Reading between the lines, Sparks to run for Lt. Gov.
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Ron Sparks will likely not be a candidate for governor next year for the same reason he wasn't a candidate for U.S. Senate last year -- either campaign would pitch him into a divisive primary tussle where he would be an underdog to emerge with the nomination and the Democratic Party would be weakened.
The term-limited state agriculture commissioner told a luncheon gathering of about 60-70 members and guests of the Mobile Area Democratic Association at the Tiny Diny here Saturday that he would be on the ballot in 2010 for either governor or lieutenant
governor. However, he
seemed to make it clear that
he wouldn't be a candidate
for governor as long as U.S.
Rep. Artur Davis was vying
for the post. In 2008, Sparks
was straining at the leash to
challenge incumbent U.S. Sen.
Jeff Sessions, but state Sen.
Vivian Figures' entry doused
Answering a question after his 30-minute talk, Sparks said, "Artur would make a fine governor. But Artur cannot get more votes in Alabama than Obama (who lost the state to GOP nominee John McCain). The governor we would get would be Bradley Byrne, Kay Ivey or Tim James. Yes, he (Artur) will be very strong in the Democratic primary, but what about November? That's reality."
Sparks won 62 of Alabama's 67 counties in his last election, including the "free state of Winston County," a legendary GOP stronghold. And, says he, he "tied" two of the five he didn't win outright.
Sparks, who bills himself as a "common sense" Democrat, said he's regularly approached about switching parties on the appeal that his road to office would be smoother as an Alabama GOP politician.
"I'll never shy from being a Democrat," he said. "You should stick with the one that brought you to the dance and you should dance with her."
Among the topics Sparks covered in his address were:
- Alabama's PACT program or pre-paid college tuition plan whose value has been torpedoed by the plummeting stock market.
"I think that contract said 'are guaranteed,'" said Sparks. "It doesn't say, 'maybe if the stock market stays good. It said, 'guaranteed.'"
"Rural Alabama is getting hit as hard as it's ever been hit before," he said. "Companies are going out of business one after another."
- Obama and present GOP/Democratic equipoise.
"I believe we have the right president at the right time," said Sparks. "There's never been another president who has had to inherit this country in the shape that Bush and Cheney left it. But what else should be expect from Bush and Cheney when they went to Iraq and saw weapons of mass destruction that weren't there and then went to New Orleans and didn't see a hurricane that was there."
The Republican Party could never again attack Democrats as fiscally profligate, he said, citing the trillion dollar surplus that President Bush inherited from President Clinton and the trillion dollar deficit that Bush left for Obama.
The Democratic Party stands for working people, for veterans, for social security, and its ideals will become increasingly evident as the Obama Administration unfolds, according to Sparks.
- Alabama as an agricultural state.
It is a $3 billion a year industry. The state grows one billion chickens a year. Those who would perpetrate fraud and jeopardize this industry will bear the full weight of his office, said Sparks, noting that nine such criminals were behind bars, another six could expect to enter jail this week and as many as another 25 in coming months.
"If the Constitution would allow me to run for Commissioner of Agriculture again, that's what I would do," said Sparks.
Agriculture is responsible for 467,000 jobs, 27 percent of the workforce, earning $5.5 billion and putting $40 billion in the state's economy, Sparks said.
"Farmers deserve more credit than we give them," said Sparks. "I think we should thank the farmer for his contribution the same way we thank the soldier for his or her service to our country. I never want the time to come where people are putting food on our tables the way they are putting gas in our cars."
- Trade with Cuba and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.
The 600-mile, two-day trip between the ports of Mobile and Havana for trade are good for both places, he said.
"Sixty percent of the poultry that Cuba receives comes from Alabama," said Sparks. "Ninety percent of their wood is from Alabama. Our agreement has been good for Alabama and it's been good for the Cuban people. The embargo is not any good and it is time we lifted it.
"Your friend, Jeff Sessions, voted against me on it," Sparks said sarcastically. "He is the most arrogant individual we've got (in Washington) whenever I go to him on something."
U.S. policy toward Cuba is so wrong-headed, said Sparks, that an American son or daughter who uses a 14-day visa and learns later in the year of a parent's death in Cuba is barred from traveling to the funeral.
"These policies are inexcusable," said Sparks. "Nobody voted down the line with Bush like Jeff Sessions. Sessions voted against a Gulf Coast assistance package that would've helped Mobile. I started and really wanted to run against Jeff Sessions (in 2008). I didn't want to get in a primary race that could've damaged the party. One day though we've got to move him out of the way."
- The need for safeguards on food and products that enter Alabama.
"What we consume -- the milk, the toothpaste, the dog food, the toys -- should be safe and free from contamination," he said. "We need a policy that if you don't produce it the way we do, with that level of care, we don't want it," said Sparks.
With its unparalleled natural resources, Alabama could have a bright future in the field of alternative fuels, said Sparks, and the political energy and will to nurture that industry should be mustered.
"Every gallon of fuel we produce in Alabama is one gallon less from that desert," he said. "What have we got in Alabama. We've got pine trees, switch grass and poultry. All of that can be put to use in developing alternative fuels. Two-thirds of our state is forest. We ought to be making second generation fuel. We need incentive programs for companies to come to Alabama like they do to Tennessee and Florida where they encourage these innovative approaches to the development of alternative energies. We beat Tennessee and Florida in just about every way except that very important one -- financial incentives."
Sparks said Alabama uses about 2.5 billion gallons of fuel a year. If the state could generate 10 percent of that or 250 million gallons annually, "we can rebuild rural Alabama with alternative fuels," he said.
- His opposition to CAFTA or the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
"Once, there were 8,000 sock jobs in Fort Payne," said Sparks, recalling his blue collar background in northeast Alabama. "Now there are 1,500. We're shipping our jobs overseas."
- The health of the state's citizens, particularly its school children.
"One thing I've worked really hard to do is take soft drinks with sugar out of the schools," he said. "We've worked hard to put on the students lunch trays satsumas from Satsuma, Ala., sweet potatoes from Cullman ("If you hear your kids complaining about those sweet potatoes they're served in school, blame me," said Sparks), peaches from Chilton County and apples from Crow Mountain."
Good health is directly related to diet and exercise so good habits in those areas should be promoted, he said.
- Education and "doing right by our kids."
"This is just common sense," he said. "We are not all doctors and lawyers and we've not supposed to be. But we need to teach all of our kids' a skill or a trade to make an honest living before we put them on the streets of Mobile, Ala. or Montgomery, Ala. Crime and social problems are our problems. It's not I live in east Montgomery and those are west Montgomery problems."
"I will be on the ballot for governor or lieutenant governor," he said. "I will make a decision in the next 10 days. I commit that I will be a candidate in the next election.
- State-sanctioned gambling.
"Too many politicians demagogue the issue," said Sparks. "We've got gambling. The problem is we don't tax it."
According to Sparks, the state approaches gambling in a good ol' boy, let the sheriff look after 'er fashion rather than bringing into play a sophisticated gaming commission to ensure that the operations are fair.
"Everybody needs to be playing by the same rules," he said. "You may not like gambling, but the federal laws say these folks have this right and there is nothing me or you can do to change it. Do I want to expand gambling across the state? No."
Sparks said he had received no campaign contributions from gambling interests in Mississippi.