Republicans present were Bradley Byrne, Tim James, Robert Bentley, Bill Johnson. Democrats were Ron Sparks and Artur Davis. My personal impression is that Bradley Byrne must be deeply conflicted, pandering to the right -- tort reform, frivolous lawsuits, bad unions -- and in the next breath talking about the need for health care and removing the sales tax on groceries, then mentioning the great tea parties we've had??? Robert Bentley was obviously thinking of Byrne (possibly James, too) when he pointed out he was a life long Republican but maybe not everyone else was. There was a great deal of pandering on the right -- lots of staunch Republican talking points like illegal aliens, government not creating jobs, no raising taxes and so forth. I had initially thought Bill Johnson might be a slightly progressive Republican, but that was definitely a false impression. There was no progressive Republican on stage tonight.
Things were rather heated on the Democratic side, with Davis pointing out that Mississippi casinos exist side by side with extreme poverty and Ron Sparks offering to take him to Mississippi tomorrow to ask Gov. Haley Barbour if he wanted to give up any casinos. Wouldn't a phone call be easier? They engaged directly again when Sparks said Davis wanted to tax timber companies but not gambling, which is not true. Davis has been quite clear since April that he wants to tax both -- no idea why Sparks keeps miss-stating Davis' position on taxing gambling. Davis said something to the effect that he wanted to tax gambling now, at the national average rate and, unless Ron had made an announcement in the middle of the night, no one knew what tax rate he would put on gambling, and it would be after the industry had grown so big it wouldn't feel the tax bite.
Below are my notes -- and they are just notes, not a verbatim transcript by any means. Misspellings probably abound. I missed the beginning -- started listening in the middle of what seemed to be an ethics question.
Tim James: Favors PAC to PAC transfer ban. Subpoena power sounds good, but you better be careful and move slowly. Refers to subpoena power as "police power."
Ron Sparks: I was one of three candidates who showed up to sign the Christian Coalition pledge on Capitol steps. Nobody will say they want to see PAC to PAC transfers continued. Time after time you see a guy say he'll do something and does something else after he gets into office. I'm about honesty, about serving the people of Alabama.
Bentley: For 7 years I've voted against PAC to PAC transfers. Killed in Senate every year. I have been also for subpoena powers. We need to know where every penny spent on legislators by lobbyists comes from. If your wife has a contract or you have a contract that should be open. Openness is what we need in this government. I can clean up my office. I would never benefit from being Governor of this state. My children and my wife will never become millionaires because I'm governor Except for emergencies I will never do no-bid contracts. Paragon contract may be innocent but looks bad.
Davis: One week after announcing I made first major speech about building trust in government, better known as ethics reform. Strongest set of ethics reform proposals ever put on table. Limits on contributions. We have a few wheeler dealers writing massive checks meant to buy governors. Ban gifts altogether for all, governor, Legislators, cabinet officers. If Washington can live by that standard, Montgomery can too. Too many elected officials spend half their time serving under indictment. Administrative leave when indicted. Politicians should be held to a higher and better standard than the public.
Q: What is plan for stable and adequate education funding for K through undergraduate?
Byrne: Budgting is broke.
James: It is not a money problem. In robust years Legislators have forgot that we have downturns in economy.
Sparks: Spending a dollar on a child in pre-k is like spending a hundred on a 12 year old. Lottery. Drop outs go from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to the jailhouse. Kids who stay in school and stay out of trouble should have a scholarship waiting on the other side.
Bentley: Stimulus money -- we won't have it in 2 years. Proposes 15 year rolling average budget. Need to budget differently.
Davis: Two education successes: Math and Science initiative and Reading Initiative. We grew the economy and expanded the job base. Best way to get new revenue is to grow economy. Alabama has the capacity to become leader in alternative fuels, bioengineering. Be wary of candidates who offer you easy solutions. Easy to say we're going to gamble our way to prosperity. Go to Miss. see casions and see how many poor people sit within inches of them. Tax revenues have plummeted during this recession.
Johnson: Base budgets on future projections rather than past. Supports rolling revenue projection. Involved with Office of Workforce Development. Lots of people get degrees that they can't use in Alabama -- jobs don't exist or aren't going to exist by the time they graduate.
Q. What are the first 3 things you would do as governor to help small business grow and prosper?
James: Incentivize existing business. Tax breaks. Keep taxes low -- there will be a push to raise taxes. Need massive pushback on new regulations grom state and feds. Gov doesn't create jobs.
Sparks: Give existing businesses same breaks as new businesses. Also travel the world. Cuba.
Bentley: Office of Small Business. Tax incentives to small businesses, help small businesses w/ health insurance, keep cost of energy low and improve infrastructure.
Davis: Rural development. Tax incentives for locating in low income areas. Scrap the 1901 constitution and have new document to give local communities the authority to have community development zones.
Johnson: ADECA Alabama to Go. Thousands of int'l citizens w/ relationships with folks in home countries. Partner with overseas industries to grow exports
Byrne: Tort reform, frivolous lawsuits. Tax breaks for health insurance. Training for workers and people who run small businesses just like for big ones. Worried about "crazy proposal" called card check that would take away secret ballot. Need constitutional amendment to prevent it.
Q. Something about the environment ...
Sparks: Best environmentalists are farmers. Give Auburn millions in grants to study better ways.
Bentley: Clean air and clean water. Must oppose American clean energy and security act because it punishes th South. Must fight water war w/ Ga. Reservoirs and green zones.
Davis: Big problem is our standards are too lax. Need ADEM that is agressive. Coal ash in Perry Cty. Forced to ask EPA, is this hazardous? because our standards are so much weaker. We were 50th in country in water standards until last year. People deserve better and we can do it and still compete for industry.
Johnson: Cap and trade -- basically be a "tax on relatively clean energy we have here in Alabama." We are a state rich in water resources and must capitalize on them.
Byrne: From Baldwin county. Unique. Staunch defender of business interests. Need balance. Extend Forever Wild. Need real water policy. Need better controls on landfills.
James: On cusp of unlocking technology to use biomass to make fuels. Long term answer is nuclear power. Like France.
Q. Tax reform.
Bentley: There are ways we should look at tax reform. People own the state and make decisions on what taxes they want to pay. They like consumption tax because everybody pays it. High sales tax catches underground economy, references marijuana growers and illegal aliens. Do not like high property taxes. In the 1930s more people lost land due to high taxes than any state in union.
Davis: Equity. Double standard that will not stand light of day. A mother in Russell county with a child pays sales tax on baby formula but a large multinational timber company pays 1/4 of the property taxes as the same company a few miles away in the state of Georgia. Same with Mississippi. I think that inequity is wrong. We have timber. That's why they come here. Let's tax them their fair share.
Johnson: Nervous when I hear tax reform. Fair tax. Facing budget challenges. I will not raise taxes. Had run in with IRS 25 years ago. State government should tighten belt and cut budget. It's personal with me.
Byrne: We need to use growth we know will come back to our economy to get rid of tax on food. Over 4 years we can take it off 1% at a time.
James: Assess property tax every 4 years. We don't need more taxes. Least taxed state-- that's a good thing. It attracts businesses. Get government off back of business.
Sparks: Problem with going last, all the answers already had. Assess property taxes every 4 years. Businesses come here but go back to home state to pay taxes. Need to close those loopholes. Gaming industry -- need to tax them. Offers to get in car with Davis tomorrow to go talk to Haley Barbour and see if Mississippi will give up any casinos. Gambling tax to fund education and Medicaid. To Davis, "Can't believe you want to tax timber industry but don't want to tax gaming industry."
Q. Constitutional Reform, home rule
Davis: I've already addressed Constitutional Reform. Yes I'm going to tax gambling I'm going to tax it at the national level. Honesty matters. Saying the same thing to different people no matter where you go. Think some may want to make a deal with gambling industry -- "I'm going to tax you but I'm going to let you grow so big, and put you in so many communities you won't feel it." I'll tax them now at the national rate and I haven't heard [Ron Sparks} name the tax rate he's proposing. Leveling with people is important.
Johnson: Decisions closest to people are best. However, Jeff Co. has all those corrupt, jailed officials. Local people can vote and govern themselves better, but given that we are impacted by JeffCo I think we need checks and balances. Proposes state bond financing oversight committee. Plugs transparency.
Byrne: Have limited home rule in Baldwin county due to constitutional amendment. Why does Etowah county have to vote on Baldwin amendments? I'm against convention but for constitutional reform, article by article. Home rule that makes sense. Need modern consttution with appropriately limited home rule.
James: County ought to have right to do what they think best, but ... JeffCo. Favors article by article reform. Convention, oppose totally. If we have it it would be biggest free for all. Reference to Fob James const. reform initiative in 1979. AEA and Alfa went wild and Fob cut it off because he couldn't control outcome.
Sparks: When I stood on the banks at Selma and talked about putting a casino in Selma it was about jobs. And if I brought one job to Selma it would be more than the Congressman has brought to Selma in 6 years. If he would tell his campaign staff to stop speaking for me we could have a good campaign.
Bentley: I'll get back to home rule. In 1901 we got a Constitution -- too long, cumbersome, earmarks too much of education budget, but it does work. It's good because we can't spend what we don't have. In 1901 every county in Alabama was bankrupt. Not all counties want home rule. JeffCo may not want it. Home rule scares rural people. I've voted both ways on constitutional reform like John Kerry.
Bentley: I have most experience in dealing with state budgets. For seven years I've written education appropriations budget. Difficult decisions ahead. I understand people as a physician. As Governor, if you are a hard core conservative Republican like I am -- and maybe others can't say they're life long Republicans -- I can work with the other side to get things accomplished. I am a strong Republican but Legislators will tell you I'm best person to work with the other side
Sparks: Against constitutional convention. Article by article. Two times elected statewide. Won 62 counties out of 67 four years ago. Alabama has been good to me. This election is about people that are willing to make tough choices. Need additional revenue to educate our children and take care of elderly. Mentions the recent passing of his grandmother. Need health care. Everybody in Alabama should have a seat at the table. AEA, BCA, ALFA -- all deserve a seat at the table.
James: Great forum. Students about to enter workforce. Tough time to find jobs. Hang in there. You may have to take job outside discipline. People living week to week. Private sector creates jobs where our children can come home and find good jobs.
Byrne: Don't back down. Gas station story. Tea parties Leaders who will stand on principle in face of tough special interests. Talk is cheap. Pledge that if you make me governor I will make decisions based on higher principles.
Johnson: I am running in Republican primary remarks will not apply to the Congressman or Ron. ADECA experience. Economic development experience. Committment not to raise taxes. Desire to partner with faith and community organizations to provide health and services to our citizens. We don't believe government is the best way to solve problems. Mentined prison reentry, mentoring, hurricane disaster assistance programs. Has ministers [possibly ministries?] associated with my campaign. Go back to the way we used to help those in our communities. Return back to our roots.
Davis: Some men see things as they are and say why, others ... why not? Helped draw me into politics. RFK. Summons to higher purpose, to a higher ground. Next governor will need to issue that kind of summons. I see an Alabama that's never been, I see not a casino at the Edmund Pettus bridge, but shiny new industry. I see new constitution, etc., otherwise I wouldn't be running. I see school system second to none. Higher education open to all regardless of income. I know how to lead. I unified a district that was divided. I can bring people together. If you stand with me, if you walk with me we will take Alabama to a place it's never been, we will craft a new state for a new century.