The Marshall County Democratic Club claims it was denied “equal access” to participate in the 55th annual Boaz Harvest Festival.
Susan McKenney, who is president of the Marshall County Democratic Club and chairwoman of the Marshall County Democratic Executive Committee, recently stated the Boaz Area Chamber of Commerce “refused” to allow the group to have a nonpartisan registration booth at this past weekend’s festival due to a “no politics” rule.
“… If you had the word Democrat or Republican, or variation thereof, in your group or business name, you were excluded because the chamber board had passed a ‘no politics’ rule for this year’s harvest festival,” McKenney stated.
Boaz Area Chamber of Commerce President Jodi Skinner said such a rule was put into place to make sure the festival’s atmosphere was one that is filled with different arts and crafts. Groups affiliated with Republican or Democratic clubs/parties were not allowed to purchase a booth space.
“We, at the Boaz Area Chamber of Commerce, strive to make the harvest festival the best that it can be each and every year for all attendees and vendors,” Skinner said. “Almost every year, we receive complaints from attendees and vendors regarding political parties and political candidates harassing and/or intimidating attendees. As such, and in order to make the harvest festival the best possible experience for all, the chamber declined to allow any political parties or candidates to purchase booth space intended for vendors. As such, we will continue to listen to all attendees and vendors for suggestions to better the experience for all who attend the Boaz Harvest Festival.”
Though McKenney understood the reason for the rule, she felt the chamber did not abide by it, thus treating her organization unfairly.
“Clearly, the chamber meant ‘no Democrats’ because from the onset there was plenty of Republican politicking,” McKenney claimed. “The festival opening ceremonies featured political remarks by the Republican Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, Republican Sen. Clay Scofield and Republican Rep. Kerry Rich.
“Inviting politicians to speak at the event was in violation of their own ‘no politics’ rule,” she continued.
McKenney believed seeing vendors sell “knockoff” Trump apparel did not abide by the chamber’s rule. McKenney stated that after the political nature of its “wares” was brought to the chamber’s attention, McKenney said the vendor was allowed to stay because the vendor was “sitting quietly” — not intimidating or harassing anyone.
“I’m sure festival attendees found it difficult to ignore the [Make America Great Again] message screaming at them, especially just after a presidential impeachment inquiry was opened,” McKenney stated.
McKenney also claimed the “knockoff” Trump apparel was violating trademark laws.
McKenney’s biggest issue was the chamber taking away the opportunity for potential voters to register — something she said isn’t as accessible as one might imagine.
“Voter registration in our state does not require declaration of party affiliation,” she stated. “It is considered nonpartisan by the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, which has partnered with Marshall County Democrats at voter registration events to offer free photo voter ID access the last two years.
“Residents in rural areas are especially vulnerable to lack of voter registration access,” McKenney added. “Many have work schedules that prevent them from visiting the County Registrars office in Guntersville. Some don’t have internet access to apply online. Overall, approximately 21,000 Marshall County residents are qualified but not registered to vote.”
McKenney said the organization would discuss the incident further and contemplate potential legal action, if applicable.
“We just want to be treated fairly,” McKenney said.
[Editor’s Note: McKenney’s complete statement can be found in Saturday’s edition of The Reporter as a Letter to the Editor in Opinions.]