More than 200 people filled Leone Cole Auditorium to hear from the two Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of Birmingham and Alabama Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, and from Republican candidates Bradley Byrne, Bill Johnson, Roy Moore and James Potts. Midway through the forum, Sparks delivered an accusation against Davis, beginning an argument that persisted throughout the forum.
“You know more about special interests than anyone in this campaign,” Sparks said to Davis. “I know about special interests because I’ve studied your record.”
During the debate, Sparks accused Davis of being a Washington insider and twice stated that he has received more than a half million dollars in funding from the health care industry and the banking industry since he first became a congressman.
Davis did not deny his campaigns were funded by the industries, but said he has consistently voted against their interests. He fired back at Sparks after the second accusation.
“If you’re second in a two-man race, you better do a lot of attacking,” Davis said.
JSU political science faculty members asked candidates about their plans to improve the public education system, expand the economy and implement ethics reform, as well as their views on regulated gambling.
Several of the candidates said they believed McClellan was an engine for economic development in the region. Byrne stated that he believed the former Army base should be developed as an asset for the state of Alabama in the same way Huntsville and the UAB Hospital have been.
Potts said he wanted to build roads and improve wastewater treatment plants. He said he opposed reforming Alabama’s constitution.
Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice, stated he wanted to be elected as Alabama’s next governor to serve the voters.
“People are tired of politicians who say one thing and do another,” Moore said. “I’m asking to be a servant because I’ve always been a servant.”
Sparks said he should be elected because of his plans to regulate the gambling industry, the proceeds from which he said should be used to fund primary and secondary education and to fund Medicaid.
“A lot of us have promises, but I’m the only one with a plan,” Sparks said. “It’s time to tax gambling.”
Davis said he believed he should be elected because he wants to help direct the state’s progress by promoting bio-medical research and cultivating a better education system.
“Alabama has been enormously good to me, and Alabama has taught me a set of values I couldn’t have learned anywhere else, and now I want to give back,” Davis said.
Bill Johnson said he believed he should be elected governor because of his experience. He served as a state economic development director and as a former councilman in Birmingham.
“I have the broadest breadth of experience,” Johnson said. “I know where we are and where we could be.”
Throughout the forum, Byrne cited his experience in reforming Alabama’s two-year college system and his desire to implement ethics reform in state government.
“State government is dirty,” Byrne said. “We can’t move forward until we clean it up.”
Republican candidates Tim James and Robert Bentley did not attend the forum. A JSU spokeswoman said their campaigns stated the candidates had prior engagements.
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.