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Baldwin Co. sending trio of women with local roots, energy to Montgomery

Prior to this year, Baldwin County never sent a female to the Alabama House of Representatives.

Now, it is sending three. Republicans Donna Givens of Loxley, Frances Holk-Jones of Foley and Jennifer Fidler of Silverhill replace men with a combined 78 years in the chamber.

The number of women in the House — 20 — didn’t change in the 2022 election cycle, but the now 10-member legislative delegation from Baldwin County went from all male to 40% female.

Their paths to the State House varied, but all three women campaigned on their deep roots in the fast-growing county.

“I think that Baldwin County knew exactly what it was doing when the people here chose all of us to represent them in Montgomery,” Givens told Alabama Daily News. “While we are all different people and represent different parts of this county, all of us have families that have been here for generations and know this county like the back of our hands.”

In House District 64, Givens defeated a Libertarian in November and a GOP primary opponent in May to win the seat formerly held by Rep. Harry Shiver, R-Bay Minette, who did not seek reelection. Givens recently retired from a 47-year career with electric cooperative Baldwin EMC.

In House District 94, Jennifer Fidler defeated incumbent Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, in the May GOP primary with about 63% of the vote and then easily held off a Libertarian in November. Faust, a lawmaker since 2002, was one of eight incumbent legislators to lose in May primaries and June runoffs.

Frances Holk-Jones in House District 95 defeated a general election Democrat opponent for the district that includes Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and other parts of southern Baldwin County. The seat had been held for 42 year by Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Gulf Shores. McMillan announced last year he would not run for reelection. He died in April after being diagnosed with cancer. 

And in the Senate, the county has its first female legislator in nearly 27 years. Incumbent Democrat Vivian Figures’ Senate District 33 in Mobile County was extended into the right-leaning Baldwin County during last year’s redistricting process. Figures received 19% of the vote in Baldwin County against her GOP challenger earlier this month and 74% in Mobile County.

“I think the Baldwin citizenry has elected some very good leadership, regardless of gender,” said Rep. Alan Baker, who got to know Givens, Fidler and Holk-Jones on the campaign trail. 

“I think there’s a tremendous energy with these incoming House members within the Baldwin delegation,” Baker said.

According to census data, Baldwin County’s population grew from 182,265 in 2010 to 231,767 in 2020. The small town of Loxley more than doubled in population while Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley, Spanish Fort and Fairhope all saw increases of 39% to 54%.

Givens said she wants to keep “big, beautiful Baldwin” moving forward while “making sure we maintain and pay tribute to our history and our culture here that made us who we are.”

She also said Shiver, Faust and McMillan had decades worth of relationships in Montgomery that won’t be instantly replicated.

“That said, I spent my entire career working with our local electric cooperative down here in my district, and my job was working with all levels of government and its officials to make sure our people got what they needed, whether it was getting power poles fixed after a hurricane, working to secure right of way access for a big project or even finding ways to help build relationships between people,” Givens said. “I may not have been an elected official until now, but I’ve been around government in every possible form so I’m not coming in a novice here, thankfully.”

In an interview with Alabama Daily News, Fidler praised Faust’s service in the Legislature and said their families have been friendly for decades. She said she sought the seat in part because she thought Faust, 81 this year, might be vulnerable in a sixth campaign for the seat.

“I had a real concern that if somebody ran (against Faust), it really needed to be somebody from our district … someone with a genuine love for the area,” Fidler said. 

Fidler went door-to-door on the campaign trail and said one of the concerns she heard from voters was whether the county has the infrastructure — including roads, water and schools — to keep up with population growth and newer subdivisions.

She said she believes the state’s conservative values are a selling point — along with low taxes and beautiful weather. 

Fidler has about 25 years service working for multiple government agencies, including as Fairhope’s public works director. She was raised on a farm in Baldwin County and has concerns about new development eating up agricultural land. Fidler, who was endorsed in the primary by the Alabama Farmers Federation, would like to serve on the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee.

Holk-Jones got a House tour from McMillan during his last special session in Montgomery in late 2021. She’d paged in the House decades earlier as a teen, where she said she “got the bug” for state politics. 

“I would give anything if Steve were here to give me advice. He did so much for Baldwin County,” Holk-Jones said. “But I am excited and ready to jump in and represent all of Baldwin County.” 

Her father and grandfather were both mayors of Foley.

“I think it’s wonderful that all three of us are natives of Baldwin County and multi-generational because we have been part of the growth in our various businesses,” Holk-Jones said.

As a State Farm agent and president of Frances Holk Insurance Inc., she’s led and been involved in several business groups in the county. She said the county’s tourism and growth are economic generators for the entire state. Along with her business experience, Holk-Jones said improving the health of Alabamians is a priority for her. She’s also on the board of South Baldwin Regional Medical Center. Nearly 25 years ago, Holk-Jones founded Jennifer Claire Moore Foundation to support the emotional and social needs of teens in the county. The foundation is named for Holk-Jones daughter, who was 16 when she died by suicide in 1997.

“The whole health of the county and the state is extremely important to me,” Holk-Jones said.

Other legislators representing Baldwin County are Sens. Greg Albritton, R-Range, and Chris Elliott, R-Josephine and Reps. Brett Easterbrook, R-Fruitdale, Matt Simpson, R-Daphne, and Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle.

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