Pubdate: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
Source: Huntsville Times (AL)
Copyright: 2006 The Huntsville Times
Author: Challen Stephenstimes,staff writer


Forum Elicits Sharp Differences, Often Provocative Views

Make every sixth-grader pass a reading test before graduating. Strap
satellite locators to all sex offenders. Lock up employers who
knowingly hire illegal immigrants. Ax a well-know anti-drug program
from public classrooms. Create separate stand-alone schools for gifted

Seated on a riser at the front of a ballroom in the Holiday Inn in
Huntsville on Friday, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley found herself as the lone
big-money candidate awash in a river of provocative ideas from four
lesser-known people who also hope to become Alabama's next governor.

Several of those ideas came from Democrats running in the party's June
6 primary. For instance, when asked about their platforms:

James Potts, a financial adviser and cattle farmer from Bibb County,
said he would freeze property taxes for four years, send polluters to
jail for up to five years and have state prisoners handle recycling.

Joe Copeland, a retired engineer in Cullman County, said he would
promote vasectomies, tubal ligation and contraception to prevent

Nathan Mathis, a peanut farmer from Houston County, said he would, if
voters approved, open 15 casinos, each with at least 51 percent black

Loretta Nall, the lone Libertarian and a proponent of drug policy
reform, would reduce sentences for nonviolent criminals and use the
money saved on prisons for education.

Held as part of the Alabama PTA's annual convention, the five
candidates took turns sharing their often nuanced, occasionally
combative, views on how to improve the state.

Baxley reaffirmed her support for public education, calling for zero
tolerance for students who bring weapons to school or assault
teachers. She said that education would be her top priority and that
better-educated citizens would make better future taxpayers.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman, registering in polls as her main rival,
this week was attending jury selection for his trial in Montgomery on
governmental corruption charges and did not attend.

As for Republicans, PTA organizers said Gov. Bob Riley and his
opponent, former state Chief Justice Roy Moore, weeks ago informed the
organizers of conflicting engagements.

Thanks to early morning thunderstorms, the chairs of three or four
other lesser-known candidates were left empty, and the audience of
about 50 was smaller than expected.

Candidates fielded scripted questions from the PTA, some of which
elicited sharp differences in philosophy.

On immigration, Copeland said he would arrest employers of illegal
immigrants. Baxley said: "I think we should impose penalties against
those who knowingly employ illegal aliens."

Potts said the country needs a barrier at the Mexican border. Nall
said the country ought to naturalize illegal immigrants who are
already here so they can join the tax base. Mathis said the matter
rests with Congress.

Asked about sex offenders, Potts suggested tagging each with a GPS
device. "I don't believe we're leaving them incarcerated as long as
they should be," he added.

Baxley said Alabama needs a law that allows state prosecutors to go
after predators in other states who contact Alabama children over the

Mathis and Copeland emphasized paying for more law enforcement. Nall
said nonviolent drug offenders serve more time on average than sex
offenders. Instead, she would suggest life in prison for certain sex
offenders when the evidence is overwhelming. "That way we always know
where they are."

Mathis and Nall proposed the start of a state lottery to pay for
college scholarships, a program long touted by Siegelman. Potts and
Nall said they would end the state sales tax on certain foods.

All candidates pledged support for arts programs in the schools,
although Copeland suggested a single arts school could suffice in each
system. Copeland also suggested separate schools to accelerate the
education of gifted children.

When it comes to funding technology in the schools, Mathis said he
would consult with college presidents on how to best fund education.
Potts said there is plenty of money for schools, but he would like to
add a benchmark reading test that all sixth-graders would be required
to pass.

Baxley said she would work to overcome the lack of computer equipment
and technologically qualified teachers in schools. Copeland would seek
to recruit lay teachers, possibly corporate volunteers, with computer

Nall, who alluded to privatizing education and said she would
eliminate the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program called DARE,
added that she would save money by having Alabama schools quit paying
to follow federal mandates.

"No Child Left Behind," she said, "would be the first to go."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin