One of the most competitive elections in the July 17 runoff was between Tracie West of Auburn and Melanie Hill of Dothan to see who would be the Republican nominee and go against Democrat Adam Jortner in November. Hill got the most votes on June 5 with 19,.677. West was close behind with 18,963 while John Taylor of Dothan got 17,038 and Sybil Little of Coffee County got 4,159.
When the final votes were counted for the runoff, West eked out a win with 21,546 votes to Hill’s 20,917.
This is an odd-shaped district running from Madrid on the Alabama-Florida border in Houston County to Borden Springs, 20 miles north of Heflin on the other end. It is definitely a north-south region with Barbour, Houston, Geneva, Coffee, Henry and Dale counties in the south and Cleburne, Clay, Randolph, Chambers, Russell, Lee and Tallapoosa in the north.
Incumbent Betty Peters was elected to this seat in 2002 and decided to not seek re-election.
West, a member of the Auburn city school board and Hill, a former member of the Dothan city school board, were the favorites going into June 5. John Taylor of Houston County and Sybil Little of Coffee County were also contenders. Taylor ran a stronger race than most expected. The fact that he is considered “hard right” on the political spectrum and got 28.5 percent of the primary vote makes a strong statement as to which way the political winds blow in this region. In fact he was the top vote getter in Clay, Randolph and Russell counties on June 5.
As in most cases with campaigns, money was definitively a factor in the final outcome. West had a clear advantage over Hill in this regard. The most recent info from the Secretary of State’s website shows she spent $109,000, She raised $60,000 and put in nearly an additional $63,000 herself. She got $13,500 from the state realtors political action committee and $1,000 from the state home builders PAC.
By comparison, Hill spent almost $37,000 and raised $42,000. She received $11,600 from the Alabama Farmers Federation and $15,000 from the Business Council of Alabama.
The north-south configuration of the district seemed to favor Hill in the runoff. For instance, in the June 5 primary, 43.4 percent of the total vote came from Russell County and counties north of there. Southern counties had 56.6 percent of the vote. In addition, both Little and Taylor were from the south.
Turnout is always an issue in runoff elections as there are few races on the ballot. Here again, due to the runoff for Congress in District 2 (which is configured differently than school board District 2) between Martha Roby and Bobby Bright, Hill had the advantage. All of the southern counties in the school board district (Barbour, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston) are in Congressional District 2. The fact that the southern counties had 58.5 percent of the vote on July 17 (as compared to 56.6 on June 5) proved this advantage.
So West had to “hold serve” in the north end of the district, while making inroads in the south, to win on July 17. To her credit, she did just that. She won all seven northern counties in the runoff, plus also won Barbour and Coffee.
West’s financial advantage was evident in the runoff as she spent $23,544 while Hill spent only $9,229. This enabled her to call on campaign consultants in Lexington, KY who have also helped state board member Cynthia McCarty and Secretary of State John Merrill.
(Editor’s note: The key issue in the runoff appeared to be Common Core, with West contending that she has opposed this longer than Hill had. Evidence also shows that West aligned herself with staunch anti-Common Core foes. Given that West chairs the Auburn City school system board, one of the best and most progressive systems in Alabama, I have a hard time understanding this move.
This would mean that West would like to abolish the Alabama College & Career Ready standards which would mean throwing away millions of dollars spent on training teachers and making adaptations. Right now the state is trying to development a new statewide assessment instrument to replace ACT Aspire. This effort would have to be shelved. So we would spend probably five years and untold monies to get new standards and a new assessment.
I have emailed West asking for an explanation of her position, but have had no response)
West will face Adam Jortner of Auburn in the November general election..