Voting 8-15-17

A slow stream of voters come and go out of the Saks High School gym during the special election for the US Senate seat in Alabama. (Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star)

Calhoun County voters will have at least three candidates to choose from – one Democrat and two Republicans – in the race for the District 12 seat in the Alabama State Senate.

Retired naval officer Jim Williams of Anniston qualified to run as a Democrat on Tuesday, according to the party’s most recent candidate list. Williams declined to talk about his platform in a telephone interview Wednesday, saying he was still preparing for an official announcement in coming days.

“For now, I don’t want to comment beyond that,” Williams said.

He’s the third candidate to seek the seat now held by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, the president pro tempore of the Senate. Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis is also seeking the seat as a Republican.

Qualifying for the race doesn’t end until Friday, but the race has already seen months of twists and turns, thanks to the election of President Donald Trump.

When Trump chose then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions as his attorney general last year, Marsh was considered one of the favorites to replace him. Leader of the state Senate since the Republican wave election of 2010, Marsh was also whispered about as a possible candidate for governor in 2018.

Willis, the Weaver mayor, announced his plan to run for the District 12 seat a year ago, when Marsh was still considered a likely candidate for higher office. But Marsh didn’t get the U.S. Senate appointment – and when then-Gov. Robert Bentley instead appointed Luther Strange, the state attorney general who was believed to be investigating the governor for campaign finance violations – the backlash hastened Bentley’s downfall. Bentley resigned in April.

Now former Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey is governor, and Marsh is doing her old job. (There’s no provision to replace a lieutenant governor, but Marsh presides over the Senate and is next in the line of succession.) Marsh said he has no desire to challenge Ivey for the governor’s office.

“I believe Kay is doing a good job, and I think we work well together,” Marsh said.

Willis hasn’t backed out of the race, however, saying voters are ready to see more new faces in Montgomery.

“I think voters are ready for a change,” Willis said.

Willis has campaigned on opposition to charter schools and a desire to end what he calls a stray-animal crisis caused in part by lack of a spay-and-neuter policy.

Marsh was the architect of the Alabama Accountability Act, a school choice bill that offers tax credits and scholarships for families of students who leave “failing” public schools.  He played a key role in the passage of the state’s first charter school bill.

Williams, the Democrat in the race, teaches history part time at Troy University and serves as an officer for National Active and Retired Federal Employees, an employee association for retired federal workers. He said Wednesday that he’d likely resign his NARFE position to pursue the District 12 seat.

With the Williams candidacy, Democrats have candidates in 13 of the 35 seats for state Senate and 48 of the 105 seats in the House. That means the Democrats need about a dozen additional candidates in the next two days to keep Republicans from winning one or both houses by default.

In District 32, Rep. Barbara Boyd, R- Anniston, now faces a challenge from Anniston physician Dr. Angela Fears, who qualified to run as a Democrat this week.

There’s no Republican in that race so far.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.