The Lowndes County League of Voters held their final candidate forum last Thursday night at the Columbus Municipal Complex. The candidate forum was pretty much a ho-hum affair until Roger Larsen decided to shake things up just a bit. Speaking first from his prepared remarks, Larsen set the stage for a little bit of a battle between the two longtime foes right off the bat.
“I’m Roger Larsen. I came to Columbus 35 years ago when I was 25 and made it my home. My first job here was at Johnston Tombigbee (furniture manufacturing company) when I was hired by a young personnel manager named Stanley Bates. I lived for years in a little house behind Jolly junk yard on Waterworks Road on the banks of the Lux. Things were tough for years and I could have moved on, but I liked it here. The variety fascinated me. I didn’t have a car at first, and I used to walk down toward the railroad tracks, past Beneke, toward town. I’d stop at Bill’s Drive-In to buy a milkshake. I’d stop and watch the baseball games at Sim Scott Park. Frankly, I don’t think I’d feel safe doing that today. But I still like it here…when people criticize Columbus, i’d tell them that if I didn’t like it here, i’d go somewhere else.”
“District 5 is a district of division…racial, cultural, economic. Leroy Brooks has exploited these divisions for 28 years to win elections. This is his well-deserved public identity. I’m running against Leroy Brooks and his cynical, polarizing, destructive racial politics. Mr. Brooks’ longtime campaign slogan is from Proverbs, “where there is no vision, the people perish”. He’s been saying that for 28 years and said it again at the League of Voters forum here three months ago. It’s time to ask him to state just what his vision is. Is it Frog Bottom or Elm Lake Golf Course?”
“Much has changed in 28 years. In 1982, it was almost impossible to imagine an african-american being elected the president of the United States. In 1982, the first black mayor of Columbus was still more than 20 years into the future. In 1982, there was not one black head coach in the NFL. Now there is 7, including Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings) who grew up a hail-mary from Hunt school. I think most people of District 5 has evolved with the time and want to keep moving forward. Thank You.”
Moderator Kabir Karriem called time on Larsen and invited Brooks to deliver his opening remarks. Brooks began:
“Good evening. I’m Leroy Brooks and i’m glad to be here. You know, I had a speech prepared but since Roger wants to go that way, maybe I need to go another way. As he said at the Columbus Exchange Club when he came here twenty-something years ago running from a woman, I think the community would be better off if he go back and find her. Cause certainly what he’s done in years since he’s been here, he’s come in and he’s made money off of talking about people. Now that he’s got his pocket lined, he wants to lead people.”
“I got elected at age 30. I’m 58…i’ve given almost half of my life to this community. No other person probably anywhere in the world has had to endure the things i’ve had to endure just to represent. I get white support, I get black support…I don’t mind being called the boogieman. Because the day I stepped in the courthouse, I stepped in as a transformational leader. I didn’t want to be part of the good-ol-boys. I am a leader, not just an elected official. When you are a catalyst for change, people are going to dislike you.”
“And so, for 20 years, Roger used the Packet to attack me. I’ved lived with that, other board members have attacked me…I have survived Lowndes County politics. But I’ve also…28 years, I’ve seen the transformation of District 5. When we look at the industrial park, as a kid, that’s where I hunted rabbits and squirrels…and now what you see out there…you see factories. My hands have been a part of all of this. It’s like taking dirt out of the ground, and molding it. I’ve been part of that molding. I don’t mind being criticized, but I tell ya, if I’m reelected, i’m going to continue to stand up for the people that are oppressed, the people that are elected. It’s not about black or white. Almost every board appointment I have in District 5 is white.”
Karriem called time on Brooks as well.
When the supervisor candidates spoke, they were all called up at the same time. District 1 candidates Willie Petty (Democrat) and Joey Pounders (independent) were also present. District 1 incumbent Harry Sanders did not attend. District 3 independent challenger Mike Smith also participated in the forum. Incumbent Republican John Holliman did not attend.
District Attorney Forrest Allgood (Democrat) attended (and spoke). His Republican challenger, Steve Wallace, was not present. Both County Prosecutor candidates attended, seeking a seat being vacated by Tim Hudson. Democrat challenger Chuck Easley attended as did his opponent, Republican Allison Pritchard Kizer. Kizer has the support of Hudson.
Incumbent Circuit Clerk Mahala ‘Haley’ Salazar spoke at the forum. Salazar switched from a Democrat to an independent before qualifying. Her challenger, Republican Justin Shelton, had prior obligations but sent a prepared statement, which was read to those present by Lawrence.
Both District 2 justice court judge candidates spoke at the forum. Republican Ron Cooke, who gave up the position to run for sheriff in 2003, and his independent opponent, Ted Richards.
Sheriff candidates Mike Arledge (Republican) and Anthony Nelson (Democrat) spoke at the forum as well. Nelson was originally eliminated from the race after being defeated by current Columbus Police Chief Selvain McQueen. But McQueen dropped out of the race after questions surfaced about a possible Hatch Act violation. The Democrat Executive Committee then met and appointed Nelson to take his place. 3 term Sheriff Butch Howard is retiring from the position.
The two Chancery Clerk candidates spoke at the forum. Incumbent Democrat Lisa Neese and Republican challenger Susan Robinson.
All three County School Superintendent candidates were present and spoke. Democrat Cliff Reynolds, Independent Rusty Greene and Republican Lynn Wright. Current Superintendent Mike Halford did not seek re-election.