James Fields: will he or won’t he?


Rev. Fields stopped by Jack’s to eat breakfast and talk shop, but spent much of his time receiving encouragement from supporters. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – On Wednesday, July 5, Rev. James Fields, former state representative, posted a video to his Facebook page leading many to believe he had decided to run for the office of Alabama lieutenant governor.

Two days later, The Tribune met up with Fields at a local restaurant, for breakfast and some Q&A about what appears to be his imminent return to the political arena.  Fields, a Democrat, said he is 90 percent sure he will run, but is not yet absolutely convinced to do so and has not decided what office he will seek if he does run.

As soon as we walked in, the campaign began, but not from Fields.  Guest after guest stopped him to say hello, to voice support for the run he might make, or both.  Even the server who gave us our food promised his vote.  At the table, between well-wishers, we talked about what brought him to this moment of decision.

What makes a minister into a politician?

“Moral issues, family values, faith.  It gives you the opportunity to speak to so many different people from so many different segments, so many different walks of life, cultural backgrounds.  And we’re becoming more and more of a diverse culture.  It gives you an opportunity to really see where people are in their lives.”

What’s bringing you back this time?

“I ran across a friend on Monday of this week, and it was strange–something he said.  We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and he asked a simple question: ‘Are you getting back into politics?  Because we need some good leadership.’  He didn’t ask me whether I had switched parties to become a Republican–because that seems like the way to win, now–or if I was going to run as an Independent.  He just said, ‘James, we need some good people in office.’ 

“And I got to thinking about that.  We’re somewhat like the animal culture: we’re like zebras.  We can’t change our stripes.  We have them; that’s who you are.  When he said that and I thought about it, I just thought about where I need to be.

“Then I was just looking at my Facebook, and Facebook will pop up your memories, and the video came up of our 2014 campaign, and I got to looking at that.  That’s truly who I am. it reflects every character of myself, where I see myself–helping people, crossing cultural lines, racial lines, political lines. 

“I got to looking back over the last eight years at what’s gone on in Alabama, and how Alabamians have been hoodwinked.  It’s been proven, when you look at what has gone on from the executive branch, the judicial branch, to the legislative branch of government.  And it’s not germane to one party or the other, though Republicans are in control; we just had some Democrats who were indicted by the federal government for taking bribes.  It’s individuals, and people need to look at individuals now.

“That’s where the danger has come: we align ourselves with a party and this is what we are, come heck or high waters.  We’re going to stay with this, and this is what it’s given us.  And these same people are filtering back through the system.

“What taxpayers need to understand, and one of the reasons I believe I’m going to seek office again, is that these are hard-earned taxpayer dollars.  People who work every day to put food on their table, and they think in their mind, ‘We can trust these guys, because they’re going to take care of us.’  No, folks, it’s not the case.  They’re spending your money.

“I looked at that video from 2014, and it just spoke to me. ‘You need to really consider running for office.’  Now, I haven’t made my mind up totally; I just believe that, hopefully, by August 15 or the end of August, I will have a solid look at what I want to do, what office I want to run for, and give it my best shot.

“If the people of Alabama elect me, we’re going to have a fun ride, and do positive things.  If they don’t, what people need to look at is what you’re living with now, you’ll be living with up to 2030.  The census will be taken in 2020, so whoever you put in office in the 2018 election will determine the direction of the state of Alabama and its citizens until 2030.  Redistricting and gerrymandering will take place, but you will have the same guys who will set the pace, as far as laws that we’re governed by.  The people of Alabama need to pay attention this time.  This is a serious election.

Three possibilities

“I’m looking strongly at lieutenant governor, possibly governor, and strongly at District 12 (state representative), very strongly at District 12.

“When I look at the district, I look at Cullman County totally.  My very first thing would be seeking things for the educational system, which is going to help everybody in the county.  We need better roads, we need more money, a better tax base.  A representative who’s from this county should be able to work with the local county government and get some things going to get a better tax base.

“It’s not a matter of raising taxes.  It’s a matter of restructuring how your tax dollars are spent.  If the two aren’t working together, then the citizens of the county are the ones who hurt.”

Democrats have an uphill battle in a red state.  What’s going to get Republican voters to support a Democratic candidate?

“It’s impossible for me to shake every hand in the state of Alabama; it’s impossible for me to shake every hand in Cullman County.  So, what you’ve got to rely on is who you are, who you’ve been, the people that know you.

“And I don’t think it’s so much that people are Republicans; I think they’ve despaired of what’s going on all the way around.  They just align themselves more with the Republicans because of the national platform of the Democratic Party when you deal with the issues of abortion or same-sex marriage, and stuff like that.  My answer to them always is, ‘Those issues have already been settled, if we call ourselves Christians.  Those issues have already been settled.  Let’s talk about what’s putting food on your table. Let’s talk about your child’s education.  Let’s talk about the things we can agree on, not the things that we disagree on, because we’ll be here the rest of our lives trying to convince one another to agree with each other.  Let’s deal with the things we can agree on, and all those other things will take care of themselves.  Those are not issues.  The issue is how are you going to feed your children.  The issue is where will your child get a good education.  The issue is where will your child work.  Those are the three issues.

“If we want to go in a different direction and talk about what’s going on in Washington D.C., we’ll always be left behind, because we’re focused on the wrong thing.  Washington wants you to stay focused on Washington.  When I talk with Republican voters, I say, ‘Let’s deal with what we can agree on.  Whether abortion is legal or illegal, if we pass a law against it, you still don’t have bread on your table.  So, let’s deal with what we agree on.’

“You know me.  I’m a man of God; I’m a man of faith.  I believe in God; I believe in acknowledging God in everything that I do.  Early on in my life, was that true?  No, but I have grown to know who God is in my life, and I’m not going to have you to pass some kind of religious litmus test to see how faithful you are.  That’s for God to do.  Let’s move on.

“This is a red state.  Have I been approached to run as a Republican? Yes.  Have I been approached to run as an independent?  Yes.  I’ve had more Republicans say to me, ‘James, run as an Independent.’  I’ve had no Democrats say that.  That lets me know that we’re not as Republican as people think.  We’re basically independent-minded people.”

If you knew you’d win whichever race you ran, which would you most want to run?

“If I knew I could win beyond the shadow of a doubt, I would love to be lieutenant governor; however, I ran for lieutenant governor before, and the person I ran against is now the sitting governor.  The challenge was then as it will be in 2018: finding a way to get people to see who each one of us are, really truly are. 

“That was the intrigue of running for governor; I believe I would be a stronger leader than Gov. Ivey.  I believe my vision for Alabama is much stronger than Gov. Ivey’s.  I can identify with millennials and young people of our state more than Gov. Ivey.  Though I’m 62 years of age, I can still connect with people who are 15, 16, 17 and 18, because I deal with them every day.  I know what that is like.  I think I could challenge her on that level.

“She, at one time, was state treasurer, where she handled the PACT (Prepaid Affordable College Tuition) program, which nearly went belly-up under her leadership.  We can’t afford for the state to go belly-up.  They will see that Fields is open to business, both friendly to business and labor.

“We need good, solid labor.  We need well-trained kids in this state, when they get out of high school.  Everybody can’t go to college, but they can get a vocation.  I tell young people, ‘If you’re going to work on air conditioners, be the best air conditioner repairman.  If you’re going to dig ditches, be the best ditch digger there is.  Whatever you do, be the best.’  Our plan is to offer every child an avenue, a way out of poverty, so they can be prosperous and productive citizens.”

Final thoughts from the (maybe?) candidate

“The governor’s not just somebody who goes around giving fancy speeches.  The governor is somebody who gets in there and makes things happen for the betterment of the people.  It’s not a job where you stick your chest out and you write it on your resume, so that when you die and go before God, you say, ‘Look, I was governor.’  He could care less.  It’s what you’ve done for the least of these.  I think we’ve forgotten that in government.  That’s the sad part. we’ve forgotten about the least of these.”

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