One-time U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith, a former Republican — and previously, a former Democrat — will seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor.
Griffith’s decision, made just 20 minutes before deadline, capped the qualification period for both parties, moved up two months this year due to overseas voting requirements. In Montgomery, there will be two contested House races. Former Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery will run against Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery in District 77, encompassing downtown Montgomery and an area between Interstate 85 and Southern Boulevard.
In District 75, comprising east Montgomery and portions of Elmore County, Montgomery County Commissioner Reed Ingram, a Republican, will face lawyer and retired state employee Therese Ford, who qualified to run as a Democrat. Incumbent Rep. Greg Wren, R-Montgomery, is not seeking re-election.
Elsewhere, longtime Democratic Rep. Charles Newton of Greenville, whose district will include portions of south Montgomery County in the June primaries, announced Friday he would become a Republican. In a statement, Newton said it would the best approach for his constituents; two Democrats are seeking the nomination to run against Newton.
Statewide, both parties Friday evening were trying to catch up with applications for 2014 campaigns, and both sounded hopeful notes. Bill Armistead, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said he believes his party will continue to hold the supermajority in both legislative chambers, and that they’ll probably expand it.
“It’s our objective to continue to be the majority party in the state,” he said.
Joe Reed, a vice-chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party and leader of the Alabama Democratic Conference, said Friday the ADC still needed time to assess the new candidates, but felt the party was coming together. He hoped that would help spread the party’s main messages.
“As soon as working white people understand that their destiny is tied to working black folks, they’ll be here,” he said.
A late entry
Griffith arrived at Alabama Democratic Party headquarters Friday afternoon with members of his family, including his wife Virginia. Griffith, who also served in the Alabama Senate, said he spoke with his wife before full committing to a race for governor.
“I feel like a four year old on the high diving board,” Griffith said.
A cancer doctor by training, Griffith, 71, said his campaign would emphasize two Alabama Democratic themes of recent years: Medicaid expansion and the creation of a statewide lottery to fund education.
“When you look at the number of people going to the border of Alabama, spending money on education lotteries in other states, we have no business without an education lottery,” he said.
As a congressman, Griffith voted against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which funds Medicaid expansion, and cited it as a reason for his switch to the Republican Party late in 2009. On Friday, Griffith called the ACA “a confused and difficult bill.” However, he called Medicaid expansion one of the “good things” in the bill, saying it would improve health outcomes and create jobs in the state.
“The human side is that we’re denying Alabamains health care, when in fact I know from personal experience the early diagnosis of any disease (means) less expense,” he said.
Challengers to Gov. Robert Bentley face a steep climb against an incumbent with $2.7 million war chest and a state that has been trending steadily Republican. Griffith acknowledged that he faced a “difficult” race, but said he felt confident he could raise the funds for a statewide campaign.
As for his party-switching, Griffith said he did not expect it to be a major issue, and said there were “vast” differences between the state and national parties.
“I’ve been on both sides of the issues,” he said. “I know the Republicans, I know the Democrats, but I’m an American first and an Alabamian first, and the parties need to get out of the way as far as the kitchen tables of Alabama are concerned.”
Reed said he thought Griffith’s time with the GOP might appeal to state voters. “Most of them are Republicans anyway,” he said.
Grimes, whose old district was moved to Shelby County under redistricting approved in 2012, said John Knight was his reason for running.
“John Knight inherited so much of my old District 73,” he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “I do not feel in any way he can serve those people because he does not share the values those people share. He is a Democrat. He is a liberal Democrat.”
Knight, who has served in the House of Representatives since 1993, declined to comment on Grimes’ remarks Friday, saying he was a “fine person.”
“I think the values I represent are the values of the people I represent,” he said. “I’ve worked for economic development, I’ve worked for low-income working people.”
Knight’s district has a heavy Democratic tilt, and Grimes acknowledged the difficulties a Republican would face in the campaign. He would try to tell voters he was the candidate who could best “support them and their families security in state government.”
If elected, Grimes said he would work toward unifying the state’s two budgets, saying it would bring order to the sometimes chaotic budgets and make it easier to give pay raises to state employees.
“Every year, one (budget) is poor and one is rich,” he said. “And that’s not for the betterment of the state or the people.”
Ford could not be reached for comment Friday. Ingram has said he will make job creation a priority in his campaign.
– Bentley faces Stacy Lee George, a corrections officer, and Bob Starkey, a businessman, in the Republican primary. Kevin Bass, a former minor league baseball player, will challenge Grffith for the Democrats’ nomination.
– Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, will face Stan Cooke, a Jefferson County minister, in the GOP primary. Former Rep. James Fields, D-Cullman, will be the Democrats’ nominee.
– Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, a Republican, will seek re-election against Joe Hubbard, a Democratic Representative from Montgomery.
– State Treasurer Young Boozer, a Republican, will seek re-election against Joe Cottle, a Democrat.
– The Republican field for State Auditor includes Dale Peterson, a Hoover businessman and former Agriculture Commissioner candidate; Adam Thompson, deputy Secretary of State; Anniston attorney Ray Bryan; Mobile attorney Jim Zeigler and Hobbie Sealey, a former deputy Agriculture Commissioner. Miranda Joseph, who was the Democrats’ nominee for the office in 2010, will run again for the office.
– U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, will face Democratic nominee Erick Wright, a businessman.