Russell County commissioner switches parties to challenge state Rep. Vance

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 11, 2014 

Tillman Pugh

Republican Russell County commissioner Tillman Pugh is seeking the Alabama House District 80 seat that includes portions of Russell and Lee counties — as a Democrat.

Republican incumbent Rep. Lesley Vance is also trying to keep the seat he won four years ago — when he was a Democrat.

Confused?

Translation: Pugh has switched parties to run against a 20-year veteran state lawmaker who switched parties when the Republicans seized control of the Alabama House in 2010.

Got it?

And if that is not enough to confuse you, consider that former Russell County Democratic Commissioner Mervin Dudley, who ran as a Republican in 2010 and lost to Vance in the General Election, is running again for the Republican nomination, this time against Vance and Alex Balkom of Phenix City in a three-way June 3 primary contest for the right to face Pugh, the lone Democrat, in November.

Pugh, 67, will retain his commission seat while he seeks a spot in the state legislature.

Pugh said he tossed and turned for several weeks before deciding to challenge his friend Vance for the post.

“I would go to bed with one decision and wake up with another,” said Pugh, who owns a Phenix City insurance agency. Vance said the two men had an hour-long discussion several weeks ago.

“He indicated he would not run and we shook hands,” Vance said. “But that’s politics.”

Pugh said Vance, 74, had told him he would not seek re-election. When that didn’t happen, Pugh said he took his best option, switched parties and will go after the Republican in November.

“At least I am not running in one party and changing after the election,” Pugh said in a shot at what Vance did after last winning his seat in 2010.

Vance defended his decision to switch parties.

“When the Republicans took over, there was no need in sitting in Montgomery for four years and not being able to do anything as a Democrat,” Vance said.

Asked if they were still friends, Vance, a funeral home operator, paused, then laughed.

“That’s a tough question to answer,” Vance said.

If Pugh loses, he will hold the commission seat through 2016. Russell County Republican Party Chairman Gary Head said he now considers Pugh a Democrat, not a Republican commissioner.

“I talked to Tillman yesterday and said, ‘suppose you lose,’” Head said. “‘Then what do you do when it comes time to run for county commission?’”

Primary qualifying closed on Friday.

The District 80 House seat will not be the only contested one in Russell and Lee counties. Incumbent George Bandy of Opelika faces a Democratic primary challenge from Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed in District 83. Head, a Phenix City Realtor, will seek the seat as the lone Republican in the Democratic-leaning district.

Two Russell County elected officials, Sheriff Heath Taylor and Revenue Commissioner Naomi Elliott — both Democrats — do not have any opposition.

Russell County Coroner Arthur L, “Pee Wee” Sumbry Jr., a Democrat, will face Republican Lamar Sizemore, a retired nurse. in the Nov. 4 general election.

The Russell County Circuit Court judgeship being vacated by Albert Johnson will be contested. Johnson’s son, District Court Judge David Johnson, will face Phenix City attorney April Logan Russell in the Democratic primary.

There are three candidates seeking the at-large Russell County Board of Education seat. Amy Atkins is the lone Republican against a pair of Democrats: Delores Elias McTier Allen and Tim Simpson.

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