By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
The race for House District 89 in Pike and Dale Counties is shaping up to be a competitive one this fall.
Republican Wes Allen faces Democrat Joel Lee Williams for the seat being vacated by Rep. Alan Boothe, who is retiring after serving 20 years in the Legislature.
Allen is currently the Pike County Probate Judge, a position he has held since being appointed by Gov. Bob Riley in 2008. Williams is an attorney who narrowly lost to Boothe (less than a 100 votes) when the seat was last up in 2014.
Williams ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, while Allen faced a competitive primary challenge that forced him to raise and spend significant resources.
District 89 has 44,249 citizens according to the 2010 Census, most living in or near the city of Troy. Parts of northern Dale County are also in the district, including a portion of Ozark. Brundidge, Banks, Goshen and Ariton are among the smaller towns located in the district.
Troy is home to Troy University, a state university that has grown significantly in size and status for the last several decades.
Pike County has been a reliable spot for the GOP in Alabama, particularly in national elections. In the 2016 Pike County voted 58 percent for President Trump while 38 percent for Hillary Clinton. However, in last year’s special election for the U.S. Senate, Roy Moore only carried Pike County by 150 votes. The northern precincts of Dale County also overwhelmingly voted for Trump in the 2016 election.
The district has been known to split the ticket in years past, meaning voting for national Republicans alongside local Democrats. Rep. Boothe himself was a Democrat for much of his legislative tenure, switching to become a Republican in 2010 when the GOP won the majorities in the Alabama Legislature.
Joel Lee Williams
Cash on Hand: $15,742.53
Amount raised in August: $2,938.10
Cash on Hand: $11,627.07
Amount raised in August: $3,950.00
Allen has served as Pike County’s Probate judge for the last 10 years. He got his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama where he also played as a wide receiver for the Crimson Tide. He then went on to get his master’s degree from Troy University.
Allen’s father, Gerald Allen, has also served in the Alabama Legislature: first as a representative for District 62 and currently as State Senator for District 21 in Tuscaloosa, Lamar and Pickens Counties.
Wes Allen is running on a promise to represent the “conservative values and principles” of District 89 in the State House. He made national headlines in 2015 when stopped issuing marriage licenses to any couple, straight or gay, after the Supreme Court ruling. You still cannot obtain a marriage license in Pike County.
Allen also wants voters to know that his time as a public official has showed him the pitfalls in how government works in Alabama and how he wants to fix those bureaucratic problems.
“We’ve really been able to see the folks who come into the court house day in and day out and see the taxpayers who pay their hard earned money to us local officials to make local government work. I know I’ve tried my very best and this office has tried its best to make local government really work more effective and more efficient,” Allen said.
Allen said he is hoping to take these local approaches he’s put to use in Pike County to Montgomery in order to cut through the bureaucratic red tap that hinders small business owners and frustrates Alabama taxpayers.
Allen also spoke on how growing up and watching his dad work for the people of Alabama in the Legislature has shown him how to best help the citizens of his district.
“I’ve watched dad since 1994 and helped with all of his campaigns throughout the years and seeing his heart of service that he has for the people of District 62 and now for Senate District 21. So I’ve seen him how hard he works and that’s one thing I’ve noticed about dad is that nobody is going to outwork him. So I had a great model in him and I was really lucky to have him.”
Economic growth, health care and education are the issues Allen has voiced his concern on, stating that he does not think it makes sense for Alabama to expand Medicaid at this time because of budget concerns.
“I think when you look at expanding Medicaid the issue is that sure the federal government is going to be bringing in some money for the state but that money isn’t for forever and at some point it gets cut off and then the state would have to pick up that tab in the future. Right now I think Medicaid expansions are eating up about 67 or 65 percent of the general fund budget, so I just don’t think it makes sense to expand Medicaid at this time.”
Allen also pointed towards incidents of Medicaid fraud, which a woman from Troy was recently convicted of defrauding the Alabama Medicaid Agency of $11,000 for counseling sessions for at-risk youth that never occurred. He said that until incidents of fraud in health care can be managed and the money can be found for how to fund the expansion, the state shouldn’t be trying to expand Medicare.
In regards to improving education in his district, Allan thinks that a local approach that involves school boards and superintendents taking the lead in the decision making is the best approach.
“Top down approach doesn’t work and decision are best left with the local elected school board members and superintendents too tailor their needs to the needs of the school and community. They need to have the autonomy to go out and make the decisions for whatever they need. The parents know their kids and local communities need to make those decisions.”
Despite Williams current advantage in fundraising, Allen remains confident about the race and says that after the good show of support for him in the Republican primary, where he won with 67 percent of the vote.
“If you look at my donations and look at the people who have given, $5, $10 or $100 you’ll see that our grassroots movement is really strong. It gave us a lot of momentum coming out of June 5, and we feel good about this race.”
“I enjoy being on the campaign trail, meeting people and seeing people and working, I really enjoy it. So I’m looking forward to the next seven weeks on the campaign trail. We knocked on a lot of doors during the primary, and we’ll knock on a lot more doors during the general election.”
Joel Lee Williams
Joel Lee Williams is a local attorney in Troy who has lived in district 89 since he was five years old. He went to grade school, high school and then college all in Troy. He then went on to attend the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University.
Williams believes that even though he is a Democrat running in a deeply red state, voters are more willing to cast their ballots for the person rather than the party.
Despite Republicans holding every state constitutional office and controlling the Alabama Legislature, Williams is encouraged by the latest advancements the Democratic party has made in Alabama.
“I think the Democratic Party is showing real signs of life. We recently elected a U.S. Senator, we have a dynamic nominee for Governor, and we just had an open and spirited SDEC meeting with a lot of interest and energy,” he said.
When it comes to the standard issues of health care and improving education in Alabama, Williams is taking a different view than Allen is. Williams is in support of expanding Medicaid and thinks that its expansion is vital to ensure Alabama’s rural hospitals survive.
“I think we should accept the Medicaid expansion dollars from the federal government. A return of 9-1 just makes good business sense. We have got to do more to salvage rural healthcare in Alabama because right now we are losing hospitals every year. When a hospital closes, it closes for everybody, not just the poor. A closed hospital is bad for businesses and the local economy. There is a reason why 33 other states have done this, including many Republican-led states.”
Williams believes that advancing public education is the number one issue facing Alabama right now. He says properly funded schools will also help grow the economy in the state.
“Nothing has generated progress and economic advancement in the history of this country like public education,” he said. “We have got to renew our support for public schools. I think a private school education is wonderful for those who choose it. My daughter went to private school and I attended a private law school. But I think private schools should remain private with no government interference and no government funding. Our public tax dollars should be reserved for public schools.”
“Nothing creates the opportunity for people to earn a living like getting an education because it is the first rung on the ladder of self-improvement. There are resources available to redirect money back into public education without raising taxes.”
After his close loss in 2014, Williams is confident that this time around he will can take the next step and win the district. Despite losing by less than 100 votes, Williams did not call for a recount. However, he doesn’t want the race to be that close this time around.
“Based on irregularities in the last election I am concerned about the voting process and we intend to take measures to guard the integrity of the vote,” he said.
Note: The Williams campaign did not provide any current campaign ads, but the above is an ad from his 2014 campaign.
Caroline Beck is a reporter living in Montgomery. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN or email her at Caroline@aldailynews.com