Tuscaloosa business leader Tripp Powell will "strongly explore" running as an independent to represent Alabama State Senate District 21 after the Alabama Republican Party dropped him from their primary ballot this weekend.

Powell sold his family's Tuscaloosa line of Powell Petroleum gas stations in 2020 and announced his candidacy for the seat last November, setting up a tough Republican primary fight against incumbent Gerald Allen, who has been in state politics since 1994.

The decision to remove Powell from the primary ballot came from the Republicans' Steering Committee after one of its members filed a challenge over a $500 donation Powell made to Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox during a crowded 2018 gubernatorial primary race.

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Maddox ran as a Democrat, and GOP leadership said Powell disqualified himself from appearing on their ballots by donating across party lines -- even though Powell was a private citizen at the time of the donation with no political position or aspirations.

Powell joined the Steve & DC Show on 95.3 the Bear Monday morning to discuss the decision and what steps he may take next.

"This was during [Maddox's] primary," Powell said of the donation in question. "This is when he was running against other Democrats, not when he was running against the Governor, Kay Ivey. I certainly don't want to make light, but $500 is not a huge donation and in fact, I typically try not to air my business, but on a scale of the contributions I have made to Republicans over the years it's quite small -- less than one percent small."

By that math, Powell has donated more than $50,000 to the party who dropped him from their ballots Saturday.

Powell said he drove to Birmingham to defend himself in a closed-door hearing Saturday and presented evidence provided by Secretary of State John Merrill showing that he has voted Republican in every race since he registered to vote, but it was not enough to sway the GOP Steering Committee.

As for what's next, Powell hesitated to commit to one course of action Monday morning. He said he is not a litigious person and is not likely to file a lawsuit over the decision, but said he is strongly considering running the race as an Independent, which would begin an uphill battle to beat Allen on the Republican side as well as Lake View Democrat Lisa Ward.

"The campaign slogan I started with was very simple, 'It's Time for a Change,'" Powell said. "I gotta tell you, maybe that's not just in this district. Because the way this went down, where 20 people [on the Committee], only one of which lives even close to the district -- I don't think he even lives in the District -- made the decision that the 150,000 members of Senate District 21 weren't allowed to vote for me."

"I don't mind losing a fight," Powell said. "Nothing has ever been won 100 to nothing in a vote, but when you're not even allowed to get off the bus and get out on the field, it feels a little icky."

Powell said as a businessman, his dealings have primarily been in Tuscaloosa, Northport and around the University of Alabama campus, but this campaign has taken him into east Tuscaloosa County around Woodstock and Lake View and westward into Pickens County, where he said rural support has been strong as well.

"I think I've got to at least strongly explore what it looks like as an Independent," Powell told the radio show hosts. "I think I've got to look real hard at that."

Powell also said the GOP's decision is hypocritical on its face. Allen himself originally ran as a Democrat when he was elected to the State House of Representatives in 1994, and plenty of other candidates have made donations across the political aisle. Former President Donald Trump, for instance, has publicly donated almost $700,000 to Democrats, although the GOP has received the lion's share of his contributions made since 2011.

"Do we think that the Alabama GOP is going to keep Donald Trump off their ballots in 2024 for that?" Powell asked. "I mean, come on, if we're going with rules, we've got rules. That's a scary precedent."

To run as an independent, Powell must give a petition to the Secretary of State's office signed by a certain number of registered voters no later than May 24th, 2022. No one from Merrill's office was immediately available to provide the exact number of signatures required before the publication of this story Monday morning.

Documents say the signatures must "equal or exceed at least three percent of the qualified electors who cast ballots for the Office of Governor in the last general election" in the district, which would require Powell to obtain roughly 1,500 signatures to qualify as an Independent.

Listen to Powell's full interview with Steve and DC below, and stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for more updates on this story as they develop.

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