By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Four of the five candidates seeking the District 11 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives discussed everything from gun laws to home rule regulations at a Tuesday afternoon forum in Cullman.
Republicans Mike Graves, Randall Shedd, Danny Alldredge and Lydia Haynes participated in a Q&A at All Steak Restaurant hosted by the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and The Times. Democratic candidate Kelly Evans did not attend. The special election is set for February 12.
Three of the four candidates opposed home rule legislation that could give county commissions and local government more control to pass laws and taxes.
“I think having laws put in the hands of a 3-5 person commission shouldn’t happen,” Graves said, encapsulating a similar stance by Haynes and Shedd.
“There are some areas where you could give leniency to local commissions for road departments and things like that, but you elect people into the legislature to make those laws.”
Alldredge was the only candidate to openly favor more home rule and local control, citing his time as a Cullman County school board member as an experience that showed him the perils of too much control at the state and federal levels.
“I’m in favor of people close to our voting base being able to make some decisions. As a school board member, when I served, if a parent called me with a complaint I had two questions: Have you talked to the teacher, and talked to the principal?,” he said. “The principal and teacher are there for that purpose, because they’re on the ground and know both sides of it. When you’re talking about home rule, I think we have local commissions and you do have a recourse if you don’t agree with something — because every four years you vote on those positions. I lean toward small government and toward home rule with some limitations there.”
When asked about proposed legislation to limit gun clip and magazine sizes in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 26 people dead, all four candidates said they would do nothing that could potentially infringe upon the second amendment that gives Americans the right to bear arms. In a follow-up question asking them to focus specifically on the proposed regulations, the candidates said they do not believe more stringent requirements would make much of a difference.
“Gun ownership in our country is the backbone of protecting ourselves, our families and could be again, sometime in the future, how we protect our country,” Shedd said. “I don’t think we need to change anything that affects our second amendment rights.”
Graves took the gun debate a step further, advocating new laws that would help prevent the mentally ill and criminals from obtaining weapons.
“I believe we should take measures to make sure someone not mentally capable of having that weapon, or a criminal, does not have access to a weapon,” he said. “I believe we need a system where, if law enforcement comes on a situation like that, they can take the gun and keep it until the person is evaluated.”
All four candidates say they oppose raising taxes to help balance the state budget, and advocated other cuts and measures to reduce waste and redundancy at the state level.
“We have to address spending problems, not tax increases, and take some steps to grow our economy,” Shedd said. “We have layers and layers of government and bureaucracy that still needs to be cut. Bureaucracy and paperwork is out of control and we’ve got to reel it back in.”
When asked about the prospect of combining the state general fund and education budgets, all four candidates said they would oppose any change that could take funds away from local schools.
“I would be opposed to merging the two budgets, simply because I wouldn’t want the education budget compromised,” Haynes said. “Even at our little church, we maintain separate budgets for separate departments.”
On the topic of introducing legislation, Haynes, Shedd and Alldredge all said they would like to find a way to focus on healthcare.
“One of the biggest crises facing Alabama will be the healthcare issue,” Haynes said. “Gov. Bentley did not sign on to the Affordable Healthcare Act along with 17 other states that wouldn’t sign on. As different agencies and proactive groups are teasing through the act’s 3,000 pages and seeing the mandates coming down the common person will be damaged by this. I’ve not thought about preparing anything related to that, but it’s something we have to address.”
Graves said an issue he would like to tackle is a statewide initiative to strengthen laws surrounding abortion.
“Sandy Hook [shooting] was a terrible thing, but every day kids out there are dying,” he said. “Mississippi has strong regulations on abortion clinics and I think it’s time Alabama steps up to the plate and regulates ours.”
The winner of the District 11 race will fill the seat formerly held by Jeremy Oden, who was recently appointed to the Alabama public service commission. If a run-off is required, it will take place on March 26. The winner of the GOP race will eventually face Democratic candidate Evans on May 7.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.