With the June 5 Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries only 52 days away, candidates have begun to participate in debates across the state, trying to persuade voters to their side.
On Wednesday, and Thursday night WVTM hosted two gubernatorial debates, one for each party. On Wednesday, former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state legislator James Fields participated in the Democratic debate. And on Thursday, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, state Sen. Bill Hightower and evangelist Scott Dawson participated in the Republican debate.
Here are 5 takeaways from the debates:
5. Candidates are open to Medical Marijuana, but not recreational Marijuana.
The legalization of Marijuana was a question that debate panelists asked both the Republican and Democratic candidates. And although all three candidates referred to the plant as a “gateway” drug, Dawson and Hightower said they were not opposed to allowing medical marijuana within the state, as long as it was highly regulated and available only to those who really need it.
Battle however, was opposed, saying “Medical marijuana opens up the same gateway, the gateway that goes to the opioids, which goes to heroin, which also becomes a national crisis, and it has become a national crisis.”
During the Democratic debate candidates were asked specifically about the decriminalization of marijuana and medical marijuana. All three Democratic candidates support the legalization of medical marijuana. Maddox said there are three necessary steps to take within the state; decriminalization, institute full use of medical marijuana, and to continue to look at states who have recreational use, collect data from them, and use that data to move forward.
4. Most candidates are in support of an Education Lottery
The question of an Education Lottery was also posed in both debates, Maddox and Cobb are known for their support of an education lottery, and Fields said that he would introduce a “clean piece of legislation” for Alabamians to vote on, if they want an education lottery.
In the Republican debate; Hightower and Dawson were both opposed, with Hightower saying he really dislikes that lotteries are marketed to minorities and that the financial burden they carry rests on minority groups. Battle said we would allow citizens to vote on a lottery, and that he supports it, although he believes it’s not a cure-all for the state’s problems.
3. Candidates took party stances on increasing the Minimum wage
In the republican debate candidates were asked about increasing the state’s minimum wage; no candidates were in support of raising the minimum wage. Battle and Dawson cited their experiences, and how low their starting pay was when they were young. “Raising the minimum wage hurts the poor, it’s cuts them out of jobs. And there’s something worse than not having a minimum wage, and that’s not having a job,” said Hightower.
Democratic candidates Cobb and Maddox discussed the minimum wage when Cobb asked Maddox, “How would you convince the voters of Alabama that you truly are for increasing the minimum wage since you used all of your power and influence to defeat the minimum wage when it came before the city council in Tuscaloosa.”
To which Maddox replied, “Lets be clear, I support the minimum wage increase, in fact the City of Tuscaloosa is the only entity I know on the record supporting not only a statewide minimum wage, but tying it to the CPI…The legislation she’s talking about would have allowed cities to raise minimum wage, which would have violated Alabama law…It would have been wrong of me to promise something to the citizens of Tuscaloosa that I couldn’t deliver.”
Fields did not get the opportunity to comment on a minimum wage increase.
2. Roy Moore is still a hot-button issue
Although not mentioned in the Democratic debates, Roy Moore was mentioned several times during the Republican debates. The debate panel asked candidates wether or not they voted for Moore, and was mentioned when the panelists asked about Ten Commandments legislation. Battle said he supported the Republican candidate, but that if the allegations were true, Moore did not need to serve in the Senate. “You have to give the benefit of doubt, you have to look at [the fact that] this was 40 years ago; [and these are] serious accusations. But I will answer the question; Yes. I did vote for Roy Moore,” said Dawson.
1. Kay Ivey declined the invitation to participate.
The most talked about issue covered in the Republican debates was the fact that incumbent Governor Kay Ivey declined the invitation to participate in the debates. She was, instead, throwing the first pitch at the Baron’s baseball game just down the hill from the debate.
All candidates criticized Ivey’s choice and agreed that by skipping the debate, saying Ivey did a disservice to all Alabama voters.
Candidates were asked why they thought they would be better candidates than Ivey. “Well I’m here, answering your questions for one,” said Hightower.
“People lose the value of public service, and thats a shame…being at a baseball game, throwing the first ball out versus coming to talk about the issues and what really affects our communities, that’s a shame,” said Battle.
Dawson said he took it personally because he flew back from a pastor’s meeting in Kansas city to be at the debate. “Alabama deserves; we deserve; as a voter I deserve; to hear her vision her dream, and her passion for the future of Alabama,” said Dawson.