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Matthew Stokes: Policy, not piety needed in Lt. Gov runoff

By MATTHEW STOKES, Alabama Daily News Contributor

Alabama’s June primary produced a number of runoffs, including two of the state’s top offices.  The Republican tickets for Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor are both headed for a July runoff.  

The Lieutenant Governor race is particularly interesting as it comes down to a long-term politician in Twinkle Cavanaugh and something of an outsider in Will Ainsworth.  Cavanaugh is campaigning on a pledge of good governance, while Ainsworth has let everyone in earshot know that he is a Christian and a conservative.

Of course, both candidates are effusive in their praise for President Donald Trump, even on issues that do not directly relate to Alabama, including the building of the border wall and Trump’s ill-fated summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.  Whether support for Trump is sincere or simply a campaign season gambit to prove their authenticity to Alabama voters is hard to discern, but either way, both candidates want voters know that they, too, are all aboard the Trump train.

Both candidates took the time the answer a questionnaire produced by the Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News. You can find Twinkle Cavanaugh’s answers here, and you can read Will Ainsworth’s answers here.  This is a helpful exercise, as we still have a week before the runoff, and voters really should take the time to get a feel for where the candidates stand apart from the soundbites of radio and tv ads.

Cavanaugh is an established name in Alabama politics, having served in Republican party politics for the last several years, most recently as Public Services Commissioner.  In all candor, she can’t present herself as much an outsider to state politics. I realize there’s various levels of connectedness within Montgomery, and perhaps she doesn’t go to all the right dinners or sit in the right skyboxes in Auburn or Tuscaloosa. I don’t know, and honestly; I don’t care.

Cavanaugh should own her experience and make the case that her time in office over the years has prepared her to take the next step to the second-highest office in the state. No politician with a strong record of experience should deny that record in order to pander to voters’ silly desire to have every candidate be an outsider.  Unless they’re given hard evidence to the contrary, voters should see that sort of experience as a feature, not a bug.

Based on her answers to the questions linked above, she has a solid grasp on a lot of issues. She certainly throws a lot of love at President Donald Trump, no doubt to demonstrate her MAGA bonafides in a state where Trump remains popular. I’ll look into the wisdom of that decision in future columns but Cavanaugh strikes me as a qualified candidate  who would probably hold her office well.

I don’t doubt that her opponent, Will Ainsworth, would do likewise.  Ainsworth spent four years in state House, which is limited experience, but not inconsequential.  He has run a solid campaign thus far, particularly as one with limited name recognition. I have my disagreements with parts of his policy agenda but on the surface, he’s a straightforward GOP candidate who does a nice job of not trying to out-Trump the opposition.

Ainsworth has said more about his personality than his specific positions.  For the entirety of the campaign. Ainsworth’s pitch has been that he is the Christian and conservative candidate. Let’s take those two qualities in order.

Being a Christian may serve to establish your own piety and sense of morality, but recent history in Alabama and around the nation proves that is sadly not always the case.  While voters may take comfort that,Ainsworth is committed to the Christian faith and all that comes with it (church membership, prayer, the study of Scripture), he needs to also address the issues facing the state.  

The bigger issue is that one’s Christian faith does not in any way make you suited to a particular vocation. There are faithful believers in most every church in Alabama, but they’re not all cut out to be teachers or engineers.  Ainsworth suggests that his faith guides him as he makes political decisions and that’s wonderful, but faithful Christians can have honest, robust disagreement about how to govern.

Alabamians have had a lot of bad choices in recent elections, both national and statewide.  I don’t really think that’s the case with the GOP’s Lieutenant Governor options in this runoff.  We have in recent years been reminded that the Lieutenant Governor is a crucial office, only a breath away from the governor’s seat.   

Whoever wins this primary should come forward in July and put a clear policy agenda before the voters, ideally with some continuity between the candidate and Governor Kay Ivey.  Republicans in Alabama have an opportunity to make further strides in growing the state’s economy and maximizing opportunities for its citizens.

Let us hope they are not wasted in the days to come.

Matthew Stokes is a writer living in Birmingham. Follow him on Twitter @yellingstopAL or email him at [email protected].

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