MONTGOMERY — Three Republican men with different priorities for Alabama House District 4 are vying for voters’ support in next week’s primary election.
This special election, created by the removal of Micky Hammon from office in September, is the first campaign for public office for Tom Fredricks, Parker Duncan Moore and Tom Willis.
Former Rep. Hammon, R-Decatur, was forced from office in September after agreeing to plead guilty to a felony mail fraud scheme. He’s to be sentenced in February. Former Gov. Robert Bentley was removed from office earlier this year, and former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, too, in 2016.
All three candidates said at least some politicians have a public trust issue.
“Many people in the district know me to be honest, forthright and a responsible business leader who has reached a point in his life where he can extend those qualities to the people of Alabama,” Fredricks said. “One thing you’ll find about me is that I’m blunt and I’m methodical. I will attack a problem from a top-down approach.”
Willis said part of lawmakers’ trust issues comes from funding from special-interest groups and political action committees.
“My campaign has been funded by myself and my dental colleagues who believe in me,” he said. He said he hasn’t yet been approached by any major PACs, but if they do offer money, “at this point I’d say no.”
Moore said he’s in favor of reviewing the state’s ethics laws.
“I think Alabama has had far too many public officials removed from office, and I support ethics reform that would restore trust to offices,” Moore said. Asked if he had specific changes in mind, he said “it’s something we all have to go over together, sit down at the table and review.”
Here’s a look at the candidates for Tuesday’s election:
Before he opened Fredricks Outdoor along Interstate 65 in 2010, Fredricks spent 10 years at NASA in Huntsville.
“I have a unique skill set and life experience that facilitate responsible fiscal administration and interpersonal and problem-solving skills that are conducive to the Montgomery environment,” Fredricks said recently.
The No. 1 issue facing the district is an economy that, with a few areas of exceptions, is stagnant, Fredricks said. More quality workers, better schools and an increased tax base are needed to improve the way of life.
Infrastructure improvements, including roads and sewers and other government-provided services are needed to entice new business, he said.
Attempts to increase the state’s gas tax in order to improve roadways have lingered in the Statehouse in recent years without success. Fredricks said he doesn’t think tax hikes are necessarily the answer to the state’s infrastructure issues.
“I’m reluctant to support any tax increase as a general rule,” he said. “When the government is broke, it’s a reflection of its people being broke.”
He’d rather see businesses increased to “bring revenues in on the front end.”
In the private sector, like his 45-employee company, if spending outpaces revenues, management finds ways to reduce costs, Fredricks said.
“That mentality needs to be taken into government,” he said.
Fredricks has served for 12 years on the Morgan County Republican Executive Committee and three on the state executive committee.
He has significantly outspent his GOP opponents in this race, believing the winner will have an advantage in the 2018 election for a full four-year term. In May, he loaned his campaign $50,000. He’s spent about $43,800, according to records filed with the Alabama Secretary of State. Duncan has spent $3,600 and Willis $12,750.
“I may not have a polished and political demeanor at all times, but we’re living in an age where people are looking for genuine and effective leaders. I will bring a no-nonsense approach to governance,” Fredricks said.
Jobs and education are tied together and are the biggest issues facing the district, Moore said.
He said after receiving his political science degree, he had opportunities in Montgomery and Washington, D.C., but wanted to stay in his native Decatur.
“We have to create good-paying jobs for kids who want to come back here and reinvest in their home,” he said.
Those jobs include science, technology, engineering and mathematics opportunities, cybersecurity, robotics and drone technology. Moore said he wants to see more internship opportunities that lead to jobs.
Moore has been a campaign consultant on several other GOP races in the last seven years, including two statewide races, he said. That’s given him the chance to travel the state, hearing about issues from voters.
“I am that leader who can go to Montgomery, work with the delegation and work with other lawmakers,” he said.
About possibly voting for new taxes, Moore doesn’t rule it out.
“Nobody likes new taxes, but sometimes they are necessary,” he said. “The last time the gas tax was raised, I believe I was 4 years old.”
His support would depend on the specifics and what voters want, he said.
On the campaign trail, he said he hasn’t heard much about infrastructure needs, but about prisons and prison reform. He’s not convinced the state needs new prisons — efforts to borrow $800 million to build four new facilities have failed in the past two sessions — and wants to see more done to improve mental health care in the state. He’s for increased mental health spending.
“I think it’s wrong to put a mental health care patient into a prison,” Moore said.
Moore is no relation to Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate also on the ballot Tuesday.
“Two months ago, (the name recognition) was helping me,” Moore said about Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct more than three decades ago when they were teens. He’s denied any wrongdoing.
“A month ago, people wouldn’t talk to me because they thought I was affiliated with him,” he said. “Now people are opening back up.”
He’s committed to honesty and integrity, Moore said about what voters should know about him.
Willis said infrastructure, education and health care are the main issues he sees in the district.
Portions of I-565 are too crowded, he said, while roads in rural Limestone County need improvements so farmers can move their equipment and products.
Post-secondary education needs to be more affordable for those who want it. Willis this week said that if elected, he’d introduce legislation to allow voters to decide on a statewide lottery that would support education.
He said he’s heard from voters on both sides of the issue that’s been kicked around the Statehouse repeatedly in recent years.
“Either Alabamians want an education lottery or they don’t and a simple yes or no vote will answer that question once and for all,” he said.
To improve health care, he’d like to see the state do more to get doctors and dentists in rural areas in exchange for satisfying some of their medical school debt. In his dental career, Willis said he’s seen a disturbing lack of dental care for the elderly.
From 2007 to 2014, Willis, elected by his peers, served on the Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama and worked on revisions in the Statehouse to the Alabama Dental Practice Act.
About possible tax increases, including one to fund infrastructure, Willis said he’s not a no-new-taxes hardliner, but would want specifics on exactly how new dollars would be spent.
“I would absolutely support a tax plan that has fiscal accountability built into it,” he said.
Willis is a former Eagle Scout and Boy Scout volunteer who in 2005 went public with claims that the Greater Alabama Council, which serves north and central Alabama, was inflating its enrollment numbers in an effort to boost its funding. In 2006, an internal audit revealed the rolls of the Boy Scout group were inflated by more than 13,000 memberships over three years, The Associated Press reported.
“I did what I thought was right,” Willis said this week. “The powers that be thought they could do what they wanted.”
He said officials were permanently removed from scouting in the wake of the investigation.
“I’ve been in the service industry most of my career,” Willis said about why he’s the best candidate. “I’ve listened to people, I’ve cared for people. … I’m not a politician, but I’m a listener and a doer. And I do have experience with the legislative system in Montgomery.”