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Sunday, June 20, 2004

Candidate DA in Cullman Cnty. AL Getting Tough on Illegal Aliens

The Cullman Times


Tommy Drake, left, and Sara Baker will face each other June 29 in a runoff election for Cullman County district attorney.
DA candidates prepare for runoff
Frankie Glynn
The Cullman Times
Published on: 06-20-2004

The two Democratic candidates for district attorney -- well into the fast and furious foot race leading up to their June 29 runoff election -- say their messages remain essentially the same. The two tied up their primary race in bids to represent their party in the Nov. 2 general election.

Local attorney Tommy Drake, continuing his emphasis on stemming the flow of illegal drugs in Cullman County, has added a new twist to his hardline approach.

"We're having a major influx of Hispanics who are related to drug trafficking," Drake said. "I've learned through my work with the federal system that INS (U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service) places holds on illegals who possess a weapon or drugs."

Drake explained that a call to INS when an illegal alien is arrested for anything will result in the agency placing an automatic hold on the person, who then cannot make bond and go back on the streets.

"That's not being done in Cullman County. Illegals are being afforded the same bail as citizens. I'm going to put a stop to that," Drake said.

Assistant District Attorney Sara Baker is taking a somewhat different tack in her runoff campaign. In the primary, the entire campaign was focused on illegal drugs, and other issues received less attention than they deserve, she believes.

"While nobody disagrees the drug problem is a serious issue, it is not the only concern that faces the citizens of this county," she said. "The issues we deal with in Juvenile Court are really important. People are concerned about their children."

She sees early intervention that includes the drug issue but many other factors as important in getting youngsters off the path that leads to increasingly serious criminal activities.

"The issue of child support enforcement is significant to many people," Baker said. "This is an issue that touches people in a very real way. It is difficult enough to raise a child as a single parent, let alone doing it without any help financially. And there are a lot of these cases in the county."

Seeking justice for all victims of crime, especially victims of domestic violence or other violent crimes, is important, she said, explaining, "the district attorney has to deal with a variety of problems that affect people in the county. So I am trying to refocus this campaign on broader issues. Drugs are important, but they are not the only thing that needs attention. Everyone is worried about the drug problem, but I talk to people who are worried about getting restitution for victims of crime and child abuse issues, elderly people who have suffered abuse and merchants who are concerned about worthless check collection."

Drake has emphasized throughout his campaign that he was running to send a message to drug traffickers that Cullman County would be a "drug-free zone" under his leadership.

Maintaining that the county needs a district attorney who will personally participate in trials, Drake says he has tried more federal and state jury trials than both of his opponents in the race.

Drake has also proposed convening special and regular grand juries within 60 days of arrest to speed cases through the courts, thus ending the "revolving door" process where traffickers are simply released and allowed to continue their illegal enterprises.

His main priority continues to be the interdiction of the drug supply by apprehending the suppliers and traffickers -- people bringing in methamphetamines from Mexico and manufacturing drugs in labs here locally. He says a lot of them are being arrested, but few are being prosecuted.

Baker's strategy in the primary was to emphasize her record of serving the county for eight years and working hard to protect families. Her career in public service has enabled her to make a positive impact on her community, she says. She continues to tell people she has already been working for eight years to put criminals in jail, while Drake has been working as a defense attorney to keep them out.

Baker is especially interested in continuing her fight against those who abuse children and the elderly. She would also like to see more emphasis on prosecuting cases of abuse and exploitation of senior citizens.

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