By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The leading Democratic contenders for governor spent much — but not all — of a Wednesday night debate agreeing with each other.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and former state legislator James Fields appeared in the debate hosted by WVTM in Birmingham.
All three expressed support for a state lottery. They also agreed Alabama should expand its Medicaid program, saying doing so would boost the entire health care system and curtail the closure of rural hospitals. They also took aim at a string of scandals that have engulfed GOP politicians in the state, and said they believed the right Democrat could win back the governor’s office for the first time in two decades.
The only verbal fireworks came in an exchange between Cobb and Maddox who are largely considered the two front runners in the primary.
Cobb questioned Maddox’s commitment to a statewide minimum wage increase since a local wage increase push faltered in Tuscaloosa while Maddox was mayor.
“You had an opportunity to raise the minimum wage in the city of Tuscaloosa to $10.10,” Cobb said, noting that was before the passage of a statewide bill blocking cities from raising the local minimum wage.
Maddox interrupted Cobb and asked if she would promise something she couldn’t legally deliver. He argued even before the statewide legislation, city attorneys across the state did not think that local governments had that authority to set a local minimum wage.
“Would you be taking this position if you weren’t running for governor?” Maddox responded.
In an effort to distinguish themselves both Maddox and Cobb emphasized their experience: Maddox as mayor of a city that had to rebuild after being ravaged by tornadoes and Cobb who spent decades on the judicial bench.
“This election is about who is best capable to deliver us from crisis,” Maddox said.
Cobb said she is the only candidate in the race who has written and helped pass bipartisan legislation. “It’s time to have a governor who cares more about the next generation than the next election,” Cobb said.
Fields, a pastor, served in the Alabama Legislature for two years after becoming the first African-American elected in predominantly white Cullman County. Fields said it’s time for the state to elect someone different.
“We can do the same thing and we’ll get the same results ….or we can make a change,” Fields said.
The Republican contenders debate Thursday night. Gov. Kay Ivey is not participating.