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New member profile: Sen. Jay Hovey

Sen. Jay Hovey of Auburn probably hopes the wildest thing about his time in public office is his one-vote GOP primary win in Senate District 27.

The razor-thin win and resulting challenge created a five-week saga for the state Republican Party and drew in leaders, from the Secretary of State to the head of state law enforcement, who weighed in on who was registered to vote in that race. It also renewed debate on whether the state should have closed primaries.

“We obviously had a very vibrant primary season, but that’s past us now and I look forward to supporting every corner of the district,” Hovey, a former Auburn City Council member, said in an interview with Alabama Daily News.

“I’m a pretty quiet, thoughtful decision maker,” he said. “I think I have proven that on the city council.

… I look forward to learning the process and ways to help, but I don’t have an agenda or an axe to grind. So I want to take my thoughtful approach to discerning decision making to Montgomery. My only campaign pledge was to represent Senate District 27 with integrity and thoughtfulness.”

Hovey challenged three-term incumbent Sen. Tom Whatley, also of Auburn. According to campaign finance information from the secretary of state, Whatley spent about $1.29 million on the primary race, Hovey spent about $103,000. Hovey then easily won the November general election.

“Since Senator Hovey’s election, he has been actively listening to the needs of his constituents in Lee, Russell and Tallapoosa Counties,” stated Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed. “With a background in small business and banking, in addition to his service on the Auburn City Council, Jay will be an asset to us in the Senate and an influential legislator for the people of Senate District 27.”

Hovey said local support was key to his primary win.

“I know a lot is expected and I look forward to making them proud,” Hovey said.

Hovey’s committee assignments include the education budget committee, which he requested in part because of the two- and four-year colleges in his district, including Auburn University.

“We obviously are very proud of what it is as an institute of higher learning, but Auburn is also the largest employer in Lee County,” Hovey said. “You can’t overlook what these educational institutions mean to the local economy, whether that’s a quality of life issue or literally employment.”

“I’m certainly excited about the opportunity to champion our educational systems in District 27.”


Q & A with Sen. Jay Hovey, edited for brevity


Q: You ran against a well-known incumbent who I think you knew could raise a lot of money. Why this race? Why now?

“I’ve been a lifelong resident of Senate District 27 and thought that would be a role that I could serve in. I appreciated and certainly treasure my time on city council, but I felt that I had more to offer and living in Senate District 27 was a natural fit.

“… I was going against a longtime incumbent, as you said, a well-known incumbent, but I think that I have always been fairly well-engaged in the community. And to that point, I was obviously outspent in that primary race … but the percentage of my support that was local was astronomical.  I’m proud of that support, that local support from the district. 

“… I think that the district made a statement and it was something that I might have seen as an opportunity in 2021 — that there might be support from the district for change.”

Q: One of the taglines on your campaign material was “Jay Hovey, character counts.” What does that message mean?

“I think a man, not just a candidate, but any man or person, ultimately only has his character — a man’s character is really all that counts when the cards are on the table. I was proud of the life that I’ve lived, prior to public service even. And I think that’s a character trait that I see imperative in my elected officials and I thought that would resonate.”

Q:  Your primary opponent spent more than $1 million,  you spent significantly less than that. How did you get your message out and what was that message?

A: “It was important to me — and imperative given that I had no other option — to try to meet people face-to-face. I think that is ultimately what makes a voter confident in casting that ballot.

“I mentioned earlier growing up in the district, my life’s timeline started in the southern part of District 27, in the Marvyn community. I went to Beauregard High School. My father is a small business owner in Opelika. My mother’s a retired educator who grew up in Auburn. I have family in Camp Hill (in Tallapoosa County). So, I feel like I’ve spent 44 years campaigning. This isn’t something that I jumped out and just decided to ramp up in December of 2021.

“… I think that being able to go to people, from high school friends and teachers to Sunday school teachers and church members and business associates throughout the tri-county area was a benefit to me personally. I wasn’t starting from zero. These were people I already knew that I was approaching with the notion they can have a friend, a neighbor or family member representative in Montgomery.”

Q: Let’s talk about the primary. I don’t think there’s a question that some Democrats did vote for you. That race did reignite some conversations about the GOP and closed primaries. What do you say to folks who think the primary should be closed?

A: “I understand why that banner has been raised again. You know, it’s interesting, whenever there’s something of note that happens in a primary, that’s the knee-jerk reaction. But it hasn’t  gained traction in the past. 

“… My two immediate questions (about closed primaries) are, how do you actually implement it and what are the unintended consequences? How would the registration process look like? What’s to keep anyone from just registering differently every election cycle?

“…Meanwhile, we can barely get 20% voter turnout now. What’s it going to look like when we have to depend on voters to register ahead of time or be turned away?”

“… I think the key for the party is pretty simple in my mind. How about the Alabama Republican Party concentrate on cultivating a stable of engaged, quality candidates rather than disenfranchising voters? If any party will promote and support quality candidates, the problem will take care of itself.”

Q: Let’s talk about the future. You recently went through legislative orientation and the organizational session. I realize there’s a learning curve for new lawmakers, but what are some of your priorities going into this first session?

A: “I respect the process and those that have been there. 

“… I’m not a gunslinger. I didn’t come in with an agenda. I told a lot of people that this past summer as I was meeting people (in Montgomery). It was obviously an exciting primary and there’s a lot of new faces and names and everyone wants to know who this Jay Hovey cat is, you know, what’s your priority? What are you going to go down there and change? And, you know, I think that’s too broad of a question…”

Q: Along those lines, you got assigned to some pretty significant committees, education budget, education policy, local government, I’m assuming that you requested those committee assignments?

A: “I did and I’m proud of those and the faith that leadership has placed in me. Again, I think my reputation and track record has preceded me and my willingness to build bridges is important.

From education budget to fiscal responsibility and economic development to banking and insurance to local government, I have, in my opinion, a lot to offer. From a small business perspective, I have a lot of chamber world experiences. My brother is a third-generation small business owner here in Lee County. 

“I did request those, I want to be active. I wouldn’t undertake this endeavor to not be engaged and active. And I think that those are some areas that maybe some of this business world experience can help bring some new perspective to Montgomery.”

“… I did make a specific request for the education budget committee. Our local public school systems from the top of Tallapoosa County to Russell County are premier, in my opinion, and I appreciate what they mean to the community, not just educationally but for our local economies. 

“…Businesses and families won’t relocate to an area if they don’t trust it has a quality public education or educational opportunities for their families. And that’s a major choice in someone’s life…

Q: Along those lines, I expect there will be some conversations about school choice and expanding school choice. I know “school choice” is a very broad term. And you have some great systems in your district. What might you support, if anything, when it comes to expanded educational choices for families?

A: “I certainly agree with everyone that’s said, especially here recently, that parents know what’s best for their children. …But as you said, deciding what school choice really looks like is going to be the obvious challenge. What can I support? There are lots of opinions floating around. Until they’re presented in legislation, it’s hard to make that call.”

“… My key to supporting anything is to make sure that we find a way to balance taking care of those students and families who want a path to a better life through better education. We just have to make sure we find a way to make that balance for systems that already have a huge influx of students and already have challenges in meeting the needs (of students) without any influx. We don’t want to harm any system that’s doing the right things.”

Q:  Can you talk to me about some of the challenges that you do see in your district and what if anything you think you and your legislative colleagues could do to help?

A: “I think protecting a quality of life that the citizens of Russell, Tallapoosa and Lee counties have worked hard to establish, I think maintaining and furthering that (is a priority)…

“Auburn is the seventh largest city in the state now. …With that comes a lot of benefits, but the other side of that coin are stresses on the area’s infrastructure. I’m proud of what Alex City is doing with economic development. We’ve got to make sure these areas have every tool they can to continue the economic development we’ve seen be successful. (And we need to make sure) we have the infrastructure to support that. That means schools as well as roads and bridges.” 

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