What’s in a place number? Secretary John Merrill and GOP Party Chairman Terry Lathan weigh in on the importance of Kay Ivey’s pending Jefferson County Probate appointment

Governor Kay Ivey speaks at a coronavirus update briefing in the state capitol building in Montgomery, Ala., on Tuesday April 14, 2020. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Several weeks ago, Alabama Today reported on a letter from Paul DeMarco on behalf of Jefferson County Republicans. The letter called on Governor Kay Ivey to appoint a Republican to the open Place One probate judge seat recently vacated by Judge Alan King after 19 years of service.

According to multiple sources, Judge Sherri Friday and her supporters are pushing a plan to have Ivey move her from Place 2 to Place 1 and then appoint a conservative to replace her. Why the musical chairs? The move is because Place 1 is where the power and influence lay. The Place 1 judge is responsible not just as the main elections official for the most populated county in the state, but also for choosing the county’s two conservators. Friday has long been eyeing the move from 2 to 1 and announced her intention to run as early as 2017 when King announced he was retiring, but then changed his mind.

Whoever Ivey chooses to appoint to the seat will hold it for four years until King’s term is up. Their duties would include presiding over the July 14 Primary Runoff Election, the November 3 General Election, the 2022 Election Cycle, and the 2024 Election Cycle. They would also oversee two presidential elections and one midterm election cycle. 

Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan echoed a familiar sentiment of those watching this appointment, “Democrats fought us on everything for 136 years. They walked over us when they were in the majority. They never gave us the time of day and wouldn’t now if they could. If given an option, we need the Republican appointments for their policies and philosophies.”

Lathan, one of Ivey’s biggest and most vocal supporters, pointed out that, “The governor has appointed Republicans that have been appreciated. We will always want a conservative Republican if possible.” When reached for comment on potential details for the appointment, Ivey’s office declined to say who is under consideration or when a decision might be reached. At least two different Republicans have been confirmed to have submitted their names for consideration. 

The idea that Ivey, her chief of staff former Congressman Jo Bonner, or her appointments team would waste such an opportunity is perplexing to many. Over a half dozen individuals who campaigned for Ivey told Alabama Today via Facebook that they’re concerned that Ivey’s staff has forgotten the conservative promises she made to them and the state when elected. Multiple people have said that they have written and called her office in opposition to the Friday appointment to Place 1. 

More than one pointed out on social media that Ivey is doing favors for Jefferson County Democrats as if they would do anything for her. In fact, according to the Secretary of State’s website, the results of the 2018 general election for Jefferson County was Walt Maddox 152,103 versus those who supported the Governor 105,661. According to a post by Yellowhammer News, “A search of the state’s online campaign finance database shows that Friday made four donations to Democratic entities or candidates last cycle, totaling $3,080.

This included two donations to then-State Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham). Todd infamously attempted to “out” Governor Ivey during that same campaign cycle, with the result of Todd having her post-legislature job offer unceremoniously rescinded by the pro-LGBTQ+ “One Orlando Alliance.” They went on to note her friendship with U.S. Senator Doug Jones, whose law firm contributed to her campaign three times. 

In a statement to Alabama Today, Secretary John Merrill’s office said that he has spoken to the governor about the appointment highlighting the election cycles the appointee will preside over.

He stressed the importance of the role of the individual who receives the appointment saying, “The role of the probate judge is extremely important. Due to the administration of the election, the probate judge oversees the recruitment and training of poll workers who are on the front lines of preventing voter fraud and any potential breakdowns at the local level.”

Right now, the state is facing multiple attempts to undermine sections of Alabama Law that exist to protect the integrity of the elections and ballots. Merrill stressed the level of influence that the appointee would have on future elections by saying, “The probate judge has a significant level of influence. I cannot emphasize how important it is that this person is involved, interested, and informed on all things related to elections.”

There is no doubt by conservatives, not just in Jefferson County, but around the state that this would be a tremendous and unprecedented gift to Democrats. 

For those interested in weighing in, you can send the governor a message here or call her office at 334-242-7100.