Jerry Starnes of Prattville considered running for the Alabama House in 2018 when the District 88 seat was open.
But when another Republican, Will Dismukes, announced his candidacy, Starnes said he stepped aside and continued serving on the Prattville City Council. This year, Starnes challenged embattled incumbent Dismukes for the seat, beating him in the May primary.
“This year was just the right opportunity to run,” Starnes told Alabama Daily News. “We needed representation for that seat.”
Starnes received nearly 62% of the vote in May and then easily beat a Libertarian candidate in November.
Now, Starnes, who was raised in Prattville, will take to the State House his experience on the city council, as a lieutenant colonel in the Alabama Army National Guard and from a career with the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles.
Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie has worked with Starnes for years.
“He brings a lot from several different backgrounds,” Gillespie said. “I feel like he’s going to be able to serve both the Autauga and Elmore communities to the fullest.”
“I look forward to continuing to work with him,” Gillespie said. “… to help improve our community, but also our county and our state.”
Starnes’ wishlist for preferred House committee assignments includes Judiciary, County and Municipal Government, Military Affairs and Public Safety and Homeland Security.
House District 88 covers much of Prattville and Millbrook in Autauga and Elmore counties. Among his priorities, Starnes said he’d like to help the cities become “a strong economic development team,” to compete for job opportunities.
Starnes has lived in Autauga County since he was 3 when his parents’ Air Force careers brought them to the area. He has 28 years experience with the Army National Guard, where he’s a lieutenant colonel. He earned a Purple Heart serving as a military police officer in Iraq in 2005.
Advocating for military members and veterans will be a priority, Starnes said.
His military experience dovetails into his interest in education.
“If we don’t do something as the River Region (to improve education), I see Maxwell (Air Force Base) pulling out,” Starnes said.
Starnes, 54, and his wife, Dawn, have three adult children.
In Prattville, which is part of the county school system, there have been recent efforts to increase property taxes in order to build new schools there. In November, Prattville voters narrowly rejected a proposal to create a special tax district around schools in the city and pay higher property taxes to improve schools and launch capital improvement projects. The city specific increase was proposed after discussions of a county wide tax hike stalled.
Starnes said as an elected city council member, he didn’t advocate for the referendum and he didn’t like some of the wording in the legislation. But he agrees Prattville schools need improvements.
Starnes would like to see Prattville become like a hybrid city-county system, where the city schools contract with the county for some services and have additional representation on the county board of education.
“I don’t want to have to replicate the services the county provides, such as administration,” Starnes said.
Starnes recently retired from the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles after more than 20 years there. He also spent about three years in the 1990s with the Alabama Department of Corrections. He said a lack of education is common among the post-prison populations he saw.
While one of the new men’s prisons the state is building in Elmore County isn’t in Starnes district, it is close enough to employ some of his constituents.
State officials are hopeful that new prisons will ease the violence and deaths within its facilities.
“I don’t think any sort of structure will change the behavior of inmates,” Starnes said. He said the prison problems, and problems that land people in prisons, track back to the demise of family values.
“We have to go back to family traditions,” he said. “We have got these broken families and that’s where the issues are from…
“Education failed the individual and the family failed them.”
Starnes said in his experience, rehabilitation opportunities should be made available to those who are motivated to use them.
“I think offenders should have to work hard to be selected for a rehabilitation process, and not just have a gimme,” Starnes said.