Parnell, ventriloquist and inventor, makes run for special election in LeedsOctober 26th, 2011 at 5:12 pm by Robbie Byrd under OnPolitix, OnPolitix - Campaign Curiosities
Former Miss America first-runner-up, ventriloquist and inventor Paige Parnell has livened up an Alabama House of Representatives special election for a seat just outside of Birmingham.
The seat became available after the death of Owen Drake (R-Leeds), who was elected in 2006 and re-elected again in 2010. Drake died of cancer at the age of 75. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) called the special election to fill Drake’s seat.
Parnell, running as the only Democrat for the house district 45, is an unlikely candidate—and an even more unlikely winner. She’s an outspoken performer in an area that is generally known for its conservatism, in both politics and personality. But her campaign is picking up steam, thanks to her somewhat strange and delightful talent and even more so to her campaign’s strange and even more delightful tone.
“I have come to the conclusion that I will be great down there in Montgomery,” Parnell rcenetly said, “because I am good at working with a bunch of dummies.”
Parnell, who was crowned Miss Alabama in 1980 and selected as the next-in-line at that year’s Miss America pageant, is a self-declared “straight talker.”
“I speak my mind … and I’m also a very fair, balanced person,” she recently told a local newspaper.
Parnell’s opposition in the Nov. 29 general election is Leeds businessman Dickie Drake, Owen Drake’s brother. Dickie Drake defeated Irondale’s mayor Tommy Alexander in a run-off election Oct. 11. Drake and Alexander moved onto the run-off after a primary election Aug. 30 eliminated another Leeds businessman, Michael Sumners.
Part of what makes Parnell stand apart from her more straight-laced opponent is her humor, her candidness, and certainly her talent—and she’s getting asked at nearly every campaign stop to demonstrate.
But Parnell wants to distance herself from her ventriloquism career, saying at a Democratic fundraising event that she “was really trying to get away from that.”
“I have to sort of accommodate these requests,” she said. “You can’t say no. That’s like saying ‘No, I don’t want to see a picture of your baby.’”
While there is no definitive public polling going into this race, campaign filings are the only litmus test for a candidate. And one thing’s for sure here: neither Parnell nor Drake is a dummy.
Drake has raised nearly $28,000, but his war chest has been depleted by the Republican primary and then a run-off election. To fight for his older brother’s former seat, Drake was left with only $755 in the bank as of his latest campaign finance filing.
The two have been flinging accusations about campaign finance reports, too, with Drake saying the House Democratic Caucus failed to disclose a contribution made to Parnell’s campaign. Parnell countered, asking to have Drake removed from the race because of $5,500 in unreported PAC contributions to his campaign.
While only slightly ahead in fundraising, Parnell has been able to hold on to much of her campaign contributions, spending only around half as much as Drake. She also was able to hold on to nearly $6,000 in contributions, according to her latest filing. In this race, Parnell’s bank account—and not her dummies—are doing the talking.
Parnell received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a law degree from Arizona State University. She clerked for the Arizona Supreme Court, and spent much of her life traveling as an entertainer and public speaker. Parnell owned a small advertising agency, which she sold in 2008.
Parnell also invented the Ventrilomask, a plastic face mask that turns anyone who wears it into a ventriloquism dummy.
For clips of Parnell performing and the Ventrilomask, visit her YouTube Page.