Candidates in three local races met this week in the Athens State University ballroom for a debate designed to give them one more opportunity before Tuesday’s election to get their issues before voters.
The debate was sponsored by the school, The News Courier, Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce and the Alabama Veterans Museum & Archives. News Courier Managing Editor Adam Smith served as moderator and Museum Director Sandy Thompson was timekeeper.
Smith explained that this week’s candidate meeting would be to a different format than the previous two political forums offered to the community.
“This one is different because it is a real debate,” said Smith. “The others were forums and they lacked pizazz.”
Audience applause would indicate that attendees agreed.
After allowing both County Commission District 4 candidates, Democratic incumbent Bill Daws and Republican challenger Ben Harrison, to introduce themselves and give biographical details, Smith launched the first question.
Smith referred to a recent newspaper story in which Harrison had remarked that the party to which a candidate belongs would determine the quality of service constituents receive.
Harrison won the coin toss to respond first.
“I thought I was clear on this,” said Harrison. “[Party affiliation] wouldn’t have an effect on day-to-day duties. But what party a candidate belongs to closely reflects his values. I know Bill doesn’t adhere to the views of all Democrats. But, how I view it is that Republicans are conservative and Democrats are liberal.
“For example, the purchase of the L&S Shopping Center was much more than was needed. It was the poster child from me in how not to use taxpayers’ money.”
Daws strived to refute Harrison’s assertions.
“It’s obvious if you think that the national party has something to do with Limestone County, then you are campaigning for the wrong job,” said Daws. “You brought up L&S Shopping Center. I didn’t think this was a Republican or Democrat issue. We need room for expansion (for Community Corrections) and we’ve got to work together for this program for Limestone County.”
When Smith asked Daws if he had a question for his opponent, Daws declined asking one, but instead directed his question to the audience, asking his constituents among them if they wanted a continuation of the progress he has made in his last 10 years in office, such as in good roads, safe intersections, grants and community storm shelters.
Harrison, however, had a question for Daws in why he does not support the Unit System of county government in the face of District 4 costs experiencing a 25-percent increase.
“I’ve talked with others under the Unit System but I haven’t seen on paper how this would save us money,” answered Daws. “That’s just not the way to go, to put our county engineer over all four districts under possibly two commissioners to control everything.
“Who’s going to work for you if we sell off our equipment? What are we going to do when it’s needed? If there is an emergency situation – ice or limbs falling – we call on the other districts and we work well together. I am concerned if we sell our equipment. We have some of the best equipment in Limestone County.”
In closing, Daws stressed his experience in the job. Harrison stressed ethical government that protects property of citizens without oppressive taxes and debt.