Please see below for The Honorable James Fields’s responses to the 2018 Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News Gubernatorial Candidate Questionnaire. Submitted Friday, May 11 at 12:13 PM
Alabama Policy Institute and Yellowhammer News
2018 Gubernatorial Questionnaire
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND PRINCIPLES
Question: What is your political philosophy and, if elected, how would it shape the way you govern?
Fields: Ours is a government of laws applicable to all the people. Officials are elected by the people of a specifically defined jurisdiction to serve them as prescribed by the duties of the office. The oath sworn as well as the law upon which it is based, affords no official the authority to limit the service of their office to only those who support them. They must strive to serve friend and foe alike, with transparency, and though reciprocal communication, see beyond actions that divide, while working to find the common good for all. Leaders have an obligation to identify laws which favor some over others with no redeeming justifications, and to propose new laws & provide direction for actions that help all people without prejudice. Failing these obligations is a violation of the official’s oath as well as a dereliction of their duty.
if elected, how would it shape the way you govern?
Decisions & actions of government must no longer be made based upon fear, superstition, or ill-informed whim; thus, my administration will be devoted to finding solutions to problems based upon empirically demonstrated evidence, ensuring that state agencies are working to fulfill their statutory missions in a fiscally responsible manner, and providing a legislative agenda which proactively addresses the needs of all the people of the state.
How have you demonstrated your commitment to your political philosophy?
I have demonstrated my principles, character, and leadership skills to the people of my community all my life. I’m the first African-American ever elected to the Alabama House from an almost entirely white district in Cullman Co. They know my principles. They’ve seen me coach children’s sports, pastor a church, bring people together, and represent them in Montgomery.
What is the most important role of the governor?
The governor is the leader and face of state government. The governor leads by upholding the law and establishing the goals and standards of how state government serves the people.
What is the most challenging social issue facing families in Alabama? Does government have a role in helping to solve that problem, and if so, what would you propose?
The most challenging social issue facing Alabamians is inequality in opportunity. Inequality in wealth, education, and health. As equality is a fundamental concept of a democracy, remediating inequality is a principal responsibility of government.
Equality in opportunity begins with equality in education. Every school district must have equal and sufficient funding. I will propose a state “lottery,” to be voted on by the voters, which would direct all the revenue generated to education. This new revenue could not supplant any tax revenue earmarked for the Education Trust Fund. Additionally, I will propose a reform of Alabama’s regressive tax structure toward a sensible tax on real property so that rather than the long-placed burden on those less able to pay, everyone and every corporation pays their fair share.
Alabama has four abortion clinics operating across the state, and Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a new clinic in downtown Birmingham. How do you feel about these clinics and what would you do as governor about any taxpayer funds they receive?
The governor swears an oath to uphold the law. As these clinics provide numerous services which women may choose to acquire that are legal under Federal law I would, to the best of my ability ensure that they are supported by every relevant agency directed by my office. I would not support any effort to hinder their operation, including their right to qualify as a Medicaid provider. To be clear, as an abortion procedure cannot be funded by Medicaid, I would, as sworn, ensure that the Alabama Medicaid Agency complied with all laws.
Alabama is ranked number forty-seven on U.S. News and World Report’s list of Best States for Education, and ranked number 1 in Pre-Kindergarten quality. As far as public education reforms, there have been many suggestions for improvement including increased investment in STEM education, distance learning, and reforming teacher tenure. What reforms would you propose or support to improve public education and prepare Alabama’s children for school success and lifelong learning?
Equality in a quality educational opportunity is imperative for Alabamians to compete in the 21st century. Alabama government must launch a full commitment to public education. Such a commitment would be manifested by repealing laws which take money from public schools to pay for private schools and most notably line the pockets of privileged lobbyists. It includes supporting educators at all levels, (Kindergarten – Post graduate); as well as ensuring that all public schools have the most up-to-date technology for learning and that those technologies are utilized in healthy, comfortable, and safe environments. It also includes a curricular philosophy which encompasses a broad general education which fosters critical thinking and creativity as well as STEM.
ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
Dr. Eric Mackey was recently named Alabama’s next State Superintendent of Education. The governor serves as a voting member of the Alabama State Board of Education. What vision for Alabama do you share with the new superintendent and where do your philosophies differ? How will you prioritize Alabama’s school children in your role on the Board?
Dr Mackey has stated “…So, that every child that finishes from our system, whether they’re in a rural county or they’re in downtown Birmingham or they’re in a suburban school system — every child has the opportunity to do what they want to in life. And that’s our responsibility as educators — that we give them the opportunity to make their own choices.” As governor, I would work to support Dr. Mackey’s goal along with ensuring that these opportunities are available to all of Alabama’s students.
As a member of the State Board of Education my priority will always be the students. They are always Alabama’s future.
The recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida reignited the discussion about school safety. President Trump has suggested arming teachers while others have argued for increased use of school resource officers and funding for mental health programs. As governor, how would you ensure the safety of Alabama’s children in public schools?
“Ensuring the safety of” anyone today, with the plethora of firearms in our society is not possible, however, “ensuring” that we have done as much as is identifiably conceivable is. This includes, but is not limited to, resource officers, metal detectors, and refusing to tolerate bullying. I will demand sufficient funding for education that includes adequate numbers of school counselors, as well as well as training educators in identifying & helping students with problems is critical in making schools safer. Funding for mental health programs, mostly a red herring in this context, is another of our healthcare deficiencies which will be addressed. Arming teachers is a terrible idea.
In 2015, Alabama became the 43rd state to approve legislation to authorize charter schools. Many states now allow parents to transfer their child from a failing public school to a non-failing public school, to utilize education savings accounts or school vouchers, or to send students to alternative schools using tax-credit scholarships, allowing parents greater control in their child’s educational endeavors. How should school choice fit into Alabama’s education system?
“School choice” is non-existent in most areas of Alabama. As intended by those who profit from it, the term is alluring and promising, but it’s methodology, the “Alabama Accountability Act,” does nothing to improve the public education opportunities Alabama desperately needs. In fact, it is detrimental to the public schools it touts to help.
Alabama’s “school choice” model is simply code for furthering inequality of educational opportunity for most of the three quarters of a million students in our public schools. Public tax revenue, all of it, should be used for public schools.
In Alabama, the bottom 20% of earners pay 10% of their income in state and local taxes while the top 1% only pays 3.8% of their income in the same taxes. If elected, what would be the future of the state income tax and do you see this disparity as a problem?
The disparity in the income tax burden in Alabama is as immoral as the tax on food. Even after an increase in 2006, the threshold of GROSS income for paying any income tax for a family of four is $12,600, which is well below the poverty limit by any assessment. If the taxing of income is to continue, it must be overhauled to place the responsibility on those most able to pay, RATHER THAN THE LEAST. I will propose a reform of Alabama’s regressive tax structure toward a sensible tax on real property, so that rather than the long-placed burden on those less able to pay, everyone and every corporation pays their fair share. This can provide the stable base of revenue which Alabama desperately needs.
STATE AND LOCAL TAXES
According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, Alabama boasts the 12th most regressive state and local tax system in the nation. One contributor to this ranking is our combined 9% grocery tax (only four states tax groceries more than Alabama). In 2017, Governor Bentley proposed decreasing the grocery tax by 4%. If you are elected, would you suggest changes to the grocery tax?
The tax on food is as immoral as the disparity in the income tax burden. I would work to repeal it and work for tax reform which places the burden on those most able to pay, RATHER THAN THE LEAST. I will propose and work to accomplish these changes.
US News ranks Alabama’s roads and bridges as the 16th and 21st best in the country, respectively. Even so, every neighbor of ours—except Mississippi—has roads and bridges that rank in the top 10. Alabama also ranks 45th in terms of broadband access. If elected, what would you prioritize as the most important infrastructure investment projects, and what innovative options would you propose to fund such projects?
The condition of Alabama’s roads and bridges are rated as “at risk,” almost “unfit” by the American Society of Civil Engineers!” The condition of dams cannot be classified because there is no consistent data available. Clearly many dams, due to age alone, pose a danger. I will propose legislation to establish dam inspection and remediation.
The foolishly exalted shrinking of state government and refusal to even consider additional taxes continues to limit Alabama’s ability to access the federal funding which was supporting our infrastructure.
My proposal of a sensible tax on real property so that rather than the long-placed burden on those less able to pay, everyone and every corporation pays their fair share can provide the stable base of revenue which Alabama desperately needs.
The lack of broadband availability limits the opportunity for many to connect to the vastness of the internet. It limits education, healthcare, social, and economic opportunities for these communities. Cities and towns who can mandate access prosper and contribute revenue to the state. Others, unable to make the investment, continue the cycle of inferior education, limited economic opportunity, and suppressed ability to contribute to the state and local tax base. I will work for ensuring that every corner of Alabama has affordable access to broadband.
Infrastructure for Alabama’s future includes high-speed commuter rail service between the major metropolitan hubs in Alabama and those in other southeastern states. Reducing dependence on automobiles will pay dividends in cleaner air, less wear on roadways, lower demand for fossil fuels, as well as adding spending power to the economy.
Certainly, the most innovative options to fund infrastructural needs, given Alabama’s taxation philosophy since 1901, is to shift the burden from those least able to pay to those most able to pay, including large corporations. A fair and equitable property tax based upon a market value model rather than current use model could allow for a stable base for all of state government functions. I will support efforts for fair and equitable tax reform.
Most states resort to installing a state-run lottery to increase revenue and pay for government projects. Do you support a lottery to solve the state’s fiscal woes? Why or why not?
I support the idea of a lottery as an additional source of revenue for education. If an amendment authorizing a lottery was approved by a vote of the people, the projected revenue would not however, “solve the state’s fiscal woes.” Alabama’s fiscal woes are a result of dependence on its highly regressive, unstable, economy based tax structure in which people with lower incomes account for an inordinate share of the revenue collected. Alabama’s fiscal woes will continue until the burden is balanced proportionally amongst all payers.
THE RIGHT TO WORK
The Census Bureau suggests that Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee are creating more jobs than Alabama. As governor, how would you foster job creation that rivals our neighbors to the north, east, and south?
Short term economic growth and job creation is important, but Alabama must escape its dependence upon giving away the farm as the only strategy to lure industry and jobs here. Solid, diversified economic growth, such as that experienced by our neighbors to the north, south, and east, has come because of their cultures of progressive prosperity which are based on more adequately funded schools, community colleges, and universities; better healthcare; and wide-ranging infrastructure advantages. These cultures can attract industries with less emphasis on tax giveaways. I will work to end the failed, short-sighted strategy of squeezing government, giving away the farm, and cutting taxes for corporations with the expectation that an economy will suddenly prosper.
ROLE OF LABOR
Alabama is a right-to-work state. In your opinion, what is the proper role of organized labor and should Alabama remain a right-to-work state?
I am opposed to the illusory concept of “right-to-work.” Though now enshrined in Alabama’s Constitution, it is one that many Alabamians likely cannot even correctly define. I fully support organized labor and appreciate what is has accomplished for America’s workers. Its role to represent, support, and defend workers in a state that seeks to minimize workers’ rights at every opportunity is vital.
OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING IN ALABAMA
The state of Alabama licenses 151 different occupations and over 20% of Alabama workers need a license to work. If elected, how would address these regulations—regulations that both the Obama and Trump administrations have regarded as problematic?
The opinions of the Obama or Trump Administrations regarding occupational licensing is not important. What is important is what protections do Alabama’s citizens need weighed against the practice of occupational and industry protectionism. I will entertain scientific methodology-based peer reviewed research of the impact of regulations on specific occupations as well as overall patterns of regulatory practice. I will not support pell-mell attacks on regulations that impact consumers.
According to the CDC, Alabama is the state highest-prescribed with opioids, with more prescriptions than people. Opioids are the main driver of overdose deaths and, in 2016, 756 Alabamians died from drug overdoses. As governor, how would you tackle Alabama’s share of this national crisis?
We must stop the dying. Naloxone saves the lives of people who have overdosed on opioids. Its availability must not be an issue. I will direct the Department of Public Health to work with pharmaceutical companies and use state resources to make it available to emergency responders. The expansion of Medicaid along with what should be willing initiatives by health insurance providers will help off-set state expenditures.
Good professional work has already been accomplished, but it must be fully implemented. I will work with legislators to ensure that the multi-disciplinary initiatives generated by the “State of Alabama Opioid Action Plan” are fully funded, calling a special session of the legislature if that is necessary.
I will work to end Alabama’s failed, “lock-um-up” solution to substance abuse, utilizing strategies identified through the Opioid Action Plan.
Alabama has the third highest murder rate in the country. As governor, how would you address crime and what policies, specifically, would you propose?
The US Department of Justice cautions: “…rankings [of reported crime figures] lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions.” They further explain that there are many variables which are not pervasively applicable to all geographic areas.
Alabama’s simplistic “tough on crime” or “lock-um-up & throw away the key” approaches imprisons people at rates more than 100 per 100k people in both jails and prisons compared with the national rates. If these approaches were effective, Alabama would be one the safest places on earth. Clearly, that approach has not and does not work.
I will direct and support reform efforts based upon scientific methodology-based peer reviewed research and knowledge in the areas of criminal law, sentencing, & prison reform. Accepted knowledge affirms that crime is impacted by myriad psycho-socio-economic factors. Pragmatic actions based upon true knowledge of specific problems has been demonstrated time and again to increase the likelihood of success. Education is a tide that tends to lift all boats, and would be at the core of my approach.
Alabama has received national attention for the state of its prisons and a federal judge recently called inmate care “horrendously inadequate”. How would you address this issue, and do you support the use of private prisons?
Prison reform in Alabama will be a priority. The cost to the state to operate prisons cannot be sustained. The massive loss of productivity, including restitution, from those for who incarceration is not necessary is foolish; and the direct & indirect socio-economic impact of incarcerating so many people, particularly those of color is immoral.
I will heartedly support reforms including criminal law, sentencing, education and training for non-violent offenders as well as those serving out their time. I will support reinstatement of voting and civil rights for those who have completed their sentence, and will additionally work with faith and charitable organizations to challenge the culture of dehumanizing any individual who is convicted of a crime.
As previously noted education is a tide that tends to lift all boats. Alabama should be ashamed of its approach to “corrections.”
CIVIL ASSET FORFEITURE
Some states are eliminating provisions that allow police to seize property without securing a criminal conviction. Do you support the use of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement and the provision that allows agencies to keep the proceeds of seized property? Why or why not?
NO. In my opinion it is not only unconstitutional, it is a tool just waiting to be misused even in the hands of a well-intended government, and most egregiously dangerous in the hands of one which is ill-intended. I will work diligently to prohibit this practice in Alabama.