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Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election

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Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election

Sep 19, 2023 | 8:01 am ET
By Alander Rocha
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Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
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People enter a voting precinct to vote in the Michigan primary election at Trombly School Aug. 7, 2018 in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

House District 55 voters will choose a Democratic nominee in a primary special election Tuesday.

Seven Democrats will compete for the party nod in the Democratic-leaning district. If none of the candidates win at least 50% of the vote, a run-off for the two top candidates will be held on Oct. 24.

With no Republican opponent, the Democratic candidate who wins the primary — either with 50% in the primary or in the run-off — will almost certainly become the House District 55 representative.

The seat became vacant after Rep. Fred Plump, D-Fairfield, resigned in May after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.  Plump ran unopposed in the 2022 general after defeating incumbent Rep. Rod Scott, D-Fairfield, in a runoff for the Democratic nomination for the seat. Scott ran unopposed in the general election in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Earlier this year, the DOJ accused the freshman representative of taking money from a fund used to support programs in Jefferson County under the direction of another Jefferson County legislator, and kicking back a portion of it to a legislator’s assistant.

The special primary election for House District 16 will be held on the same day. The seat opened up after former Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, stepped down on June 30th to become the CEO of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

District 55 encompasses parts of Birmingham, the West End, and Fairfield. Nearly every candidates interviewed cited job creation, public safety and education as the key issues in the district.

Candidates 

Kenneth Coachman

Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
House District 55 candidate Kenneth Coachman. (Courtesy of Kenneth Coachman)

Age: 67

Residence: Fairfield

Occupation: Chief of staff, Miles College

Education: B.S., Business, Miles College, 1980

Party: Democratic

Previous political experience/campaign: Fairfield Mayor, 2008-2016; Fairfield City Council District 5, 2004-2008; 1980-1984

Fundraising: As of September 8, Coachman raised $3,682 and spent $7,954. Coachman financed $6,439.

Coachman said he is running for House District 55 because it is in need of “integrity, leadership and experience.” He said he has the most political experience in this race as a former mayor and city councilman and feels that he is the person best suited for the job.

Coachman sees economic development, public safety and education as his campaign priorities. He said that the district is “ripe” with professional development. He said that if elected, he will work with the state development officials to bring economic opportunities to the district.

Like other candidates, Coachman cited a need to improve public safety, and said he would work with law enforcement and fire officials to provide them more resources so they can “safely do their jobs.”

Coachman said the state needs to provide more resources to struggling schools, and not take them away. He said the voucher program is “fine,” but “you’ve got to have a plan” for public schools that will continue to have problems if resources aren’t given to the students left behind.

Travis Hendrix

Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
House District 55 candidate Travis Hendrix. (Courtesy of Travis Hendrix)

Age: 40

Residence: Birmingham

Occupation: Sergeant, Birmingham Police Department

Education: B.S., Criminal justice, Oakland City University, 2017; M.S.M. (Master’s in Strategic Management), Oakland City University, 2019

Party: Democratic

Previous political experience/campaign: Democratic candidate, Alabama House of Representatives District 55, 2022.

Fundraising: Hendrix raised $20,667 as of September 8, and spent $15,572. Four PACs have given to his campaign, totaling $9,000. Alabama Works PAC, which also provided $4,253 in in-kind contributions, made the largest donation of $3,000.

Hendrix said he is running for House District 55 because he wants to improve the quality of life for people in the district. He said he that’s what led him to law enforcement.

“Now I want to dedicate myself in front line creating policies that directly affect the district,” he said.

He said that while his top priorities are public safety, economic development and education, he would also like to completely get rid of the grocery tax. Alabama decreased the sales tax on groceries from 4% to 3% in September after lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year. He said he would focus on repealing the entire grocery tax to “put more funds in people’s pockets.”

With a career in law enforcement, Hendrix hopes to leverage his experience to advocate for more resources, as well as build relationships with community leaders to establish preventative programs for young people, “so they can continue to be successful.”

Aside from legislation to make people “at least” feel safe, he would advocate for more resources in schools so that teachers and students can continue to be successful.

He said that he grew up in a single parent household and didn’t know his dad. His mom dealt with substance use at one point. He answered a call for a 14-year-old boy being shot eight times, and the kid lived with his aunt, who cared for several other children. He said that reminded him of himself growing up.

“All I’m trying to do is just be a mentor and be a leader for our youth,” he said, “and also bring back some programs and resources that that can be preventative, that we can continue to educate our kids on the importance of gun safety and also valuing their lives because right now, we’ve got a lot of kids that really don’t value their lives.”

Cara McClure

Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
House District 55 candidate Cara McClure (Courtesy of Cara McClure)

Age: 54

Residence: Birmingham

Occupation: Founder and executive director of Faith & Works, a civic engagement and social justice organization.

Party: Democratic

Previous political experience/campaign: Democratic nominee for Public Service Commission Place 1, 2018

Fundraising: McClure raised $9,995 and has spent $15,411 as of September 15. McClure also lent her campaign $10,000.

As a former Black Voters Matter state coordinator and field organizer for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential bid, said that she has always “done the work of serving.”

“I’m not running to be an elected official. I’m running to be a public servant with the platform,” she said.

McClure said that education and public safety are priorities for her campaign, but she said people she has spoken with during the campaign have cited the need for healthy food in the district.  She said the area needs “robust transportation across the entire district” to get people to grocery stores and their jobs. 

“We need to make sure folks are able to get to work in the middle of the night. Some folks work the night shift,” she said.

If the district can’t get a big box grocery store like Publix to come to the community, she asked, “why don’t we come up with a program where we can find entrepreneurs in the community?”

She also wants to address public safety by having a “greater dialogue” about the issue. She said that public safety is often only discussed on a surface level when it comes to violence and crime. She said that she has the “brain bandwidth” to talk about these issues on a deeper level by addressing crime from the root by addressing poverty. Instead of talking about more policing and surveillance, she said there needs to be more discussions about education, especially putting trade career training in schools and creating a pipeline “school to career pipeline.”

“If I was our state representative, I could shed an even greater light and a greater platform on those issues that we sometimes forget about when folks are in office, like the food deserts,” McClure said.

Sylvia Swayne

Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
House District 55 candidate Sylvia Swayne (Courtesy of Sylvia Swayne)

Age: 26

Residence: Birmingham

Occupation: Quality assurance manager, Shipt

Education: B.A., English, University of Alabama, 2019.

Party: Democratic

Previous political experience/campaign: Elected member of the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee, 2023-present.

Fundraising: Swayne raised $21,283 and spent $4,237 as of September 8.

Swayne feels that young people often “shrug our shoulders when anything bad happens in Alabama” and contend with that being the normal.

“I think that Alabama is so much more than what we’re seeing in the Capitol, and the only way to make that change – to show the state and the country who Alabama is – Is for more young people and people of all sorts of backgrounds to run and try to change the conversation,” Swayne said.

Swayne said that she can offer a bold and unique perspective as the only candidate in her 20s.  Swayne, if elected, would be the first transgender representative elected to the Alabama House. She doesn’t see this as a win for her or even the greater LGBTQ community, but for all Alabamians who can see the value of having a trans legislator having a seat at the table.

She said that public safety is her campaign’s top priority and said addressing crime is a big deal for the district. Swayne said she would like to “rethink our processes” by investing in education, economic activity and health care.

She said that they need to see the unhoused population and those with substance abuse disorder as a public health crisis, and they “need to work tirelessly to pursue a restorative justice model that treats every community member like a human being, while weighing the public’s right to live and thrive in a safe environment.”

Swayne said she would make workforce development and Medicaid expansion a priority, and that the state is not providing enough workforce development in trade fields. People also don’t have adequate transportation to get to work or proper healthcare, which impacts their ability to work.

“Every Alabamian deserves equal access to quality health care,” she said. “Alabama is leaving money on the table by refusing to expand Medicaid, and I’ll do everything I can as representative of District 55 to encourage the governor and my fellow legislators to make the common sense decision to expand Medicaid.”

Antwon Womack

Meet the candidates running in the House District 55 special election
House District 55 candidate Antwon Womack (Courtesy)

Age: 35

Residence: Birmingham

Occupation: Warehouse manager at Safelite AutoGlass

Education: Associate’s degree in business management, Columbia Southern University, expected Fall 2023.

Party: Democratic

Previous political experience/campaign: Chair of the abolished LGBTQ caucus in the State Democratic Executive Committee; elected vice-president of the Ensley Highlands Neighborhood Association, 2022; candidate for Birmingham City Schools, District 8, 2017; candidate for Birmingham City Schools, District 8, 2013; candidate for Birmingham City School Board, District 8, 2009, and candidate for Mayor of Tarrant, 2008.

Fundraising: Womack has raised $3,202 as of September 15 and spent $1,704.

Womack said that he decided to run for House District 55 because the district needs someone who is already “immersed” in the community, as well as someone who has a working relationship with public officials.

He said that he already has those working relationships with state, county and local leaders, and he also has the ability to connect with individuals who typically don’t understand the political process. He wants to ensure “that they’re not left out of this process by bringing their ideas and their voices to the table.”

Womack lists public safety, education and economic development as his top priorities. He is opposed to the open-carry law that went into effect earlier this year and feels that only made Alabama more unsafe and would like to repeal that.

“Because now individuals can just walk around with their firearms, and law enforcement can’t do anything about it,” he said. “And a lot of the crimes that are beginning to happen are associated with gun violence.”

Womack said taxpayer money should remain in public education and that the state needs to find innovative ways to strengthen public schools. Teachers also need to be adequately paid, he said, and should be given opportunities to further their education, which he said would benefit the classroom.

There are plenty of economic opportunity zones, he said, in places like Fairfield. Areas in House District 55 can benefit from more businesses as well as giving opportunities to current business to expand.

“If I can help strengthen local, small business, which I know will remain there” he said, “then why not pass that along so we can continue to build our tax base?”

Phyllis E. Oden-Jones

Party: Democratic

Fundraising: Oden-Jones has raised $1,900 and spent $3,890 as of September 8. The campaign financed $5,500.

Ves Marable

Party: Democratic

Fundraising: Marable raised $3,995 and spent $5,778 as of September 15, ending with a negative balance of $1,783.

Attempts to set up an interview with Ves Marable and multiple attempts to reach Phyllis E. Oden-Jones were unsuccessful.