Candidates vie to connect with Blount County



One of the amusing aspects of the election “runoff rally” at Oneonta High School last week was candidates’ efforts to “out- Blount-County” each other.

First, one said he had spent more time campaigning in Blount County than anyone else.

Another said he was born, raised, lives, works, and campaigns in Blount County.

A third said he had coached and taught school for several years in Blount County – right here in this building! – and it was full tonight of his friends and relatives.

The fourth said he wasn’t born here, but in another town in north Alabama that’s just like Blount County, except that it’s been blown away by tornadoes twice in the last half century, and the people there are just like Blount Countians about helping each other recover and being determined to rebound and rebuild – just like the residents of Straight Mountain since the night of tornadoes in April. He stretched, and it took a minute, but he made his point.

Like their connections to Blount County, it was possible to conclude that the remainder of the rally highlighted similarities more than differences. Below are some of the candidates’ greatly condensed comments, which serve to somewhat differentiate their positions.

DeMarco vs. Palmer

Paul DeMarco: After an extended riff on birth of his new son, DeMarco outlined three legislative efforts of interest to Blount County he has participated in: opposing the Jefferson County occupational tax; striving to limit the powers and add a Blount County representative to the Birmingham Water Works Board; supporting efforts to begin construction on the Northern Beltline.

Gary Palmer: Palmer said he has a gun and knows how to use it, has a tractor and knows how to work it, and knows what it is to be laid off from a job. He said it will take three to four years to repeal Obamacare and relieve its drag on the economy, but that the country could get the economy going right away by exploiting oil reserves in the Green River Formation in western states. Question to both candidates: Blount County’s infrastructure needs – roads, schools, fire protection, law enforcement, etc. are great and chronically underfunded. How would you increase funding to these needs?

Palmer: Take tax revenues from exploitation of national resources he mentioned and dedicate royalties to infrastructure repair.

DeMarco: Look to Washington, D. C., to grow the economy, creating more tax revenues. As congressman, he would work for federal grants to support fire departments, law enforcement, other infrastructure. Question: What is your opinion of the biggest issue Blount County faces and can you solve it if elected?

DeMarco: Workforce development – the need to create state/education/business partnerships to provide exactly the training and skills young people need to fill available jobs in Blount County. He would sit down with representatives of various entities to work to develop a skills training program.

Palmer: What’s killing job growth is excessive regulation. Said Obamacare is at fault and the Environmental Protection Agency is “a menace to the economy.” He said we must get rid of obsolete regulations, and move regulation closer to people, as in moving environmental regulation to state agencies rather than the federal EPA. Question: The nation has been plagued by scandals involving the IRS and VA. What would you do to protect Blount County?

Palmer: Impeach the President. Scandals and the insufficient reaction to them are examples of executive branch overreach, which must be reined in.

DeMarco: How to stop the scandals? Put people in jail. Heads of federal agencies have lost respect of the people. Need to appoint special prosecutors to hold them accountable. Either fix the agencies now or get rid of them once and for all.

King vs. Shelnutt

Brett King: Summarized his education at Jeff State, Auburn, Yale, and Alabama. Said a great disconnect has occurred between legislators in Montgomery and ordinary workingclass folks. Citizens deserve a voice. He wants to be that voice.

Shay Shelnutt: Said he taught at Oneonta High School from early 2000s until 2006. Said many of his friends and relatives are in the auditorium tonight, called them and pointed them out by name. Summarized his experience as a teacher, coach, successful real estate agent, and businessman. Question to both candidates: How will you help fund Blount County infrastructure – roads, schools, fire departments, law enforcement, etc.?

Shelnutt: “I won’t introduce new taxes.” Must create jobs. District 6 has resources – interstates and railways. Would bring in mayors and leaders from entire area to work together and create jobs.

King: Ran down history of chronic underfunding in Blount County. Said county must focus on undeveloped property, particularly near interstate connectors on I-65. Must create partnerships among government, local industry, and emerging economic development community. Question: How do you feel about major landfills in Blount County?

King: He met with landfill representative recently.There is a (state) moratorium (on new landfills) in place. I don’t see the need for another landfill in Blount County.”

Shelnutt: “I’m against the dump. I signed the pledge not to support it.” Question: 2015 state budget will be $200 million short of adequate funding for state agencies. How do you make up that deficit?

Shelnutt:“We have problems in Alabama – prisons, Medicaid, education. I’m tired of stealing from the Education Trust Fund. We’ve got to turn the economy around where more people work, more pay taxes – not more taxes – and tax revenue expands to meet funding needs.”

King: Articulated need for innovative solutions, giving dramatic example of lessening prison overcrowding with program aimed at educating high school kids not to make choices leading to prison. Involved holding actual trials in high school auditoriums, complete with sentencing hearings and testimonials from convicted felons to listening sixth- to ninth-grade audiences. Also said one place to save money for funding other needs is “to solve the Medicaid mess.”