By Greg Markley
When Alabama was part of the Solid South, it was usually a given that winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to election to the office sought. Most of the competition for candidates was within the Democratic primary, not the general election with Republicans. Today, the situation is largely the reverse: The Republican primary attracts many candidates and the Democrats much fewer.
For the June 3 party primaries in Lee County, a handful of GOP officials have drawn no intra-party opposition. Among these are Sheriff Jay Jones, Revenue Commissioner Oline Price, Coroner Bill Harris, and School Board member Milford Burkhalter (District 1). Also not having challengers in the primary are county commissioners Johnny Lawrence of District 2 and Robert Ham in District 4.
On the Democratic side, longtime incumbent State Rep. George “Tootie” Bandy of District 83 has drawn an opponent – in fact, a familiar face. He is Ronnie Reed, county commissioner for District 4 in Russell County. In 2010, Bandy prevailed by a 1,971-1,446 vote. Reed did very well in his home county, but Bandy won Lee County by more than a 3-1 margin (1,170-321). Unlike Bandy, most Republicans have new campaigners in the primary.
“Sadly, we see elected officials illegally using their campaign contributions for things like costly football trips or buying expensive gifts for themselves and others,” said Andy Carter, who is seeking to oust fellow Republican State Sen. Tom Whatley in District 27. A retired Air Force pilot, Carter continued: “It is time for our elected officials to truly represent the people with integrity, honesty and transparency.”
Whatley, now seeking a second term in the Senate, was born and raised on a family dairy farm in Lee County. He graduated from Beauregard High School in 1988 and Auburn University with a bachelor in public administration. He obtained a law degree from Jones School of Law at Faulkner University. Whatley is a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard. District 27 includes parts of Lee, Russell, and Tallapoosa counties.
The other GOP primary contest for the state senate features Sen. Gerald Dial (R.-Lineville) versus Tim Sprayberry, chairman of the Cleburne County Republican Party. Dial served two terms in the House and is in his seventh Senate term. This is his first term in Montgomery as a Republican; Dial switched parties in 2009. He is a retired brigadier general in the Alabama National Guard.
“My goal is to serve one more time,” Dial told the Associated Press in 2013. “As majority whip, I’m in a position to have some real influence.”
Sprayberry is a self-employed private investigator in Heflin. He was unsuccessful in 2010 in a House race, but feels Dial has been in politics too long and is vulnerable this year. Senate District 13 includes parts of Cleburne, Clay, Chambers, Cherokee, Lee and Randolph counties.
According to his campaign website, Sprayberry already has senatorial experience, of a sort. “At Southern Union, I was elected Senator, representing Cleburne and Clay Counties in the Student Government Association,” his biography explained. He went on to obtain a degree in Criminal Justice at Auburn University and parlayed that into a career in law enforcement.
Next week, the “Observer” will feature three state representative seats that have Republican contests set for June 3. Also, the “Observer” shares information from election officials about registration policies and deadlines and gets predictions for turnout size.