It seems the election for members of the Montgomery County school board is like the Energizer Bunny–it just keeps going and going and going.
Actually they have been going since last Feb. 9 which was the last day for candidates to qualify. This board has seven members who serve staggered terms. Two of the incumbents, Mary Briers and Arica Smith, did not have to run this year. Two incumbents did not seek re-election, Durden Dean and Eleanor Dawkins, while three incumbents ran again. They were Robert Porterfield, Melissa Snowden and Lesa Keith.
Porterfield lost to challenger Claudia Mitchell in the Democrat runoff, while Snowden .lost to challenger Jannah Bailey in the June 5 Republican primary. Keith, a Republican, had no opposition in her primary and is being challenged by Marcus Vandiver in the Nov. 6 general election. Vandiver won the Democrat runoff for this seat.
More than 20 candidates qualified last winter, six are still standing and will face off in November.
Let’s take a close look at each board member district:
District 1–Republican incumbent Lesa Keith was elected in 2014. She is a retired teacher. Her Democrat challenger Marcus Vandiver works for the state department of education. To date, Keith has filed no financial paperwork with the Secretary of State. Candidates are required to file once they raise or spend $1,000.
Vandiver only shows having raised $50 in August and has a balance of minus $51.37. However, he has raised a total of $7,630 since qualifying.
District 2–Incumbent Durden Dean did not run for re-election and the Nov. 6 contest between Republican Ted Lowry and Democrat Clare Weil promises to be very competitive. (This is the district I ran for and therefore, know it better than the others.)
Weils’s financial report for August shows she means business. She raised $6,450 from 40 contributors and another $734 from unitemized donations. (Contributions of less than $100 do not have to be itemized, though most candidates do.) By comparison, Lowery had $3,300 in donations, but only had two individual contributions, other than $200 from himself. He got $2,500 from the Alabama Realtors PAC.
Of the $18,935 Lowry shows in total money raised, $7,000 has come from political actions committees. By comparison Weil has raised $20,119, none from PACs. And Weil shows more individual contributions (40) in August than Lowry does for his entire campaign. The fact she is from a well-known Montgomery family is reflected in her more than 150 individual contributors.
District 3–Democrat incumbent Eleanor Dawkins did not run for re-election. Retired educator Brenda DeRamus-Coleman won the Democrat primary and since there is no Republican challenger, DeRamus-Coleman will be seated Dec. 1.
District 4–Incumbent Democrat Mary Briers did not have to run this year and has two years left in her term.
District 5–Incumbent Republican Melissa Snowden lost to newcomer Jannah Bailey in June. Retired educator Rhonda Oats will face Bailey in the general election. Oats successfully navigated both the Democrat primary and runoff to earn her spot. Bailey has raised a total of $27,135 since her campaign began (with $6,095 from PACs). This is far ahead of the $5,061 Oats has raised.
However, the August reports paints a bit different picture. Bailey showed one $500 donation and a cash balance of $1,706 while Oats raised $477 and had a balance of $521.
District 6–Robert Porterfield, who presently serves as president of the board, lost his bid for re-election to Democrat Claudia Mitchell in the runoff. Since there is no Republican in this race, Mitchell, like DeRamus-Coleman, will be seated Dec. 1.
District 7–Arica Smith is the incumbent and did not have to run in 2018. So she remains on the board.
Montgomery is decidedly Democrat. Democrat Parker Griffin beat Republican Robert Bentley decisively in the general election for governor in 2014. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election and Doug Jones trounced Roy Moore in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate with 72% of the vote.
Given this, it is insightful to look at the three school board seats presently held by Republicans, Districts 1, 2 and 5, as to how they voted in 2017 and 2016. Trump won all three in his race with Hillary Clinton. He took District 1, 51%-49%; District 2, 53%-47% and District 5, 51%-49%. None of these were landslides.
By comparison, Jones clobbered Moore in each. He got 62% in District 1, 61% in District 2 and 69% in 5. So the potential for any of these flipping from Republican to Democrat is certainly there. However, as always voter turnout will be important. Presidential elections always boost turnout. Montgomery County had 95,000 votes in the 2016 Presidential and only 57,000 in the governor’s race in 2014. (The 2017 special had 66,000.)
At this point, nothing indicates any increased interest in the November general election. While I do think Democrat Walt Maddox may do better in his race with Governor Kay Ivey than many think, I don’t think he wins. However, if there is a strong Democrat effort to turn out votes, as there was for Doug Jones in 2017 as the numbers above show, it makes the Democrats in District 1, 2 and 5 very competitive.
A new “player” in this year’s election is a political action committee closely aligned with Mayor Todd Strange and the chamber of commerce. It files reports to the Secretary of State under the title MGM NXT PAC. Its expressed purpose has been to defeat incumbent board members. District 5 incumbent Melissa Snowden was one of their targets.
They targeted me in District 2, though I was not an incumbent. And they supported Lowry and Weil with mail outs. While records show they have raised $101,762 and spent $99,714 so far, they show no contributions in August and spending only $740. So they may consider their job done. (It is interesting that though this PAC paid for mailing in support of certain candidates, none of these candidates show these as “in-kind” contributions to their campaigns).
Notable contributors to this PAC include: Dave Borden, former MPS board member ($7,500); realtor Jimmy Lowder ($2,500); realtor Owen Aronov ($5,000); chamber of commerce employee Sheron Rose ($700): Mayor Todd Strange ($2,000) Thomas Rains ($800) employee of A+ Education Partnership; Mac McLeod, chief of staff for Mayor Strange ($2,500): Goodwyn Mills & Cawood ($5,525) and Stivers Ford ($5,000).