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In a surprising showing, 12-year incumbent State Rep. Dexter Grimsley (D-Abbeville) was unseated in Tuesday's election by a virtually unknown Republican candidate, Rick Rehm of Dothan.

Rehm won the election by a 56-46% margin and was sworn into office on Thursday, the same day the Alabama House Republican Caucus chose new leadership.

The seat is not insignificant. House District 85 includes Henry and Houston Counties, including a large portion of Dothan within Ross Clark Circle.

Rehm spoke to 1819 News on his motivations for running and plans for the future.

According to Rehm, although he had been involved with the Houston County and state GOP for years, he had never considered running for office until the opportunity presented itself from Alabama GOP chairman John Wahl.

"I've been in the Republican Executive Committee in Houston County for over 12 years," Rehm said." So I've always been active with politics, being informed, supporting good legislatures and officeholders, and just being in and around that atmosphere. I served one term at the state level on the state committee as well. So I was in politics, but I never ran for office. I never intended to run for office. I never thought I would be that type of person because, let's face it, I'm not great looking; I'm not tall and thin, and I'm not a great public speaker like you would want from an officeholder."

Rehm said the lack of attention from his predecessor to substantial state and local issues was a motivator to run, specifically surrounding education.

"Dexter Grimsley never spoke out against the things that were going on," Rehm said. "The number one thing for me was what they were doing with the kids in school, the indoctrination. How they are, without the parents knowing, they are talking the kids into questioning their gender and using different pronouns, but 'don't tell your parents.' That right there, if there was anything, was the number one driver on why I decided, 'you know what, I'm going to step up.'"

Rehm, a military veteran who worked nearly 25 years for the military in a civilian capacity, claims that the "drive of service" further motivated him to run when Grimsley received no opposition. Despite his desire to run, Rehm acknowledges underestimating Grimsley's influence and backing from powerful special interests in the state like the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Despite the robust backing for his opposition, Rehm touts the grassroots, boots-on-the-ground effort from his campaign for his unexpected victory, as well as specified campaigning on issues such as Second Amendment rights, education, limited taxation, economic prosperity and others. All of this, he claims, was accomplished with zero local media coverage.

"I knew we had to do this differently because we weren't going to have that kind of money, so it was grassroots," Rehm continued. "We did it with a ground game of going door-to-door. I had little handouts that listed my issues. That was one thing that was going to distinguish me from [Grimsley] was he would not take a stance on any issues. You could look at his media – what little he had – you could search the internet; not once do you see him speaking specifically on issues. And I was not that kind of guy; I'm going to tell you what I believe.

"Once people realized, 'Hey, Rick is serious; Rick is doing hard work,' I started to get more support from the Republican Party statewide, locally and [in] Houston County. Then donations started coming in from family members to friends to just individuals. Somebody would meet me, hear me and say, 'here, you're going to need some money.' So that's how our campaign went."

While Rehm will have to go through the freshman-legislator process before appearing in the State House for his first session, he intends to hit the ground running to, at the very least, not make matters worse for his district.

"I have a philosophy like a doctor: at the least, do no harm. When I'm voting on legislation, I'm going to make sure I do not want to harm anybody in my district. We can't make things worse, so I don't want to do anything that is going to make anything worse. I want to protect everybody's rights, so I do not want to be supporting legislation that is going to reduce people's rights or increase their tax burden. So that is the immediate triage care that I am looking at giving, from my perspective."

Despite being critical of his predecessor's platform, there is one legislative common ground between the two. Grimsley supported a bipartisan effort in the legislature to repeal Alabama's grocery tax, a proposition that Rehm fully supports.

"I believe we should rescind the grocery tax; I do want to do that," Rehm concluded. Now it's one thing to say it. Now we have to figure out a way to pay for it, see what the impact is and make adjustments. So I have to meet with the other officeholders and see what we can do to compromise and make that happen."

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