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Democratic legislative candidates express concern about St. Clair Democratic Executive Committee

The three candidates who are running as Democrats for legislative seats representing St. Clair County released a joint statement of concern with the leadership of the St. Clair County Democratic Party.

Carl Carter is running for Alabama State Senate District 11. Nicki Arnold-Swindle is running for State House District 36, and Jared Vaughn is running for State House District 30. The only Democratic incumbent representing St. Clair County at this time is U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, who was elected statewide.

“As Democratic nominees who are running for Alabama Legislature in parts of St. Clair County, we have encountered a pattern of disturbing behavior that we believe has created a toxic atmosphere between the St. Clair Democratic Executive Committee (SCDEC) and the candidates running for legislative seats within the county,” Carter, Arnold-Swindle, and Vaughn wrote in their joint statement.

“Nicki Arnold-Swindle, candidate for State House District 36, received a hostile telephone call in February from Sherry Kuntz, county executive committee secretary and wife of chairman Herb Kuntz,” the three candidates charged. “(Swindle also qualified for the SDEC place held by Mrs. Kuntz in District 36.) Mrs. Kuntz said Arnold-Swindle had no right to run for “her” seat on the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) and demanded that she withdraw. In a separate conversation later, Mr. Kuntz informed Senate 11 Candidate Carl Carter that he would not allow Arnold-Swindle to address the St. Clair Democratic Club before June 5 because “that would take votes away from Sherry.” This would appear to be a conflict of interest.”

“Jared Vaughn, candidate for State House District 30, attended the June 11 meeting of the SCDEC, and was literally yelled at by members of committee that the meeting was closed and that he had no right to attend,” the candidates claimed. “Ultimately, Chairman Kuntz affirmed that meetings are now open (a matter resolved recently but not communicated to members) and allowed Vaughn five minutes to address the committee. When Vaughn expressed dismay at the contentious atmosphere he found, he was sternly dressed down by Mrs. Kuntz in a display so egregious that nearly every member, including Mr. Kuntz, expressed apologies on the committee’s behalf. Finally, in the same meeting, the committee was unable to approve minutes because committee members Carl Carter and Jared Arnold objected to mischaracterizations of parts of the May meeting. This calls into question the role of Mrs. Kuntz, long known for her combative approach, as a suitable keeper of the committee’s official records.”

“Carl Carter and Committee Member Jared Arnold had pointed out in a previous meeting that members of the committee have not had proper elections at least since 2010, and that no candidates had qualified for the primary scheduled for June 5, as required by the Alabama Democratic Party Bylaws,” the candidates continued. “Mr. Kuntz interrupted Carter so many times that Carter had to hand off the reading of the provisions to Arnold. Ultimately, however, the rules were so clear that the committee voted unanimously to proceed with elections in August, after the organizational meeting of the SDEC. On May 31, an article in the St. Clair Times (quoting both Carter and Kuntz) resulted in a derogatory email from Mr. Kuntz to an unknown and private list of Democrats in and outside the county, misquoting the article and defending the SCDEC’s failure to have elections on the grounds that election requirements are ignored by many county committees. To help recruit Democrats into the party, Arnold and Carter launched a new Facebook group, St. Clair Dems, to generate dialogue and create interest, especially in underserved areas of Moody, Odenville, Springville, Argo, and Ashville. In some posts, Carter has pointed out that the party has not elected a Democrat in more than a decade, and that attendance at Democratic Club meetings is generally 50 or less. During the recent Avondale Mills Block Party, Carter and Mr. Kuntz engaged in a protracted conversation resulting in a tentative agreement to a statement that the party would support Democratic candidates and Carter would refrain from criticizing members of the committee, but the conversation ended with Mr. Kuntz threatening that if Carter further mentioned the party’s failures, “I’m coming for you.” Subsequently, on the late evening of June 10, hours before the June 11 SCDEC meeting, Mrs. Kuntz emailed the committee a proposed set of new bylaws with one provision that “a member may be terminated by the majority vote of those present at any regular or called meeting.” These proposed bylaws were tabled and never formally introduced into the record.”

“Based on these and other incidents, as well as the county party’s failure to field candidates and elect Democrats over more than a decade, we feel that we have no choice but to express grave concern for the state of the county party, and to call for installation of a neutral party as an interim chair until the completion of SCDEC elections and organizational meeting of the new committee, which will elect new officers,” the candidates continued. “Put simply, we feel that when the county party leadership has shown hostility to all three legislative candidates running in the county, something is badly wrong and will impede our chances of success on Nov. 6. We believe that a majority of the committee members will be supportive and will work toward our mutual goal with a more positive interim leadership. This would be in the best interests of the party as we engage in our necessary course corrections and conduct our campaigns. The committee has several members who have been supportive of candidates and would be suitable interim leaders.”

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Monday, the Alabama Political Reporter recently talked with Carl Carter, who is running for state Senate district 11.

Carter told APR that while a St. Clair County executive committee meeting to elect committee members has been scheduled for August 18, the Chairman of the St. Clair County Democratic Party, Herb Kuntz, has not yet informed any of them of the time or the place for the meeting of the St. Clair County Executive Committee.

“We have a new generation of Democrats who have come out of hiding in St. Clair, and they’re already working for my Senate campaign,” Carter said. “Some want to run for office themselves. They’re eager to serve in the county party. It’s flat out wrong for them to be frustrated and blocked by the current chair’s refusal to do his job and schedule a time and place for the seating of a new committee.”

Carter says that the St. Clair Democrats often have meetings during the work day in the back room of a library and that it has been difficult for interested Democrats to attend. Carter said that he knows candidates who would like to run for executive committee, “Everything is hung up waiting for time and a place.”

Carter is running against incumbent State Senator Jim McClendon, R-Springville. Senate District 11 includes most of the southern half of St. Clair County, much of Talladega County, Sylacauga, Wilsonville, and much of Shelby County to Alabaster.

Carter said that he had a number of volunteers out Saturday and that they knocked on approximately 400 doors. Carter expressed enthusiasm about his campaign, money is starting to come in and he believes that Democrats can be competitive in St. Clair County despite their recent lack of success.

In 2014 McClendon beat prominent marijuana legalization activist Ron Crumpton (D) 24,318 (77.6 percent) to 6,981 (22.3 percent).

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Carter was not deterred by Crumpton’s 2014 loss, “I have a much broader message.”

“That there aren’t any Democrats out here is hokum,” Carter said. “The Doug Jones campaign did a lot to rejuvenate Democrats state wide. I am hoping that my candidacy will rejuvenate Democrats in St. Clair County. I may win or I may lose but we are going to compete.”

In the 2016 Presidential election, Donald J. Trump beat Hillary R. Clinton 83.2 percent to 14.6 percent in St. Clair County.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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