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New member profile: Rep. Ontario Tillman

In 1994, former Alabama House Rep. Lawrence McAdory was elected to represent House District 56 thanks in part to his supporters’ campaign efforts. Almost 30 years later in 2022, one of those supporters, Ontario Tillman, would go on to be elected to represent the very same district.

“I can remember as a young boy passing out (McAdory’s) campaign material and asking people to vote for him,” Tillman, D-Bessemer, said. 

“When I was a kid, my grandmother had me involved in politics even before I understood it. It has always been about helping my community and District 56.”

The Jefferson County seat was open because incumbent Rep. Louise Alexander ran for state Senate. Tillman defeated fellow Democrat Tereshia Huffman in the June primary runoff election and went on to win the general election, defeating Libertarian Carson Lester by a healthy margin.

A resident of Bessemer, Tillman is an attorney for Maxwell Tillman Law Firm, and previously taught in public schools for ten years. Tillman earned his bachelor’s degree in special education from Alabama A&M University and a law degree from Miles Law School.

The Alabama Legislature convenes on March 7.

Q&A with Rep. Ontario Tillman *questions are paraphrased

Q: What do you see as being some of your biggest legislative priorities in this upcoming session?

“My ultimate goal is to actually be an effective legislator. First, improve the overall quality of life in District 56 through community development, through economic development, and improved education.”

Q: Regarding education, are you open to the idea of public education funds going toward things such as private and public charter schools as has been advocated for by ‘school choice’ supporters?

“I am a public school person; I taught in public schools for ten years and have always been an advocate and supporter of public schools. Right now, my mindset is to not take anything off the table; I think we should look at all avenues, because ultimately, we’re trying to provide the best education for our kids. 

We need to look at everything before we make a concrete decision, so I want to look at charter schools, I want to look at public schools. We need to do whatever is in the best interest of the student.”

Q: How will you pursue improving economic development across the state?

“I’m always in support of companies and businesses coming to Alabama. We need to make Alabama an attractive destination for companies, for businesses, because all it does is bring and give more opportunities to the people of Alabama. I will always want to be on the front line in supporting that because it’s about the quality of life for our constituents in Alabama.

I also want to look at healthy eating, wellness, as well as mental health which I think is a big component in today’s society.”

Q: How will you encourage improved community development in both your district and across the state?

Attracting more business, removing blighted houses, making the quality of living overall better, and the education piece is a huge piece with that.

I’ve always understood when you can provide a quality education for kids, that’s what drives and pulls businesses to your area, which makes your area become more attractive. That’s something that we have to focus on from state, city and county levels.”

Q: You’ve been appointed to three House committees; the Judiciary, Financial Services, and Fiscal Responsibility Committees. Is there any one in particular you’re most excited to be a part of?

“The Judiciary. Being a lawyer, being in these courtrooms throughout the state of Alabama, I’ve experienced a lot and I think that bringing that practical experience to the Judiciary (Committee) would definitely help and provide a different perspective. 

From talking to a lot of the members on the Judiciary and understanding the seriousness of this committee, we all need to be professionals, come in and do our jobs.”

Q: Are there any personal or professional experiences that you feel will help shape your decision making as a state legislator?

“It’s more about serving the people. A lot of times it’s lost on us that it’s not about me, it’s about the people who sent me to Montgomery to actually represent them. I think that has to always be in the forefront of your mind. I want to make sure that I’m doing everything for the people of District 56, for the people of the state of Alabama, and that’s the most important thing for me. It’s about the sacrifice.”

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