By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, September 9, Mark Lester (D) met with the Alabama Political Reporter at his campaign headquarters in Birmingham to reveal his tax returns from the last five years and challenge his opponent, Gary Palmer (R) to do the same thing.
Lester who is running to represent Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District said, “Congress is broken. And one of the great reasons Congress is broken is that it is awash in special interest money.”
Lester said, “I am totally free of any special interest influence.” Lester made his last five year tax returns available for review by the press and called on Palmer to do the same.
Lester said. “More than anything else, what contrasts me from my opponent is my total freedom from the influence of special interests. I think the people of the 6th District deserve full transparency about any ties that we might have to special interests.”
Lester said that he and his wife have their own investment income and their salaries as college professors. “I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
Lester claimed however that his, “Investigation has shown some very disturbing information,” about his opponent, Gary Palmer who, “Has received more than $75,000 from American Majority Action, a radical, Tea Party organization that is largely funded by out-of-state billionaires who are attempting to influence not just this election in Alabama but elections across the country.”
Lester said that Palmer should disclose why American Majority Action was paying Palmer, who at the time was employed by the Alabama Policy Institute. “What does he do to earn these fees? Lester asked.” The two “fees” one in 2013 for $40,000 and the other over $36,000 this year from AMA are, “Beginning to look like an awfully big IOU.”
Lester charged that the Alabama Policy Institute (API) is actually funded largely by out of state money trying to control elections in Alabama. Lester challenged Palmer to release API’s donors list. “Who are the contributors to the Alabama Policy Institute? The voters need to know who these people are.”
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Lester: Palmer had six or seven Republican opponents, some extremely well funded. Why do you think that none of them made this an issue?
Lester said that he can’t answer for those campaigns. Lester said that Palmer is, “A man who has lived off of special interest contributions for several decades of his life.”
We asked Lester if Palmer has agreed to debate him.
“No, he has not.” Lester said that he has asked for debates in several media interviews and has had no response from the Palmer camp.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: This district is one of the most conservative in the entire country. Is there a danger that partisanship may be such that your message could go unheard by a conservative electorate who has grown accustomed to just voting for the candidate with the R behind their name?
Lester said he didn’t think so because when people get to know him they will see that this race is not about Democrat versus Republican. This race is about whether or not out of state interests are going to influence our election. This race is about good government.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: Avery Vice before he dropped out of this race, was critical of the redistricting here in central Alabama that leaves Democrats with an extremely safe district in the seventh district and Republicans with a GOP leaning district that is almost as safe for the Republicans. Is Jefferson County well served by this arrangement that divides it into districts with large swaths of rural Alabama?
Lester said, “No, it is not and the nation is not well served.” Lester said that the way districts are drawn in Alabama and across the country you have these quote safe districts that belong to one party or the other. Since the battleground is the party primary, the only thing that congressman fears is a primary challenger, so the congressman has to appeal to the most radical elements of his party in order to get elected because the radical group has the power to decide who their nominee is. Lester said that he is running, “So the voters will have a choice between a very radical Republican and someone trying to reach the middle ground.”
Mark Lester represents the Alabama Democratic Party on the November General Election ballot in Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District. Mark Lester is a history professor at Birmingham Southern College. The Alabama Democratic Executive Committee selected Lester after their previous nominee Avery Vise unexpectedly dropped out of the race.
According to his website, Dr. Lester is a lifelong Democrat, who was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He and his family have lived in Homewood for the past 23 years. He attended Rhodes College, received a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1991 Lester earned a Ph.D. in Modern British Economic History from the University of Oxford. He joined the faculty of Birmingham-Southern College in 1991 where he has received the “Outstanding Professor Award” given by students. He has also taught a course on First Amendment law as an adjunct professor at University of Alabama School of Law.
Mark Lester has been married for 36 years to Jeanne Jackson, who currently serves as President and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. She is past President of the League of Women Voters of Arkansas. Jeanne and Mark have two married sons. They are members at the Cathedral Church of the Advent (Episcopal).
After finishing law school, Mark Lester was appointed Assistant United States Attorney where he prosecuted drug dealers and white collar criminals. He later formed a small law firm, specializing in commercial litigation. Lester co-founded an organization to provide legal assistance for the poor. For his efforts, he was named his county’s “Lawyer of the Year.”
The seat is currently held by Republican Representative Spencer Bachus from Vestavia who is retiring after 11 terms in the Congress. Congressman Bachus was an Alabama State Senator before defeating Congressman Ben Erdreich in 1992.
The Republican nominee, Gary Palmer grew up the son of a small logger in Hackleburgh where his mom still lives. Palmer attended the University of Alabama where he got a degree in Operations management. Palmer went on to found the Alabama Policy Institute, where he was President for 24 years.
The General Election will be on Tuesday, November 4.