Jefferson County Commission Runoff

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Vote early, vote often’ is one of the more cynical sayings in politics. But those words have a ring of truth for voters in Jefferson County Commission District 1. They’ll go to the polls tomorrow to choose a candidate to fill out the remainder of William Bell’s term. The same two candidates in that election will appear on the ballot again on July 13, in a Democratic primary runoff. Confused? WBHM’s Bradley George helps sort it all out.

The confusion starts right about here.

‘That I will faithfully and honestly discharge the duties of the office upon which I’m about to enter.’

When he was sworn in as Mayor of Birmingham in late January, William Bell resigned his seat on the Jefferson County Commission. That set the wheels in motion for a special election, to fill out the remaining months of Bell’s term. The date for that election: June 1st. A field of more than a dozen candidates was whittled down to two. The top vote-getters face off in tomorrow’s election.

‘When I served before I served the position, in my estimation, honorably.’

The Governor appointed George Bowman to the District 1 seat in 2007. That’s when Larry Langford left the Commission, after he was elected Mayor of Birmingham. Bowman’s appointment was challenged in the courts, and he later lost the seat to William Bell in a special election. But now, Bowman says he wants his old job back.

‘We left a lot of business undone that still has yet to be completed, that’s right there on the table for the County Commission.’

Bowman’s opponent is Birmingham City Councilman Johnathan Austin. He shares Bowman’s view that county government has been unwilling to address challenges like the sewer debt.

‘For so long, we’ve been dealing with the same issues and these issues have not been addressed. And so, if the county fails, the city will fail and all of the cities in Jefferson County will fail.’

The winner of tomorrow’s election will serve until November. And here’s where the confusion steps up a notch. No matter who wins tomorrow, voters in District 1 go back to the polls again July 13. This is a runoff election for June’s Democratic primary. The winner will face a Republican candidate Greg Stanley in November, for the chance to serve a full four year term on the County Commission. The names on the July 13 ballot: George Bowman and Jonathan Austin. Eddie Lard is an editorial writer at The Birmingham News.

‘This thing is way up in the air and there’s some confusing aspects of this that probably were not properly anticipated.’

In a recent editorial, The News called the special election in District 1 a waste of money, that will lead to confusion and voter fatigue.

‘There could very well be some degree of voter apathy in this election because they have voted so many times.’

Lard says holding so many elections for a single County Commission seat is expensive. He says would be more prudent to hold the two runoffs at the same time. Multiple elections also puts a financial strain on the candidates, according to George Bowman.

‘Constantly gearing up campaign staffs and constantly getting people out the polls and continually working. So, I’ll be going through hopefully four elections before all of this is done.’

Johnathan Austin, meanwhile, is trying to take it one election at a time.

‘Once June 22 is here, you win that race. You win that, and everything resets and starts back to zero and we have to run again to July 13. So it’s not a continuation of what we’ve been doing since June or since we started campaigning. But it’s always a new race.’

It’s a situation that’s less like Election Day and more like Groundhog Day.