Saturday, April 22, 2006

Candidates share ideas on schools, taxes, criminals

Forum elicits sharp differences, often provocative views

Saturday, April 22, 2006
Times Staff Writer,

Make every sixth-grader pass a reading test before graduating. Strap satellite locators to all sex offenders. Lock up employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Ax a well-know anti-drug program from public classrooms. Create separate stand-alone schools for gifted children.

Seated on a riser at the front of a ballroom in the Holiday Inn in Huntsville on Friday, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley found herself as the lone big-money candidate awash in a river of provocative ideas from four lesser-known people who also hope to become Alabama's next governor.

Several of those ideas came from Democrats running in the party's June 6 primary. For instance, when asked about their platforms:

James Potts, a financial adviser and cattle farmer from Bibb County, said he would freeze property taxes for four years, send polluters to jail for up to five years and have state prisoners handle recycling.

Joe Copeland, a retired engineer in Cullman County, said he would promote vasectomies, tubal ligation and contraception to prevent overpopulation.

Nathan Mathis, a peanut farmer from Houston County, said he would, if voters approved, open 15 casinos, each with at least 51 percent black ownership.

Loretta Nall, the lone Libertarian and a proponent of drug policy reform, would reduce sentences for nonviolent criminals and use the money saved on prisons for education.

Held as part of the Alabama PTA's annual convention, the five candidates took turns sharing their often nuanced, occasionally combative, views on how to improve the state.

Baxley reaffirmed her support for public education, calling for zero tolerance for students who bring weapons to school or assault teachers. She said that education would be her top priority and that better-educated citizens would make better future taxpayers.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman, registering in polls as her main rival, this week was attending jury selection for his trial in Montgomery on governmental corruption charges and did not attend.

As for Republicans, PTA organizers said Gov. Bob Riley and his opponent, former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, weeks ago informed the organizers of conflicting engagements.

Thanks to early morning thunderstorms, the chairs of three or four other lesser-known candidates were left empty, and the audience of about 50 was smaller than expected.

Candidates fielded scripted questions from the PTA, some of which elicited sharp differences in philosophy.

On immigration, Copeland said he would arrest employers of illegal immigrants. Baxley said: "I think we should impose penalties against those who knowingly employ illegal aliens."

Potts said the country needs a barrier at the Mexican border. Nall said the country ought to naturalize illegal immigrants who are already here so they can join the tax base. Mathis said the matter rests with Congress.

Asked about sex offenders, Potts suggested tagging each with a GPS device. "I don't believe we're leaving them incarcerated as long as they should be," he added.

Baxley said Alabama needs a law that allows state prosecutors to go after predators in other states who contact Alabama children over the Internet.

Mathis and Copeland emphasized paying for more law enforcement. Nall said nonviolent drug offenders serve more time on average than sex offenders. Instead, she would suggest life in prison for certain sex offenders when the evidence is overwhelming. "That way we always know where they are."

Mathis and Nall proposed the start of a state lottery to pay for college scholarships, a program long touted by Siegelman. Potts and Nall said they would end the state sales tax on certain foods.

(NOTE:..I do not want a state lottery. I support lottery and casino gambling but run by private enterprise)

All candidates pledged support for arts programs in the schools, although Copeland suggested a single arts school could suffice in each system. Copeland also suggested separate schools to accelerate the education of gifted children.

When it comes to funding technology in the schools, Mathis said he would consult with college presidents on how to best fund education. Potts said there is plenty of money for schools, but he would like to add a benchmark reading test that all sixth-graders would be required to pass.

Baxley said she would work to overcome the lack of computer equipment and technologically qualified teachers in schools. Copeland would seek to recruit lay teachers, possibly corporate volunteers, with computer expertise.

Nall, who alluded to privatizing education and said she would eliminate the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program called DARE, added that she would save money by having Alabama schools quit paying to follow federal mandates.

"No Child Left Behind," she said, "would be the first to go."

I am ECSTATIC about how this article came out. I could not have asked for better press....aside from the confusion over private enterprise vs. state run lottery I don't think I have ever had a better piece of press.


I am uploading the video now and will post the link here later.

1 comment:

Nita420 said...

Well done, Loretta... great press!

Wish I could have been there and at ALL of your speaking affairs.

Will you be speaking anywhere in the northwest part of Alabama?