time is right to mandate term limits for state politicians.
“I’m a big proponent of term limits,” he said. “I think that’s something we need to have in our government because those allow the opportunity or new people to get in there and to expand and improve our government. I think one of our biggest Achilles’ heels is just trying to make things better by doing the same thing over and over again.”
Hembree vowed to not serve more than two consecutive terms in Montgomery before coming home.
Pringle said he opposing term limits because they “empower special interest groups.”
“Every place that has passed term limits has regretted it,” Pringle said. “The problem with limiting the length of time a person can serve in public office is you don’t limit the length of time the bureaucrats can work there. And I warn people about this all the time, be very careful about the reforms you ask for because what you get is the exact opposite of what you want.”
The candidates share different ideas related to how to create jobs and what are the biggest issues facing small businesses. Pringle, a licensed contractor and small business owner, said a reduction in state and federal regulations would go a long way in helping small businesses create jobs.
“It’s such a conglomeration of state and federal rules and regulations,” he said. “They’re so intertwined it’s almost like a net on top of you.”
As an example from his business, Pringle noted at one time there were 300 separate regulations on septic tanks. He said cutting down on the red tape would be a good way to start helping local business.
Hembree, who owns a heating and cooling company, as well being involved in commercial real estate, said he has a three-fold plan related to job creation. He said the legislature and the local government must work to foster a business-friendly environment, first off. He said there should be a push for more entrepreneurship as well. He added that a qualified workforce would help draw industry to the area.
“That’s one of the biggest struggles I face as a business owner is hiring qualified, competent people,” Hembree said. . “If I had 20 people right now that were qualified mechanics — (air conditioning) mechanics — I could give them a job tomorrow.”
Hembree believes finding qualified workers is the biggest struggle facing local small business owners.
“That’s hands down the biggest challenge I hear,” he said. “My competitors and fellow business people talk about just finding qualified workforce.”
Hembree said local and state government should work with community colleges to find out what employment needs there are in the area and go from there.
“Whether it be air conditioning mechanics, IT specialists, you know, whatever it is, we need to try to feel out what those needs are and try to find a way to meet those requirements,” he said.
Neither candidate is in favor of a rewrite of Alabama’s 1901 constitution, which has made headlines in the past for being the world’s longest. Instead both candidates believe the legislature should work around problems by continue to amend it.
“I think it’s too big of a thing to tackle at one time,” Hembree said. “I think we can continue to address the issues we have with the constitution by amendment, as opposed to trying to completely rewrite the constitution.”
Pringle spent eight years on the constitution and elections commission, during his previous time in the legislature. He said he’s in favor of repealing older portions of the constitution that were carried over from as long ago as 1875 intended to prohibit individual counties from seeking their own economic development.
“I don’t support a constitutional convention, but we can go in and repeal portions of the constitution that were put in in 1875 and codify the amendments used to get around those,” he said.
When it comes to the Medicaid expansion as a result of the Affordable Care Act, both candidates side with Gov. Robert Bentley’s opposition to it.
Pringle said the state won’t be able to afford Medicaid expansion in the long run.
“It’s one of those things that sounds good, but I don’t know how the state can pay for it,” he said.
Hembree said he sees the benefits of expanding the program, but knows that it’s going to cost too much money.
“What reading and studying on it I’ve done, you expand it and then it’s going to end up costing us more money than we can afford long term,” Hembree said. “I can see some of the needs for it, but to me, it really boils down to can we afford it? That’s part of the common sense approach I take to the subject.”
Both candidates said the area has been represented well in the past, but each felt compelled to run with Ison giving up the seat.
“We’ve had such a massive changeover in the local legislative delegation,” Pringle said. “I want to put my experience and knowledge back to work.”
Pringle, who gave up his legislative seat in 2002 to run for U.S. Congress, said he would work with local government officials to help fix problems facing the municipal and county governments.
Hembree said he felt running for office was his civic duty.
“Just sitting on the sidelines and watching, observing and sort of seeing things, seemingly, in some areas, fall apart for a lack of leadership, whether it be on the state level or national level,” Hembree said. “Just seeing us go down a path that if I felt that I just sat idly by and didn’t try to make a difference then I wasn’t being responsible to my kids and family and generations to come to be able to enjoy the benefits we’ve enjoyed.”