By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — He calls her a “Swampy Star.” She calls him a tiger thief.
Alabama Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and state Rep. Will Ainsworth of Guntersville are swapping accusations — and accusing the other of distorting the truth — ahead of Tuesday’s heated GOP runoff in the race for lieutenant governor.
Cavanaugh, 52, has an ad targeting Ainsworth’s theft arrest when he was a college student and was accused of stealing fiberglass tigers in downtown Auburn. Ainsworth, 37, is running ads, playing on Cavanaugh’s unusual first name, and lampooning her lengthy resume in politics.
The Cavanaugh ad targets Ainsworth’s 2002 arrest on theft charges when he was 20. The charges were later dropped.
“It is the most disingenuous and lying ad. … It was a college prank,” Ainsworth said, saying the ad, which displays a photograph of the balding Ainsworth, makes it look like the arrest was recent. Court records show that Ainsworth, along with several others, was charged in 2002 with stealing five fiberglass tigers worth $3,000 each, in downtown Auburn. Cavanaugh defended the ad, saying it was a “serious matter.”
“Twinkle Twinkle Swampy Star” is the slogan on an Ainsworth mailer criticizing Cavanaugh’s lengthy resume in politics. He is running a similar television ad with a star-gazing couple.
Cavanaugh has spent much of her life in and around politics. She worked as the first female chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party and worked for the Republican National Committee in Washington and on Gov. Bob Riley’s staff. She was elected to the PSC in 2010 and commission president in 2012.
Cavanaugh said she is proud of her record on conservative causes but notes that she also worked for a year as a teacher and started a restaurant business.
The heated and expensive race comes for a position that has relatively little power with one big exception: the potential to succeed the governor.
The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, votes in case of a tie and makes a number of board appointments. The position is most notable because the officer holder takes over as governor if the governor dies, steps down or is in impeached.
The lieutenant governor position has been vacant since April 2017, when Kay Ivey succeeded Robert Bentley as governor. Bentley stepped down in the midst of an impeachment push.
Cavanaugh had considered running for governor but switched to the lieutenant governor when Ivey announced she was running this year.
“I believe our state needs a strong second-string quarterback,” Cavanaugh said of the position of lieutenant governor. She is touting her record on the utility board that she said includes cutting expenses and approving rate reductions.
“We need a proven conservative, someone who has a proven record of turning Christian values into strong conservative government,” Cavanaugh said.
Ainsworth is a rancher and the owner of a sportsman’s lodge and founder of a prominent hunting and fishing expo. A relative political newcomer, Ainsworth was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014. In his legislative tenure, Ainsworth is perhaps best known for sponsoring legislation in the wake of the Florida school shooting that would allow certain teachers to carry or access firearms in the classroom.
Campaigning as a political outsider, Ainsworth is emphasizing the fact that he has not spent much time in politics.
“I’m not a career politician. I’ve actually been involved in the private sector,” Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth said as lieutenant governor — the only statewide elected official involved in the daily dealings at the Statehouse — that he wants to help “drive the conversation” at the Alabama Legislature.
“The lieutenant governor has the bully pulpit,” Ainsworth said.
The Republican nominee will face Democrat Will Boyd in November.