In what will otherwise be a quiet primary season in Calhoun County, five candidates will face off in the Republican primary for the District 5 seat on the County Commission, which will be vacated by three-term Commissioner Rudy Abbott, a Democrat. No Democrats qualified to run for the seat.
Former Alabama House of Representatives candidate Jay Dill, United Parcel Service driver Lee Patterson, business owner Jason Lively, retired Alabama Power employee Bill Lindsey, and former Democratic Commissioner Phillip Pritchett have qualified to run for the seat on the Republican ticket.
District 5 covers all of Jacksonville and Piedmont, along with unincorporated areas including Williams, Roy Webb and Knightens Crossroads.
While Abbott won’t return to the commission, his tenure will cast a long shadow on the District 5 seat, according to the candidates. Lindsey, Patterson and Lively said they would not have entered the race unless Abbott was stepping aside, while Pritchett said Abbott’s decision not to seek re-election made his choice to run easier. Dill said Abbott didn’t factor into his own decision to run, but said he respected Abbott’s leadership during his 12 years on the commission.
Of the five candidates in the race, Pritchett has the most experience in politics. The life-long Jacksonville resident previously served as a Democratic commissioner for District 5 between 1991 and 1998. Pritchett said after a long absence in politics, he’s returning now because he can dedicate more time to the job after retiring as president of Pritchett Construction.
“I would want people to know I have the experience,” Pritchett said. “I know how to work with the budget and with contracts.”
Dill’s first political experience came during a run for Alabama House District 40 in a special election against K.L. Brown in 2010. Dill said he conceded the race before the primary election, which would have cost the state $50,000.
“My promise when I campaigned was to save money, so I’m proud of that,” Dill said. “The biggest thing the commission does is work on the budget with different agencies. It’s about dollars and cents and takes good business sense.”
Patterson is also a newcomer to politics, but helped campaign for K.L. Brown in 2010. He said he’d been interested in getting more involved in community politics since Sept. 11, 2001.
“I just thought I needed to do more than just make a living,” said Patterson, who’s lived in Jacksonville all his life. “You need to be more involved in your community.”
By contrast, this will be the first foray into politics for Lindsey and Lively. Lindsey grew up in Piedmont, but spent most of his adult life in Birmingham before retiring from Alabama Power and moving back to Calhoun County in 2012. He said he decided to run when he read that Abbott would not seek re-election.
“It’s something I thought about before, but Mr. Abbott has such name recognition,” said Lindsey, who noted he had five days to qualify after learning Abbott would not seek re-election. “I didn’t have a chance to not do it. It was kind of a whirlwind.”
Lively said he was also inspired to run when he found out Abbott was not seeking re-election, but said he most looks up to District 4 Commissioner J.D. Hess.
“The work he’s done, building ball fields and bringing facilities to the community, I think I could work alongside him,” Lively said. “For me it’s all about education and schools.”
The District 5 seat is the only spot on the commission being vacated by an incumbent, and is just one of two commission spots that will see a primary election. Commissioner Fred Wilson, who was appointed to replace Pappy Dunn on the District 1 seat in 2012, will face Eric Stringer and James Montgomery in a Democratic primary. Commissioners Tim Hodges, Don Hudson and J.D. Hess will not face any challengers for their seats.
Hess said at the most recent commission meeting the lack of candidates represented the strength and unity the current commission has created. But Glen Browder, a former U.S. Congressman serving Alabama’s 3rd House District between 1989 and 1997 and political science professor at Jacksonville State University, said open seats have always been more contested in elections at almost every level of government.
“It’s pretty hard to beat an incumbent unless they had some egregious scandal or violation,” Browder said. “You have a lot of folks who think, I’d like to run, but I’ll wait for so and so to retire. If I was advising someone politically, I’d tell them to run for an open seat.”
The primary election is scheduled for June 3.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.