Sparks tours state announcing candidacy
The Democrat, who cannot run for a third consecutive term as commissioner, talked about economic development, keeping children in school, keeping jobs from going overseas, fair trade, and promoting agriculture
"I have a vision for this state. I have a vision that can lead Alabama into the future," he said on the steps of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.
U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, is the only other Democrat to announce he is running.State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said Thursday is is seriously considering a run.
When asked about Democratic opponents, Sparks said "we're getting ready for a primary," but said "today is about Ron Sparks."
"I am the only candidate so far in this race who has won two statewide elections," he said.
In his last election for agriculture commissioner, Sparks won 62 of the state's 67 counties including traditionally Republican areas.
Sparks said he would continue to be an advocate for agriculture, which he said employees about 467,000 people in the state and brings in $40 billion to the economy. He has been an advocate of country of origin labelling so people know where the food came from. Other nations produce the same goods with lower standards, the commissioner said.
Sparks, who has been on trade missions to multiple countries, said he is a proponent of trade, but he wants fair trade. He has worked with countries including Cuba and India to try to sell Alabama products.
In talking about his plans, Sparks said "the only way we are going to rebuild rural America is with alternative energy."
Corn, he said, is not the solution. Sparks said cellulos, algae and agricultural products grown here are the means to "energize rural American and rural Alabama."
The commissioner said he is pro-business. He said, like Republican Gov. Bob Riley, he wants to attract industry to the state, but he said he also wants to keep jobs here. Sparks said he is concerned about existing industry and wants to offer incentives to help them thrive and keep their operations open here.
He said jobs are being sent overseas. Both of his grandmothers worked in sock mills in DeKalb County and he began working in a mill in high school. He went on to be a successful businessman and a DeKalb County commissioner. He was appointed assistant agriculture commissioner in 1999.
Sparks made his announcement alongside his grandson, who he said is the reason he is running. He made the announcement with about three dozen supporters and the state Capitol behind him.
"Every child in Alabama deserves a quality education," Sparks said. " ... Not every child in Alabama has that opportunity."
If a student drops out without an education or a means to earn a living, they go from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to the jail house, he said.
"We have got to stop letting our children quit school at 16," Sparks said.
The commissioner also made stops in Birmingham, Huntsville and his hometown of Fort Payne.
Sparks said he had been working on the announcement for a "number of weeks" and finalized plans in the last week. He said the decision to run for governor was hard.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen