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A spirit that is not afraid

A House candidate attacking from the center

One of the four Republican candidates for Auburn's District 79 State House seat wants to challenge his opponents from the center. Auburn real estate broker Jay Conner said he wants to give all of the citizens in the district a voice in the House.

In an interview with The Plainsman, Conner, who grew up in Auburn and graduated from Auburn High School in 1983, said he wants to change the culture in Montgomery if he's elected to serve the district.

"I think we can do better," Conner said. "I think we argue from a perspective that is way too far right for this district because I think we've got plenty of that kind of representation throughout the rest of the state with the rest of our representatives, and I think we need to be a lot more inclusive."

Auburn is a truly unique community in Alabama, according to Conner.

"We've got people from every walks of live, religions, ethnicities, everything," he said. "We have liberals and we have conservatives. We just have the spectrum of people. We do pretty well — with exceptions on a policy here, policy there, as far as locally — everybody getting their input in, commenting on things, and kind of moving down the same direction together. From the state Legislature standpoint, we haven't had that representative. We haven't had that person that wants to be a centrist, the one who wants to take everybody's view into consideration before we decide to do something."

If elected, Conner would be a joining a Republican super-majority in both houses of the Alabama Legislature as well as a Republican lock on the governorship and a Republican-leaning Alabama Supreme Court. Despite idealogical symmetry in Montgomery, state government hasn't been performing up to par, according to Conner.

"What we need are people who want to try to get something accomplished and stop the squabbling," Conner said. "The Republicans have total control up there in Montgomery. So why can’t we focus our attention on the problems that we’re facing, rather than the things that are irrelevant or that are things the federal government has put in in place that we can’t do anything about."

After graduating from Auburn High School, Conner went on to receive his undergraduate degree from the University of Alabama Culverhouse College of Commerce. Once he received that degree, he returned to Auburn and began working with the family construction company.

Today, he develops properties in Auburn.

"I just love Auburn," he said. "I love living here. It's a great place to raise kids. We've come so far economically. Auburn has always been the driving engine of our economy obviously. It's a great place to live."

Conner is in a heavily contested race for the Republican nomination in a primary set for Sept. 13. Three other candidates, including Auburn businessman Sandy Toomer, real estate broker Joe Lovvorn and attorney Brett Smith, are also pursuing the nomination.

The special election for the House seat was called earlier this summer by Gov. Robert Bentley after former House Speaker and Auburn Republican Rep. Mike Hubbard was found guilty on 12 felony corruption charges. Hubbard was immediately removed from the House seat and will face four years in prison, barring appeal.

"I think this time around is kind of an opportunity to change things, kind of reshuffle the deck," Conner said. "I think that this whole Mike Hubbard thing was terrible, and it makes us look terrible. And all the things going on with the Governor and the Chief Justice up there make us look terrible."

Conner's views on the issues

Taxes and a state lottery

Conner said he would push for a lottery bill in his first 100 days in office, and he won't vote to raise taxes.

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"This may kind of set me apart from the other candidates: I do think we need to look at a lottery," he said. "Fort-four states have a state lottery — 44 out of 50 have a state lottery. We're on the outs.""

Conner said he would be open to discussing the final destination for the lottery revenues — from preschool programs to funding higher education and scholarships — but regardless, it would go directly to the Education Trust Fund.

And if the state brought in millions with the lottery, then surpluses could be used to balance out the General Fund when needed and help with the recurring Medicaid crises. Last year, the Legislature voted to take $80 million from the Education Trust Fund to balance the 2015 shortfall.

"People don't want to raise taxes, and we need to generate some kind of revenue," Conner said. "(A lottery) is a proven way to do it, and the great things about that is you can look around the other 44 states and see what they've done well and what they haven't done so well."

Conner said he would not support raising taxes in the state because of a lack in public appetite.

Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act

Conner said the Legislature's inability to find a solution to fund Medicaid, which provides healthcare coverage for thousands of low-income families, was cause for concern. He would also vote to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

Later this year, Gov. Bentley is expected to call a special session to address another General Fund shortfall that will likely affect Medicaid coverage in the state. Bentley has said the Legislature's appropriations were nearly $90 million short of what was needed to keep the agency running.

"I think that's shameful that the Legislature can't fully fund Medicaid," he said. "It's really going to hurt people, and it's not only going to hurt the people that aren't going to be served that are on Medicaid."

Healthcare throughout the state could be affected by a disruption in service, according to Conner.

"It's going to hurt everybody," he said. "The physicians here in town that I've talked to a lot about this, they're not going to get paid what they should, which means their staffs aren't going to get paid what they should, and the hospital is not going to get paid what it should."

Conner said if he was elected to the House, he would vote to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

"Everybody hates ObamaCare, at least most people do, but if the state would have agreed to expand Medicaid back when it started, it would have been 100 percent funded by the federal government," he said. "So why didn't we do that? Well, because we hate ObamaCare, and we're going to fight the federal government. And we're Alabama, and we don't want you infringing on our rights. ... It's really going to affect the health and welfare of our kids."

Fighting ideological and cultural battles

Conner said he was tired of Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange trying to fight ideological and cultural battles with Washington that the state will never be able to win.

“I want to focus on the problems that face us that we can change, that we can do something about," he said. "You can rant and rave about the country going to hell, and the state is going to stand up against it and all that. But that doesn’t help anybody. The only thing that’ll help the people of Alabama is if we focus on our own problems. We have a couple of very powerful senators and our own congressmen who will figure that stuff out up there in Washington. That’s their job. Our job should be focusing on the state and fixing our problems.”

Strange's battle over transgender bathrooms and his combined effort with Chief Justice Roy Moore to battle the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage last year are a total waste of time to Conner — and a waste of money.

Conner was open to the idea of same-sex marriage.

“In fact, people were ready to beat people over gay marriage, but I think why not," Conner said. "The parents that we know, who we spend a lot of time with who are gay parents, are fantastic people, and they’re great parents to those kids.”

Check out The Plainsman's comprehensive coverage of the House District 79 election

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