Thursday, the three candidates seeking the vacant House District 74 seat met in a forum at Dalraida United Methodist Church in Montgomery.
Republicans, former Montgomery School Board President Charlotte Meadows and attorney Michael Fritz will meet in the Republican primary runoff on August 27. The winner of the runoff will face former Montgomery NAACP President Rayford Mack (D) in the November 12 general election.
All three spoke at the ARSEA/APEAL sponsored candidates forum.
“Montgomery is a great place to live and retire, but I am scared for Montgomery’s future,” Mack said. “We need things to change for future generations to have a great future.”
“If we want our community to grow, we need leaders that will work for the community and not the party or any special interest groups,” Mack said.
Mack outlined an ambitious agenda including expanding the number of professionals who can become school superintendents to people with MBAs and other advanced degrees, establishing apprenticeship programs, high-speed rail, and the creation of a healthcare lottery.
Mack said that a lottery with all of the proceeds dedicated to paying for Medicaid, the Department of Public Health, and Mental Health would free up over $900 million from the state’s general fund budget.
Charlotte Meadows said that she got involved in local education after managing her husband’s medical practice office and seeing all of the resumes they received from receptionist candidates that could not spell.
“We have really got to start encouraging our young people to come back to Montgomery, but we have to provide opportunities for them,” Meadows said,
Meadows is a former Montgomery School Board President, has worked with Students First where she successfully lobbied the legislature for expanding school choice in Alabama, by passing charter schools legislation. She is currently working with the LEAD Academy, which will give Montgomery parents more choices for their children’s education.
“All of my adult life and most of my childhood was right here in House District 74,” Meadows said.
Michael Fritz is a bankruptcy attorney, an adjunct professor at Auburn University Montgomery and a Judge Advocate General in the Army, where he is currently a Lieutenant Colonel.
Fritz joined Navy in 1989, moved to Montgomery in 1990, worked at First Alabama Bank while attending night classes at Auburn University Montgomery.
“I have been practicing law since 1997 most of that time focused on bankruptcy,” Fritz said, He worked with the bankruptcy court for 8 years and in 2008 started a private practice. He joined the Army Reserve as a JAG officer.
The state retirees asked the three about cost of living adjustments for state retirees.
“First you must protect and enhance our current benefit,” Mach said. “Unfunded COLAs would mean that we would have an unfunded liability. To do that we must find new revenue.”
Mack said that he wanted to raise revenue by bringing the film industry to Alabama and by passing his healthcare only lottery, which would free up $908 million in the state budget to do other things.
Meadows said the first we have to “Make sure that the state budget is solvent and sustainable. We have got to make sure that the retirement benefits that you were promised.”
Meadows said that just getting a bonus of $600 at the most by the time you pay taxes on it that is just a couple of meals out. It is not enough for a vacation.
“There are 2,200 state employees in House District 74,” Meadows said. “I do not want to raise taxes, but we need to provide for our employees and our retirees.”
Fritz said, “Defined benefit plans don’t have cost of living increases.”
“I have studied the municipal bankruptcy of Detroit in detail and a lot of their problems were over promising to their retired employees,” Fritz said, “We don’t want to give away short term and not look to long term.”
Fritz said that he would provide the money by growing the economy and increasing tax revenues through increased economic output.
Mack said that if elected he would introduce legislation to expand Medicaid.
Meadows said that while she does not like a gas tax, the legislature took action so our roads should start improving. Now we have got to address the prison situation and that will be a huge outlay of money.
“Nobody wants to see us treat state prisoners inhumanely,” Meadows said. “The prisons also need to also be a safe place for people to work. Nobody should go to work afraid if they are going to get killed today.”
“I don’t gamble,” Fritz said. “I am not a big proponent of gambling,” but we are losing a lot of business to other states because we do not have a lottery.
Fritz said that while he supports a lottery, he will not support a college scholarship lottery like Florida or Georgia. That supports the education of the middle class but does not help everybody.
Fritz also said that he is in favor of Medicaid expansion.
The event was sponsored by ARSEA/APEAL, a 19,000-member statewide organization that represents public retirees and active employees eligible to retire on the state, local, and county government levels.
The HD74 legislative seat became vacant when State Rep. Dimitri Polizos (R) passed away from a sudden heart attack in March.