Two Democrats are facing off in House District 103 to earn the right to face Republican Ralph Carmichael in November.
The race pits former Mobile Mayor Sam Jones’ staffer Barbara Drummond against Mobile County Democratic Party Chairman Charlie Staten in a district that stretches from Maysville to parts of Theodore.
The candidates have both been busy raising money so far, with each taking in more than $33,000 in contributions. Drummond with $33,435 and Staten with $33,300, as of Sunday. Staten has earned another $8,000 in “other receipts” as listed in the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act reporting system.
Staten has outspent Drummond to this point with $21,036 in expenditures. Drummond lags behind with $14,921. Staten also currently has more funds on hand with $20,253 compared to Drummond’s $18,514.
Both Drummond and Staten believe economic development tied to the nearby Airbus assembly line is important to bring life to the poorest areas of the district. Better jobs, each candidate believes with help address the issue of crime in those areas. Drummond said both education and workforce development are two top issues she hopes to help tackle if elected.
“If you give a person a sustainable, good job, he will then become a home owner, he’ll take care of his property,” Drummond said. “He won’t be going out and breaking into people’s houses. He will take pride in where he lives.
“I really feel like 103 is really sitting in a prosperous area, with not only Airbus, but with all the things that are going to come as a result of Airbus,” she added. “We now sit in a position to maximize.”
Drummond said industry-specific education as early as middle school would help give the area a leg up in training a workforce to do this jobs in the future.
Staten used the Maysville area as an example of the needs the district faces in terms of economic development. He said the community has 22,000 residents and no nearby grocery store. He added that of the 22,000, 8,000 are renters and the median income of the area is $300 below the poverty line.
“Other districts around us are growing and prospering, and yet this district is stuck at the bottom,” he said. “How do we have 22,000 folks in a community and you don’t have a grocery store? People are eating out of Church’s Chicken and convenience stores.”
Staten added that the Airbus facility is within walking distance of that community, but Maysville hasn’t made an effort to welcome the company, like other city and regional communities. He said he would work on using tax incentives to lure other Airbus-related industries to the community.
“I suggest we create some sort of tax-free business zone in the Maysville/Dauphin Island Parkway area that would perhaps lure suppliers who are coming,” Staten said. “They’re coming, it’s just a matter of time, but the incentives should be there to lure these suppliers, — through tax abatements, even if it’s temporary or whatever — so they might locate and stimulate economic growth.”
Staten blamed some of the district’s problems on poor leadership at the state level from incumbent Democrat Joe Mitchell, who decided not to run for re-election. Staten said he’s been back and forth lobbying for the district ever since he canvassed it with Mitchell four years ago. Staten accused Mitchell of being absent too many times.
“You cannot be present on pay day and absent on work day,” he said. “So, for a number of years this district has gone without any representation and a lot of things have happened to the district in the course of not being represented.”
Drummond said she would not judge the work of the incumbent and said he’s earned a lot of respect over the years representing the district.
“I find it rather ironic that we have reduced his tenure — he’s been there for a long time — with that being said people have faith in him, people have faith in his leadership that they kept elected him to that position,” Drummond said. “So, I’m not judging any past leadership I’m only seeing what Barbara has to bring to the table.”
The candidates agree on some key issues statewide. For instance, both said the state’s 1901 constitution should be reformed. Staten, however, is in favor of a complete rewrite.
“If the state of Alabama is going to progress or move forward at all you’re going to have to have a rewrite of the constitution,” Staten said. “It was written primarily to harness power in the northern part of the state for the wealthy and wealthy land owners. It disenfranchised minorities and women in particular and we’re still dealing with those problems right to this day.”
Drummond didn’t go as far as to say it need to be rewritten, but did bring up reform. She said she has served on a Constitution Reform committee in the past.
“I do think it needs to be reformed for a number of reasons; not only some of the amendments, but also for tax reform in the state because government right now, especially city government is far too dependent on sales taxes,” she said. “That tends to hit poorer people.”
Neither candidate favored state-mandated term limits on candidates. Although, Drummond did say she didn’t plan to work in Montgomery for decades.
“Let me just tell you this from Barbara Drummond’s perspective, I don’t plan to be there until I’m a great-grandmother,” she said.
She added that it does tend to take a few years and some experience to get things accomplished in state government. She said in order to get things done “you need season.”
Staten said he believes term limits are determined by the voters in a district.
“If they want an individual gone all they have to do is vote them out of office,” he said. “That’s where we get into accountability, not likeability.”
While raising the state’s minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25 is favored by both candidates, Staten noted it as an issue he was very passionate about.
“The cost of living has outpaced what we call minimum wage,” he said. “$7.25 is not enough to keep up with living wages in this country, in this state.”
He said he’d like to see it increased to $10.10 an hour.
Drummond said she would like to see minimum wage increased, but didn’t really have a number in mind.
“I’ll go back to what I said earlier, it needs to be a sustainable, livable wage,” she said. “If you ask me, I’m so generous I’ll tell you some exorbitant number, but I’m being realistic.”
Drummond said she’d like to see more drug courts in the sate, and more ways to rehabilitate first-time offenders, so those who make a mistake early in life can rebound and be productive citizens.
“When we label first-time offenders and many of these people I’m finding out had problems with drugs or something,” she said. “I think we need to start rehabilitating people. I think that’s why we’re seeing such a horrible overcrowding problem (in jails.)”