By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
Alabaster City Councilman Russell Bedsole, a Republican, will face Democratic candidate Cheryl Patton on Tuesday in the special general election for Alabama’s House District 49.
House District 49 encompasses portions of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby counties. A special election was called to fill the vacancy created by former State Rep. April Weaver, R- Brierfield, who recently resigned to take a position with the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services.
Weaver has held the seat since 2010 and the district has voted Republican reliably for many years.
Bedsole received $87,735 in campaign cash contributions and has an ending balance of $31,822. Patton told ADN that she had raised a couple of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions but Secretary of State records could not confirm any contributions.
Alabama Daily News asked each candidate what their top priorities are for their district, how they feel the state has handled the COVID-19 pandemic and what they think about plans to build a men’s prison in District 49.
Cheryl Patton (D)
ADN: What is your background and what do you currently do for a living?
I’m from Dallas originally, a Vanderbilt graduate. I got my master’s in social work from Syracuse University. We moved to Alabama in 1996, my husband taught at the University of Montevallo, he’s a philosophy professor. I did social work for a few years at UAB and then I completely changed careers and opened up a coffee shop, bookstore, restaurant, bar in Montevallo, for 16 years, which was Eclipse Coffee and Books. It was a lot of fun and did well with it and had a really great time with it but enough was enough. Now I’m doing real estate. I’m the director of operations for a local real estate team in Montevallo, Lehman Keller Williams Realty.
ADN: What are some of your top concerns for your district and something you hope to tackle while in the Legislature?
CP: One of my top concerns is expanding Medicaid. I’m a Democrat in that respect and I think especially with the pandemic, it is the No. 1 leading concern at the moment. I’m also concerned about rural hospitals and what kind of impact it will have on that which I think has a direct impact on the district. My other concerns are criminal justice reform. I’m coming out pretty heavily opposed to the new prison going in near Brierfield on a couple of different fronts. One is the criminal justice questions about whether that’s the right solution to that problem. Also, the environmental impact in that community. There’s been concerns from both Centreville and Montevallo that they cannot provide the water needed for a facility of that size, which means drilling into the local watershed which is already stressed because of the lime plants. Environmentalism is also a concern for me, especially since it’s such an asset here and in Alabama and with the Cahaba River here in this region.
ADN: Any specific bills you are working on right now or would want to introduce if you are elected?
CP: I’m a member of Alabama Arise. They’re a bipartisan group and I think they are very credible and have looked into a lot of issues, so I would want to consult with them. I don’t think I’m an expert on any of that at the moment but I know they are. I know, in terms of values, they focus on poverty issues and equal protection things so they are somebody I would look to in help with that. They’ve done several things, they just had their annual meeting and set priorities, so I think I would like to see if any of those bills I would be supportive of.
ADN: How do you think the state has handled the COVID-19 pandemic so far? Are there any actions you think should be taken?
CP: I think Gov. Kay Ivey has done a really good job, in terms of the mask mandate and things like that, I’m real proud of what she’s done so far. She’s continued to extend it and I hope she continues to listen to science and to the health experts and I think she’s done a fantastic job with it. But mainly the expansion of Medicaid. I want to make sure people are able to afford the vaccine when it comes out, and if Obamacare goes down, I want to make sure that everyone can get the vaccine which goes to protecting every person in the state.
Russell Bedsole (R)
ADN: Tell us about your background and what you do for a living?
RB: I’m a 22-year law enforcement professional. I’ve been serving since just out of college. I started out in the Lee County Sheriff’s Office then went to the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office in 1999. My career in law enforcement is kind of the starting point for when I got involved politically. Eight years ago, I began serving on the Alabaster City Council, where I served and just completed my second term before I began pursuing the seat for House District 49. The way I see that, those opportunities, with city council and then this opportunity for the House district seat, is all the same as I see my law enforcement career, as an ability to serve and give back to my community..."
ADN: What is a top concern for your district and something you hope to tackle while in the legislature?
RB: When we got out to campaign it was obvious that the people of District 49 certainly had a lot of concerns for their community’s safety and, being in law enforcement, it really just played in well. I do consider myself a law and order candidate. My priorities are going to be pursuing those pieces of legislation that will continue to strengthen or communities and keep them safe. That could be in a variety of avenues. It could be a bill strictly related to laws that are enforceable by law enforcement, but also I see that as the bigger picture of how we can develop our communities through economic development to ensure that people in our community have good jobs that are providing a living for them and their families... and, frankly, give those who might have otherwise turned to a life of crime and victimize our own citizens but there are beneficial employment opportunities for them to seek jobs in and be productive citizens.
ADN: Any specific bills you are working on right now or would want to introduce if you are elected?
RB: I’m honestly going into this whole situation with pretty much eyes wide open. For me, I don’t want to be pigeonholed into simply the law enforcement aspect of it. I hope you can see through my last answer that through all of the law and order, I think it can apply to one avenue but I look at the bigger picture of society and how we can have other programs or initiatives that will help the law and peace part of it. For example, I don’t think there is any denying that we have a significant mental health issue going on in our community, and something that I’ve been witnessing first hand. If we can get many of our citizens quality mental health assistance, first of all removing the stigma, and then getting people the mental health assistance, breaking down the barriers to getting that assistance and providing them with a continuity of care that keeps them engaged with counseling and services, then many of those people will again be productive members of our society..."
ADN: Speaking of law and order, there are plans to build a new prison within District 49. What do you think of that plan?
RB: I think the easiest place to start with the conversation about prisons is that our state desperately needs modern facilities to house convicted individuals in a way that our state should. We should expect a certain level of treatment for our citizens that have been incarcerated, and our facilities right now are not meeting our standards. So these new proposed facilities are desperately needed to cut down the level of violence inside of our prisons and to treat our convicted inmates as humanly as possible. For the people who live in and around the proposed areas for the prison, I certainly can understand any of their concerns about having a prison built in their community, and for that, I empathize with them and am willing to facilitate as much conversation as we can between the citizens and the Department of Corrections. Recently I was invited to a meeting with the commissioner of the Department of Corrections to hear a little bit about what he has been saying on the design of the plan and frankly, I asked for him to hold a public hearing to share some of the same details with the members of the community. But I think building the new prisons are very important to our fate and I know it’s going to be a very difficult time for the people living in those communities to accept a prison being built in those communities, but we’ll continue to communicate and flesh out the details so that everyone in that area has all the information that they need.
ADN: How do you think the state has handled the COVID-19 pandemic? Any specific actions you think need to be taken?
RB: Well, I don’t think there was a playbook written that any of us have on how to handle a COVID-19 crisis, so I try not to be a Monday morning quarterback about any of the decisions coming out of the Governor’s office. What I would do as a representative of this district is continue to urge, not only the people of District 49 but the entire state, to take a lot of personal responsibility and make some wise decisions about things that we all do and try to do our best to combat the effects of it. I’m a big believer that, economically speaking, we must push forward. The federal government officials are working very hard to get us a vaccine and it seems very promising that a vaccine is going to be rolled out pretty soon, whether people want to take it or not, I think that’s a personal choice, but my urging for our state and our governor is let’s keep our businesses open. Serving our citizens and economically speaking we’ll be healthy. And on an aside, mental health-wise I think the citizens of our state need this continued interaction and engagement with each other for their mental well-being and whatever we can do to keep that if that means we do it in a little bit different fashion so we can continue to have that engagement with each other and keep our citizens a lot healthier mental health-wise.