By Friday — the last day to qualify for the March 13 primary election — 19 Republican candidates and three Democratic candidates had qualified to run for the seven-member board. That’s seven more Republican candidates and three fewer Democratic candidates than qualified during the 2006 election, when 12 Republicans and six Democrats signed up for the race.
“They know that if they get in the race, their chances are stronger as (a Republican) and they don’t want to risk losing,” said Sheila Gilbert, chair of the Calhoun County Democratic party.
The top seven vote-getters in each party’s primary are typically listed on the ballot for the November general election. The seven candidates in that election with the most votes will win six-year terms on the board, which oversees operation of the Calhoun County Schools system.
But when there are fewer than seven candidates for one party, like there are for the Democrats in this election, each candidate is allowed to run for office in the general election, said Shirley Miller, assistant chief clerk at the Calhoun County Probate Office.
Gene Howard, who chairs the county’s Republican Party, said the increasing number of Republican candidates in this race is reflective of national and regional trends.
“Thirty, forty years ago it was smart to run as a Democrat,” he said. “The county, the state, and most of the nation was under the influence of Democratic leadership.”
Today conservative Republicans are more likely to get elected in the South, he said.
The three Democratic candidates in the school-board primary said it was about staying true to their Democratic roots. Dennis Christopher is one of the three Democrats in the race.
He identified himself as a social conservative, but said he’s running as a Democrat because he favors the party’s fiscal views.
“I’ve always been more on the Democratic side,” he said.
But Christopher said his motive for running isn’t political. A retired Jacksonville State University employee, Christopher said he wants to serve on the board to help the community.
“Now that I’m retired, I just figured I could help out somehow,” he said. “I have free time to do the job well.”
Christopher’s apolitical motive for running was echoed by many of the candidates who are running for the school board. Republicans and Democrats said their objective was to help the school system’s children and educators.
“I want to give something back to the county,” said retired Calhoun County educator and Republican candidate Jeff Winn. “I want to empower the teachers. I believe that that’s where we need the emphasis throughout the county.”
But another candidate, incumbent board member Republican Tom Young, said party affiliation can have a bearing in at least one area — budget making.
“I don’t sit there and question someone because they’re Republican or Democrat,” he said. “But I think you’re more likely to find fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party.”
Of the 13 candidates who ran for the board in 2006, one Democrat, Mike Almaroad, was elected. Almaroad, who is also running in this election, has since become a Republican.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.