BY KATHRYN ACREE
North Shelby resident Beth Chapman is in her second term as Alabama’s 51st secretary of state after serving one term as state auditor. The role of secretary of state includes more than 1,000 different duties involving processing and filing documents that are public records. In addition, the Secretary of State is the “Chief Election Official.” We met recently with Chapman to discuss her passions and how she became interested in a life of public service.
When did you first call Shelby County home?
I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Montevallo, so I came to the county in 1980. Since that time I’ve lived here now nearly 24 years. When my husband, James, and I settled here, it was a growing area with exciting things going on in education, great schools, low crime, and a great family environment for our two sons, Taylor and Thatcher. Shelby County was and still is everything you could want.
How do you split your time up between here and Montgomery?
Well, since I-65 and 280 are so accessible, there were times I could leave our house here and make it to Montgomery before James could make it downtown for his job! Actually, I’ve maintained two residences; I have a home in Montgomery.
What first led you to go into politics?
I grew up in Greenville, Ala., and had a cousin who was a city councilman but was also paraplegic. He could not go door-to-door to meet people in the community because this was the time before the American Disabilities Act and there were no wheelchair ramps. He would drive me around in a vehicle he had equipped with a gear-shift. I would go door-to-door when I was as young as the third grade and debate with people why he should be a city councilman. The service part of his role in his community really impressed me even with all the sacrifices he made to make positive things happen. His influence to be a part of making things better stuck with me.
Why did you feel compelled to bring awareness to problems in our election system with military voting?
Military voting is a major passion of mine, not just here in our state but something I’ve spoken on nationally and internationally with regard to expediting the process that our military men and women go through. With all the important issues we vote on, our law said the only way you could transmit a ballot was through the United States Postal Service. When you’re trying to get something to Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, sometimes that ballot arrives 6 to 8 weeks later and sometimes a military person has moved again by that time. The new law passed by the legislature says you can use UPS, FedEx, any commercial carrier to get those ballots back. A ballot can be transmitted now through the Internet, downloaded, printed, marked and then sent back to be included. The problem for so many years had been that ballots came in after-the-fact. The upcoming presidential election will be the first election to use the new system and I’m so proud of that.
You’ve written four books on varying topics including a book of humor. At one time you even did stand-up comedy. Is humor an essential component of getting through the tough times in life?
It’s funny that I’m asked so often about once being a comedian. I still speak to groups in my spare time, not in my official capacity of course, but I love doing it. People talk about the real spiritual fruits—love, patience, kindness—but I always say that a sense of humor is a spiritual fruit for me. I think God gives people different things to prepare them throughout their lives for what He knows is ahead of them. I lost my husband of nearly 23 years to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome last April. When I wrote about humor being important in life, I included a chapter about James, about how funny he was, not knowing, of course, I would lose him just two or three years later. His death was absolutely devastating and the book lets me look back and treasure his humor.