Gubernatorial candidates speak at luncheon

Eight gubernatorial candidates spoke about their plans for Shelby County and the state at the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce luncheon Jan. 28.

The eight — Democrats Ron Sparks, Artur Davis and Republicans James Potts, Bill Johnson, Tim James, Kay Ivey, Bradley Byrne and Robert Bentley – mainly talked about their goals for economic recovery and education.

Sparks, who spoke first, said he is throwing his support behind an education lottery in Alabama.

“We’ve got children walking the streets, begging for paper and pencils and soap. Ladies and gentlemen, I just don’t believe this is the kind of Alabama you want,” he said. “If there is legal gambling here in the state of Alabama, I’m going to tax it. That’s why I’m supporting an education lottery.”

He said the sheer amount of children whose lives have been changed in other states, including Florida and Georgia, make an education lottery a worthwhile idea.

“The state of Florida has given $20 billion to education,” he said. “The state of Georgia has given 1.2 million scholarships to their children. If you want a change, then it’s time to educate our children.”

Next, Potts said he’s interested in bringing jobs to the area, not gambling.

“We don’t need to be taking money out of people’s pockets in a gambling machine,” he said. “We need jobs. Right now I have three neighbors that have been unemployed for over a year.”

Bill Johnson said he would allow Alabama citizens to have the final say on an education lottery.

“I am for allowing the citizens to vote on gambling in Alabama,” he said. “We’ve got Alabama dollars right now educating kids in Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi. I want to give the citizens a chance to decide if they want some of those dollars to educate Alabama kids.”

Tim James spoke on the importance of economic development and on how important Shelby County has been to his campaign, as many of his advisers and campaign workers are locals.

“I have a great constituency in Shelby County, and I didn’t even realize it until today,” he said.

Next, Kay Ivey spent much of her time speaking on her support for charter schools.

“As a former schoolteacher running for governor, I know we need capable public schools, so I fully support the competition of public schools with the formation of charter schools,” she said. “Together, we will provide effective leadership with real results for Alabama.”

Artur Davis also spoke about education reform and finding ways to make education accessible to everyone.

“We can’t be afraid of reform. We can’t be afraid of new ideas. We can’t be afraid of charter schools,” he said. “Education should be accessible to any young man or woman who has the talent and the work ethic.”

Bradley Byrne spoke about the importance of developing the Birmingham metro area.

“This whole area of the state is extremely important to the rest of the state. We’ve got to understand that the Birmingham metro area is extremely critical to moving the rest of the state ahead,” he said.

Byrne also spoke about his time as the two-year college chancellor, during which he took control of a system rife with interference from special interest groups.

“I had to spend a very difficult time of my life trying to clean up and mop up a very difficult situation. We had to put people in jail,” he said. “If we’re going to move our state forward, we have to stand up to PACs and special interests.”

Robert Bentley, a Shelby County native, spoke last. He said he plans to stand in solidarity with those who are unemployed.

“Our unemployment rate here in Alabama is actually greater than the national average,” he said. “I’m going to stand by the people who don’t have a salary. I will not take a salary as governor as long as our unemployment is at the rate it’s at now.”

The gubernatorial election will be in November 2010.