Editor’s note: This is one in a seven-part series recapping big local stories in the Opelika-Auburn News coverage area in 2018.
With midterm elections and Auburn municipal elections on the calendar, 2018 was already shaping up to be a big political year locally. But beyond the polls and ballot boxes, Opelika and Auburn residents left their mark on the state, and the pages of the Opelika-Auburn News, this year.
Sadie Grace Andrews Act
After their 3-year-old daughter died from drowning in a grease trap at an Auburn ice cream shop in 2017, Corrie and Tracy Andrews worked with state lawmakers to help prevent other parents from experiencing that same heartache.
SB258, the Sadie Grace Andrews Act, was introduced in the Alabama Senate by Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) during the 2018 legislative session. The bill requires grease traps with manholes to meet certain security requirements or their owners pay a penalty.
“Grease traps with manholes shall be of gas-tight construction and shall be designed to withstand expected loads and prevent access by children,” the text of the bill reads. “The manhole cover shall be secured by a bolt or locking mechanism or shall have sufficient weight to prevent authorized access.”
Police cited video evidence to say Sadie Grace was playing when she fell through the lid covering the grease trap at Bruster’s Real Ice Cream on East University Drive in 2017.
The bill passed both bodies of the Alabama Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey formally signed it into law in April.
State Rep. Bandy dies
House District 83 Rep. George Bandy (D-Opelika) died in January in a Macon, Ga., hospital, following injuries he received in a car accident.
Columbus police arrested and charged a Columbus man in connection to Bandy’s death the following month.
Michael Brooks, 60, was charged with second-degree homicide by vehicle, driving while license suspended, improper U-turn, false information and no proof of insurance.
Bandy, 72, was a longtime state representative who also previously served as pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Opelika, was a member of the Lee County Voters League and had served terms on the Lee County Commission and Opelika City Council.
No special election was scheduled to fill Bandy’s seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. Voters chose another Opelika resident, Jeremy Gray (D), to represent District 83 during the November general election.
Politics on the Plains
Auburn mayor Bill Ham announced in May that he would not seek re-election, clearing the way for the city to have its first new mayor in two decades.
Six candidates sought the office in the August municipal election, and a series of public forums were held during which each shared his or her ideas for the city.
The mayoral race, and those for four Auburn City Council seats, were not decided in August, but required runoffs in October.
The runoff for the office of mayor, a contest between Ron Anders Jr. and David Hill, was won by Anders.
New members on the city council include Connie Fitch Taylor of Ward 1, Kelley Griswold of Ward 2, Brett Smith of Ward 4, Steven Dixon of Ward 5, Bob Parsons of Ward 6 and Jay Hovey of Ward 7.
Ward 3 incumbent Beth Witten was unopposed and kept her seat on the council. Ward 8 incumbent Tommy Dawson won re-election for his seat.
Miss America(n) Congressional candidate
Opelika native Mallory Hagan pursued – and secured – the Democratic nomination for U.S. House District 3, challenging incumbent Mike Rogers in the November election.
“To me, it’s incredibly important to be a person in this community who utilizes the skills that I’ve learned over the past decade and…going out and speaking with people, learning what their problems are and learning how to come up with some solutions that we can all work together to face,” Hagan, 29, said during her official candidacy announcement in February.
Rogers, a Republican who hails from Calhoun County, prevailed in the November election.
After results rolled in on Election Night, Hagan called for a change in leadership in the state Democratic Party, telling reporters that she was “mad as hell right now.”
“There are people who are in control of the Democratic Party who say they are fighting for you; who say they are standing up for you; who say they care about you and your communities and yet they s*** on Democratic candidates left and right. Excuse my language,” the former Miss America said.
“I have promised the people in Alabama, in the 3rd District and everybody who supported this campaign that I would fight for them,” Hagan added. “Right now, the fight that I see that needs to take place is within the state of Alabama, in the Democratic Party.”
Nearly 50,000 Lee County voters cast ballots on Election Day in November, a turnout of just over 40 percent.
“The highest (voter turnout) we’ve ever had in a governor’s (election) year was 45 percent. That was in 2002,” Probate Judge Bill English told the Opelika-Auburn News after ballots were counted. “My prediction was 40 to 45 (percent) today, and I narrowed it down to 40 to 41, and it was 42.5. So good turnout.”
Randy Price (R-Opelika) was elected to the Senate District 13 seat vacated by Gerald Dial, and Senate District 27 incumbent Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) was re-elected to his seat in the Alabama Senate.
In the Alabama House of Representatives, Debbie Wood (R-Valley) secured the House District 38 seat in November after clinching the Republican nomination this summer by seven votes.
Incumbents who represent all or part of Lee County and who were re-elected are Joe Lovvorn (R-Auburn) of House District 79, Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City) of House District 80 and Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) of House District 82.
Jeremy Gray (D-Opelika) was elected to represent House District 83, a seat that had been vacant since Bandy’s death in January.
Lee County Commissioners Johnny Lawrence of District 2 and Robert Ham of District 4 won re-election for their seats, and the county commission welcomed Richard LaGrand, who won the contest to represent District 5.
Auburn City Schools board chair Tracie West was elected to represent District 2 on the Alabama State Board of Education.