Republican Party continues efforts to remove Flowers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The debate whether to have former State Rep. Steve Flowers’ name on the Republican ballot for the District 14 senate race is again in the courts.

The chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Marty Conners, said Monday his party has filed lawsuits in federal and circuit courts in the state as it continues to argue former state Rep. Steve Flowers does not have residency in the 14th state Senate District.

Officials indicate absentee ballots with Flowers’ name in place should arrive at probate offices soon; however, an injunction to prevent distribution of the ballots could come as well.

May 30 is the last day people can ask for an absentee ballot for the election.

Connors said he is calling for a hearing as soon as possible because of the absentee process.

&uot;We are not denying the people the right to vote,&uot; Connors said.

He said if the party is successful, any votes for Flowers would not be included in the official count.

He noted there are three other Senate candidates to vote from.

&uot;The fourth is not legally qualified,&uot; Connors said.

Legal representatives for both sides of the issue took part in a telephone hearing with Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Michael Joiner.

Officials representing Conners and the Republican party were asking Joiner to allow them to present evidence on whether they had legally disqualified Flowers during a April 15 hearing.

Joiner denied the request, citing the fact the case had already been heard and ruled on by Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price last week.

&uot;Judge Joiner said they should request to present the evidence to Judge Price,&uot; said Bert Jordan, who is representing Flowers. &uot;If Judge Price denies their request, then Judge Joiner said he would hold a hearing on Thursday.&uot;

The Alabama Supreme Court upheld Price’s decision last week, which blocked the party from taking Flowers off the ballot.

Price ruled the state party missed a deadline for making changes to the ballot when they disqualified Flowers.

State law prohibits a change in ballots within 50 days of the election. In this case, the deadline would have fallen on April 10.

Connors said the first lawsuit is in federal court in Montgomery.

That suit cites a letter from the Justice Department claiming that the decision of Judge Price last week was &uot;a deviation of standard election practices in Alabama&uot; and that the matter should come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Justice Department.

Senate candidate Hank Erwin said he understood there was some &uot;documentation&uot; from the Justice Department which Price did not have before him when he made his ruling.

&uot;Even Redding Pitt, the chairman of the state Democrat Party, filed the same suit we did,&uot; Connors said, as both parties, the Justice Department, the Attorney General’s Office and the Secretary of State are in agreement with the Republican position.

&uot;I can assure you we’ve been through this thing until I’m blue in the face,&uot; he said.

&uot;Steve Flowers never established residency in the 14th District.&uot;

Connors said in Flowers’ annual statement a contribution was listed from his wife on Dec. 27, several weeks after the deadline to have his residency in the district.

The contribution listed a residence outside the district.

&uot;What more can I say?&uot; Connors asked.

&uot;I’m not against Steve Flowers,&uot; he said, noting the state party committee elected members of the candidate board which heard the case, and some party factions, such as Young Republicans, name members.

He said state Sen. Bill Armistead, who is stepping down from the District 14 seat to run for lieutenant governor, serves by virtue of being one of four vice chairmen of the party.

&uot;He had an obligation to be on the candidate committee,&uot; Connors said. &uot;He has done no lobbying. He was painfully quiet during the whole deliberation.

&uot;I want everyone to know we did it right,&uot; Connors said, noting, &uot;I get ruffled&uot; when he hears the party tried to take Flowers off the ballot unfairly.

&uot;But the party has a legal and moral obligation that all the candidates who run are legally certified,&uot; he said. &uot;If we, as a party, ignored the residency requirement, we would be condoning a violation of state law.&uot;

Conners also stressed the importance of allowing political parties to change ballot information within the 50-day deadline &045; a practice he says has been 40 years in the making.

&uot;If the Price ruling is upheld, we would have only three working days to determine if a residency was legitimate,&uot; he said.

&uot;Someone convicted of a felony could qualify the last day, and there would be 150 candidates to check on in only a few days.&uot;

Conners said the party certifies candidates knowing it can come back later to take them off the ballot.

Asked if that would also be ignoring state law, Connors said state law is conflicting, with one part giving parties the right to make those changes