The Races for Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District

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As Alabama voters pick their members of Congress at the polls next week, only residents of the sixth congressional district will be guaranteed to have new representation. Long-time Congressman Spencer Bachus is retiring from the district that covers suburban Birmingham. The fight for Alabama’s only open seat is heating up.

Earlier this year Republican Gary Palmer surprised many by rising above a crowded primary field and capturing the GOP nomination.<?p>

It’s Palmer’s first run for office but he knows politics. He founded the Alabama Policy Institute. It’s a think tank that advocates for limited government, free market principles, and conservative social positions. His take on issues falls under that umbrella, but in this campaign he frames his positions as solutions.

“I never really tried to make it about Republican/Democrat as much as lets talk about how we can all work together and get the country going back in the right direction,” said Palmer.

He advocates spurring economic growth by opening up areas of the western United States to greater oil and gas drilling. He supports repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a healthcare system driven by more competition.

Those are positions his opponent sees differently.

Democrat Mark Lester is a history professor at Birmingham-Southern College and a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. He just got into the race this summer when the previous Democratic candidate dropped out. Lester takes direct aim at Palmer and when he does it’s with words like these — radical tea party.

“The problem is this is not a moderate Republican this is an extremist who happened to capture the Republican nomination for Congress,” Lester told the crowd.

Lester goes after his opponent particularly for Palmer’s stance on repealing the Violence Against Women Act. Palmer says the act duplicates efforts by the Justice Department and the money would be better spend at the state or local level.

Lester says spending on infrastructure and research as well as cutting regulations on small business are needed to boost the economy. He says Obamacare shouldn’t be repealed but there does need to be more transparency on medical costs.

It won’t be easy for Lester. Many political observers consider the sixth district a conservative one that’s safe for Republicans.

Retired University of Alabama Political Scientist William Stewart says Palmer has had longer to campaign and he’s raised more money. As of October 15th, Palmer’s raised 13 times more. But Stewart says no matter what, going from a 22-year veteran in Spencer Bachus to a freshman congressman, the district will lose clout.

“Whether you have Palmer or Lester going to Washington that person is going to start out as the low man on the totem pole in term of his committee assignments,” said Stewart.

For instance, that could mean less influence to steer federal dollars to Alabama for research or infrastructure.

Of course nothing happens until voters have their say.

At a coffee shop in Homewood, the beans may be flowing but finding voters here flowing with knowledge of the race is hard.

A few people are college students who explain they go to school away from Birmingham and don’t keep up with news at home. One man says he volunteered for the Palmer campaign but can’t name his Democratic opponent. Out of 20 people, only two can name both candidates.

One of them is Melissa Patrick. She lives in Homewood and is concerned so many seem to be unaware.

“Because this particular district that is one of more wealth than most in our state and one that is generally better educated, where we value being a part of the community,” Patrick said. “I’m not necessarily surprised but I’m definitely disheartened.”

What that will mean at the ballot box will be determined next Tuesday.

 

More | Extended Interview with Republican Gary Palmer

More | Extended Interview with Democrat Mark Lester

 

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