Filing deadline brings out opponents in local primary contests at state level
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 08, 2014 | 4377 views |  0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Running for office is still a competitive sport in Calhoun County in 2014, even if it may not always feel that way statewide.

Some of the county's most powerful political figures found themselves facing challenges from both inside and outside their party as election qualifying drew to a close Friday afternoon.

"I welcome my opponents to the race, and as always look forward to a positive campaign on the issues that matter most to the voters of the Third District," U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Rogers has represented Alabama's Third District for more than a decade and in the past two election cycles strolled to victory with double-digit leads over poorly-funded Democratic opponents.

Rogers seemed headed for a possible cakewalk this year, as candidates struggled to meet an earlier-than-usual qualifying deadline. But Friday found him facing not only a Democrat but a challenger for the Republican nomination.

Jesse T. Smith, Phenix City resident and 14-year Army veteran, qualified as a Democrat in the race this week. Smith said he decided to run for Congress out of frustration when Rogers didn't help him correct a problem with his disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He said he has traveled the district talking to other veterans, and has heard similar stories of frustration.

"They should not be subject to poverty, subject to being homeless, and subject to committing suicide," Smith said. A native of Albany, Ga., and a non-commissioned officer when he left the Army, Smith said he is an Iraq War veteran with a 60 percent disability rating from the VA due to back problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Shea Miller, spokeswoman for Rogers, said the Congressman "does not publicly discuss matters regarding constituent cases."

Rogers also faces a primary challenge from Thomas Casson, a Republican who qualified in the race Friday. The Star's attempts to locate Casson Friday were unsuccessful. An Auburn resident by the same name identifies himself on Facebook as working for "U.S. Congress" and as a former officer of Charter Bank.

State Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston, who has been the president pro tem since the Republicans won both houses in 2010, also faces a dual challenge.

Anniston lawyer Taylor Stewart qualified to run a Democrat against Marsh on Wednesday. Stewart cited concerns about the lack of jobs and poor health care outcomes in Anniston as his reasons for running.

Steve Guede, an activist with the tea party group Rainy Day Patriots, qualified to run against Marsh in the Republican primary. Attempts to reach Guede on Friday were unsuccessful.

Marsh, who until recently appeared to be headed into the election unopposed, said he'd always expected some sort of challenge.

"I knew there would be opposition, and that's why I tried to be prepared," he said.

In other local races, it was clear there would be opposition long before qualifying ended:

— In House District 29, Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, will face Democratic Etowah County coroner Michael Gladden in November.

— In Senate District 13, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, will battle Cleburne County Republican Party chairman Tim Sprayberry in the primary, and the winner will face Democrat Darrell Turner in the general election.

— In Senate District 11. Sen. Jerry Fielding, R-Sylacauga, and Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, will square off for the chance to face Democrat Ron Crumpton in the general election.

All of those candidates were raising campaign funds long before qualifying ended. But in some races, the qualifying deadline revealed some new candidates. Ohatchee resident Lindsay Ford qualified to run in the primary against Alexandria resident Ted Copland for the District 40 House seat, with the winner going on to challenge incumbent K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, in the general election. Ford had not announced a candidacy before qualifying.

In District 35, Democrat Stephanie Engle qualified in a race that had been a primary match-up between incumbent Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, and fellow Republican Steve Dean.

Two local lawmakers may get another term without an election. Online records posted by both parties Friday afternoon showed no opponents for Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, or Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston — though it wasn't clear whether the records posted online were final.

Even if they are, either Wood or Boyd could still face a challenge from an independent candidate. Independent candidates have until June 3 to file a petition with the state to run for state or federal office or a probate judgeship.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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