- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Former Republican U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville rejoined the Democratic Party and entered the race for governor minutes before Friday’s deadline.

Two Republican incumbents, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Mobile and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Fairhope, appeared to avoid any opposition on the last day for Democrats and Republicans to qualify for the party primaries on June 3.

The Republican Party headquarters in Birmingham and the Democratic Party headquarters in Montgomery were busy with candidates rushing to file paperwork before the 5 p.m. deadline. Independent candidates can wait until June 3 to enter.

In Birmingham, Republican state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale signed up to run again for the 6th Congressional District, which now has seven candidates seeking the GOP nomination. Beason finished second in the GOP primary in 2012 against incumbent Spencer Bachus, but decided to make another run after Bachus did not seek re-election this year.

Two other open seats, state auditor and secretary of state, also drew big fields. The field for one race got smaller on the last day. Political commentator Steve Flowers of Troy withdrew from the Republican primary against Public Service Commission member Terry Dunn.

In Montgomery, Griffith became the second Democrat in the governor’s race. Fayette businessman and former minor league baseball player Kevin Bass signed up in January.

Griffith said he would campaign on two issues that would set him apart from Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who is seeking re-election. He said he would push for a state lottery to fund college scholarships and he would expand the state Medicaid program under the federal health care law.

Griffith, a retired oncologist, said he voted against the Affordable Care Act in Congress because parts of it were confusing, but the Medicaid expansion would provide needed health care and likely save some rural hospitals from closing.

Alabama voters rejected an education lottery in 1999, but Griffith said times have changed because voters are playing lotteries and visiting casinos in neighboring states.

“We are educating children in Tennessee with Alabama dollars. We are educating Georgia children with Alabama dollars, Tennessee children with Alabama dollars, and Mississippi children. When you see the numbers of people going to the borders of Alabama spending their money on education lotteries in other states, we have no business without an education lottery,” he said.

The announcement completes the partisan circle for Griffith. He was elected to the Alabama Senate and then to Congress as a Democrat, but switched parties in 2010 ahead of a national Republican wave. He lost the Republican primary that year to Mo Brooks, a tea party favorite who beat Griffith again in the 2012 primary.

Griffith later declared his political independence, but recently began talking with state Democratic Party leaders about challenging Bentley.

The chairman of the Democratic Party’s black wing, Joe Reed of the Alabama Democratic Conference, predicted Democrats won’t have a problem with Griffith’s return, but he will have a difficult time facing a Republican incumbent with more than $3 million in his campaign chest.

In the 6th Congressional District race in the Birmingham area, Beason’s entry brings a candidate with a high-profile tea party name. Beason, one of the authors of Alabama’s tough immigration law and gun rights law, said, “I may be the only candidate in this race who has actually been in a Wal-Mart in the last six months.”

The field includes: Dr. Chad Mathis, a surgeon; Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; Will Brooke, executive vice president of Harbert Management Corp; Gary Palmer, the president of the Alabama Policy Institute; Tom Vigneulle, a Pelham businessman; and Robert Shattuck.

The Republican primary for state auditor grew to a five-person race Friday. Dale Peterson, famous for his 2010 rifle-toting ads for Alabama agriculture commissioner, filed papers Friday, becoming a notable last-minute addition. Former Public Service Commission member Jim Zeigler also announced his bid Friday. Peterson and Zeigler join the previously announced candidates Adam Thompson, Ray Bryan and Hobbie Sealy.

Bryan is an Anniston attorney. Thompson is deputy chief of staff in the Alabama secretary of state’s office. Sealy was assistant state conversation commissioner under former Gov. Bob Riley.

Miranda Karrine Joseph, who ran four years ago, is the only Democrat in the race for auditor. Republican incumbent Samantha Shaw is not running for any office this year.

With Republican incumbent Jim Bennett not running for secretary of state, the open office drew three Republicans and one Democrat.

Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue, former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney and state Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, are vying for the Republican nomination.

Lula Albert-Kaigler is the only candidate Democratic candidate for secretary of state.

Incumbent Public Service Commissioner Terry Dunn faces a trio of candidates trying to unseat him in the GOP primary. Dunn had suggested the regulatory panel hold formal hearings on Alabama Power rates, putting him at odds with his fellow two Republican commissioners who said it was unnecessary.

Also seeking the Republican nomination in Place 2 are Phillip Brown, the chairman of the Alabama Minority GOP; former Alabama Republican Party interim press secretary Jonathan Barbee; and former Greene County Commissioner Chris “Chip” Beeker. There is not a Democrat in the race.

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