MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama state Rep. Jeremy Gray announced Thursday that he is running for Congress, becoming the third Black legislator to make a bid an increasingly crowded primary field in the new Democratic-leaning district in the Deep South state.
Gray, of Opelika, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 2nd Congressional District. Two other Alabama lawmakers — state Rep. Napoleon Bracy of Prichard and state Sen. Kirk Hatcher of Montgomery — have announced they intend to run. A number of other legislators are considering bids.
“It’s been a long time since people in that area had hope and had someone that really understood the issues in that area,” Gray said. “I’ve been a part of bringing resources to that community through legislation and through funding.”
Federal judges last month selected new congressional district lines in Alabama after ruling the previous map likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The three-judge panel said the state, which is 27% Black, should have two districts out of seven where Black voters are the majority, or close to it, so that they have a reasonable opportunity to elect candidates of their choosing.
The newly redrawn district stretches across south Alabama from the Mississippi border to the Georgia border, encompassing parts of Mobile, the capital city of Montgomery as well as rural areas. Black residents make up 48.7% of the voting age population, giving it a firm Democratic tilt.
The new map sets the stage for potentially flipping one U.S. House of Representatives seat from Republican to Democratic control and could lead to the election of two Black congressional representatives to the state’s delegation for the first time.
Bracy is among the first candidates to announce a bid in the district. Hatcher, a Democrat from Montgomery, told news outlets that he also plans to run.
“This is our time, our time to have a seat at the table built on the backs of those who, my entire lifetime, had been disregarded by their Congressional representatives due to their voting record or area code,” Bracy, a Democrat from Prichard, said in a statement announcing his campaign.
Bracy, who is the manager of diversity and inclusion for Austal USA, a defense contractor, said health care, economics and workforce development are the heart of progress and too many people have been left behind in communities “where poverty is still real and economic development is scarce.”
Hatcher similarly emphasized economic issues.
“I was looking at the grocery store yesterday and thinking about how are these single-parent mothers able to go into the grocery store and get groceries, any sort of quality of food offerings for our families and children. That’s a real concern,” Hatcher, an English teacher and Head Start director, told al.com.
Gray, 38, was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2018 and served as minority party whip. He founded a nonprofit in east Alabama named for his great-grandfather that he said aims to be a community resource.
Gray drew national attention after passing legislation that revoked Alabama’s ban on yoga in public school gym classes. Gray, a former cornerback at North Carolina State University who also played professionally in Canada, said he was introduced to yoga through football, and that the exercises can provide mental and physical benefits to students. He wrote a children’s book about the benefits of yoga for mental health.
He said protecting natural resources and improving access to health care, including maternal health care would be among his priorities if elected.
The seat will be open in 2024 as two Alabama Republicans face off in a primary battle in another district.
Republican Rep. Barry Moore, who currently represents the district but was drawn out when the new map was selected, announced he will challenge Republican Rep. Jerry Carl in the 1st Congressional District. Moore’s home is now in that district.
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