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Affair derails Alabama secretary of state's political hopes

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill

Secretary of State John Merrill will not be running for any office in 2022.

Posted: Apr 10, 2021 7:01 PM
Updated: Apr 12, 2021 12:19 PM

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The venue had been booked. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a rising GOP star with an eye long set on higher office, was about to announce his run for U.S. Senate. But then scandal brought his political aspirations crashing down.

Merrill’s upward trajectory was shattered this week by a woman’s disclosure of their affair, prompting him to announce that he will not run for Senate or any other office in 2022.

Merrill declined to go into detail but told media outlet al.com Wednesday that he had an inappropriate relationship with a woman outside his marriage. The outlet reported that he had initially denied the affair before being confronted with a recording of a phone conversation between him and Cesaire McPherson.

Merrill, 57, told The Associated Press that he will not be a candidate “because of choices I have made and the decisions I have made that were not in the best interest of me or my family.”

He declined to discuss the relationship.

“It’s personal. It’s impacted my family in negative ways. It’s brought a lot of pain and suffering to other people that I care a lot about,” Merrill said in a phone interview.

McPherson, a legal assistant, told The Associated Press on Thursday that she had a relationship with Merrill from November 2017 to November 2020.

“Unfortunately, he was married,” McPherson said. “I had to deal with his unhappy butt for three years.”

McPherson said she had been approached by someone asking if she would be willing to tell her story. She said she did have a conversation with them but didn’t expect an article to come out at that time.

“We had an affair. It was nice, but now it’s over,” she said.

The bombshell first reported in rightwing blog National File — and amplified by the revelation of risqué texts and salacious details of encounters and sexual preferences — came a week before Merrill was set to announce his Senate candidacy.

Merrill had planned to launch his run for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby on Thursday. It was unclear how he would have fared in the crowded GOP primary where the announced candidates are U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, who comes to the race armed with former President Donald Trump’s endorsement, and Lynda Blanchard, who was Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia.

Merrill had projected an image of a family man and his official state biography says he is a Baptist church deacon, Sunday school teacher and choir member.

“I think in his mind he always saw himself as something bigger than the secretary of state,” Alabama-based political consultant David Mowery said of Merrill.

Merrill had been a state legislator representing Tuscaloosa before being elected as secretary of state in 2014 and reelected in 2018. For years, he had been viewed as an ambitious politician with a packed schedule of appearances and a habit of freely handing out his cellphone number to anyone who asked.

As election issues came to the forefront of the national stage, Mowery said Merrill was “very clear to pump up his bonafides, not just as a public official, but as a conservative.”

Merrill is the latest in a string of Alabama politicians to see their ambitions thwarted by sex-related scandals.

As he ran for Senate in 2017, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore faced accusations, which he denied, of pursuing romantic and sexual relationships with teens as young as 14 when he was a prosecutor in his 30s. Then-Gov. Robert Bentley resigned that same year amid an impeachment push over his relationship with an aide.

“It’s not necessarily the sex. It’s the abuse of power and it’s the acting contrary to your public image,” Mowery said.

Merrill faces a few calls to resign from both sides of the political aisle.

Democratic Rep. Juandalyn Givan told reporters Thursday that she believes there should be a “hard look” at whether Merrill misused any state resources to carry out the affair and added, “I think it would just be in John’s best interest, if he truly loves the state of Alabama, that he would step down.”

“I’m not here to judge him in that regard. But in this instance, he is a public official. Had that been me, I would have been asked to step down yesterday,” Givan said.

Conservative talk radio host Matt Murphy posted a tweet Wednesday accusing Merrill of lying to him when he first denied the affair during an on-air appearance.

“I hope he gets help he needs to heal his personal life. That said, John has to resign as Secretary of State ASAP. While his prior performance is exemplary ... the public trust is gone,” Murphy tweeted.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530325

Reported Deaths: 10966
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763971520
Mobile40908804
Madison34717503
Tuscaloosa25730452
Montgomery24314588
Shelby23401249
Baldwin21107307
Lee15856171
Calhoun14488314
Morgan14282279
Etowah13819353
Marshall12210223
Houston10557280
Elmore10044205
Limestone9954150
Cullman9649193
St. Clair9644242
Lauderdale9419241
DeKalb8825185
Talladega8214175
Walker7223277
Autauga6918108
Jackson6804112
Blount6651137
Colbert6292134
Coffee5506119
Dale4828111
Russell440638
Chilton4279112
Franklin425582
Covington4118118
Tallapoosa4019152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3547151
Clarke350861
Marion3113100
Pike310577
Lawrence299898
Winston274072
Bibb260464
Marengo249264
Geneva249077
Pickens234160
Barbour230757
Hale222677
Butler215969
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184445
Randolph179941
Monroe177340
Washington167039
Macon158750
Clay156156
Crenshaw152057
Cleburne148741
Lamar141934
Lowndes138653
Wilcox127030
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 852841

Reported Deaths: 12255
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby956561619
Davidson89355933
Knox50675635
Hamilton44280494
Rutherford43046434
Williamson28015217
Sumner24012349
Montgomery20255225
Wilson18804234
Out of TN1840797
Unassigned16998134
Sullivan16794294
Blount15490193
Bradley15032150
Washington14597245
Maury13499172
Sevier13391175
Putnam11396175
Madison11168242
Robertson9756131
Anderson8760172
Hamblen8610173
Greene7877155
Tipton7359103
Coffee6905121
Dickson6840110
Cumberland6734132
Carter6634158
Gibson6526146
McMinn650898
Bedford6506128
Roane6282105
Jefferson6211124
Loudon613069
Hawkins6077107
Lawrence593887
Monroe584095
Warren554881
Dyer5425106
Franklin515090
Fayette506877
Cheatham455355
Obion454196
Cocke450099
Lincoln435763
Rhea434875
Marshall419058
Campbell415463
Weakley412865
Giles3996100
Henderson378976
White364170
Macon361978
Carroll361683
Hardin357167
Hardeman352664
Lauderdale318944
Henry318576
Claiborne318273
Marion312347
Scott312345
Overton301161
Wayne296334
Hickman284046
McNairy282054
DeKalb279654
Smith277839
Haywood271162
Grainger262850
Morgan250139
Trousdale250122
Fentress241547
Johnson240739
Chester214351
Bledsoe214211
Polk207824
Unicoi203549
Crockett203248
Cannon192031
Union190734
Humphreys179927
Grundy179334
Lake170326
Sequatchie169829
Benton166540
Decatur158639
Lewis158126
Meigs139125
Stewart132528
Jackson132036
Clay110131
Houston109333
Perry106628
Moore101117
Van Buren84723
Pickett76024
Hancock58912

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