Three candidates are vying for an Eastern Shore House seat being vacated by outgoing Rep. Randy Davis, who was indicted in April as part of an ongoing federal corruption investigation.
Davis faces charges of bribery for allegedly using his public office to coerce a private business into benefiting him personally. He pleaded not guilty in August.
Though he has yet to stand trial, the charges against Davis have made public corruption a larger issue in the race to replace him, a contest pitting Republican Matt Simpson against Democrat Maurice Horsey and Libertarian candidate Matt Shelby.
For the past 12 years, Simpson has worked as a state prosecutor for district attorneys in Mobile and Baldwin counties. He’s also long been involved with the local and state GOP and is currently the party’s vice chairman for Congressional District 1. In 2017, Simpson also chaired the committee that wrote the statewide party’s code of ethics.
Based on that opportunity and his experience as a prosecutor, Simpson said he has a firm grasp of Alabama’s ethics laws. When asked about the federal probe that has led to conspiracy charges against Davis and two other GOP members, Simpson said “corruption knows no party line.”
“A Republican president appointed the Republican U.S. attorney who’s leading this charge, and it’s been a Republican attorney general prosecuting these cases,” Simpson noted. “This isn’t somebody saying: ‘let’s sweep this under the rug.’ They’re saying: ‘if you break the law or are in violation of the ethics code while in public office, you’re going to be held accountable.’”
Simpson’s campaign website is focused primarily on infrastructure, public safety and mental health services.
He notes Alabama has “drastically cut” mental health funding over the years, and that his experience as a prosecutor has shown him many of those who would have previously been in the mental health system are now winding up in local jails, courtrooms or on the street.
As for infrastructure, Simpson says officials and citizens should be doing everything within their power to ensure the proposed Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River is a top priority for the state.
He commended federal officials, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, for their work to make the bridge a priority in Washington, but Simpson said those efforts will have been in vain if the state Legislature isn’t prepared to act when funding is available.
Maurice Horsey is one of several Democratic challengers hoping to make reliably red Baldwin County competitive for the first time in years. With a mantra of “quality of life,” the Horsey campaign has focused on state concerns as well as local issues affecting the Eastern Shore.
Horsey believes not enough is being done to manage the impact of the unprecedented growth the area is experiencing. From improving stormwater runoff to creating better traffic patterns, Horsey says the area needs someone in Montgomery to work with county and local officials to plan and manage growth sustainably.
“Over the past few years, without any sort of planning, development has somewhat taken over, and we’ve seen an influx of poor decisions in terms of building, traffic patterns and infrastructure,” he said. “Eventually, it’s going to ruin the quality of life that we’ve become accustomed to. I’d like for my children and grandchildren to have the same luxuries I did.”
A Daphne resident since 2015, Horsey retired from a lengthy career with the YMCA. In his tenure he held management positions at Y facilities across the country and overseas before taking a position with the nonprofit’s corporate headquarters. Before that, Horsey was a public school teacher.
Another one of his campaign’s main points has been improving education by properly investing in it. As an example, Horsey mentioned Saraland, which currently has one of the Top 25 high schools in the state.
He believes the state could fund a more robust education system through a state lottery, adding Alabamians should have the right to vote on the issue.
Fairhope native Matt Shelby worked as a prosecutor in the Baldwin County District Attorney’s office after law school but has spent the past eight years working as a private attorney.
A longtime Libertarian, his campaign incorporates some issues championed by the GOP but others that are typically part of Democratic Party platforms. Other focal points, including term limits and electoral reform, aren’t often discussed by candidates from either major party.
Shelby has said he’d like Alabama to move toward a “more reasonable” marijuana policy. Even though he realizes most people in the state aren’t ready for full legalization, his campaign website argues there are social and fiscal benefits to scaling back the “war on drugs.”
As a former prosecutor, Shelby worked with Baldwin County’s drug court program and says he’d like to see Alabama move toward “a treatment-based system” rather than incarceration.
“Over $400 million a year from our state’s general fund is allocated to the Department of Corrections. This is second only to Medicaid,” he said. “We have to address this massive drain of money and resources, and drug law reform will do just that.”
Shelby says he would support a state education lottery and legislation legalizing fantasy sports betting so potential revenue isn’t lost to neighboring states.
Then there’s electoral reform, which is a particularly important issue for the Libertarian Party of Alabama and other third-party political organizations in Alabama.
To get his name on the ballot, Shelby had to canvass the district and obtain signatures from 375 voters, or 3 percent of those who cast votes in the most recent gubernatorial election.
While that’s a manageable inconvenience for a smaller race, Shelby said Alabama’s current laws make it nearly impossible for third-party candidates to enter statewide races. He said major-party candidates, on the other hand, only have to notify state election officials and pay a fee.
In the long run, Shelby said he hopes his legislative campaign can help third-party candidates bypass some of those hurdles in the future. Even if he comes up short on election day, he said, he wants Alabama voters to know they have more than two options at the ballot box.