General fights for Sparks
Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who also ran for president in 2004, and Sparks talked about a state lottery to fund college scholarships, protecting military jobs here and the Democratic nominee's plan to create more jobs.
Sparks faces Republican state Rep. Robert Bentley, a Tuscaloosa dermatologist, in the November election.
Clark, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during military activities in Kosovo, flew to Montgomery, Dothan, Mobile, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville with Sparks.
Sparks said one of his goals is to ensure Alabama is preparing for the next round of proposed changes at Alabama military bases by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission or BRAC. He said he is committed to having someone advise him in future rounds of closures and realignments to ensure Alabama is in the right position to gain rather than lose jobs.
"We're going to start working on that immediately because that is jobs," Sparks said.
The commissioner said there is infrastructure, especially roads, that need to be completed in north and south Alabama to help with additional personnel from the last realignment.
Sparks said he talked to local leaders in Huntsville on Tuesday. Alabama gained jobs in the last round of BRAC.
"BRAC is extremely important. If we don't start building the infrastructure to accept those individuals that are coming to Huntsville, then we might not be in position in 2015 or whenever it comes back around to be as successful as we have been in the past," Sparks. "I am going to have someone extremely close to me in a high level position that starts working on BRAC immediately and starts working on the importance of our military installations in the state and the services we provide and the technology that we have."
Clark, who said some of his oldest Army friends are from Alabama, said he would certainly be there as a resource for Sparks.
"I have the best of the best when it comes to advising me on military affairs in this country," Sparks said of Clark.
Clark said Sparks has programs to bring jobs back to the state and to boost education.
"I think, in Ron Sparks, the people of Alabama are fortunate that you have the right man at the right time for a tough job," he said.
Sparks argues Alabamians are spending millions on lottery tickets and in casinos in neighboring states and that money could be used to educate children and to help senior citizens here. He said the money is needed to help high school graduates attend college.
"I want to put a lottery in Alabama like you have in Arkansas," Sparks said to the general.
Clark said some people opposed the lottery in his home state, but that "if they want to play on the numbers then let them play on the numbers and let that go to some greater good." He said the money has funded scholarships in the state.
In a statement released by his campaign, Bentley said voters would have to approve a statewide lottery through a constitutional amendment after it was approved by the state Legislature.
"I will allow a true up or down vote of the people on this and other gaming issues. I trust the people of Alabama," Bentley said.
During an August debate in Arab, according to The Birmingham News, Bentley said he did not support a lottery and pointed out to those in attendance that Alabama voters shot down a lottery proposed by then-Gov. Don Siegelman a decade ago.
"I remind you we have a governor sentenced to jail as a result of things he did connected to that lottery. I'm personally against it. It's not the answer," said Bentley, according to The Birmingham News.
Clark campaigned for Sparks in 2006 when he was running for his second term as agriculture commissioner and swore him in after his resounding victory.
Former President Bill Clinton will speak at a fundraiser for Sparks in Birmingham on Thursday. People must contribute at least $1,000 to attend and the media cannot attend the event.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen