Email sparks debate in House District 90 race

Published 3:38 pm Friday, October 17, 2014

A candidate for Alabama House District 90 has said he wants to set the record straight.

In an email to members of the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said that Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, is providing Fundraising, mail, consulting, and on-the-ground field reps for Republican candidate Chris Sells.

Sells said those claims are false.

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“The only help I’ve received from Mike Hubbard is with fundraising, and that’s just because he’s assisting all the Republican candidates,” Sells said. “In fact, in the Primary Election, Mike Hubbard fought against me.”

Sells said he was surprised by Armistead’s claim.

“I can’t grasp it,” Sells said.

Cleve Poole, Butler County GOP chairman, said Armistead’s comments about Sells are “absolutely incorrect” and amount to little more than “inter-party squabbling.”

“Chris is not affiliated with Mike Hubbard,” Poole said. “What this all comes down to is that Mr. Armistead wanted to get his way as far as the strategy of the party and where the money that has been raised is spent, and when he didn’t get his way he decided to act like a little kid. It’s very upsetting to me, and I’ve expressed that to Mr. Armistead.”

Sells’ opponent, Democrat Walton Hickman, said Armistead’s email raises questions, and said in a statement issued Friday that Sells could be a “possible pawn of Hubbard, who is under criminal investigation by the State’s Attorney General’s Office.”

Hickman cited Sells switch to the Republican Party after initially qualifying as a Democrat in February.

“All voters, Republican, Democrat or Independent, should be concerned with a man being able to change his party affiliation so quickly,” Hickman said. “What would make him do such a thing? Clearly, the offer of financing and campaign resources is a very probable answer to that question. If Mike Hubbard is making all the decisions now, as the Republican chairman indicates, then Hubbard will make the decisions for Sells if we send him to the legislature. We don’t need that.”

Sells denied that claim and said inexperience in the political arena was the reason he switched parties.

“I decided late in January to run for office,” Sells said. “I was just a guy that was tired of reading the headlines, and I wanted to make a difference. I talked to several people and I was encouraged to run as a Democrat because I was told that you couldn’t win an election around here if you didn’t run as a Democrat. I did qualify as a Democrat. Then I went home and started deleting things I had written about President Obama and other Democrats and I realized that this just wasn’t me. I went to Cleve Poole’s office the next morning and told him that if they’d allow it, I’d drop out of the Democratic Party and run as a Republican. If not, I’d just drop out of the race all the way. They accepted me and I primarily funded my own campaign in the Primary.

“I am who I am and I’m going to do what I’m going to do in Montgomery no matter what party I’m affiliated with. I make the decisions I make because of who I am and not because of any party.”

Sells did say that he is receiving advice from Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s longtime political strategist, Angi Horn Stalnaker, but that she is volunteering her services to his campaign.

“I am pulling the strings for my campaign,” Sells said. “Angi helps me, she doesn’t work for me. She’s more of a consultant than a campaign manager.”

Hickman questioned if Stalnaker’s services to Sells’ campaign should have been reported as in-kind contributions. Failure to do so could be a violation of the state’s campaign disclosure laws.

“So, who is paying for Chris Sells’ campaign manager and why didn’t Sells report the contributions on his disclosure? Chris Sells seems to think he can say or do anything to get elected and that no one will care, or that we’re not smart enough to see through what he is doing,” Hickman said. “Our district needs a strong independent representative in the legislature and that’s why I’m running.”

Sells’ monthly campaign finance reports for September and October do not show any in-kind contributions.

Sells said that if elected he will not be beholden to any special interest groups.

“I belong to my family and the people of the district,” Sells said.