March 27 special election will decide who fills the late Rep. Jim Patterson’s seat

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - On March 27, Huntsville and Madison County voters in House District 21 will hit the polls for a special election to decide who will fill the seat Rep. Jim Patterson left behind when he passed away in October.

Friends and colleagues mourned Patterson, who lived in Meridianville, after his passing. Soon after, the work began to find out who will be his successor in the Alabama House of Representatives. Only two people qualified for the special election: Rex Reynolds (R) and Terry Jones (D). Therefore, the special election on March 27 will decide who sits in the Alabama House through the rest of Patterson's term that ends at the end of the year.

WHNT News 19 sat down with each candidate, asking them the same questions, to talk about their platform and priorities.

Rex Reynolds

Rex Reynolds (R-Hazel Green) previously worked as the Huntsville Police Chief, Public Safety Director and City Administrator. He said he worked for 35 years to serve the city of Huntsville.

"I've spent a life in public service here in Huntsville-Madison County," he said. Reynolds now works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of North Alabama, the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community, and Crimestoppers while being president of a small company in Huntsville.

We asked him why his background made him good for the role in the House.

"Some 25 years of my 35 years was with public safety," he explained. "The job entailed a lot of capital work, budget work, growth we needed for infrastructure and things to meet our service demands for the growing city. I think that suits me well in this position. Working with department heads at the state level, working to fund things, I feel passionate about it after years of public service." he added, " I think based on my years of public service and now in small business, which is tough, I think I go down there and represent many in my community and I hope I can take their thoughts and beliefs down to Montgomery."

Reynolds said he knew the late Rep. Jim Patterson.

"Jim was a friend of mine," he said. "When this happened, it kind of threw me a curve, to be honest with you."

Reynolds said public safety is one of his key priorities.

"I don't mind having the tough conversations. I've told many already I would be glad to serve on judicial reform. I don't mind having a conversation about prison reform, certainly public safety will be a priority. I'm passionate about agriculture," he explained.

We asked him about gun bills currently proposed in the Legislature.

He said of arming teachers, "I do not think I can support a blanket arming of our teachers," adding later, "Will they become an aggressor? Will they go after an active shooter? No, they would not. That's a police officer's job. But to secure in place, and protect a segment of the student body? Yes, I think there's some value in that."

As for limiting access to certain weapons, he stated, "I do support the second amendment. I think we have got to be frugal with it," adding later, "I just hope that we go back and look at our mental health budget, both the law and the policies, and what we need to do. We have to continue to look at the red flags we see in law enforcement and in the community. There were some red flags missed in the Florida shooting."

Reynolds said his team is working hard alongside him to garner votes. He said they are taking it seriously, knocking on doors and putting up signs and a billboard off I-565. He tells us he is not worried about a possible low turnout.

"Based on the response I'm seeing, I think we will set a record [turnout for a special election]," he said hopefully.

Terry Jones

Terry Jones (D-Meridianville) previously worked as a coach and teacher in Madison County for 30 years. He has been President of the Retired Educators of Madison County and a member of Locust Grove Baptist Church, which he says is how he serves his community.

"I'm a retired educator. I taught history and coached for 30 years in the Madison County School System," he stated, adding, "I'm just the guy next door."

We asked him why his background made him good for the role in the House.

"You teach engineers. You teach salesmen, you teach bankers, everything. I have kids who come back to me who are involved in every profession. So, I think I can glean from them what is interesting and important," he explained. "They know they can talk to me. I will listen. No legislator is going to know everything. That's ridiculous to even think that. But every legislator needs to listen, and I am not sure they are listening right now."

He said education is one of his key priorities.

"The reason I ran is for public education. I felt like it has been slighted for many years now. My thoughts on it were that I could stay home and complain, or run to make a difference. I thought, I can't ask someone else to do it if I'm not willing to. I was willing to run for public education."

Jones ran against the late Rep. Patterson in 2014.

He stated that he has other priorities besides education, including the economy and infrastructure.

We also asked him about gun bills currently proposed in the Legislature.

He said of arming teachers, "I have guns myself. And in 30 years, I never took a gun to school. There was never anyone at school I wanted to have a gun. Teachers aren't trained to handle a gun in that situation. My problem is, I can picture so many things going wrong with a teacher with a gun than going right. It's a scary thought to me. Now, do we sit and do nothing? No. We need to talk and come up with a common-sense solution to protect our kids. That is a number one priority."

As for limiting access to certain weapons, he stated, "Raising the age to 21 is something that needs to be looked at. I could see both sides of that... This is about children's safety in school. If that makes one child safer, I'm for raising the age."

Jones said he has friends and volunteers helping make phone calls and knock on doors.

"It's the old-fashioned way. We're on a shoe-string budget, as you could say, but money's not important. This has given me a chance to get out and meet a lot of people."

He's not one to stress about things, including possible low turnout for this election.

"If I do everything that I can do, I can't worry. So I don't worry. My wife does," he joked.

The Election

The general election for this special election is on March 27. It will only affect voters in House District 21 in Alabama.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Thursday, March 22, 2018. The deadline to register to vote before this election has already passed.

You can read more about the election here.

If the Alabama Legislature's 2018 session is not over by March 28, the winning candidate will expect to head straight to Montgomery to be sworn in and start voting.