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The Political Round-Up

Rich, Erwin DA race motors on;
Byrne on hot seat;
Rose blooms next to big thorn;
Violence not the answer

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Although Sheriff Sam Cochran remains neutral in the race, most of his department’s leadership joined more than 100 supporters of Ashley Rich in a rally for her district attorney campaign Tuesday evening at the Mobile County Law Enforcement Association lodge near Dog River.

The family fun event and cookout featured remarks from a number of family members whose relatives were slain in crimes that Rich prosecuted. The loss of a loved one by criminal act is a sudden and surreal introduction to the criminal justice system, a time of emotion, anxiety, frustration, anger and confusion which Rich helped them navigate in the course of holding the defendant accountable, they noted. The survivors are featured in a campaign commercial that began airing this week. 

Rich then addressed the gathering: “The difference in this election is that I’m a prosecutor and my opponent is a politician. The question for voters to ask themselves is: do they want a prosecutor or a politician as their district attorney? It’s really as simple as that. That’s the 30 second spiel you can tell your friends and neighbors and send them to our website.”

Rich rival Mark Erwin counters that he is proud of his work in behalf of GOP candidates and concedes no advantage to Rich as an advocate before the courts of Alabama.  

Rich is a 14-year veteran assistant in the office of Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr., a Democrat who several weeks ago decided against seeking re-election, a decision that apparently will lead to the election of a Republican district attorney in Mobile County for the first time in more than 30 years.

Rich is also a member of the Mobile County Republican Executive Committee and the sister of former MCREC chairman Janet Rich Pittman.

Erwin, who followed Pittman as MCREC chairman, does legal work for the Mobile County Commission, serves as municipal judge in Saraland and has nine years’ experience as Creola’s town lawyer whose duties include the prosecution of offenses there.

Despite the Democrats’ long hold on the office, Rich said she doubted the Democrats would even field a candidate this year. Regardless, experts project the election cycle as a boon time for the GOP, said Rich, “so June 1 (primary results) will decide who will be our next district attorney.”

Erwin has a major fund raiser for his campaign Thursday.

Both Rich and Erwin are running rookie campaigns for political office. However, each has twice before sought, unsuccessfully, appointment to judicial vacancies.

Byrne mans hot corner
Although GOP gubernatorial candidate and Baldwin County favorite Bradley Byrne endured criticism and was publicly on the “wrong” side of the 59-41 referendum in favor of a one percent sales tax increase to bridge a school system revenue crisis, the decision had bigger implications, good and bad, for his campaign.

Byrne, who favored Gov. Bob Riley’s long ago Amendment One tax debacle, simply could not afford politically to publicly support a tax increase 10 weeks before the June 1 GOP primary.

As a Montrose resident with a child in the school system, Byrne also couldn't finesse the issue as a local matter best left to the affected citizens.

Depending on the choice he made -- yes, no, maybe -- Byrne would wear one of three labels – tax and spender, fiscal conservative or mealy-mouthed politician. 

Had Byrne led cheers for the tax, some of his supporters would’ve sought refunds of their campaign contributions on the grounds of defective candidate.

If Byrne becomes the front runner, he and we will hear much about Amendment One as well as Byrne’s Democratic history. Primary campaigns can put one in mind of trapped crabs: if one of the crabs is about to get up and out, another one is sure to claw him back down.

The Byrne campaign may lose some votes in Baldwin County stemming from his opposition to the sales tax hike. He may have lost more in north Alabama had his foes been supplied fresh ammunition to fire the pro-taxer charge at Byrne. Now, the Byrne camp can cite his “No” stance as proof positive, even in the face of criticism at home, that Byrne stood strong against taxes.

All sides will be spinning it and other votes and statements like tops, but the political shorthand for Byrne on the Baldwin County sales tax hike is very simple: No GOP contender 10 weeks before an election can announce his support for a tax increase even if it is intended to renew a commitment to motherhood and apple pie.

History records a few examples of political suicide. A couple or three come to mind -- Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale and George H.W. Bush. Carter moved to stimulate the economy early on in his term in office and tightened the screws in his last year as president, perhaps related developments. You don't get to be president without political skills. But, at least on this occasion, as a politician, Carter made a heckuva of a good peanut farmer.  

The more spectacular example starred Carter's vice president, Mondale. While all his supporters were metaphorically firing their guns in the air at the Democratic Party's convention to celebrate its hero's crowning as the party's presidential nominee, Mondale unholstered his six-shooter and blasted away at his own feet, announcing that he, if elected President, promised to raise taxes. Talk about stumbling out of the starting gate.

When "Poppy" told us to "read my lips, no new taxes," we saw him swallow some timed-release political poison.   

Rose blooms in large thorn's shadow
Dedication of the new Mobile County Courthouse Annex is set for 10 a.m. Monday, May 3 in conjunction with the annual celebration of the legal profession.

The $17 million, 105,000-square foot, four-story building east of Government Plaza in downtown is officially being completed today with some county workers set to move in as soon as Thursday.

The facility will house Probate Court, the main offices of the Board of Registrars and the Barber commission and satellite offices of the License and Revenue commissions.

A reception in the building will follow the ceremony.

Law Day is May 1 and the legal community celebrates Law Week in the first week of May. The Mobile County Bar Association will also be returning to its home in the historic Levert House which now fits snugly in the new building's embrace. 

Violence not the answer
The Mobile Youth Justice Coalition will sponsor a Teen Town Hall Meeting Saturday, April 24 from 9 a.m-12 noon in the Williamson High School Auditorium. Area youth will address violence in the home, at school and at social events and gatherings.

Teens will have an opportunity to discuss the issue and offer solutions.

"Our ultimate goal is to bring an end to youth violence and the tragedies that go hand in hand with challenging situations," said organizer T.J. Pettway.

Elected officials and policy makers are also scheduled to participate.

For more information call Pettway at 251-643-4201.
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