Earlier this year, State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield) resigned her spot in the legislature to take a job in the Trump administration.
That meant a special election for constituents in House District 49, which includes parts of Shelby, Chilton and Bibb Counties, and is a solidly Republican district that consists of a mix of suburban and rural areas.
On August 4, Russell Bedsole and Mimi Penhale emerged as the top vote-getters in a Republican primary and will compete on Tuesday for the Republican Party’s nomination in a runoff election.
Bedsole, an Alabaster city councilman, touted his law enforcement and city government experiences, which he said would be an asset if elected to the Alabama House of Representatives. He expressed his desire to make law enforcement and first responders at the forefront.
“I’ve had a tremendous opportunity over the last weeks, couple of months, actually, to really hear from the people of District 49 and what’s important to them — things like safe communities,” Bedsole said in an interview with Yellowhammer News. “And as a law and order candidate, they’re absolutely getting a guy they need that is going to do those things to deliver for them in Montgomery, that is going to keep their communities safe, that is going to work well with the law enforcement community and the first responders as well.”
“Most homes are talking about that,” he continued. “They see what’s going on around the country and very openly tell me they don’t want that to happen here in this district in the state of Alabama. I think they’re really searching after a guy who is not a politician, who is not a Montgomery insider, that has spent his adult career working as a public servant — as a public servant who has been upholding the laws, enforcing the laws of the state. You combine that with eight years, that is two terms, as a city councilor in Alabaster, and you’ve got someone who has the experience of knowing what happens out on the street but also be able to know how to create policy put these things into place. It’s a beautiful marriage to put together these two things that are facets of my life that have come together that have uniquely positioned me to be a candidate that the people of this district are really wanting.”
For Penhale, who is married to the grandson of long-time former Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale, the district’s infrastructure deficiencies are on her radar as a legislative priority. She cited the diversity of the economy of House District 49, which presents a variety of needs.
“I think throughout the entire district, there are infrastructure issues,” Penhale said in a phone conversation with Yellowhammer News. “For years and years these roads and bridges have been neglected – and now there’s been an uptick, if you’re in the Shelby County area, an uptick on use from families and neighborhoods that are being built in those areas. And those roads aren’t necessarily capable of handling the number of people who are utilizing them currently, which is also a strain and stress on providing businesses for those families.”
“Helena does not have an interstate access, so they have particular issues that are different from this district itself,” she continued. “But you’re seeing those infrastructure issues there. But over in Bibb and Chilton County, you’re seeing an increase in businesses and trucks that are utilizing those roads – that are logging trucks, or these trucks that are associating with industry. And the infrastructure, in general, is just not able to hold the capacity, whether it be for families or for business.”
With COVID-19 still playing a role in everyone’s life, both Bedsole and Penhale addressed state government policy and the disruptions that stem from it.
For Bedsole, the public’s ability to worship freely without restrictions was important.
“I think the people of this district have a tremendous spirit about them, and they’re just ready to get back to work, back to school, and get back to their worship,” Bedsole explained. “And not necessarily in that order because I think many of them are definitely seeking out their worship as a big priority, and then getting back to work.”
Penhale had raised rural broadband connectivity as a need for the district and pointed to the economics of the coronavirus downturn.
“We’ve also heard concerns about the shutdown in general, and how it’s endangering these small businesses – more so than some of the large businesses,” she said. “But I think we’re seeing a trickle-down at this point. Some of the larger businesses are having to layoff individuals and are moving to an online option. Again, we’re not able to cater to these areas because we don’t have an online option.”
However, she also noted despite the trend toward normalcy, people were still concerned about state government overreach.
“I think people are happy to be getting back to work,” Penhale said. “I think they’re happy to be getting back to normal. I was at a football game last week, and I could tell everybody there was just happy to be back to something was normal or something that resembled normal life.”
“There is a turn currently going on,” she continued. “Now has this turn happened as most people would like to have seen? No. People are still concerned about the government and what overreach looks like and what we should be doing as a state, encouraging as opposed to mandating.”
When asked to make a closing argument for his candidacy, Bedsole emphasized his law enforcement experience, particularly given the national political environment regarding police.
“As a career law enforcement official of 22 years, I’ve been able to serve our community in that capacity,” he said. “And you combine that with eight fantastic years of leading the city council of the city of Alabaster — and those two things uniquely position me as a candidate, number one, as a law-and-order candidate. I’ve lived it. I am the blue, so I back the blue. We’re going to do things to support our police chiefs, our sheriffs, and also, our friends at the fire departments and first responders, EMS. The other component of that is the ability to know what to do with all that information.”
He also claimed having worked in Alabaster city government made him equipped to serve his constituents in Montgomery, not for Montgomery.
“With eight years on the city council, we’ve put it into practice,” he added. “I’ll be able to offer that unique perspective in Montgomery when we have those challenging situations that affect back home. You need to remember that we’re always here to represent our district to Montgomery, but we should never try to represent Montgomery back to our district. When I represent my district back in Montgomery, I’ll have unique experience to be able to do so, both from the law enforcement perspective, but also someone who has served his city on the city council.”
Penhale pointed to her service as the legislative director for the Shelby County legislative delegation and being a young conservative woman as reasons for voters to consider candidacy has a choice on Tuesday.
“I’m an interesting candidate in that I’m young, but I have nine years experience working with legislators and within state government,” Penhale added. “I have a knowledge base that most people running for office do not have. I have experience and understanding in a broad range of knowledge from what I have done that I can bring something to the table early on as opposed to having to take years to do this job to help constituents. And coming from this place of service, I think it will be good for my constituents in that it shows that I am already ready to listen, and I’m already here.”
“I also think being a young conservative woman is a voice we don’t have in the legislature,” she continued. “It’s not young conservative women don’t exist. It’s that we’re busy. I mean, we’re raising our children. We’re balancing the books at our homes. We’re making education decisions for our families. And so, for many young women, it’s not an option. For me, already having been involved and already knowing what it takes to be a legislator, I think that’s a valuable perspective to have and that we haven’t seen.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5