Tim James not hemming & hawing, 2010 governor's race underway
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
While as many as half a dozen other prospects mill about at poolside, Tim James is already splashing up and down the state in a bid to get a lap or two lead on his competition for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010.
As probably the only serious candidate
who doesn't draw a taxpayer-tied
paycheck, James clearly needed to get
a jump on a field that has daily access
to the news media and government
In coming weeks, James will doubtless be joined officially in the race to follow popular two-term Gov. Bob Riley in the Governor's Mansion in Montgomery. Among the most often mentioned prospective entrants are: state Rep. Jo Bonner, Troy University President Jack Hawkins, House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne, State Treasurer Kay Ivey and Secretary of State Beth Chapman.
James, a successful 46-year-old Greenville-based businessman, was recently in Mobile and Baldwin Counties to work Republican quarters. He spoke with MBT, giving us an opportunity to arrange an informal Q & A.
MBT: Your father was governor a time or two. How has that been beneficial to you politically? How has it been a hindrance?
TJ: My father, Fob James, served two terms as Governor of Alabama. He taught me that state government can work, and how it should work for the best interests of the people. My father also taught me that tax dollars were the domain of the people who pay the taxes, not the politicians who spend the money and sometimes act as if it were theirs.
MBT: You’ve run for governor before? What drives you to want to be governor of Alabama? What have you learned about running for governor and how have you changed since you last ran for governor? How will your campaign this time differ from the previous campaign in approach (realizing you expect a dramatic change in outcome).
TJ: What we know, based on history, is that governors do matter when it comes to leading their states to prosperity and quality of life. In terms of education, health care and economic development, governors can make a difference. To do this, the next Governor of Alabama must fight to get our state fiscal house under control, as we face a recession and downturn in state revenue to fund education, transportation, economic development, public health and other vital sectors of state government.
We have learned that in the 21st Century, low-tax states are enjoying better economic times with growth in good-paying jobs than high-tax states. Some states slipped into the high-tax category in recent decades almost without noticing it. We need to do everything we can to prevent Alabama from being a high-tax state. At the same time, we in Alabama can run our state government efficiently and provide top-flight state services.
Alabama taxpayers deserve results for their hard-earned money. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t guarantee results. We’re spending twice the amount of tax dollars on public education in Alabama than a decade ago yet we’ve got essentially the same number of K-12 students in public schools now as in 1998. And, our school drop-out rate hasn’t improved one bit. Logic tells us that twice the money for the same results isn’t a good investment of the public’s tax dollars.
As Governor of Alabama, I will fight to lead our state forward to responsive government dedicated to the people, not the special interests. Our kids deserve the best education we can provide them. No less. We commit the tax dollars. Now, let’s set a predicate for quality.
MBT: If you are elected, what do you want citizens to say in 2014 has been the hallmark of a James administration?
TJ: If the people say that Governor Tim James made good on his promise to deliver a leaner, more responsive government and made Alabama a more prosperous state for our working families with measurable improvements in our public schools, I will consider that a job well done.
MBT: Road building has always been a central part of state government. You have experience in that area. What are the political negatives and positives of such an association?
TJ: My background in road building will be invaluable as the cost of construction materials has skyrocketed, due in large part to hikes in energy costs. Road building costs now are 40% greater than a year ago. That strains our state budget and means we build and maintain far fewer miles of highway.
In difficult times with falling state revenues and rising costs for road materials, Alabama needs a leader who knows how to navigate the uncertain waters. Experience counts in this regard, and I am that person. As far as negatives, there really aren’t any, as I own no stock or partnership position in any construction company.
MBT: What would you compliment Gov. Riley on in his administrations? Where has he come up short? Overall, what grade would you give Gov. Riley?
TJ: Governor Riley gets an A+ for economic development and raising the standard of living for Alabama working families. In addition, his administration has been scandal-free. My father’s administrations had that distinction, I’m proud to say. It speaks well of both governors, as it’s a record they can be proud of.
MBT: What is your relationship with Paul Hubbert? Could you work productively with a Democratic Legislature?
TJ: Dr. Hubbert is the head of the state teacher’s union. He’s probably the most formidable political force in Alabama and represents his union members well. But, he’s not elected by the people of Alabama. The State Legislative is elected by the people, and thus members of the House and Senate are responsible to the people for their actions, including key votes on how we will educate our school children and how the Education Trust Fund, amounting to over three-quarters of the state budget, will be spent.
Alabama’s next Governor must set priorities for moving the state forward and engage the Legislature to work with him on his programs. As far as Dr. Hubbert’s agenda and his influence over state legislators, that’s for the voters of Alabama to decide whether they want one special interest to hold such power. If they are comfortable with this arrangement, then they will vote for the status quo. It’s my hope that our next Alabama Legislature is comprised of independent thinkers who won’t bow to special interests.
MBT: How do you foresee the relationship between the Legislature and the executive branch in a James administration?
TJ: No matter which party is in power, Republican or Democrat, I will reach out to members of Alabama’s Legislature in a spirit of cooperation and open communication. I really don’t go in for partisan bickering. You will find that I have a sincere appreciation for people who have a passion for public service, and it shows in my relationships with others.
MBT: How would you describe your political philosophy?
TJ: I am a thorough-going conservative with a passion for justice and equity, especially those who have fallen between the cracks in our society. I also believe less government regulation and taxation make for a more prosperous state where people can enjoy more of what they earn.
This supports why I believe in leaner and more responsive government, with policies that are innovative and challenge conventional wisdom.
My social conscience is family-focused, which includes my strong belief in the rights of the unborn.
MBT: Other than your father, who would you point to as political influences, both historical and contemporary?
TJ: My father, Fob James has been a driving force and an inspiration in my life. He is one who doesn’t take “No” for an answer and doggedly pursues the right course, despite what others say. Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson have been larger than life teachers to me as to how one can establish rigorous principles and serve the common good with a right heart and spiritual underpinning.
MBT: What is the greatest challenge Alabama faces and how would you, as governor, overcome it?
TJ: The politicians in Montgomery have doubled the size of Alabama state government in the past decade. Taxpayers can’t afford that rich diet of government spending unless we want to become a high tax state. Once we cross that threshold and become a big government/high tax state, Alabama ceases to be the economic engine to generate the level of good paying jobs and prosperity for our people. Incremental movement toward a high-tax/big state government status has occurred in Alabama the past decade. It’s time to stop this and become better stewards of our taxpayer dollars. Education funding needs to go to the classroom, not build a bigger education bureaucracy. The same goes for the size of state government operations. In this down economy, we need to learn how to do more with less. We’ve done it before, and the result was better government services with a leaner budget.
MBT: How do you plan on funding education with the decline in state revenue, specifically, programs such as the Alabama Reading Initiative (which you have spoken of favorably) Additionally, how do we address the soaring cost of public employee health insurance?
TJ: A) Funding education in declining state tax revenues will be the No. 1 challenge of Alabama's next governor. As you know, the Education Trust Fund consumes nearly 80% of the state's budget. It has doubled to $6.4 billion during the past decade, yet Alabama's persistently high drop-out rate of some 40% hasn't dropped -- and the number of kids in Alabama's public schools remains about the same as 10 years ago.
It should tell us at least a couple of things:
- (1) Despite massive investment in public education, key success indicators haven't improved. Money in and of itself isn't the answer to quality education for our children.
- (2) Had more taxpayer dollars gone into the classroom versus the education bureaucracy, the outcome may well have improved. It's obvious that we need to demand results with the same or less money.
Targeting students who need special help in reading and math is one answer. Hiring and supporting top-notch school principals is another part of the solution. Experience tells us that when we manage our resources better and do so creatively with out-of-the-box thinking, then we go a long way toward getting real results and giving our kids a better education.
B) Alabama taxpayers have been asked to fund public employee pension and benefit programs that are, for the most part, better than what the average taxpayer has. We have to ask ourselves if we're willing to deny our families a better standard of living in order to give state workers and public school employees a premium-level benefits package.
Other states have taken steps to curb these skyrocketing costs of government, including:
- (1) Saving money by self-insuring the state health insurance program;
- (2) calling on state workers and teachers to share some of the costs of health insurance to maintain quality coverage while giving taxpayers a break;
- (3) Giving insureds and their families incentives to live a healthier life through proven preventive care standards and procedures.
MBT: Other than to BE governor, what do you want to DO as governor?
TJ: My primary goal as Governor of Alabama is to lead our great state and our people into an era of sustained prosperity and quality of life. To do this, we must make sure that our state's fiscal house is in order such that we remain a low-tax, low-regulation state. This protects our small businesses who create the lion's share of new jobs, and helps us attract new business and industry. To this end, our next Governor must demand accountability for our massive investment in public education. The education bureaucracy has ballooned from this doubling of funding in the past decade while the drop-out rate -- a key indicator of success -- remains stubbornly high at some 40% (since the early 1980s).
MBT: At the end of your first four-year term, what would you like to list as the highlights of your administration?
TJ: As Governor of Alabama, I would like to show real results that we brought the state government spending under control, kept Alabama business-friendly, while improving quality in public education, especially for grades K-12.
MBT: What would you do differently than your dad did?
TJ: My dad, Fob James, achieved great things during his two terms as Governor of Alabama. His leadership in the fiscal affairs of the state as well as public education moved Alabama forward. He'll be the first to admit that his communicating his accomplishments wasn't up to speed. We live in rapid-fire times, as far as news cycles and processing information. Because of this, a good portion of a governor's responsibilities is consumed by communicating to the people what needs to be done, what's being done and what to expect as a result of it. I appreciate the demands of this 24/7 news cycle era in which we live and work. My administration will be pro-active in reaching out to the people and the news media to communicate and be forward-thinking to give the people transparent state government.
MBT: How do you respond to feelings among some GOP partisans that your father's administration, and your first run for Governor both treated the Republican Party as a tool of convenience? Do you deny it, defend it, or confess, repent and profess to be a true believer in the need for a "conservative" Party banner under which candidates run for office and govern? Fob was known for a stubborn, politically independent streak, often dismissive of both parties. Some observers thought you signaled the same feelings six years ago, but now say you are reaching out to the GOP stalwarts.
TJ: As you may know, Fob James was the one and only Democratic governor in the United States to endorse Ronald Reagan for President in 1980 against incumbent President Jimmy Carter. My dad's concern for things political was dwarfed by his passion for Alabama's people and their quality of life. That being said, Fob's Republican stripes are intact as he plans to cast his vote this November for McCain-Palin and the entire GOP ticket, and urges his friends to do the same.
As for me, I am a thorough-going conservative Republican who stands 100% behind the McCain-Palin ticket. When many tell me they were sitting out this election year, I vigorously urge them to get behind our entire party's ticket, as there is so much at stake. Barack Obama will mean higher taxes, higher regulation, higher unemployment and a full retreat from our fight in the War on Terror.
MBT: Name three things you have specifically done or somehow contributed to help grow the Republican Party in the last two years.
TJ: As a staunch and pro-active conservative Republican, I can tell you that this time when our party's fortunes are at a low ebb is when we need to pull together and push for what well may be a long, long uphill trek. Alabama remains a "red state" where our principles of less government, low taxes and less regulation are widely held. Other states once considered pro-GOP are turning away toward bigger government. I have traveled the state at my own expense to boost our party's spirits, help fund-raise for our GOP candidates who need help and call attention to what makes our party strong. That quality is the Republican standard for being the fiscally responsible party. We somehow lost our way in Washington sometime between 1994 when the GOP captured both houses of Congress and 2006 when the Democrats took over. Now, it's time to return to our roots and demonstrate to the people that we can and will be the best stewards of their tax dollars.
MBT: Why will this campaign end differently than your previous run?
TJ: As you know, I started my 2002 campaign too late and never caught up. I promised never to be "late to the dance" again. We started our campaign more than two years out from the June 2010 GOP Primary. We've brought together a strong team of professionals with a record of winning elections. Our campaign has a full-time headquarters in Montgomery with a full-time satellite office in Birmingham. We work round-the-clock traveling the state, meeting with key decision-makers and influential Alabamians. My schedule has ramped up to full-time campaigning, focusing at this point on helping get Republicans elected in November. After that, we shift gears with our eye on winning the 2010 primary.
We have a grass-roots strategy in already in place along with a Steering Committee of nearly 200 people who are our eyes and ears throughout Alabama.
At this point, we are making daily progress, which is a very good position to be in this far out from the election.
MBT: Overtime question -- We know you can say War Eagle! Barbecue the Hogs! Can you say Roll Tide!?
TJ: As you know, my blood runs orange. But, the Governor of Alabama must represent all the people of Alabama and be a staunch supporter of all allegiances and loyalties. That’s not to say that my Auburn “War Eagle” won’t slip out every now and then!