By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Baldwin County’s House District 94 has been a conservative-leaning seat held by Republican State Rep. Joe Faust since 2002. This year, Faust is being challenged by Democratic candidate Danielle Mashburn-Myrick, who hopes area’s growth and local concerns with environmental and education issues can boost her chances of upsetting the incumbent.
House District 94 runs along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay containing the towns of Fairhope, Point Clear, Magnolia Springs and Clay City. To the west, the district crosses State Highway 59 and contains Summerdale as well as portions of Foley and Roberstdale.
As of the 2010 census the district held 59,763 citizens, but the area has seen rapid population growth since then, as both candidates acknowledged to Alabama Daily News.
Faust has been unchallenged in the last two general elections. His last time facing a Democrat was in 2006, when he defeated Gene Ponder 77 percent (11,344 votes) to 23 percent (3,426 votes).
The district easily went to Donald Trump in 2016 with not a single precinct going to Hillary Clinton. The district and Baldwin County also went overwhelmingly for Republican Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate. However, Democrat Doug Jones garnered significant support ins some ares, coming within 102 votes in the Fairhope Civic Center precinct and within 142 votes in Point Clear’s St. Francis Catholic Church precinct.
Cash On Hand: $23,868
Amount raised in September: $8,569
Total Monetary Contributions: $48, 928
Cash On Hand: $30,164.82
Amount raised in September: $16,900
Total Monetary Contributions: $36, 050
Rep. Joe Faust
Joe Faust has been serving District 94 since 2002 when he first won the seat. Before that, Faust served six years on the Baldwin County Commission and worked a regional sales manager and supervisor in the retail milk business. He also did some work as an insurance broker.
Faust says he has a deep love for his home and the people in his district. He said after watching his family grow up in the district, all he wants to do now is it served properly.
“I listen to the people,” Faust said. “I work for them, so I try to listen to the heart beat of the people. Baldwin County is a very special place to me. I’ve raised my family here and I’ve lived here all my life, so it’s very dear to me here. I believe that our people are our greatest asset here, and I try to work for them.”
Faust has looked out for his constituents by sponsoring and supporting legislation he believes is in their best interests, such as ensuring tax stability for older Alabamians who have owned their property a long time.
“Baldwin County taxes are pretty high. I helped pass a legislation that, for people that are over 65 and have lived in Baldwin County for 10 years, their taxes are frozen. They won’t go up on them,” Faust said.
He also supported legislation that offered insurance discounts to homeowners for storm damage. Baldwin County residents are often impacted by hurricanes and tropical storms, and the measure made it easier for coastal homeowners to claim insurance discounts for construction that fortifies a home against wind damage.
Faust also sees the growing pains that come with Baldwin County’s rapid population growth and wants state and local leaders to work together to address those challenges.
“14 people a day moving into Baldwin County. That’s over 5,000 people a year moving here. You’ve got to consider the infrastructure and the roads, the school system, you’ve got to have more schools, just more of everything, so you have to keep up with that,” Faust said.
When it comes to voting on possibly raising the gas tax to help pay for those infrastructure needs, Faust isn’t completely set on a decision yet but says he would consider it.
“That’s something we’re going to have to give a lot of thought and a lot of talk about when we head up to Montgomery,” Faust said. “It’s a big concern with the whole state but it’s a big concern for us locally as well.”
“We’ve got issues with the infrastructure, like the Mobile Bay causeway. If you live here and you try to cross that, like this past week with the Hurricane Michael, it was a really slow going. We need to think about safety and we need to think about other transportation needs. Not just in Mobile and Fairhope, but across the state,” Faust said.
Faust seemed to have the same desire as his opponent, Mashburn-Myrick, to improve the water quality of Mobile Bay and would like to see it at the level it was when he was a child. But, Faust acknowledged that he would need support from other legislators representing area up stream to get the job done.
“I remember going to Mobile bay on the eastern shore and the water was as clear as it could be. Yes, I would love to see it that clear again and I would love to see seaweed growing again. That’s an issue I would be glad to sit down and work it out with. You don’t do anything by yourself, you have to surround yourself with people who know what they’re talking about and try and get something done,” Faust said.
Faust supports allowing Alabamians to vote on an amendment to have a lottery to fund needs like education and said the House had already approved a lottery vote in past years.
But, Faust said, people should understand that the Legislature just passed an education budget with historic funding levels for schools and increased salaries for teachers. He said he was glad to vote for a raise in teacher’s salary, even though it may have been unpopular among some of his colleagues.
Faust stands out among his Republican colleagues as being open to expanding Medicaid. Many Republicans are staunchly opposed to the idea.
“There are some things they’re talking about doing with expanding Medicaid, and I think it’s coming anyways. I just have to say it in my heart, because we have to take care of people,” Faust said.
All in all, Faust says that he remains confident about his chances of winning the election. But, he’s not taking anything for granted and is concentrating on finishing strong in these final weeks.
“I never like to speculate on anything like that, but I feel good by what people tell me. [Mashburn-Myrick] is working hard, and I’m working hard. I told her in the beginning that ‘you tell them what you’re about, and I’ll tell them what I’m about, and we’ll see whoever comes out on top,'” Faust said.
Danielle Mashburn-Myrick is an attorney with Phelps Dunbar in Mobile and does mostly bankruptcy, creditor work, and general civil litigations. She served in the Peace Corps for two years before attending the University of Alabama, where she met her husband Matt. The two now have two children and live in Fairhope.
Mashburn-Myrick told Alabama Daily News that she decided to run for office when her youngest child, Telly, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at two weeks old, which made her more involved in health care policy. At the same time, Baldwin County voted down a ballot initiative extending a property tax that funded public schools, which also inspired her to run.
“So those two things really moved us to go beyond just being voters and instead be citizens engaged in government and what kind of decisions were being made,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
Another big concern she sees for her local community is the water quality in Mobile Bay. She says the government hasn’t made any meaningful progress to address pollution and water quality since she was in high school 16 years ago.
“I get alerts, generally once or twice a week from Mobile Bay Keeper, that say our levels are too high for safe swimming. And they are a weekly if not more occurrence these days,” Mashburn-Myrick said. “Now, a lot of people don’t think the water is safe for swimming and a lot of people don’t want to eat seafood out of the bay.”
She wants to see environmental changes throughout the state, though, not just for her own district. She understands there are dire situations elsewhere, such as in Lowndes County, where sewage problems that have led to an outbreak of hookworm.
“The laws on our books are pretty good, but there is no enforcement. ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) is so underfunded, they can’t send inspectors and enforcement agents to actually compel compliance with the law. So the starting place is working on ADEM funding and making sure it’s up to our local non-profits like Bay Keeper,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
District 94 is seeing a rapid growth in population though, with around 500 to 1,000 new students coming into their school each year, according to Mashburn-Myrick. She thinks it is great so many people want to live in Baldwin County, but believes infrastructure should keep up with population growth.
“We have not had leadership who is willing to invest in infrastructure for our growing population. So that means new water lines, water treatment facilities, new schools, widening roads and bridges, and we haven’t had people in Montgomery who are able to bring home infrastructure needs,” Mashburn-Myrick said. “What we’ve had in recent decades is irresponsible, unbridled growth. We have not done a smart growth plan that protects our resources. Like our beautiful grand hotel down in Point Clear has to tell folks staying at the hotel not to get in the water and on their new beach they just built! So we need to transition from a reckless growth plan to a smart growth plan.”
For ways to help grow the infrastructure budget, Mashburn-Myrick said she would not be opposed to discussing a raise in the gas tax to bring in more revenue.
“The bottom line is, you get what you pay for, and right now there is hour long backups and delays on I-10 and I-59 and 98. And that really burdens the economy as well, when people can’t get to work on time, that’s a problem,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
When it comes to providing more funding for public education, she also would be willing to talk about an education lottery but with a few stipulations.
“It could help, but with an anti-supplementation clause, meaning that we need a bill that help protect the funding we currently have for education and adds to it. We don’t need to just replace what we currently provide for schools with a new source of revenue,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
She is also in full support of expanding Medicaid. She argues that it would help families like hers facing difficult diagnosis but would also benefit Alabama’s economy through supporting and creating health industry jobs.
“My child sees an amazing team of doctors up in Birmingham and two thirds of that hospital’s revenue comes from Medicaid. Without that Medicaid money, my child with (our) private employer plan wouldn’t have access to the respiratory therapists, the physical therapists, nutrients and the team of doctors he needs to see to be healthy. And they wouldn’t be here in our state without that Medicaid money. I feel like we are all Medicaid recipients in this state,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
To those who say expanding Medicaid would place too high of a financial burden on an already cash-strapped state, Mashburn-Myrick’s calls it a a “dishonest assessment” of the situation. She believes the positives from improved health care outcomes, support for hospitals to remain open, and new health industry jobs far outweigh the negatives from the costs of Medicaid expansion.
Overall, Mashburn-Myrick says her campaign is mostly about is bringing a new face to Montgomery to represent District 94. She believes many voters are looking for a change.
“This campaign kind of boils down to, ‘Alabama, we can do better.’ It’s settling for the status quo isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for my family and it’s not good enough for families in District 94 and we’ve got a real opportunity for change in this election,” Mashburn-Myrick said.
Caroline Beck is a reporter living in Montgomery. Follow her on Twitter @CarolineBeckADN or email her at Caroline@aldailynews.com.