At least one Republican heavyweight has turned his back on Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead and is supporting a lesser-known party activist in his bid to run the state party for the next two years. And more are expected.
Gov. Robert Bentley announced in a Thursday conference call that he is supporting Birmingham attorney Matt Fridy, a member of the party’s steering committee and former chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party. Fridy announced his candidacy and talked about himself and his history.
“I am endorsing Matt and I am asking you to support Matt and I believe we can continue to move our party forward and continue on the path of unity that I believe we desperately need as we move forward,” Bentley said.
When Republicans vote on a chairman on Feb. 2, the setting will be much different for Armistead and for the party. Two years ago, former Gov. Bob Riley and others rallied their support behind Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery.
And Bentley backed Armistead.
But, unlike the rift two years ago, many of the power players appear to be coalescing behind another candidate and it is not the incumbent.
Armistead said Thursday evening that he did not feel the members of the executive committee would make their decision based on the endorsement of an elected official.
“From what I have been told by Republicans who serve on the executive committee, they don’t like to be told who to vote for,” he said. “That was very obvious two years ago.”
Armistead said he knows a majority of the committee still supports him.
“I feel that at this point I have at least as strong of support as I had when I was elected,” he said.
Brooklyn Roberts, a Republican from Jefferson County on the conference call, said she supported Armistead “last time and was on the team to help him get elected.”
“I know several of us are disappointed in the way things have happened over the last two years,” she said.
Other callers commended him for his hard work on behalf of Republican candidates and for his demeanor.
Armistead said he knew ahead of time that Bentley was going to endorse Fridy and said he has talked to Bentley since learning about the endorsement, but declined to divulge any details of the conversation or why Bentley told him he was endorsing Fridy.
“I certainly did not expect it when I first learned he was going to do that because of our past close relationship,” Armistead said of the endorsement. “It is his decision. He has to stand by that.”
Armistead said he has been very supportive of Bentley during his time as chairman.
In the conference call, Bentley thanked Armistead for his service and hard work for the last two years and said his endorsement of Fridy was not him being negative toward Armistead. The governor said he felt the party needs to be unified leading up to the 2014 election and said Fridy is the best person to lead the party.
“We need to have unity in the party and work together,” Bentley said.
Fridy said that after he became a member of the party’s steering committee, be became aware that there was too much infighting.
While the infighting is nothing new, Fridy said “It’s gotten bad over these last couple years.”
“It is time for it to stop,” he said. “ … If elected, I will work tirelessly to bridge the rifts that have developed.”
Fridy said he is a conservative, but the party has become more about personality than principle for some people. He said there needs to be more of an emphasis on teamwork than self-promotion.
“It is time for a new model of leadership,” he said.
Fridy said his vision moving toward the 2014 election was to ensure financial responsibility and accountability, to be transparent, to redouble fundraising efforts, to unify the party, to strengthen the local parties, and produce results.
Fridy vowed not to allow the Alabama Education Association and other special interests that are not a part of the Republican Party to take a “foothold.”
“Folks, make no mistake, the AEA and other liberal special interests are coming after us,” he said.
Recently, some Republicans criticized Armistead for a $5,000 contribution from the Alabama Education Association, which is detested by many staunch Republicans in the state, listed on a campaign finance report for the party. But that is just an easy talking point, one sure to get some of the base fired up, in the effort to oust Armistead after months of frustration over other issues.
Some Republicans are upset about an internal audit that Armistead had conducted after taking over, which is considered critical of previous chairman Mike Hubbard, but that he has refused to release publicly. Hubbard is now speaker of the House and has asked for the audit to be released.
Other Republicans have not been happy with party operations and have not always felt there was support from the state office.
Armistead said he has used the party, its website and his newsletter to promote Bentley and other Republican officials.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen