GOP runoff for Alabama secretary of state race focuses on party records, conservatism


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MONTGOMERY, Alabama — The candidates in the Republican runoff for secretary of state are trying to attract voters by arguing about their party pedigrees, their conservative credentials and their past performance.

State Rep. John Merrill of Tuscaloosa and former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney face off July 15. The incumbent, Jim Bennett, got appointed by the governor last year to fill a vacancy in the office and is not running.

Merrill, 50, is a Tuscaloosa bank executive completing his first term in the Legislature. McKinney, 66, was a longtime assistant to Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar before serving 14 years as probate judge in Montgomery County. He lost in the 2012 election when the county became increasingly Democratic.

McKinney tells voters, "I'm the only lifelong conservative Republican in this race. I can proudly say I've never been a member of the Democratic Party," he said.

Merrill ran for the Legislature in 2002 as a Democrat and lost. He switched parties in 2004 and won his House seat in 2010. In the Legislature, he's backed legislation pushed by the Republican leadership that streamlined state government, strengthened the state ethics law and required voters to show a photo ID at the polls. He said he also declined the Legislature's annual pay raises.

While Merrill acknowledges his Democratic past, he said voters are interested in someone's recent record, not what they did 12 years ago. "After all, Gus Malzahn hasn't always been an Auburn man and Nick Saban hasn't always been an Alabama man," he said.

Merrill's record helped him pick up endorsements from the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Federation, National Rifle Association, Manufacture Alabama and others.

"It's very clear to anybody who has examined the race that I'm the candidate with a proven conservative record. He has no record to prove he's a conservative because he has no voting record," Merrill said.

McKinney said he has a record of running the probate office conservatively and efficiently, including maintaining honest elections. He said his duties as probate judge were similar to the secretary of state's job, including managing elections, maintaining lots of official records and processing adoptions.

"I'm the one candidate in the race with a record of managing elections and reducing red tape," he said.

The winner July 15 faces Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler of Mobile in the general election Nov. 4. Albert-Kaigler signed up to run at the last minute, hasn't reported raising any campaign money and lost the Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District last year.

"This race will be decided on July 15," Merrill said.

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