The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 2, 2012

GOP members backing local Dem candidate

By Jean Cole

— In an election where many Republicans are urging voters to vote straight ticket, a group of local Republicans are urging voters to back a Democratic candidate.

A display ad published in today’s and Sunday’s editions of The News Courier urges Limestone County voters to back incumbent Democrat Greg Tucker over Republican Ronnie Coffman in the race for License Commissioner.

It is simple and non-controversial, until you read the fine print.

At the very bottom of the ad in smaller letters is the phrase: “Paid for by Republicans for Greg Tucker License Commissioner.”

Randy Smeenk of Athens placed the ad for the “Republicans for Greg Tucker for License Commissioner.” Not only is Smeenk a Republican, he is a member of the Limestone County Republican State Executive Committee. So is Coffman.

The purpose of the executive committee is to promote the Republican Party and its candidates. Committee members are allowed to vote for candidates from opposing parties, but they are advised not to publicly support them when there is a Republican alternative.

The ad

The ad itself is basic.

At the top is the word “VOTE” in red letters followed by the words “INTEGRITY, EXPERIENCE and FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY” in black type.

Below that is Tucker’s name in large, green, capital letters, and under that is Coffman’s name in small, grey capital letters. Each name has a box next to it. Inside Tucker’s box is the word “Yes” and inside Coffman’s box is the work “No.”

The true nature of the opposition to Coffman and support for Tucker is unclear.

Smeenk could not be reached for comment about the ad Thursday afternoon.

Tucker told The News Courier Thursday he was not aware of the organization or of any ad.

“I do know Smeenk,” Tucker said. “Last spring he told me he and his friends who drink coffee at the Coffee Pot Grocery were going to support me,” Tucker said. “I have tried not to get into the politics of it (the Republican Party division).”

Tucker also said he was glad to learn the ad was not negative.

When told about the ad Thursday, Coffman said he was not surprised. He said it was prompted by in-fighting in the local Republican Party.

“A little over a year ago, the Republican Party of Limestone County had a split,” Coffman said. “We had about 15 members, including a few Tea Party supporters.”

Coffman said some of the “Old Guard” Republican members did not support the Tea Party platform and its candidates.

“They didn’t like some of the things the Tea Party people were doing,” Coffman said. “They got upset because the state party would not remove them, so they quit (the local party).”

But it was more than that. Coffman was essentially courting the Tea Party membership. A point he admits

“At one time, they thought of starting their own party and running their own candidate,” Coffman said. “I told them if they do, we would never get another Republican elected in Limestone County. I thought it was best for us to form a team and not work against each other.”

He said that while he does not agree with all the beliefs Tea Party members espouse, he agrees to disagree.

“I think they (the Tea Party members) are real good people who stand for the right things,” Coffman said.

(In many counties, Tea Party Patriots do form their own party and run their own candidates.)

The most divisive issue amid the local party, he said, was the appointment of Stan McDonald as Limestone County probate judge. Gov. Robert Bentley appointed McDonald after Mike Davis retired.

“The committee should have gotten to vote on three names to send to the governor,” Coffman said.

Instead, he said, the “Old Guard” submitted its own list to the governor’s office, which did not include McDonald. 

“They didn’t go about it the right way,” Coffman said. “I did what I thought was right.”

He said he wanted to keep the membership intact.

“I tried to talk to the members and get them to stay,” Coffman said.

However, he also said he would like to change the old image of the Republican Party, which he said is sometimes viewed as “a group of rich people” and “country club types.”

“When I grew up, everyone in Limestone County was a Democrat,” Coffman said. “You could have gotten the entire Republican Party in a phone booth. I ran as a Republican when it wasn’t cool to be a Republican,” he said, alluding to the Barbara Mandrell song, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.”