District 37's Laird not seeking re-election
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Sep 13, 2013 | 4521 views |  0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls/file)
State Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke. (AP Photo/Phillip Rawls/file)
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MONTGOMERY – State Rep. Richard Laird is calling it quits.

Laird, the Roanoke independent who has represented rural eastern Alabama in the Legislature for more than 30 years, said Friday that he's not seeking re-election in 2014.

"I'll be 75 at the end of the term next year," Laird said. "Maybe I'll have a few years left where I can do other things, like go to my vacation home."

Laird, whose district covers parts of Randolph, Cleburne and Chambers counties, was first elected to the House in the late 1970s. He was a Democrat until earlier this year, when he announced his departure from the party just before the start of the legislative session.

Like other white Democrats who've fled the party since the Republican victory in 2010, Laird said the party had grown too liberal for him. Unlike them; Laird didn't join the GOP, choosing instead to adopt the independent label.

As a longtime incumbent without a party affiliation, Laird could have sucked all the oxygen out of a three-way race for for the District 37 seat. By bowing out, he opens the door to a straight Republican-versus-Democrat battle in a district that hasn't elected a new representative in years.

No candidate has filed fundraising reports in the race. State law now requires candidates to begin reporting after they've raised $1,000 in campaign funds.

Laird's 2010 opponent, Republican Bob Fincher, said he's mulling a run for the seat, and will announce his intentions sometime next month.

"I'm giving it strong consideration," Fincher said.

Randolph County Revenue Commissioner Josh Burns said he's considering a run as a Democrat, but hasn't made the decision yet.

"Right now I'm just getting tax bills out," he said. "I'll probably announce something in a month, or after the first of October."

Laird said that of all his actions in the Legislature, he was proudest of his work to direct more money to build up volunteer fire departments.

"When I was first elected, they didn't have any resources," he said. "They just existed. They had as much money as they could raise from a barbecue or a bake sale."

Laird plans to remain in office until the election, which means he'll serve in the House's 2014 session. He said his goal for the session is to pass a bill that would put more money into an annuity fund for volunteer firefighters.

The last two years have seen growing criticism of Laird within his own district, largely because of an effort by Laird and Sen. Gerald Dial to move some of the county's tobacco tax revenue toward new projects. In 2012, the lawmakers proposed using the money to set up district legislative offices. This year, they passed a bill that would spend the money on the building of a public show barn. But plans met with fierce opposition from some of the district's residents.

Laird said he actually decided in 2010 that this would be his last term. He said he's making the decision known now because supporters have been asking whether they should begin organizing a campaign.

"I'm getting old," he said. "I'm going to look around and see if there's life after the Legislature."

If he had made the decision to run in 2014, Laird said, he'd have run as a Republican.

Last year's legislative redistricting may make District 37 a tougher crowd for Republicans. The district now takes in more of Chambers County, drawing in more black voters, who historically lean Democratic.

Burns, the possible Democratic candidate, thinks the new district is more favorable to his party. Fincher, the potential GOP candidate, thinks the change will be offset by the fact that the district includes a new swath of Cleburne County.

"It's a wash," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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