A snapshot of responses

DISTRICT 11 CANDIDATE FORUM...

J. B. Pennington history teacher Jarrod Smitherman completes the final sound check as candidates prepare for the District 11 political forum last week.

J. B. Pennington history teacher Jarrod Smitherman completes the final sound check as candidates prepare for the District 11 political forum last week.

The House District 11 candidate forum held Jan. 26 at J.B. Pennington High School featured 10 questions, focused in two areas: local business/ economic growth and education. There were five questions in each area, submitted by local business and education representatives, including students and parents.

All five candidates for the office participated. They are, in alphabetical order: Danny Alldredge (R), Holly Pond; Kelly Evans (D), Cleveland; Mike Graves (R), Vinemont; Lydia Haynes (R), Fairview; and Randall Shedd, (R) Fairview.

The report below summarizes the candidates’ responses. Candidates are quoted extensively, paraphrased as necessary. However, because of the volume of responses generated – most candidates responded to all 10 questions – answers have been heavily edited for brevity. (See story, section B1 for election details.) Business/jobs questions Many people in District 11 drive one hour or more to work in Huntsville or Birmingham. How can you help bring jobs to this area and what kinds of jobs will you go after if elected?

Evans: Most factories and industries are not going to come to areas where roads are two lanes. We must get U.S. 278 four-laned and get something done to U.S. 31. Industrial parks must be developed on interstates.

Haynes: Tyson Foods needs better roads and power grid needs to be better in Blountsville. Four-laning U.S. 278 is a priority.

Shedd: Small business is the biggest employer. We need to identify what they need in order to grow. Ask them, then work on what they say they need – better infrastructure, less regulation, less interference from state agencies, whatever.

Alldredge: Blountsville and surrounding areas, including some in Cullman County need better roads.

Graves: Eleven percent of the economy here in Blountsville is retail. It should be about 25 percent. Needs to be improved to expand tax base.” Also, we need to move more kids in the educational system toward career and vocational training in 9th grade, so more of them are ready to work upon graduation in jobs that are

locally available. If elected, what house committees will you request to serve on? How will this help jobs and economic growth in District 11? Haynes: Finance, because of banking regulation. We’re strangling the banks with regulations. Need to improve to meet the needs of farmers. Also, would like to be on Agriculture committee. Alldredge: First choice would be Education. New superintendent at State Department of Education has things going in the right direction. Also would like to be on Finance committee to work on bank deregulation. Evans: Would like to work on committee to eradicate poverty. Also Education because kids in poverty don’t get the things they need to take advantage of education. Would like to meet needs of poor kids so they can get better education. Shedd: Will request Rules, Ways and Means, and Transportation committees. Wants to focus on reducing state spending and on his interests in child advocacy and senior welfare.

What available empty properties do you know of in this district that need pushing for job development? What will be your role in helping develop these properties and in developing jobs? Shedd: We’re right in the center of the auto manufacturing corridor along I-65. That’s a great opportunity for development. Blount County has undeveloped opportunities for tourism with its waterways. Its natural beauty can be promoted to attract retirees here to vacation and spend money. Haynes: Blountsville needs to become a travel destination. It could be, with a little more work on the downtown area and the park. Go after canoers and kayakers. Graves: Get experts in economic development agencies to come in and study demographics and identify specific properties in order to promote them to prospective businesses. Evans: Get municipalities to work together to target companies. Promote “Made in America” policy to target and recruit prospects. Alldredge: Harkens back to earlier days in Blountsville when family enterprises like King family firms were present. Adopt local policies to encourage return of those type businesses.

Limited home rule has been an issue in the Legislature in recent sessions. What is your feeling about the issue and do you support limited home rule legislation? Haynes: No. I do not. I would have to take a very close look at even limited home rule. We don’t need to make it easier to levy new taxes, pass new laws, or easier for county commissions to be made subject to undue influences. Legislature’s

role to protect the people shouldn’t be weakened. I don’t know of any exceptions. Evans: I’m 100 percent against it. Put it before the people and let them vote to decide any home rule-type questions. Alldredge: I would tend to trust local people on local decisions. You have good people like your probate judge here – Chris Green – in local government. I would trust them to know what’s best on local issues and to do the right thing. I am for limited home rule. Shedd: I wouldn’t want to open the floodgates to anything that could cause tax increases. We’re taxed enough. Graves: Home rule has been tried with mixed results. Only way I would favor it would be to put stiff restrictions on ability to use it to raise local taxes.

Have we come to the point that by overassessing property taxes and charging too many fees we have actually made it more difficult for new business startups? How can we prevent red tape from hindering business growth? Alldredge: Didn’t understand question. Education support is based on sales taxes. Believes we stimulate the economy through education. Doesn’t know how to do that through property taxes – maybe by closing loopholes. Haynes: You can bet the next Legislature will go after raising current use (rural property) taxes. I’m staunchly against any effort to fund state government on the backs of property owners. Shedd: We hear that Alabama has the lowest taxes in the country. I like it that way. I don’t think Republicans are going to be pushing any increase in property taxes. Graves: Suggests lowering business license fees to make them more tolerable for new startup businesses. Evans: Gross receipts taxes put a hurt on small businesses. Poultry farms and other farmers are being regulated right out of business.

Education questions Blount County has schools with building needs, for example new lunchrooms at two schools in this district. Many teachers are buying supplies out of their own pockets. What can you do to assist with school funding problems? Shedd: There’s money in Montgomery for projects. People say Montgomery and Washington, D.C., are broken. Don’t believe it. Money is available and people who ask for it and keep asking will get it. Get a thorough plan together with specifics on what’s needed and bring it to me. I’ll be the squeaking wheel until they get tired of hearing it. Haynes: We’ve got to get parents more involved in supporting schools. For example, in Cullman County, the superintendent of the Board of Education campaigned to persuade people to pay a little more in school taxes to support the schools. Alldredge: In my 28 years with county schools, we never saw a time when there was enough money, but we managed to make things happen. Key word is “managed.” Had five

schools burn in 20 years and replaced all of them. Graves: Has specialized in construction. Lunchrooms are right down my alley, he said. Needs expert eye to assure getting economical price and good value from contractors. Agrees key to getting funds is persistence – keep asking. Evans: Strongly disagrees with decision to borrow money from rainy day fund to support goverment agencies other than education. We need to have that money to do these projects needed at schools. Something is bad wrong when schools and teachers are in need and state money is spent elsewhere.

Education employees have not had a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in five years. Do you support giving teachers a COLA? What is your feeling about requiring them to pay more outof pocket on their retirement and health benefits? Alldredge: I support a cost of living raise for teachers. It’s been several years since teachers got a raise. I’m not sure we can get all the way to the 10 percent in one year as has been suggested. Haynes: I think we should catch teachers up on the cost of living. If they’re asked to pay more on their benefits, that’s unfortunate, but it’s going to have to go up because of the increase in health insurance costs. Shedd: There’s competition for our teachers from surrounding states. We gotta find ways to keep them in place here. I’ll work to get the money to keep them. Graves: There’s no candidate here who wouldn’t like to see teachers get raises. Evans: I’d love to see teachers get raises. I’m sorry they have to shoulder costs like they do. I would even support bonuses for outstanding teachers – those whose students go above and beyond in performance.

What is your feeling about Career Technical Education and creating more opportunities for its students? Graves: I’m definitely in favor of that. I spent two years in carpentry vocational school. My son chose a career as a machinist. We need to encouage more kids to go into vocational education and fund it better. I’m a big supporter of the career tech initiative. Haynes: For 20 years my business has provided clinical experience and job shadowing related to career training. I’m a big proponent. I have people working for me today as a part of that program. Alldredge: I spent 28 years working in career tech training and preaching that we need to develop it further. I’m glad it’s starting to happen and you’ve got a former principal of this high school who’s working on it hard at the state level. This effort’s time has come, he said, and as representative, I will support it at every opportunity. Shedd: Says career tech doesn’t have a bigger supporter than him. Need to further develop parternerships between industry and education to maximize job opportunities, especially in the auto manufacturing sector.

Evans: I’ve got one of each: a straight-A classroom student, and one who could do anything with his hands, but never had a chance in the classroom. Will support career technical education all the way for kids that are just as smart as the straight A-students, but are smart in ways other than academic learning.

If you are elected to represent House District 11, will you favor or oppose the diversion of money from the Education Trust Fund? Evans: I oppose it. If every school in the state were up to par, it might be different. But that’s not the case. That money should be used to meet the needs of our schools and teachers. Alldredge: There’s pros and cons to every situation, but I definitely support keeeping the education budget separate from the general fund. Haynes: I support keeping two budgets. And for goodness sake, let’s pass the budget early in the session and not put it off until the last day when it gets caught up in the last-minute rush before the sessions ends. Graves: Keep the education fund separate. Shedd: Keep separate budgets and don’t divert money from education. It’s needed to get local school plans like those we’ve discussed funded. I’ll be the squeaker.

The cost of higher education is so high and rising so fast as to be unaffordable to a majority of students in District 11 unless they get loans or scholarships. What legislative remedies do you support to help make college more affordable? (No candidate mentioned any Legislative remedy, though a number are available – Ed.) Haynes: Encourage students to enroll in community (2-year) colleges, since costs are significantly less. Encourage them to go two years there to reduce costs, and then transfer to a four-year college if they want a bachlor’s degree or beyond. Alldredge: Colleges are doing a wonderful job with dual enrollment. It’s a great opportunity for students to get a lot of course work for a 2-year degree while they’re in high school and still living at home. We need to continue to encourage and further develop that. Shedd: “Dual enrollment is so crucial. One of my sons completed a full year that way before going to a four-year university. We need to enhance that route to higher education.” He also suggested encouraging community college students to transfer to Athens State for their last two years. It’s much cheaper than elsewhere. Evans: I think community colleges are a good way to go. I’d like to see them offer more online courses in order to save students from having to pay commuting, room and board, and high tuition costs. Graves: I think both more on-line and dual enrollment courses are needed. State colleges and universities need to greatly expand their offerings of online courses.