Chambers County farmer Phil Slay announced Tuesday that he intends to seek the GOP nomination for District 37 in the Alabama House of Representatives. Republican organizer Bob Fincher told The Star today that he also intends to run for the House seat.
District 37, which covers parts of Cleburne, Randolph and Chambers counties, has long been represented by Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke. The 74-year-old independent, who was first elected as a Democrat in 1978, has announced he won't seek another term.
Slay, 48, is the president of the Chambers County branch of the Alabama Farmers Federation and owner of a farm with about 200 head of Angus cattle in Five Points. He said he's running because he was asked to by a number of local residents, including Laird.
Slay said he wants to continue the work of the Republican-run Legislature.
"I think that within the last four years, the state has been heading in the right direction," he said. "I think along the same lines as the people who are running the state now."
Slay said he wanted to keep rural Alabama's needs on the minds of legislators. Asked what the state could do to improve rural life, Slay cited the need to improve schools and help local fire districts. Slay was chief of the Five Points Volunteer Fire Department for more than a decade.
Slay said he supported the Alabama Accountability Act, a law passed earlier this year that gives tax credits to parents of children in "failing" public schools if they move their children to private schools. He said he hoped the bill would be expanded to include more schools.
Slay's opponent also would like to see the Accountability Act expanded.
"I think we need to offer choice to more students," said Fincher, a retired high school teacher and Woodland resident who now serves as the Republican Party chairman for the 3rd Congressional District.
Fincher said he's a conservative who supports the idea of term limits to keep lawmakers honest.
"Three terms is enough," he said.
Fincher, 64, lost a bid for the District 37 seat to Laird in 2010. At the time, Laird was a Democrat, one of the few to win re-election that year. Laird later left the party and labeled himself an independent.
Fincher said he's concerned about the influence of money in Montgomery.
"I'd invite you to look at my campaign records," he said. "My funding was $100 here and $100 there, from regular people."
Campaign records show that Fincher never had more than about $10,000 in his campaign account at any one time in 2010 – a relatively small amount for a House race.
No one has filed campaign finance paperwork yet for the 2014 race. Incumbent Laird had a little more than $22,000 left in his war chest at the beginning of 2013. He said he's not allowed by law to donate it to either 2014 candidate, and will dispense it to local charities during the final year of his term.
Laird said he asked a number of local residents, both Democrats and Republicans, to run for the seat he's vacating. Slay was the only one who accepted the challenge. Laird declined to name the others he asked to run, saying he didn't want to pressure them.
"Phil should do a good job," he said. "He's young, and he should have time to develop some seniority. We'll lose a lot of that next year. I've been around a long time."
Randolph County Revenue Commissioner Josh Burns said earlier this year that he was considering a run for the seat as a Democrat. Attempts to reach Burns today were unsuccessful.
Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.