MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones on Wednesday became the first prominent Democrat to enter Alabama’s race for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Jones, who was U.S. attorney from 1997 to 2001, is perhaps best known for prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four little girls.

In a statement sent to The Associated Press, Jones said the purpose of public service is to “make a positive difference in people’s lives” and said a divided nation — and a state weary of embarrassments— needs more voices of reason.

“We are so divided as a state and nation that there needs to be more voices of reason who want more dialogues than monologues. We need leaders who people can talk to reason with and trust even if they don’t agree on every political issue,” Jones said.

“Alabama has been embarrassed enough the last few years by political leaders who have not been leaders at all. Instead of listening to the concerns that each of face every day, like jobs and wages, adequate and affordable health care and first rate educations for our children and grandchildren, they have played on our fears and exploited our divisions for their own self interests.”

The Senate seat is currently held by Republican Luther Strange, who was appointed by former Gov. Robert Bentley. The party primaries for the Senate seat will be Aug. 15. The general election will be Dec. 12

Jones is a graduate of the University of Alabama and Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He began his career by working as staff counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for the late Sen. Howell Heflin from Alabama.

Heflin, who left office in 1997, was the last Alabama Democrat to serve in the U.S. Senate as the state shifted gradually to Republican control.

Robert Kennedy Jr. of Mobile has also filed paperwork to run, according to Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley. Medical marijuana activist Ron Crumpton has also announced a run for the seat.

The Republican side of the field is more crowded, and more candidates are expected to announce before qualifying ends next week.

In addition to Strange, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, state Rep. Ed Henry, Christian Coalition of Alabama President Randy Brinson and businessman Dom Gentile are running in the Republican primary.

Bentley, who resigned last month amid an impeachment push amid fallout from an alleged affair, had planned for a 2018 Senate election — which would have allowed Strange to hold the seat longer.

But the state’s new governor, Kay Ivey, moved it up to this year, setting off what’s expected to be a four-month demolition derby among contenders ahead of the August primary.