Gubernatorial forum features four candidates

Four gubernatorial candidates made their cases to Shelby County voters at the South Shelby Chamber of Commerce luncheon May 6.

Robert Bentley, Bradley Byrne, Bill Johnson and James Potts, all Republican candidates for governor, spoke to a gathered crowd of more than 200. Each candidate was given time to speak on their vision for Alabama, and then each candidate received a random question on an issue facing the state.

Bentley spoke first, saying he’s well-qualified to be governor because, as a state representative, he has the most experience of all the candidates dealing with state budgets.

“The real problem facing Alabama today is the economy. We need jobs,” he said.

Bentley said he’s proven he can create jobs by authoring and passing the Alabama Reemployment Act of 2010, which will create 6,000 new jobs by giving tax breaks to companies hiring unemployed Alabama citizens.

Bentley was given a question about ethics reform; he responded he has always worked hard to lead by example, releasing his tax returns, credit history and ethics reports. He also said he would make sure contributors to political campaigns were not given plum government contracts.

Next, Byrne said he has experience cleaning up corruption, pointing to his two years as chancellor of the two-year college system.

“You can clean up state government if you know what you’re trying to do and you can get the consensus in Montgomery,” Byrne said.

He said ethics reform would be one of his top priorities as governor — and he would work for ethics reform from day one.

“We’re going to call the legislature into special session the day I’m inaugurated and we’re going to pass ethics legislation,” he said. “You may not think that can happen, but Louisiana did it two years ago under Gov. (Bobby) Jindal. Louisiana. If they can do it, we can do it.”

When Byrne was given a question about funding education, he said the key is making sure money goes straight to schools.

“We can solve this budget problem for Alabama education if we get serious about focusing our dollars into Alabama’s classrooms,” he said.

Johnson, who spoke after Byrne, said his time as the director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs prepared him to lead in a down economy. He also said he has a real understanding of what everyday citizens go through in their daily lives.

“When Kathy and I launched this campaign, we spent the night in a Birmingham homeless shelter to understand what it’s like for people on the front lines of being homeless, thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’” he said.

Johnson said he would not raise taxes but instead would partner with corporations, churches and faith-based organizations to launch new outreach efforts.

Johnson’s question was about health care, and he said he believes a major problem lies with the monopoly enjoyed by insurance companies in Alabama.

“Here in Alabama, 89 percent of the insurance market is controlled by one provider, Blue Cross Blue Shield,” he said. “All the doctors that participate with that provider are required to charge more for people outside the Blue Cross network.”

Potts spoke last, saying his first task as governor would be to finish putting together an audit team to go through the state’s finances.

He also said the environment would be a major concern, as he would search for alternative sources of energy.

“We would convert coal into diesel fuel. Diesel fuel burns 35 percent cleaner (than gasoline),” he said. “We need to have an energy source independent of any other country.”

He also said he would require schools to use standardized tests to determine whether students should move to the next grade.

Potts received a question about possible unemployment in South Alabama in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He said he’s already seen a problem with vacationers canceling their reservations, even though no oil has touched the beach.

“We need to illustrate to the people that at this time, nothing has actually happened to our beaches,” he said. “We need to promote tourism in Alabama.”