MONTGOMERY — Four Republican and six Democrat candidates are vying for the governor's chair, and last month the TimesDaily sent a series of questions about issues and their plans to make Alabama better.
Republicans Tommy Battle, the mayor of Huntsville, Scott Dawson, an evangelist from Birmingham, and Bill Hightower, a state senator from Mobile, responded.
Gov. Kay Ivey, in her first campaign for the job she’s had for 14 months, did not.
Four Democrats responded — former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb; Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox; former state lawmaker James Fields Jr.; and Doug “New Blue” Smith, a Montgomery businessman who worked for several previous governors.
Christopher Countryman and Anthony White did not.
Some of their responses are below and more questions and expanded answers are online at timesdaily.com.
Battle: My track record and experience. I’m the only one in the race that’s started a road and finished a road in his or her tenure. I’ve recruited 24,000 jobs and $4 billion in economic investment to Alabama. That’s 62 percent of all jobs that have come to Alabama since 2010. I’ve taken on education and improved it. Alabamians should elect me because I have a better plan and vision for the future of our state.
Dawson: I’m the only Republican candidate in this race who has never sought or held public office. I’m an outsider’s outsider. I don’t know how to play the games and I don’t intend to learn. I don’t pretend to know all of the answers but I do intend to surround myself with capable leaders — not political friends— who share my vision for restoring faith in our future and regaining your trust.
Hightower: … I have been ranked among the most conservative senators in the Alabama State Senate. …As Alabama’s governor, I will focus spending on the core responsibilities of government, such as education. I will increase dual enrollment availability in high schools, and expand certification and training in high schools so graduating students can move directly into well-paying jobs. I will work closely with President Donald Trump and our federal legislators to bring solutions to Medicare/Medicaid, veterans’ health and immigration.
What is the biggest challenge facing the state and how would you fix it?
Battle: Leadership is the biggest challenge facing the state. A leader has to have the ability to understand the state and ever-changing economy of the state. That includes new industry technologies, like cyber and blockchain. We need a leader that anticipates these changes to ensure future growth and development happen in Alabama. Missing out on those emerging opportunities could have a drastic impact on our state.
Dawson: Our biggest challenges are the challenges that we all have encountered to some degree or another: Broken relationships, unhealthy home life, poverty, divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, debt, depression… Of course, government cannot and should not be the ultimate solution. Before the government steps in, I believe that churches, communities, charities and corporations must all step up to the plate and partner with all of us to solve problems and make Alabama the best it can be for every Alabamian.
Hightower: The most challenging issue for Alabama families is the breakup of the Alabama family. But from that comes unproductive behavior, such as an increasing dependence upon opioids. The state must better control these substances without harming those who legitimately need them to overcome chronic pain. There is also not enough education regarding the threat of opioids and addiction.
Alabama’s GDP growth lagged behind most of its neighboring states between 2016 and 2017. Why?
Battle: You have a handful of core areas in the state that are getting us moving forward. They’re the drivers in the Alabama economy. Until you get the entire state working at the same rate, Alabama will continue to lag behind its neighbors. Montgomery leadership isn’t doing our state any favors by having such staggering disparities. I’m committed to bringing economic growth to every community in the state.
Dawson: The obvious answer is that we aren't experiencing private sector growth in goods and services, like other states. One glaring statistic is that Alabama has a much higher share than the national average regarding the percentage of government sector jobs and enterprises.
…We need more emphasis to recruit the professional services like finance, real estate and insurance, emerging technologies and industrial businesses like mining, quarrying, and gas and oil exploration, where the higher national growth rates are coming from.
Hightower: More than 25 states across the nation have embarked on significant tax reform in the last few years. It is apparent that each of them realize they are in a competition for jobs and growth. By improving their tax policies, they create a business and family friendly environment, which lends itself to prosperity for those who live and do business there.
…I want to make Alabama's tax code simple, low, and effective in order to compete with neighboring states.
Cobb: I simply cannot stand by as one more community hospital closes. I cannot be still while so many hard-working families struggle to afford childcare. I am proposing new ways to fund infrastructure and education to make Alabama more attractive to businesses. It is time to plan long-term, to change the priorities, and to bring honesty and accountability to our government. I will be a governor who refuses to focus on what and whom we are against, and I will stand for something we can become. It’s time.
Fields: I am a leader who can bring people together. Decisions and actions of government must no longer be made based upon fear, superstition, or ill-informed whim; thus, my administration will be devoted to finding solutions to problems based upon empirically demonstrated evidence, ensuring that state agencies are working to fulfill their statutory missions in a fiscally responsible manner, and providing a legislative agenda which proactively addresses the needs of all the people of the state.
Maddox: My career has proven that as governor I will provide strong, ethical leadership, that I have the ability to work across party lines to implement effective policies, and that I will always put the people of Alabama first.
Smith: I am the only candidate that has run the state, (Gov. Lurleen Wallace) became sick when I was her chief administrative assistant, and produced good economic growth for years to come.
… I have started and staffed what is Alabama's modern government under two governors, and I have worked without pay in the transitions of six other governors for the well-being of the people. There has never been a whisper of scandal about me or the elected officials I have served. I have earned your trust.
What is the state’s biggest challenge and what would you do about it?
Cobb: Government corruption is undermining democracy itself and the faith Alabamians should have in our leadership. When our people have no faith in their leadership to address the issues that matter to them, they begin to lose faith in the process. When people lose faith in the process, democracy breaks down. That is where we are today. In just over a year, the three leaders of Alabama’s three branches of government were removed from office and/or indicted for their complete disregard for the duties they were elected to fulfill. This is an unconscionable breach of trust between the people of Alabama and those whom they have elected to serve.
Fields: Poverty or income inequality. Eighteen and one-half percent of Alabamians live below the federal poverty line, yet we rank in the top 10 for regressive sales taxes, and begin owing income tax on less than $1,000 in adjusted gross income.
… I will immediately propose eliminating the state tax on groceries and capping the amount of the federal income tax deduction, as well as raising the threshold for any income tax liability and increasing rates for higher incomes. I will also work to move Alabama to the more stable base revenue, taxing real property.
Maddox: It’s impossible to name just one. Alabama faces chronic underfunding for education and state services; resistance to policies that will make us better, such as Medicaid expansion; lagging workforce development; education inequality caused by the widely varying funding formulas for Alabama’s public schools; and false culture wars that seek to divide us instead of unite us, are some of the most pressing issues. I’m not intimidated by these challenges, and I have put forth plans and ideas to address each one.
Smith: Corruption is the biggest challenge. It is insidious, surreptitious and its consequences are often not discovered until years later.
… As governor I will ask the Legislature to fully fund the attorney general and any special prosecutor that he asks for to fight corruption, and I will work with the Alabama Ethics Commission to craft an ethics bill with “teeth” to bring a halt to the cycle of corruption on Goat Hill. I have set the tone by signing an ethics pledge for the way my campaign is run, and I have refused to accept political action committee money since I feel PACs are part of the corruption cycle.
On lagging GDP growth
Cobb: There is a combination of factors that contribute to Alabama lagging behind our sister Southern states. First and foremost, our education system is not producing students who are college and career ready, regardless of what the standards say. I have heard from business owners and economic developers across the state that our students are not prepared to be effective members of the workforce. We need our students to graduate with the training and skills needed to be competitive. Additionally, while current state leaders are touting the low unemployment rate on the campaign trail, they fail to mention the legions of people who have left our workforce.
Fields: Low family income and thus high poverty rates with concurrent limits in consumer spending are factors in Alabama’s slow growth. Possibly the most significant factor is the highly touted but short-sighted shrinking of state government. Government and government enterprises, the largest industry in Alabama declined by 0.3 percent. This negatively impacted the government spending component of GDP.
I will solicit input from myriad experts to work to develop solid, cost-effective strategies for diversified economic growth.
Maddox: First of all we need to stop comparing ourselves just to our surrounding states and instead compare ourselves to the leading states in the country. If we aim higher, with the right leadership we’ll start scoring higher marks.
Better workforce development, improved roads and bridges, higher educational attainment, better and expanded health care through Medicaid expansion, and eliminating corruption in public office are all keys to moving Alabama forward to be a leader among states instead of always playing catch up.
Smith: Farmers would use a metaphor and say that we have eaten the seed corn and have nothing to plant …
I built the economic engines to avoid Alabama's problem of lack of capital. We used federal funds to build curbs, gutters, access roads, prepare sites in the process of building industrial parks in Alabama to recruit a net of over 350,000 good-paying jobs …
The engines had Alabama growing under Gov. Don Siegelman's term, faster than Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Then Gov. Riley came in in 2002 and started tearing the machines apart. Bentley and Ivey continued the wrecking ball, and the results are dire.