Ala. secretary of state responds to critics of voter registration campaign
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Two big names are joining an effort to get you to the polls: Alabama native Lionel Richie and former President Donald Trump. It’s part of Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill’s annual campaign to promote voter participation. But some are questioning why Merrill chose Trump.
He said the simple answer is that no one else said “yes” when he asked.
For the last seven years, several well-known people have participated in these voting public service announcements, but this is the first time a former president and potential future political candidate has been included.
“We started with Alabama head football coach Nick Saban,” said Merrill.
And the list of participants only grew from there. They include:
- 2015: Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and former Auburn head football coach Gus Malzahn
- 2016: NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and former heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder
- 2017: Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison and Miss Alabama 2017 Jessica Proctor
- 2018: “American Idol” season 5 winner Taylor Hicks and radio personalities Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba” Bussey
- 2019: Country music artist Jamey Johnson and Alabama’s first governor, William Wyatt Bibb (actor portrayal)
- 2020: The women of the Alabama Legislature, naval Cmdr. Lee Allen Hallman, former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, and Medal of Honor recipient Gary Michael Rose
- 2021: Legendary singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett and country music sensation Riley Green
This year’s choices are Richie and Trump. The latter has Alabama native Kerry Shapiro concerned.
“Taxpayer money to put the face of a failed, lying president on a poster to encourage people to vote,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro is not alone in his frustration. Merrill’s office has received questions and complaints about the choice to use the former president, who questioned legitimate election results and is currently the subject of multiple investigations.
“We recognized when he agreed to help us with the campaign that there were probably going to be some people who would not be pleased with us using President Trump,” said Merrill. “And so the first thing that I did was contact the White House.”
Merrill said he reached out to President Joe Biden and other former presidents, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, all who Merrill says declined to participate. The current commercial with Trump was filmed last November during Merrill’s visit to Mar-a-Lago, according to a press release from the secretary of state’s office.
“Whether you like him or not, he was president. He’s always going to be the president. And he may be the president again,” said Merrill.
Shapiro says that’s not a good enough reason.
“I think that one must exercise a great degree of critical thinking on important issues like voting,” he said.
This year’s campaign costs half a million dollars, and Merrill says Richie and Trump are given equal promotion time.
Some are also concerned that giving Trump free air time could be a conflict of interest, considering his future political ambitions. Trump is a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
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