Birmingham--Alabama voters will decide many races in the mid-term elections next week, but one of the more contentious fights is over House District 47, which covers parts Vestavia Hills and Hoover. WBHM's Tanya Ott reports on the battle pitting incumbent Republican Jack Williams against Independent Chip McCallum.
On the surface, 6-year incumbent Jack Williams and challenger Chip McCallum sound like they want a lot of the same things for their district.
But ever since the Alabama republican party disqualified McCallum because of campaign contributions he made to national democratic candidates, Jack Williams' campaign has seized the opportunity to paint McCallum as a liberal democrat.
It's a charge McCallum disputes.
"The first person I ever voted for was Ronald Reagan and I've always affiliated myself with the republican party, since I was a teenager."
McCallum admits to contributing to the Obama campaign, as well as several other democratic presidential campaigns since 2000. But he says he's also given to republicans such as Vestavia Hills state representative Greg Canfield and Alabama Supreme Court Justices Mike Bolin and Tom Woodall.
"My wife and I have a very broad and diverse group of friends and they are very active in a lot of different causes, including campaigns and we've been asked from time to time to support their candidates that they're working with and we have given money to those campaigns. Just like I've asked those same friends to give money to republicans that I've supported."
The McCallum campaign is striking back. They've blanketed the district with mailers that tie Williams to Political Action Committees run by several people who were recently indicted in the FBI's gambling bribery investigation of the Alabama legislature.
Williams says that's misleading.
"I've not taken money from any lobbyist who worked exclusively for the gambling industry. Those are contract lobbyists who represent some of the largest corporations in Alabama."
Williams has received more than a $250,000 dollars in PAC money. McCallum doesn't accept PAC money.
All of the back and forth - including vitriolic exchanges from commenters on public message boards like al.com - have made it hard for voters in District 47 to know what the candidates want to do if they're elected.
Chip McCallum says one of his top priorities is transparency in Montgomery.
"We've gotten in a situation where we don't know where the money's coming from that's going into our politicians pockets. And if you don't know who's supporting them, who are they voting for down in Montgomery, you just can't be a servant to two masters. You can't serve the people of District 47 and also serve unknown people who've given money to our politicians."
McCallum wants to ban PAC to PAC transfers and require that lobbyist report all gifts and money they give to politicians. Right now lobbyists can spend up to $249 a day on politicians without having to report it.
McCallum is also pushing a plan to revitalize the Vestavia Hills-Hoover Highway 31 corridor. The business district is dotted with vacant store fronts, abandoned motels, and pawn shops. The plan calls for building a coalition of business leaders to identify and address the biggest problems. It also calls for using federal grants to address flooding problems and create a walkway and bike path along the banks of a creek at the intersection of I-65 and Highway 31.
Jack Williams wants to eliminate the business personal property tax and increase property tax exemptions for senior citizens. Under current law, seniors making less than $12,000 a year don't have to pay property taxes. Williams wants to increase that to cap to $39,000.
"That would allow senior citizens who had maybe a $500 or $600 property tax bill, not to have to write that check. And that might be money that they could spend on medical bills or money they could spend on maybe replacing a washer or dryer or whatever. That I like about the bill that I've got is it gives people money in a way that they're able to use it."
Both Jack Williams and Chip McCallum say they want to help Alabama's citizens and businesses rebound from the sagging economy. The question, though, is whether voters in Vestavia Hills and Hoover will see through all the negative campaigning to what the candidates actually have in mind for District 47.
~ Tanya Ott, October 26, 2010