After being first elected in 2002, incumbent state school board member Betty Peters of Dothan is stepping down this year. Four Republicans and one Democrat qualified to seek this seat. Two Republicans, John Taylor of Dolhan and Sybil Little of Coffee County, were eliminated in the June 5 primary, leaving Tracie West of Auburn and Melanie Hill of Dothan in a runoff on July 17.
They will face Democrat Adam Jortner of Auburn in November.
I have been “doing politics” for more than 40 years. Normally you can carefully dissect what happens in an election and it will make sense. But sometimes things just get really whacky. Like in this Republican primary on June 5.
Melanie Hill is a one-time Dothan city school board member and cranked up her campaign in July 2017 when she raised $6,175. West, who chairs the Auburn city school board, filed her first financial statement in November 2017 showing contributions of both cash and in-kind of $20,633. On the other hand, Taylor says he only raised $2,170 and spent $2,169 through the primary, while Little showed no contributions or expenses.
Of the 60,423 votes cast in the 13 counties of the district, Hill got 18,786, West 18,175, Taylor 15,807 and Little 3,939.
Taylor was supported by Peters and she may have had longer than expected coat tails. For example, he topped all candidates in Clay with 879, Randolph with 1,198 and Russell with 519. (Perhaps I should ask him how he made so little money go so far.)
West was the best funded contender, raising $45,342 and spending $84,137. She and her business loaned the campaign $50,000. The business also made a $5,000 donation. She got $2,500 from a Montgomery PAC.
Hill raised $28,734 and spent $23,534. She got $15,000 from two Montgomery PACs.
Runoffs are quirky to say the least. (I won one and lost one.) And it is wise to remember that when there is a runoff, it means the frontrunner had more people who did not vote for them than folks who did. Figuring how these votes will break is the $64 million question.
But at this stage, I have to think Hill is in a better place than West. Geography being one reason. District Two is very much a north-south region, running from the Alabama-Florida line south of Dothan to north of I-20 in Cleburne county. That’s about 200 miles from stem to stern. It is easily divided into north and south counties.
The southern counties are Houston, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry and Barbour. Northern counties are Russell, Lee, Tallapoosa, Randolph, Cleburne, Clay and Chambers. On June 5, the southern counties had 33,652 (55.6%) of the total vote. And because three candidates were from this region with only one remaining, Hill has a much better chance of rounding up Taylor and Little votes here than does West.
Fox example, Little and Taylor got 11,968 votes in the south, compared to 9,095 in the north. So if those break 66% to Hill in the south and 66% to West in the north, Hill gains 1,897. West only received 23.3% of the southern vote in the primary.
Of course, turnout, which was low on June 5, will drop considerably in the runoff. While there are statewide runoffs for Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Commissioner of Agriculture & Industries, along with seats on the Supreme Court, Criminal Appeals and Civil Appeals, none are likely to stir up much excitement. However, West could get a bump due to runoffs for House seats in Lee, Chambers and Tallapoosa counties, as well as a Senate runoff in Lee, Russell, Chambers, Clay, Randolph and Cleburne.
Here again the advantage may fall to Hill because of the runoff between Congress lady Martha Roby and former Congressman Bobby Bright in Congressional District two that includes Barbour, Henry, Houston, Geneva, Dale and Coffee counties. Plus, Dothan’s Judge Brad Mendheim is in a runoff for the Supreme Court.
Check back with me on July18 and we’ll see how my crystal ball works after all these years..