Getting election-savvy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Few people noticed Chris Spencer – a former Sumter county commissioner and candidate for Alabama House Seat 71 – slip out the back door of Majo’s Activity Center after he and his opponents completed their time in the spotlight.

But as the candidates’ forum sponsored by the Marengo County Chapter of the New South Coalition wound down, everyone saw why he snuck away. Each vehicle in the Majo’s parking lot – even those of his opponents, Bettye Maye and Artis “AJ” McCampbell – was marked with Spencer’s purple campaign flyers.

Twenty candidates will vie for eight offices when the polls open in Marengo County on June 8. Tuesday night’s forum gave residents the opportunity to meet most of them, to hear what they had to say, and to ask them about the issues they care about, chapter president Thomas Moore, a Demopolis city councilman, said as he opened the session.

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District 71, from which Rep. Lucius Black is retiring this year – was the most hotly contested office represented at the forum. Maye, Spencer and McCampbell exchanged similar buzzwords as paths to a better future for District 71, which includes all of Greene and Sumter counties, as well as northwest Marengo and southwest Tuscaloosa counties.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Maye said in response to question about Black Belt Revitalization, adding that she’d spoken to every school superintendent, principal and mayor in District 71 to make sure she hear the people’s voice.

“Vote for someone who’ll represent you,” the 38-year veteran of Sumter County education said.

Spencer painted himself as someone willing to “roll my sleeves up and fight for District 71 on the floor of the Statehouse in Montgomery.”

And he had actual plans to accompany his rhetoric; unfortunately, they included Alabama’s least favorite word.

“None of us like to raise taxes, but when you’re in an area that doesn’t have a lot of businesses, you have to raise taxes.”

Spencer also noted that “a lot of black folks” in Greene and Sumter counties have a lot of land that is sitting unused.

That should change, he said, mentioning he’d heard that Campbell’s Soup Company will buy all the okra anyone grows.

McCampbell noted medical care and cooperation as keys to improving life in the Black Belt.

“Just look at the counties in District 71 as a region,” he said. “We’re all suffering. Dempolis may be a shining star, but the other surrounding communities are suffering.”

He discussed strategies like working with Tombigbee Healthcare CEO Mike Marshall to locate satellite clinics in most rural communities too far from a hospital.

“We’re all headed in the right direction,” he said in closing, continuing the tradition of ending with a catchphrase.

Spencer’s, for the record, was “your voice is your choice.”

Candidates for Marengo County Sheriff, the Seventh U.S. House District, Alabama Senate District 24, Marengo County Comission Seats 1, 3 and 5 and county school board seat 1 were also on hand.

Check tomorrow’s Times for what those candidates said.