Candidates share platforms, field questions at forum

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Candidates seeking positions from probate judge all the way up to U.S. House of Representatives were at the Pike County Courthouse Monday night to share their platforms and answer questions.

Each candidate was given three minutes to share their background and platform before the forum shifted to a question and answer session moderated by former representative Steve Flowers.

Both candidates in the local probate judge race were among the candidates in attendance for the forum.

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Michael Bunn, local attorney, said he wants to work in the probate court to ensure people coming before the probate judge have someone who is experienced in the area of law and knows the issues at hand.

“It means a lot to me,” Bunn said. “I practice in that court. I have tried over 100 cases in that court in my five years as an attorney in Troy … these are life and death situations for people. Whether your momma’s homestead is going to become yours. Or maybe whether a sibling is going to have their liberties restricted to be put in a mental institution. Or a child waiting for a forever family. Those are situations I deal with on daily basis and I would begin day one with the ability to start working on those.”

Alton Starling, clerk for the City of Troy, said his background working as an administrative official has prepared him for the similar ministerial role of probate judge.

“If we continue to fight amongst ourselves, we’re not going to be able to come together and accomplish anything as a team,” Starling said. “ It’s about fairness and impartiality. In 21 years working in the city, I was fair and impartial in any dealings with everyone. The jobs are similar, and that’s what I would do if you elect me.”

The candidates both fielded a question about the issuance of marriage licenses, which has become a dividing issue for the two hopefuls.

“It’s a very important issue, I want you to understand this,” Starling said. “When you take an oath of office to do a job, you swear an oath to the Constitution of the United States and the state of Alabama; people have died for that … the battle was fought in 2015 and the Supreme Court ruled on it. I’m going to issue marriage licenses on that principle alone.”

Starling said only nine counties of the 3,007 in the U.S. that are not issuing marriage licenses, and seven of those are in Alabama.

Bunn said the decision on whether to issue marriage licenses falls solely to probate judges.

“The Supreme Court did not change state law in Alabama,” Bunn said. “It says a probate judge may or may not have a marriage license division. That’s not not part of the constitution; that did not change … It’s unnecessary to get back into that mess. I see no reason to go against what people of Pike County want. It is 100 percent legal. If it wasn’t, a federal court would have changed it by now.”

Marcus Paramore, Troy City Council president, was at the forum in the Republican race for the District 89 seat on the Alabama House of representatives as well as Democratic candidate Joel Williams, local attorney, who has not officially announced his campaign although he qualified to run in February.

Paramore said jobs are the key issue he would deal with if elected to office.

“This is all about economic development; about job growth,” Paramore said. “Provide a good job and good education and a lot of the social ills will start to fade away.”

Paramore said his experience working with former representative Terry Everett as well as Troy University’s governmental relations director and his time on the city council give him the experience necessary for the job.

“It’s about getting in there and rolling your sleeves up,” Paramore said. “I’ve already been there doing it. I’ve written legislation, I know how the system works. I don’t need to be educated once I get there … I’m the only candidate in this race that has actually cast a vote that has affected your life.”

Paramore said tax incentives were the best way to bring jobs to the local economy for everybody and said earmarked money is necessary in the education budget to draw down federal dollars. He also said he would defend the retirement system.

Williams said his law background and experience writing legislation makes him a good fit for the job.

“Nobody in the race is more trained, equipped or more capable than I am, “ Williams said. “If we don’t focus on money issues like education we’re being cheated. A college education starts in kindergarten … We have the resources in Alabama to make education better-funded, but the formula is broken. There is money not getting to education that should and could.”

Williams said more attention needs to be given to bringing in small businesses and not just “home-run” employers.

“We forget to ask what can we do to help the small businesses,” Williams said. “Let’s reach out and see what we can do to be a more effective government.

Wes Allen, current probate judge, did not attend the forum to share his platform. He is a Republican candidate for the District 89 seat.

Two candidates for the district judge race attended the forum.

January “Jana” Blair Ellis, local attorneuy, said her background makes her the most qualified candidate.

“I practice 80 percent of time in the district court system,” Ellis said. “I’ve learned how busy and dedicated you have to be to desire this job.”

Ellis said the single judge handles 6,800 cases per year and said her main passion is juvenile court, which saw 158 cases last year. It may not seem like much of anything when compared to 6,800 cases, but it’s very important; those are beating hearts, children that came before the court.”

Ellis said her business background would help her if elected to the role.

Virginia Green Nowling said her experience on both prosecution and defense would be an asset to her as a judge.

“I’ve represented numerous clients charged with serious felony offenses,” Nowling said. “I’m most proud of serving as drug court attorney, where I’ve seen many lives transformed. If elected I will treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

District judge candidate Steven Curtis did not attend the forum.

Circuit Judge candidate Sonny Reagan said he has experience in prosecution and defense in his 15 years of law plus experience from his time in the Army that qualifies him for the highest judicial seat in the county.

“I will treat everybody fairly and will be a constant presence here in Pike County,” Reagan said.

Josh Wilson, another candidate for the office, did not attend the forum.

Circuit clerk Jamie Scarbrough is running unopposed for reelection, but she took the time to impress upon the audience the importance of the judicial races.

“It’s very important for Pike County, these two races,” Scarbrough said. “This can make us or this can break us; it’s very important have someone that is smart and knows and obeys the law regardless of anything else.”

Two Democratic candidates seeking election to the District 2 seat on the U.S. House of Representatives attended the forum Monday night.

Tabitha Isner said she wants to keep social safety nets in place for people going through crisis, with bad living conditions being “one divorce, diagnosis or disaster away,” which she says she saw in her own home life.

She also said she believes illegal immigrants need a clearer path into the country and more protection once here, and she said that they have made a net positive impact despite coming illegally.

Audri Scott Williams said she wants to be a voice for social issues and wants to collaborate across state and political lines to come up with solutions to the country’s problems. She focused on reforming the criminal justice program and the healthcare system in the state.

She also said that education and jobs are linked and one of the things needed to fix both is creating better infrastructure to ensure resources can move in and out as needed. She also advocated for free tuition at the community college level.

The primaries will be held Tuesday, June 5 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voter identification will be required.