A candidate for a local judicial position was booted off the ballot today after a subcommittee of the Alabama Republican State Executive Committee upheld the merits of a challenge brought by a local party executive.
On Feb. 10, John Stetzinger, vice chair of the Baldwin County Republican Party, wrote a letter to state party leadership contesting the candidacy of attorney Ginger Poynter for Place 1 on the Baldwin County District Court.
As evidence that Poynter was not allegiant to the party, Stetzinger compiled a list of her Facebook posts in support of Bob Vance for Chief Justice. Vance ran as a Democrat against Republican Roy Moore in 2012. Poynter also contributed $100 to Vance’s campaign, Stetzinger complained.
“This evidence should be enough to deny her access to our Primary,” Stetzinger wrote.
Poynter plans to appeal the decision and was reluctant to speak more about the allegations against her, but in a written statement she said, “I am a Republican. The citizens of Baldwin Co should have the right to decide who their next district judge should be. The executive committee may have the legal right to deny me ballot access but they cannot nor will I allow them to tell me I am not a Republican.”
On this side of the bay, Republican candidate for sheriff Matt Tew was also recently removed from the ballot by the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee. He is appealing the decision Monday night to the organization’s steering committee.
Terry Lathan, chair of the MCREC, said the complaint against Tew was that he ran as a Democrat for the same position in the previous cycle. Speaking about challenges to party allegiance in general, Lathan said the party was within its rights to protect the legitimacy of its candidates.
“The history more or less is obvious,” she said. “The Republicans have not been in the majority but we are now, so the party feels very strongly about protecting our gate. We want to allow everybody to participate, but you can expect us to watch candidates closely and ask questions.”
Regarding his history as Democratic candidate, Tew said he had to make a choice between running in a crowded field of Republicans or as the lone Democrat. He further questioned why the office of Sheriff is party-affiliated at all.
“It was a political strategy at that point,” Tew said about his previous campaign. “There was going to be 5-6 people running in the Republican primary and I spoke to the other Democratic candidate who said he’d step aside if I ran, so I did. That office is there for all the people and should be non-partisan. You have to represent and protect every person in county no matter their political affiliation and every person should be equal in the eyes of that office. Hindsight on a lot of things is 20/20 but I was just trying to get into office and make changes.”
Lathan said the committee reviewed five other candidates but reached different conclusions and allowed them to remain on the ballot.
“Mr. Tew has a strong history with the local Democratic party,” she said. “It was a unanimous decision. When we see a continual pattern of candidate that has been working with the Democratic or Independent parties, when they had a choice to run as a Republican and they choose not to, as opposed to a person who was a Democrat in the past and clearly decided ‘that’s not for me anymore,’ we welcome that. That’s not the same as someone passively pretending to be something hey are not. That’s two different animals.”
Lathan’s husband Jerry is a member of the steering committee of the state Republican Party, which heard Poynter’s appeal. He said the committee’s deliberations, which are examining 18 challenges over two days, have been balanced, resulting in a 50 percent turnover today.
“I really think the deliberations were fair and balanced,” he said. “There was only one unanimous vote out of eight cases we heard today. There were some deliberations and tough calls, but that gives you an idea that people are trying to do the right thing and be fair.”
Jerry Lathan said the process of candidate challenges hasn’t changed since the Republican Party swept into the majority in 2006. But he can understand if some candidates feel particularly scrutinized this cycle.
“Twelve years ago Democrats had 650 people qualify statewide and Republicans only had 200 candidates,” he said. “Those numbers have flipped. We don’t want candidates running as a matter of convenience. Their political history is not as important as their recent patterns, but they also have to be believable. We expect to be overwhelmed by a body of evidence.”
Neither Poynter nor Tew said whether, pending appeals, they would run as independent candidates. The Republican primary is June 3.