Incumbent Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling has a $32,400 head start on anyone who might want to challenge him in the 2020 municipal election.
Bowling received the contributions in the first 60 days of his reelection campaign, and they’re included in his October and November financial reports to the Morgan County Probate Office.
Bowling is the only candidate so far to file a campaign report. None of the City Council incumbents has filed a campaign report yet for next year’s election.
District 5 City Council incumbent Chuck Ard said he does not plan to seek a third term, while District 1 incumbent Billy Jackson said he plans to run for a seventh term in office.
Bowling said many of the contributions came after he called the potential supporters to discuss his reelection campaign.
“Over the course of the conversation, our discussion would open the door for me to ask for their support,” Bowling said Friday.
If reelected, Bowling would be the first mayor since Bill Dukes won five straight elections, between 1976 and 1992, to win consecutive terms.
Bowling’s contributions come from several prominent business leaders like Wade Weaver, of Budweiser, who gave $500, and Lynn Layton, owner of multiple car dealerships in the city, who gave $1,000. Local attorney and property owner H.M. Nowlin agreed to spend $2,500 on an electric billboard.
Tom Counts Jr., owner of 3-GIS, said he contributed $1,000 to Bowling’s campaign because he thinks the incumbent “is doing a good job. In my years of watching the city’s mayors, he’s doing as well as anyone.”
Counts' father, Tom Counts Sr., served 12 years on the City Council, including eight as council president. Tom Counts Jr. said he has considered following his father’s footsteps into political life and this even included a possible run for mayor.
“If he (Bowling) had not come along, I probably would have run for mayor,” Counts said. “I like Mayor Bowling’s community engagement. He understands what’s going on in the city and that a city has to be marketed and promoted. He gets business, and he understands that it’s not all about politics.”
Birmingham attorney Sam Frazier, owner of property viewed as having significant development potential on Alabama 20 in Decatur’s annexed area of Limestone County, contributed $2,500. Frazier gave $10,000 to Bowling’s opponent, then-incumbent Mayor Don Kyle, in 2016.
Bowling said he asked Frazier for his support in 2016 but Frazier was already supporting Kyle.
“I understood he already had a long relationship with Mayor Kyle,” Bowling said.
During the Kyle administration, Frazier was in line to benefit from a deal with the city that would have brought a development anchored by a Bass Pro Shop to the south side of Alabama 20 near Interstate 65, but that deal fell through.
Frazier is now set to benefit from a $20 million overpass, partially funded with a $14 million federal grant, at the end of his Limestone County property.
Frazier said he wasn’t courting influence when he contributed to each of the mayoral races. He has supported local candidates in Decatur and Birmingham and state-level candidates through the years.
“It’s good government,” Frazier said. “Through the years I’ve given money to a lot of candidates. I feel like it’s my obligation to support good candidates because it’s a financial burden to run for office.”
Emmette “Em” Barran III, a commercial real estate broker and developer, gave Bowling $500 for his campaign.
“I’m happy with Mayor Bowling,” Barran said. “He’s doing a great job, and I think he’s a good spokesman for the city.”
Barran benefited recently from the city paving a city lot behind his new apartment complex at 307 Second Avenue, but he said his contribution was not an effort to court influence.
“Good Lord, that’s a joke!” Barran said of the question on influence. “That project actually started when Mayor Kyle was in office. I gave Mayor Bowling the contribution because I like what he’s doing.”
Noel Hunter, a political science professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, said having no announced opponent and so much in contributions this early are good signs for Bowling.
“The contributions are certainly an indication of trust in the community,” Hunter said. “It could be a signal that those donors approve what he’s done and they think he’s been effective in his first term.
“And it could be some are hedging their bets that what he’s doing in economic development will benefit their business.”
Hunter said Bowling’s success in raising so much so quickly could be a deterrent for people who were thinking about opposing him, especially since Kyle and Bowling raised just over $20,000 for all of the 2016 campaign.
“That doesn’t mean someone can’t run and be successful,” she said. “But they’ll need to raise significant funds or be well-heeled.”
Hunter said most donors don’t contribute out of benevolence for the candidate. She said those in finance, insurance and real estate were the top sectors during 2016 national elections as they contributed $605 million to the two major parties for presidential and Congressional races.
“They see the candidate as making decisions that positively improve their organization,” Hunter said.