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Amendment rejected, runoffs imminent in statewide races

Across the state, voters cast ballots in a slew of local races, but also weighed in on a statewide amendment, a hotly contested U.S. Senate race and state school board contest.

In the bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville is poised to face former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, in a March 31 runoff.

Seven candidates ran for the seat, including U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-AL, and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who Jones’ bested in the last contest for the seat.

Tuberville walked away with roughly 33 percent of the vote Tuesday night, with Sessions claiming 31 percent – Byrne narrowly missed the runoff with nearly 25 percent of primary votes.

Also on the ballot Tuesday night was Amendment 1, which would have eliminated the elected state school board and replaced it with a body selected by the Alabama Legislature and the governor – voters roundly rejected the amendment, which proponents hailed as a boon for education in the state, with roughly 75 percent of voters opposing the measure.

Selma City Schools Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams, who has been outspoken in her opposition to the proposed amendment, praised the outcome.

“The voters have spoken and I am happy that this was defeated because I do think it’s important that folks have a chance to vote for the people that lead our schools at the state level,” Williams said. “I know we have challenges in education, but I don’t see elected school board members as part of that problem.”

For her part, Williams opined that state leaders should focus on addressing more pressing issues facing Alabama students, including widespread poverty, community mental health issues, inadequate funding and more.

Dallas County Schools Superintendent Hattie Shelton likewise celebrated voters’ rejection of Amendment 1.

“I’m glad that the public agreed with the system we already have,” Shelton said. “At current, we have a good board and a good superintendent.”

Shelton noted that she opposed the measure because it would have put “all of the power” in the hands of the governor and the legislature “when it comes to educating Alabama’s children.”

Voters also cast ballots in the Alabama State School Board District 5 race – Dallas County is among the areas included in District 5 – and will send candidates Tonya Chestnut and Fred Bell to a runoff at the end of the month.

Chestnut, who actively campaigned throughout the Black Belt, was enthused by Tuesday’s results, though Bell’s numbers came in more than 10 percentage points higher than Chestnut’s.

“I am grateful, I am exhausted, and I know the next [few weeks] are critical,” Chestnut said. “I thought that my passion for making a difference in education was my driving force in this election process. I’ve never been involved in politics, this is my first round with it. I’m just passionate about making a difference and I know this is something, if given the opportunity, I will do a great job at.”

Chestnut believes her experience as an educator gives her an advantage over her opponent, Bell, an attorney by trade, and hopes that voters will back her in the upcoming runoff.

“I think one advantage I have is that I’m an educator,” Chestnut said. “It’s always advantageous when you’re serving on a school board…when you have an educator, because they’re not speaking from the view of the outside looking in. I can have a global perspective because I’ve walked the halls, I know the challenges.”

While Williams wouldn’t comment on her pick to represent the area on the state school board, Shelton hopes to see Chestnut claim victory in the March 31 runoff.