On Tuesday, September 13, voters in Alabama's 79th House District, which includes Auburn and Opelika, went to the polls in a special election to elect their next representative. Conservation Alabama submitted a brief questionnaire to all four candidates who qualified for the race about their conservation priorities for their district and the state. Three candidates, Jay Conner, Joe Lovvorn, and Sandy Toomer, responded. Their answers are below. The General Election will be held November 29 between Republican Joe Lovvorn and Libertarian Gage Fenwick.
What role do you believe the state legislature should play in preserving Alabama’s natural resources? The legislature must take the lead role in assuring that Alabama's waters remain clean and protected, the State Park revenues are protected and used to maintain and improve our parks without the threat of transfers of revenues to other programs or state agencies. The legislature must protect the Forever Wild Land Trust and be an advocate for expansion and acquisition of additional lands in an effort to protect rivers, streams, coastal areas, forests, and drainage basins. ADEM must be adequately funded and given the resources to protect our environment. ADEM must work to enforce remediation rather than to penalize as its first option to resolve environmental issues. Our coastal waters, beaches and basins must be protected from erosion, pollution, over fishing and irresponsible harvests of forested lands. The legislature must encourage further development of alternative energy sources like solar power and wind generated power.
How do you think the legislature can best support Alabama’s state parks and ensure they have the funding they need to stay open? The legislature must secure continued funding for state parks and prohibit any transfers of funds generated by their operations from being transferred to other programs or for other uses. The legislature should endorse marketing efforts to highlight amenities in our state parks and advertise the vital role our parks play in preserving our natural resources and our state's history. We must continually improve parks to encourage in-state and out-of-state tourism. I would also be interested in stocking streams in our parks with trout, as other states have done, to encourage most visits to our parks by fishermen.
In 2012, the Forever Wild Land Trust was renewed with 75% of the vote. Will you support the will of the voters and defend Forever Wild by opposing any legislation that would raid its funds? Yes I will support the will of the voters and oppose any such legislation. Land trusts which secure conservation easements are vitally important in maintaining our natural resources and native wildlife habitat. Those lands must be protected and maintained. I also believe we can do a better job of providing recreational uses on Forever Wild lands, thus giving the residents of Alabama a better understanding of the importance of protecting these dedicated properties from development. I am a real estate developer by trade and have been for 25 years. But I believe we must set aside land in perpetual easements for protection. Without the funds to maintain and acquire more acreage, these properties will not function as intended.
In order to protect our freshwater resources from other states’ interests, do you support the completion of a comprehensive water plan for Alabama? Yes, I do support a comprehensive water plan. It's my belief that we should work with our sister states to arrive at a plan which satisfies all parties. However, I also believe that those agreements will ultimately be dictated by court decisions. It is our responsibility to make the best case for our interests. We have so many human resources to draw upon at Auburn University and the University of Alabama, as well as experts throughout the state. We should tap into those resources and develop a plan which serves the people of Alabama. Likewise, we are home to some of the most brilliant legal minds in the country. We must solicit help from our experts to make our case and defend our water rights for the benefit of our state.
What environmental issues in your district concern you? Fortunately, we have done a good job in our district of protecting our environment and being good stewards of our common lands. Chewacla State Park is fairly well taken care of and I will support this one and all of our state parks. Auburn University has worked with our Auburn Water Resources Management staff, along with groups such as Save Our Saugahatchee, to protect our creeks, streams, and lakes throughout my district. Again, encouraging and developing additional recreational uses through public-private partnerships, such as paddle sports, biking and fishing on our public lands, helps bring awareness to the natural beauty of our state and motivates our residents to support environmental protections. We simply need to keep up the good work in District 79.
If elected, what will your top legislative priority be? Economic development, brought about by fiscally and environmentally responsible legislation and policies, to further opportunities for all Alabamians. Education is the cornerstone of economic development and I will support better education policies for all of our citizens. We can work together as citizens of Alabama to solve our deep-rooted problems. But we have to be willing to do so regardless of party affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. My top priority is knowing the will of the people in my district and in Alabama and then doing the people's will!
What role do you believe the state legislature should play in preserving Alabama's natural resources? It is our job to make sure we are smart and diligent with our resources. Growing up on a farm, I was taught how important our natural resources are. I'm fully aware that if we don't take care of them, we are danger of their being eliminated.
How do you think the legislature can best support Alabama's state parks and ensure they have the funding they need to stay open? My family lives less than one mile from a state park, and we are family annual pass holders. The park in my district is profitable and self-sustaining due to tremendous community support in the form of admission fees, special events, local sponsorships, and in-park product development. The program in place here can be replicated in other areas. It is important that our parks be allowed to retain the revenues they earn so they stay viable and more desirable for visitors. The more visitors we have at the parks, the more revenue can be generated to sustain and improve them. I look at our parks as a marketing tool for the state, and the legislature should not remove their operating funds. These parks show the world the beauty of Alabama.
In 2012, the Forever Wild Land Trust was renewed with 75% of the vote. Will you support the will of the voters and defend Forever Wild by opposing any legislation that would raid its funds? I am opposed to raiding any funds that are allocated to the Forever Wild Land Trust. If we see multiple years of setbacks in our state, it could make it to where we are unable to repay any money owed back to the Forever Wild Land Trust.
In order to protect our freshwater resources from other states' interests, do you support the completion of a comprehensive water plan in Alabama? The large amount of fresh water is one of Alabama's greatest assets. I feel we do need to make a comprehensive water plan to ensure we are protecting the water flowing into and out of the state.
What environmental issues in your district concern you? As District 79 continues to grow, we need to be mindful of maintaining environmentally-friendly growth. I would like to see us hold the industries accountable and promote sustainable recycling efforts.
If elected, what will your top legislative priority be? My top priority will be workforce development. Auburn has many growing industries that can be partnered with our schools to provide the local businesses with local employees and team members.
What role do you believe the state legislature should play in preserving Alabama's natural resources? Properly funding Alabama State Parks within a reasonable realm.
How do you think the legislature can best support Alabama's state parks and ensure they have the funding they need to stay open? The scramble for new sources of revenue comes at a time when state parks are more popular than ever. Park revenues cover over 80% of current expenses. The state kicks in zero. Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi state coffers kick in significant funding for their parks. That said I would first talk to them and see how they do it and see if we could replicate it here.
In 2012, the Forever Wild Land Trust was renewed with 75% of the vote. Will you support the will of the voters and defend Forever Wild by opposing any legislation that would raid its funds? Yes.
In order to protect our freshwater resources from other states' interest, do you support the completion of a comprehensive water plan in Alabama? Yes. Alabama is the only state between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama that does not have a comprehensive water management plan.
What environmental issues in your district concern you? Closing state parks like Chewacla is not environmental per se but is of significant concern. Of course statewide I am aware of the ongoing battle with Drummond Coal, et al over pollution.
If elected, what would your top legislative priority be? Funding State Government so we have the excess funds for areas like this.