By Brian Lyman
Star Capitol Correspondent
MONTGOMERY — Loretta Nall speaks frankly. She is an atheist, a marijuana smoker and, recently, an escort for women attempting to get abortions.
She's also a candidate for governor on the Libertarian Party ticket, and her positions don't seem to jibe with mainstream Alabama thinking.
So when Nall says getting 250,000 votes — equivalent to about 18 percent of the vote in the 2002 gubernatorial election — would be a good result, it sounds ambitious.
“It is,” she said over lunch at Davis Café, a soul food restaurant in Montgomery. “I'm an ambitious girl.”
Nall's platform addresses a wide range of issues; among other things, Nall supports gay marriage, tax credits for families with children in private schools and repealing annual property tax assessments.
She also accuses the major parties of ignoring Alabamians' daily needs, arguing — as a recent radio spot put it — that the Democrats and Republicans sacrifice the good of the state in an attempt to “out-Jesus and out-anti-gay” each other.
The drug war, however, is her biggest issue. Nall supports the legalization of marijuana for those 21 and older. Nall would regulate and tax its sale — which she says will bring in additional revenue and help reduce the state's 200 percent overcrowding in prison.
“I chose to run for governor because I need a statewide audience,” she said. “And with the present situation as it is in Alabama, I think a candidate needs the largest audience possible.”
Nall was convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2004, a conviction she is appealing. A mother of a 14-year-old and 9-year-old, Nall said she smokes marijuana but claimed she does not smoke in front of her children and discourages them from doing it.
According to a study by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance in 2005, drug and alcohol offenses make up more than 38 percent of prison admissions in Alabama. In 2004, more Alabamians were jailed for possession of marijuana than for first- and second-degree assaults combined.
Many sheriffs, including Calhoun County's Larry Amerson, have been pushing for greater rehabilitation services for prisoners in jail. But Amerson “strongly disagrees” with drug legalization and argues controlled substances, including alcohol, need to remain tightly controlled.
“The decline in many of society's standards is very apparent,” he said. “So anything we can do to improve or reduce those items that lead to problems I think would be a good thing.”
Philosophically, Nall describes herself as a “classic liberal” who wants as little government interference in private life as possible. Nall said a lot of “great things” are in the Bible but insists on a strict separation between church and state.
“As far as religion influencing politicians, I think it's an insult to both,” she said. “If you have the rule of God and the rule of man, one is eventually going to overtake the other.”
The candidate said she knows “zip” about politics but argues the Democratic and Republican parties have created a Montgomery power structure that has encouraged the erosion of personal liberties — one reason she supports initiative and referendum measures.
“The way we have it now, people are not involved in politics,” she said. “I think initiatives and referendums will get regular people interested in local government.”
Those who agree with Nall will have to take initiative and write her name on their November ballot. Nall's name won't appear on the ballot because the Libertarian Party failed to garner the 41,012 signatures needed in the state to place a candidate's name there.
“The state of Alabama basically says before we can dedicate resources to outreach and educating voters, we have to jump over this hurdle,” said Dick Clark, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Alabama and a state House candidate. “It's kind of like picking the biggest, strongest kids and giving them a 20-yard head start in a 100-yard race.”
Clark believes Nall can attract national attention to the party but said he doesn't agree with all of her positions. A born-again Christian, Clark said he believes Nall's abortion-rights stand will be “counterproductive” in her attempt to reach voters in Alabama. But he added most voters should realize her election would not affect the legal status of abortion.
“I don't think that's something weigh too much on people's minds because it's not something that's going to change if she is elected or is not elected,” Clark said.
The Libertarian Party may have played a role in the outcome of the 2002 gubernatorial election: Candidate John Sophocleus, who appeared on state ballots, received 23,000 votes — more than seven times the 3,120 votes that separated Gov. Bob Riley and the former governor, Don Siegelman.
But with Riley leading Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley by 10 points in the latest polls — and Nall relying on write-in status — a repeat of that performance may not be possible. Still, Clark said he would like to see Nall “build on Sophocleus' accomplishments.”
Nall's campaign has been colorful. In May, she placed an advertisement called “Stripping for Dollars” on her Web site, which garnered national attention. Nall said she's gotten requests to run for office in several states, including Alaska, New York and California. She said she's not interested.
“I think they have people like me in California,” she said. “There's tons of me out there.”
Not exactly the article I was hoping for. She sounds frightening.