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Inside the Statehouse: Midsummer runoff voting traditionally lower

By Steve Flowers

If you think the turnout was low for the June 3 primary, “then you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The runoff primary is Tuesday, July 15. The prognostication is for a paltry 5 percent statewide voter participation. Pundits and columnists should not chastise the average Alabama voter because, for the most part, he or she does not have much reason to vote July 15.

Generally speaking, turnout for midsummer runoff voting is traditionally lower. You add to that the fact that the reason you are going out to vote on a sultry mid July Tuesday is to decide who is going to be secretary of state. Lest you even know who is Alabama’s secretary of state or much less what they do. Let me assure you that it’s not the glamorous world traveling, peace-making Henry Kissinger job that you see with the U.S. secretary of state. It’s basically a bureaucratic job that ensures the state’s records are properly kept.

However, having said that, secretary of state is the best statewide race on the ballot next week. It’s very difficult to raise money for this post. Therefore, neither candidate has been able to get any advantage.

The two candidates squaring off in the runoff are well qualified. State Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa is 50 and is making his first foray into state politics after one term in the legislature. He’s facing off against 66-year-old former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney. This race ended in a virtual dead heat on June 3, with both men getting about 40 percent of the vote. It will be interesting to watch.

A second low level constitutional post is on the Republican ballot Tuesday. There’s a runoff between perennial candidate Jim Zeigler and Dale Peterson. Zeigler should prevail. He almost won without a runoff June 3. He led a four-person field with 49 percent. Peterson made the runoff with 23 percent. Whichever one wins will probably make this obscure office more colorful, entertaining and noticeable.

There’s a runoff for Place 2 on the State Public Service Commission. Challenger Chip Beeker led the four-man GOP field in the first primary. He will be facing off against controversial incumbent Terry Dunn. Beeker received 38 percent June 3, to Dunn’s 32 percent. Like the other two low profile state races, there hasn’t been much money available to the candidates. Therefore, with a low voter turnout it’s difficult to predict the outcome. The winner will be home free as there is no Democrat running.

The marquee race this entire election year has been for the open congressional seat in the 6th District. Spencer Bachus’ retirement created a smorgasbord of credible, well-financed candidates seeking the open seat. Paul DeMarco, a state representative from Homewood, and longtime conservative think tank director, Gary Palmer, emerged as the runoff candidates.

As the dust settled June 3, DeMarco got 33 percent of the GOP primary vote, and Palmer received 20 percent. Three viable candidates finished with about 15 percent each. On the surface it appears that DeMarco should be favored. However, Palmer seems to have a little momentum. Both candidates were positive in the first primary but have gone negative in the runoff.

In the big scheme of things it really doesn’t matter which one wins. This is one of the most Republican districts in the nation and whichever one wins will vote conservatively and lock step with the Republican leadership. They actually kind of look alike. Under the seniority system in Washington, it will be 10 years before anyone in Washington will care who is in the seat or even know their name. They will simply be a clone for the Republican hierarchy and have very little power. If it wasn’t for Richard Shelby’s immense power, we would be powerless in Washington.

There’s a very important amendment on the ballot that needs to be approved. It’s referred to as the “Cotton Amendment.” State law requires a statewide producer referendum to be held every 10 years. Producers are allowed to vote on continuing a checkoff to fund research and promotion activities to further the state’s cotton industry. The amendment check off has been approved overwhelmingly the last 30 years. Don’t forget it Tuesday.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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