Race for District 67 House seat continues after independent candidate qualifies

Published 3:34 pm Friday, February 3, 2017

The race for the House of Representatives District 67 seat is far from over after an independent candidate qualified, calling for a special general election in April.

According to Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, Tremayne “Toby” Gorden turned in enough signatures to qualify as an independent candidate, leaving Dallas County and parts of Perry County without representation in the upcoming session.

According to Merrill, Gorden had to have 392 signatures to qualify. That total is three percent of the votes cast in District 67 during the last gubernatorial election, which was in 2014.

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Merrill said Gorden submitted a total of 671 signatures, and 508 of them were from qualified and registered voters in District 67.

“It’s an opportunity to represent this area because I’m a native in this area,” Gorden said. “I believe my business experience of over 15 years and having lived in some of the economically challenged areas have uniquely prepared me to be able to bring some creative thinking to this particular position.”

The special general election is scheduled for April 18, 2017. Gorden will be on the ballot alongside Prince Chestnut, who won Tuesday’s special Democratic primary election for the District 67 seat in the House. No Republican candidate qualified.

Chestnut won the special primary election with nearly 70 percent of the vote Tuesday. Out of 4,025 votes that were cast, Chestnut received 2,755. The next highest candidate was Latrell Richardson, who received 593 votes.

Chestnut’s landslide victory assured there would be no runoff election, but Gorden’s qualification extends the race. Gorden’s deadline to qualify was the day of the special primary election, which was Jan. 31.

Chestnut said he had already received congratulatory phone calls from several state representatives since Tuesday’s victory.

“I was ready to get sworn in and get started next week to represent the entire community,” he said. “I think the people spoke. I have the support of an overwhelming number of people in the community. Everyone has their right to run for office, but I think when the people speak, the people should be heard.”

Now, he will have to continue campaigning until the April election, and District 67 will be without representation in the House until late April.

“If there had not been an independent candidate, then Prince would have become the member that day,” Merrill said. “He would have been able to start next week when the session starts, but now they will be 10 weeks into the session before he can take his seat.”

The legislative session is scheduled to begin Feb. 7.

Dallas County Probate Judge and Commission Chairman Kim Ballard said the election, which was not budgeted for, will cost the county an estimated $70,000.

“We thought we were through with it. We didn’t budget for another election,” Ballard said. “You’ve got everybody in Dallas County now that voted that thinks Prince Chestnut is our representative, and now out of left field comes an independent candidate.”

Ballard said provisions should be changed to make independent or third party candidates qualify when Republican and Democratic candidates qualify.

“I’m going to be doing everything in my power to change that law,” Ballard said.

Gorden said this won’t be the first time he has run for the District 67 seat. He said he also ran in 2002 against Yusuf Salaam. According to election results posted in the Times-Journal from 2002, Gorden only received two percent of the vote.

He most recently ran for president of the Selma City Council. He has also run for Dallas County probate judge.

Another independent candidate qualified to run but did not file required paperwork with the Ethics Commission, disqualifying them from the race. The name of the disqualified candidate has not been released.