By Greg Markley
Joe Lovvorn, Auburn businessman and battalion fire chief, captured the Republican nomination for state representative in District 79 last Tuesday. He avoided a runoff by obtaining 51.3 percent of the 4-man vote, winning all nine precincts, including two with Opelika voters. An early signal to his popularity was learning he would need one person just in control of yard signs.
“I found out we needed to have at least one volunteer to get the signs sent out. That meant my campaign was doing very well,” Lovvorn said.
Lovvorn waged a strong campaign with a heavy media buy financed by contributions nearing $100,000, dwarfing his three opponents.
“I’m overwhelmed by this community; we feel honored our people came out, and we received a lot of help from both Auburn and Opelika,” the Auburn University graduate said at the Lee County Elections Center amid a bevy of microphones and cameras. He said it was a hard-fought campaign but he had mutual respect with his opponents.
Fred “Sandy” Toomer came in second with 26 percent of the vote, followed by Brett Smith at 12 percent on his first try at public office. Realtor Jay Conner completed the field, gaining 11 percent. As Lovvorn gained 51 percent of the vote, a runoff was avoided for the seat held since 1999 by Mike Hubbard.
Hubbard was the first GOP House Speaker in 137 years. But he was removed from office after a jury found him guilty of 12 felony ethics charges. A special general election will be held on Nov. 29 and Lovvorn may be opposed by Gage Fenwick. The Auburn University student seeks to qualify as a Libertarian party candidate.
It was the second runner-up finish for Toomer, owner of a wholesale coffee company. His 2014 campaign attracted strong support, fueled by respect for Toomer as well as mounting opposition to the powerful Hubbard. Toomer received 40 percent in 2014 and 26 percent in 2016. Many of Toomer’s donors dried up when Hubbard was no longer an issue.
“I got tired of standing on the sidelines; I felt a new generation would be upfront and not bland or general,” that is how Brett Smith described his campaign. He came in third with 12 percent of the vote, but at age 33 he may be on a ballot again. His issues were shared by all the candidates: education, low taxes, and job creation.
“I look forward to trying to build bridges and help with political healing for the district and our state to try to move our needle forward and try to get things accomplished with the state,” Lovvorn said. “In public safety, we’re results driven. We can’t leave a problem unsolved. I look forward to working with everyone in Montgomery to get some things moving forward.”