100th chamber breakfast draws record crowd for gubernatorial debate


At 7:05 last Thursday morning traffic jammed the entrance to Twin Oaks at Heritage Green. More than 50 Oneonta high school government students along with as many people who thought they were early for the event’s announced 7:30 start time were overflowing across Twin Oaks’ porch and down the steps from the door. It was the single biggest turnout in the breakfast’s 100-times history, later determined to number about 350.

They came to attend the debate between gubernatorial candidates Dr. Robert Bentley, Republican, and Ron Sparks, Democrat, hosted by St. Vincent’s Blount and emceed by The Blount Countian’s
new owner Rob Rice.

Following are reporter’s notes on their opening and closing remarks, along with Rice’s questions and a short synopsis of the candidates’ answers.

Bentley opening: The economy today casts a “dark cloud” over businesses. Tremendous uncertainty. Health care legislation was “the worst bill that’s ever
passed Congress.”
In Alabama, not enough money from taxes to fund state services and public education. 200,000 people without jobs. People in Alabama don’t want handouts. They want jobs. “I will not take a salary
until we reach full employement of 5.21 percent.”
Government must be accountable to the taxpayers and businesses of this state.

Sparks opening: Alabamians are looking for someone who’ll work hard, roll up their sleeves, reach across the aisle to the other party to solve problems for the people. That’s what I’ve done for the last seven years as Agriculture Commissioner. 50 percent of the poultry and 90 percent of the wood products exported to Cuba come from Alabama and we’ve been responsible for that. We’ve got to compete globally. We’ve got 10-percent unemployment, highest in 26 years. Home foreclosures are at record level. Students beg for student supplies. “I’m going to fight for the
lottery, legalize gambling, tax it 25 to 30 percent,

regulate it, and turn that money into
scholarships and support for K-12. Unlike
my opponent, I believe it’s government’s
responsibility to give these children a college

Question: What will your first priority be after taking office?

Bentley: To choose the right people to serve with me – people of integrity and character. Then put people back to work. Then plan priorities, set budgets, recruit business.

Sparks: Create 38,000 jobs with $1.4 million infrastructure program, using Legislature’s $1 billion plan plus $400,000 in Garvey bonds. Call special legislative session to resolve gambling issue once and for all and impose tax of 25-30 percent to create revenue for children, college students, and senior citizens. Question: In November, voters will vote on Amendment 3 (to approve/disapprove Legislature’s proposed $1 billion road program.) What’s your opinion of Amendment 3 and how the money will be used?

Sparks: I support it. I’m going to supplement it with an additional $400,000. I have a plan to create 38,000 jobs. Bentley: I’m in favor of Amendment 3 and ask you to vote for it. I was first candidate to come out for it. My opponent’s plan to use Garvey bonds requires a 20-percent state match.

Question: Discuss the state’s constitution and where you stand on constitutional reform. Do you favor a constitutional convention?

Bentley: I favor reform. I’m not in favor of a constitutional convention. Rewrite article by article then let people vote to approve or disapprove.

Sparks: I favor article by article rewrite. Not going to allow convention to be used by those who want to rewrite constitution to raise taxes. “Constitution will be in better
shape when I leave office than when I begin.”

Question: In 1999, the lottery proposal was soundly defeated. Would Alabama voters approve a lottery now? What about other types of gambling?

Sparks: In 1999, we weren’t at 10 percent unemployment and college tuition was half what it is today. Georgia gives 1.2 million scholarships. If Georgia quit giving scholarships today, it would take Alabama 240 years to catch Georgia at our current scholarship rate. I will fight for the lottery. I believe people will vote for it.

Bentley: I don’t think it (the lottery) will pass in Alabama. I believe gambling needs to be stopped. If we can have a clear, clean vote – not one controlled by gambling interests – I believe people will make the right decision. Every child should have opportunity, but I don’t want the government to take care of me cradle to grave. My opponent does.

Question: Both of you have gone on record as favoring removal of the 4-percent tax on groceries. Explain why and where you would look to replace the lost revenue if it passed.

Sparks: I believe that tax hurts poor people and should be removed. I understand the budget process and my plan will replace the money lost by removing the grocery tax.

Bentley: I am for taking the tax off “real
even though it hurts local government. I would take the $400 million lost out of the Education Trust Fund. I oppose recouping that loss by removing the right to deduct federal income taxes from your state return. That would hurt small business and damage job generation.

Question: Give your opinion on ethics reform including giving subpoena power to the state ethics commission.

Sparks: We need to stop Pac-to-Pac transfers, fire members of the governor’s staff if they take as much as a Coca-Cola from a lobbyist, and we need to give the ethics commission the power they need to do their job. We need to get the people of Alabama to believe in Montgomery again.

Bentley: I favor giving subpoena power to the ethics commission. I believe the Legislature should follow Virginia’s practice of voting “yes,” “no,”
or “conflict of interest”

on every bill. That will solve double dipping and other ills. You don’t vote on budgets if you stand to get money from it.

Question: How would the state’s response to the oil spill have been different if you had been in office?

Bentley: I’m not ready to tip my hand on that, but I will hold BP accountable. Need to divide claims into personal and government. We won’t know how fishing will be affected for at least two to three more years. I would try to negotiate a settlement along with the attorney general. Don’t tie it up in court unless negotiation fails.

Sparks: This was not a natural disaster. It was man-made. There should be no caps on losses – job losses or the environment. They should make everything better than it was before. BP changed our way of life. I will hold BP accountable.

Question: Would illegal immigration be a priority in your administration? What would you do to address it?

Sparks: Absolutely a priority. I support a comprehensive immigration plan. We need documented workers to help industry, particularly agriculture, in this state. But if you’re undocumented, you should not get bail or access to state-provided services. I’ll pass the toughest immigration law in the country, but we must understand agriculture needs documented workers.

Bentley: It’s a priority. We’ve had a 500 percent increase in illegal immigration. admire what Arizona has done. We should do away with sanctuary cities – places that turn a blind eye to illegal immigration. Many jobs are being taken by illegal aliens, contributing to high unemployment. My opponent said ‘we don’t need to criminalize

They’re already criminals. He has said ‘a 12-foot wall to keep them out
won’t work – if they build a 12-foot wall,
I’m going into the 13-foot ladder business.‘
What do you think about that?

Sparks close: If you walk into office without a plan, you’re hurting. I have one. He doesn’t. My opponent served in the Legislature that didn’t send $1 to our schools to buy a book or put gas in school buses.

I haven’t had a pay raise. My opponent took a 62-percent pay raise in the Legislature. I took a pay cut to serve in state government. I gave up my retirement. My opponent told people he made $112,000 last year. Not true: he made over $300,000 and paid only $4000 in taxes.

This campaign is about having a plan for education, to put people to work, and to rebuild our highways. I’ve worked for you over seven years. Tell me one decision I’ve made that’s political. I got up every day to make sure your food supply is safe and that our farms and farmers are healthy.

Bentley: This is an election on choice – whether we believe government is to take care of us cradle to grave. I believe in self-sufficiency. I am a pro-life candidate. He’s pro-choice.

I believe in curbing illegal immigration, including special training for law enforcement. I am opposed to takeover of your health care by the federal government. He’s for it – said he would have voted for it.

I believe our state has the right to defend itself against the intrusion of the federal government. He doesn’t believe in state sovereignty. I do. If you like what’s going on in Washington, D. C., vote for my opponent. He likes it. I don’t.