By Benjamin Bullard
The Cullman Times
Republican candidates nearing Tuesday’s finish line in their bid to earn the party’s nomination for the District 11 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives took one last opportunity Saturday to set themselves apart.
At a morning forum broadcast over local radio, candidates Danny Alldredge, Mike Graves, Lydia Haynes and Randall Shedd fielded a series of by-now familiar questions concerning education, farming, gun rights and consensus-building across the three-county district they aspire to represent.
As Shedd pointed out near the end of his last response, the similarities between the candidates are numerous.
They all agree on social and moral issues, and each is a strong advocate of defending any real or perceived threats to individual gun ownership from federal lawmakers. They all want to see the school resource officer program expanded to every campus in the state, regardless of the funding challenges. They all feel their Cullman County address won’t compromise their ardent attention to the needs of District 11 residents in Blount and Morgan counties. They all go to church.
So how are they different, really?
Well, each stresses different personal qualities that may equip him (or her) best to hold the office; each emphasizes one or two matters of state or local concern that provoke in her (or him) a sense of greatest urgency.
Alldredge and Shedd, each of whom enjoys significant local recognition for long public careers, cited their extensive experience in public service as a benefit; one that would help them negotiate complex legislative hurdles in Montgomery for the common good of District 11.
“Over the last 40 years, I’ve been associated with Cullman County schools, and I’ve been able to build relationships there — relationships with people; with industry; with farmers in the community,” said Alldredge. “Those relationships are what’s kept me going....but I don’t want to just go [to Montgomery] to represent education; I want to go there to represent our farmers. I want to go there to represent industry. I want to go there to represent our local governments and municipalities...this is not about me; this is about who will represent you best.”
For Shedd, all matters of public concern are integral. The success of each of a community’s component parts — a local government; a business; a school; a police force — affects, and is affected by, the others’ success as well. For example, he said, schools can make great strides if the legislature makes it easier for small businesses to flourish.
“Education is so important to the economy of our community, and our economy is important to education,” he said. “What I think we need to do to help education the most is pro-growth policies....Because we’re a sales tax-based state, and for our schools to have more money to operate — as well as our law enforcement, fire departments and everything else that’s a service to taxpayers — we need to find ways to help businesses do more business. That, in turn, will generate more sales tax that could go to all of our schools, colleges and local government services.”
Haynes cast herself as a ‘uniquely qualified’ choice; an independent businesswoman and farmer with a strong appreciation for how local education constitutes the fabric of community life, both social and economic.
“I feel like I’m truly uniquely the most qualified candidate to represent this district,” said Haynes. “I am a woman; I am a true conservative, and I have been a Republican all my adult life.
“I’m the only candidate from the world of business. I am pro-business, and I have started businesses and created jobs...I am the legitimate advocate for agriculture in this state, and in this district. If the number-one industry in this district were Mercedes, every candidate would be all over it. But the number-one industry in this district is agriculture, and to those listening today: you know me, because I’m one of you.”
Like Alldredge, Haynes went on to share her enthusiasm for how state leaders are currently finding new ways to cultivate and refine workforce development opportunities at high schools and two-year colleges, both in the field of agriculture as well as industry and technology.
Graves emphasized the blue-collar, everyman work ethic he’s embraced as a longtime volunteer fire chief and municipal worker, and offered himself as a willing listener to the concerns of residents of all social and economic backgrounds. Repeatedly, Graves drew upon anecdotal experiences and conversations he’d had with local residents as indicators of what District 11 needs — and how he’d respond.
“My mother in-law is a retired educator.....I’ve been real close to our local school, and what I’ve always done about education is to listen to our local people,” he said. “Sometimes I think we get in positions and we forget that knowledge is most available to you by talking to the people who do it every day. Sometimes we get to the point where we have our own opinions about the way things should be done, and we get sidetracked and don’t listen to the local people about what we should be doing.”
Graves said he supports offering high school freshmen an option to choose a vocational or academic curricular track, both to develop an area workforce and to reduce the high school dropout rate. He also advocated the paring back of regulatory practices that stifle local farmers’ efforts to fully utilize their land and resources. And he said he’d continue to support Wallace State’s mission to train local residents — regardless of their academic backgrounds — to get, and keep, good jobs.
Shedd came prepared to take on Haynes, whose political mailouts have specifically targeted him as a party-switching ‘career politician’ who at one time allegedly ‘wanted to sell off Wallace State with no guarantee that local instructors or technical and vocational programs would be kept.’
In his opening remarks, Shedd addressed those claims head-on, calling Haynes’ accusations negative and slanderous.
“I believe in sportsmanship; in dignity and respect, and I [once] taught that to my little baseball team. I also taught them that, when you are playing in a competition where the other team is mean, dirty and unfair, and tries to intimidate you, that you’ve got to stand up to them.
“Therefore, I’ve got to call ‘time out’ and set the record straight: Lydia, your negative campaign has crossed the line. This mailout that you sent that says I tried to sell Wallace State College is simply untrue — simply untrue. This brochure’s not politics; it’s slander.”
Whether cowed from the start by Shedd’s aggressive proclivity to take on the ad hominem issues she’d raised, or confident in simply letting her advertising speak for itself, Haynes never mentioned Shedd’s name or referenced any of her prior claims. She did offer an oblique statement about public officials’ records being fair game for scrutiny: “I believe in truth and accountability in government, and accountability for the decisions that you make, past and present. And I know I will be held accountable for those.”
* Benjamin Bullard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 270.