By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
PIKE ROAD, Ala. (AP) — Sue Bell Cobb was just 25 when she put on a judge’s robe for the first time, beginning a 30-year judicial career that culminated with being elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2006.
After decades on the bench __ and seven years out of public office__ Cobb, who was one of the last Democrats elected to statewide office in Alabama, is stepping back into the political arena, this time running for governor.
“It’s time to have a governor who cares more about the next generation than the next election,” Cobb, 62, said during a speech in Cullman, repeating what’s become a motto of her campaign.
As Alabama Democrats seek a resurgence following the victory of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, the Democratic primary is shaping up into a competitive battle. Cobb is running against Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state legislator James Fields in the June 5 contest. The winner will face the Republican nominee in November.
The former judge’s platform includes establishing a state lottery to fund education programs. Cobb’s proposal, which she calls the Life Long Learner Lottery, would fund preschool; subsidies for child care for working families; and career and vocational tech education. Cobb said she believes her plan will “help more people” than a Georgia-style lottery for college tuition.
“Overwhelmingly, the voters want a lottery,” Cobb said. “I’m going to call a special session in that first regular session and call it and call it and call it, until the Alabama Legislature passes the Life Long Learner Lottery,” Cobb said.
A native of Evergreen, Cobb is a graduate of the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama Law School. She was appointed by then-Gov. Fob James as a district judge in Conecuh County in 1981. She was later elected to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.
She was elected chief justice in 2006, winning one of the most expensive judicial races in the country’s history. As a criminal appeals court judge, she pushed for the Children First program, which provided funding to a variety of children’s programs.
She said it was the closure of rural hospitals across the state that prompted her to enter the race. She said Alabama needs to put more resources into clean water and called for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, a proposal that will almost certainly face opposition in the GOP-controlled Alabama Legislature.
“The average age for a minimum-wage worker is 35. Thirty-five. That’s not a teenager,” Cobb said.
Cobb resigned from the bench in 2011, saying she needed to focus on her ailing mother and then-15-year-old daughter. The decision upset some in her party— since it left an all-GOP court — and has prompted criticism during this run. During her speech in Cullman, an audience member asked if she would leave again. Cobb said her 2011 decision to step down was “for all the right reasons” and enabled her to be with her mother when she died.
She has also gotten criticism from some Democrats on her endorsement of former Sen. Jeff Sessions, a Republican, for U.S. attorney general. Cobb called it a “measured” endorsement because of his support of her effort to establish drug courts to steer addicts toward treatment instead of prison. But she added that it was important that people “reach to the other side.”
Cobb said her experience is what distinguishes her from her opponents. She said she is the only candidate who has been elected to “run a branch of government” and has written and implemented legislation.
“I’m running to fix the big problems, not because I want to have a title. I had a title,” Cobb said.