Sparks begins general election campaign
With Republicans still in limbo over who will be in a runoff next month to decide its nominee for governor, Democratic nominee Ron Sparks moved forward with his campaign on Wednesday talking about taxing bingo, passing a lottery, holding BP accountable and criticizing state Republicans who have already attacked him.
The popular two-term agriculture commissioner addressed the media at his Montgomery headquarters just hours after soundly defeating U.S. Rep. Artur Davis for the Democratic nomination.
Sparks finished with 62 percent, claiming his third impressive statewide victory. He won his second term as agriculture commissioner in 2006 with victory in 62 of the state's 67 counties.
Sparks talked about taxing gambling, the most predominant issue he pushed in the primary, about how Davis helped prepare him for the general election, and how Republicans began their attack "before the ink dried."
He vowed to run a positive campaign, but he criticized the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, state Rep. Mike Hubbard, for being so quick to attack him. The party released a statement soon after Sparks claimed victory on Tuesday, chastising him for supporting the health care overhaul passed by Congress and connecting him to two convicted felons, including former Gov. Don Siegelman, who endorsed Sparks.
If the Republican Party wants to use those tactics, Sparks said "the people of Alabama will know Mike Hubbard" by November.
Sparks said he has supported health care as agriculture commissioner and believes people deserve the opportunity to receive affordable health care.
While there is a lot of rhetoric and emotion surrounding the health care issue, he said "there's nobody in Alabama who’s read that 2,000-page document."
Sparks said people should give the law a chance and work to change portions that are not effective.
Sparks, still enjoying his lopsided win the night before, said he has won Republican votes before.
"There are Republicans who are hurting," he said.
Sparks was asked why he believed voters would approve a state lottery when it was defeated soundly in 1999, when Siegelman was governor.
He said the cost of tuition has almost doubled since then to about $30,000, the cost of health care has continued to rise, foreclosures are up, the unemployment rate is higher, and the banking system and auto industries collapsed.
"The environment is totally different," Sparks said.
The commissioner said he would not support a proposal that directed money to areas other than pre-kindergarten and scholarships.
Sparks said the lottery has been successful in Georgia and helped thousands of children attend college.
"The average family will not see their child's dream come true if I am not elected," he said.
Sparks said he would call a special session after the inauguration, if he was elected, to push legislators to tax and regulate bingo.
"There's too much money laying on the table ... ," he said. "There has been gambling in Alabama for 30 years. We need to get our head out of the sand and (stop) pretending there's not gambling in Alabama."
"The bottom line is the people of Alabama are hurting."
He has proposed using the revenue from taxing gaming to help fund education and Medicaid, which he said would he in a hole without the help from the stimulus money from Washington.
Since early in the campaign, Sparks has said the "people of Alabama deserve the opportunity to vote."
Sparks said his administration would be more accountable. He said he would hire an inspector general to ensure "every dime is spent wisely."
Sparks said he has reached out to Davis, who asked Democrats to support Sparks in his concession speech on Tuesday."
He said his Democratic rival helped prepare him for the general election by working hard and keeping the campaign on alert with tough shots.
"He is a good congressman. We welcome his advice," Sparks said.
Sparks credited his win to his support from black political organizations, 28 sheriffs, labor unions and a variety of other groups.
While other people are attacking organizations, he said he would ask "everyone for their vote."
"A governor brings people together," Sparks said.
While Republicans are battling in a runoff to determine who faces Sparks in the general election, the commissioner said he hopes to organize and raise money. He said there were a lot of endorsements he did not receive, but said he and his staff worked long days.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen