Potential Alabama governor candidates tackle health care, economy and more at forum

A trio of potential Alabama gubernatorial candidates made their early cases to a crowd of voters eager to hear the platforms and policies of those who could potentially lead the state starting next year.

Candidates and Tuscaloosa residents gathered at Capitol Park Saturday morning for Alabama Standing for Unity: A Political Forum.

Announced candidates former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (Democrat) and Mark Johnston (Independent), along with Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (Democrat), spoke to residents about their plans for the future of the state.

While Maddox has yet to formally announce his candidacy, he certainly sounded like someone who intends to enter the race.

In a forum moderated by Tamika Alexander, they addressed human rights, health care, the economy, the environment and other issues concerning the state.

Cobb’s platform says “It’s time to focus on what’s critical for Alabama’s future,” emphasizing the following as her biggest priorities: Children and families, quality jobs, roads and bridges, education and lottery, public safety and moral compass.

Johnston told supporters he believes the only way Alabama can change is to “change the system.”

“I’m offering you an opportunity to change the system by putting the first independent in the governor’s office in the history of Alabama,” he said.

Johnston said that as an independent, he will not have a political platform, but will change the role of the governor to one that gets the two parties to collaborate and work for the common good.

“If not now, when are things ever going to change? If not us, who are the ones that are going to do it?” he asked. “I have a vision and a plan for Alabama, to make Alabama the place it could be.”

Maddox followed an opening quote from Winston Churchill with, “An undeniable truth about Alabama is that our state is in crisis.”

He emphasized the importance of education, workforce development and health care, repeating that the state’s politics is broken and that the government is in crisis.

“That is why we’re considering a run for governor,” Maddox said, highlighting his record as mayor of Tuscaloosa in the face of a national recession and a natural disaster (the 2011 tornado).

“Right now, the other party is offering status-quo. The status-quo is no strategy for building a dynamic future,” Maddox said. “If we’re going to solve the crisis that’s in the state government, it’s going to take leadership that understands and demands results. That’s what we’ve been about the last 12 years here in Tuscaloosa.”

Maddox then suggested his announcement to run for governor is imminent, quoting Mark Twain.

“‘The two most important days of your life are the day that you were born and the day you found out why.  The why for me, professionally, has been serving this great city every single day,” Maddox said. “In the near future, I believe the why for me is going to be serving the great state of Alabama.”

On health care, Johnston read the letter he said he recently sent Gov. Kay Ivey, asking for expansion of Medicaid as well as opposition of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill.

“That spells disaster for Alabama’s Medicaid program,” he said.

Maddox also said that on day one, he would sign an executive order to expand Medicaid in the state of Alabama.

“If they’ll let a rural hospital close in the governor’s hometown, just imagine what will happen across the state,” he said.

Cobb agreed, saying that Alabama has “the leanest, meanest Medicaid program in the United States of America.”

“If we lose one more dime on Medicaid, we have lost it all,” she said.

Cobb said that Medicaid is one of her major priorities, with it hitting especially close to home as she’s been “in and out of the hospital with my elderly parents.”

Moderator Alexander moved on to the economy, asking the panel if they would support a living wage as determined by the local government.

“It’s important that as a state we don’t put this on local governments,” Maddox said, suggesting it would “pit one community against another.”

Maddox emphasized strengthening workforce development.

“We’ve got to train a workforce that’s going to meet the jobs of a technology-driven 21st century,” he said, as well as “expand pre-K offoerings to every child who is academically at-risk so we can have an educated workforce.”

Cobb said she wanted to get every legislator in Alabama to see if he or she can live on minimum wage.

“Not one day, week or month could they make it,” she said. “It is that important that they understand.

Cobb then said that as governor, she would go “from one end of the state to the other” to advocate for a lottery, giving Alabamians a chance to vote for it.

Her website says the following about a lottery: “Two-thirds of Alabamians want a lottery. I’ve heard you. I agree. We need it. It’s time for a lottery that will fund early childhood education programs that work, cutting-edge vocational training, and scholarships to ensure that all Alabamians can afford a college or technical education.”

Johnston then said he believes he is the most qualified person to improve Alabama’s economy thanks to his background in small business, where he said that everyone who worked for him received “well above minimum wage.”

Johnston said he also wants to fix what he calls “the most regressive tax system in the United State.”

Cobb was elected the first woman chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2006. Serving from 2007-11, Cobb was one of the last Democrats elected to statewide office in Alabama. Cobb, 61, grew up in Evergreen and attended the University of Alabama, where she got a bachelor’s in history and then a law degree in 1981.

Johnston has served as Executive Director at Camp McDowell for the past 26 years. Camp McDowell is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, located in Winston County. Johnston called his current position “the best job in the whole world,” but said he wants to start a movement in the state.

Maddox, who has been mayor since 2005, was re-elected to a fourth-term during an election in March by defeating his challenger Stepfon “Step” Lewis in a landslide. He has been praised for his economic development work and his handling of the aftermath of the deadly 2011 tornadoes that hit the city.

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