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Carnley brings county commission, business experience to state Senate

Newly elected state Sen. Josh Carnley said he considered a legislative campaign for more than a decade, including conversations with his long-serving predecessor, Jimmy Holley, about where to start. 

Holley didn’t seek reelection after more than 40 years in the Legislature and Carnley defeated Norman Horton and former state Rep. Mike Jones in the Republican primary. 

Now, after two-and-a-half terms as a county commissioner for Coffee County, Carnley will represent Coffee, Covington and Pike counties and a northern portion of Dale County in Senate District 31.

Carnley is a lifelong resident of Ino and he and his wife, Valerie, have three children, Presley, Stella and John Matthew. 

He graduated from Auburn University and is a farmer and owner and president of SanBuck Insurance. 

Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Josephine, who also came to the State House from a county commission, recently met with Carnley at a State House orientation for new legislators.

“He seems very friendly toward small business, which is also important to me, and has a good background in that,” Elliott said. “His service on the county commission makes him well suited for the State House. He understands policy already and understands public service.”

Q&A with Carnley:

Your seat was previously held by one of the longest-serving lawmakers, Sen. Jimmy Holley, who did not seek re-election. When and how did you decide you’d run for the seat?

“I went and talked to Jimmy Holley back in 2010 about getting involved and maybe one day even running for that position, and he’s the one that kind of gave me the advice of getting involved in local politics. So a couple years later I ran for county commission, but I’d always had interest in (running for the state Legislature) since back then. Then (Holley), true to his word, called me back in June (2021)  and told me he was not going to seek reelection and just wanted to let me know that so I could decide what I wanted to do.”

You ran for an open seat, but had a pretty competitive primary and weren’t really expected to win. What do you attribute that win to?

“I think we just worked hard. We got out and met the voters and showed up at events and just tried to prove to people that we were going to be involved and be a part of the community, wherever it was. We had interest in just being on the ground with the voters, and we worked hard, did a lot of -door-to-door, and had a lot of great volunteers that helped us. That’s really all I can say. The good Lord helped us get there. We know a lot of people, and over the years, knowing that I wanted to run, you always just kind of let folks know…so a lot of people knew that I was interested in it. It wasn’t a surprise to people that knew me personally.”

You’ve talked about your small town background and how people in small towns love that way of life. But we also know that rural areas of the state are struggling to maintain population. What do small towns need from leaders in Montgomery to be vibrant and keep young people? 

“I think a lot of it is just going to be trying to figure out how we can regionally work together to bring in industry and businesses that provide those higher levels of professional-type positions that people are looking for. Of course, it’s different down here too. I think we’ve got a lot of skilled technical people that aren’t going to go off and find somewhere to work in Atlanta or Birmingham in the big city, but a lot of people are just looking for places to eat, entertainment, things like that. I think what helps us in this area is that there are areas around us that are close enough to get to to be able to do that. But I just think it’s doing our part to keep a sound infrastructure and always trying to sell the areas to industries that have the potential for looking to move to utilize our natural resources. Obviously being in a more rural population, that is a disadvantage in trying to recruit larger industries. Their concern is about moving in and having access to a population that is ready and able to work. I think really we just have to posture ourselves to be prepared and not rush it just to feel like we’ve got some new economic development announcement, but to really work together not just as individual cities and towns but try to come together and see what would be beneficial long-term.”

How do you think your experience as a county commissioner will help you in Montgomery?

“I think a lot of it is just about building relationships with people, getting to know folks that run certain agencies, building relationships with other legislators, and having a cooperative spirit to work together. We did that on the county commission. I know to the public, in their eyes a lot of times unless you’re having a heated debate over a bill then you may not be doing what you’re up there to do. But then, on the flip side of that, people are tired of that in politics. I think it’s our job to go up there and to debate and have civil discourse and to work together. I’ve met people like (Senators) Rob Stewart and Merika Coleman, and they’re just great people. I think it’s time for us to work together. There are issues, obviously, that I’m not going to compromise on morally…but I think it’s learning how to build relationships and work together to do our part to really show people that we’re up there trying to do good. Obviously, I think there are people that you’re never going to please, but you just have to learn to do what you believe is right and what you think is going to help your constituents and the state the best.”

What do you see as the biggest challenges in your district and what could you and your fellow legislators do to address them?

“Economic development – that’s always something that people believe can solve more than just the economic development problem. That can infiltrate tax revenue, help in your schools, and encourage businesses to move in. I think a lot of our cities and towns have worked hard over the years to try to show themselves as a good place to work and to live and to raise a family. I think in general, down here it’s really trying to work on economic development, trying to bring folks in, and education, making sure that we support our educators and provide the best access to education that’s possible. And I think just preserving freedoms. Most people here, they understand that government is necessary, but they don’t want government to be involved in every part of their lives. They want it to be responsible and fiscally conservative, and I believe that’s something people long before me have done. I want to just learn what I can to continue to support that effort and to be very proactive in trying to make sure that, whatever I can do to benefit this district, I’m working on.”

What advice did you hear at legislative orientation that made the most impact?

“I think the big thing is learning to balance life and making sure you don’t lose sight of who you are. Not thinking that now that you’re here you have to be a different person; people elected you because of who you were. But continuing to maintain that balance of life of legislator and family and work, and I think that’s sound advice because one day I won’t be doing this, and I don’t want to give up the things that are most important to me, like my family and friends…so I think just balancing life and making sure I’m staying plugged into my local community and realizing there are people in Montgomery to serve, but most importantly it’s the people back home that I need to keep my focus and attention on.”

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