CULLMAN – Former state representative, one-time lieutenant governor candidate, Methodist minister and the first African American to ever be elected to state office from Cullman County, Democrat James C. Fields, Jr. on Tuesday evening, before a fired-up crowd of supporters at Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, declared his candidacy for governor of Alabama. Fields will seek election in 2018.
In July, when rumors began to swirl that Fields was going to run for office in 2018, Fields told The Tribune, “I’m looking strongly at lieutenant governor, possibly governor, and strongly at District 12 (state representative), very strongly at District 12.”
On Wednesday, Fields took a few minutes out of a hectic first day on the campaign trail to speak to The Tribune, and he spoke about what made him choose the governor’s race.
“Leadership. Responsive leadership to the people of Alabama,” he said. “People are tired of being lied to. For the last three election cycles, (candidates) have said, ‘I’m going to go to Montgomery and do this or that, so the people can vote to change things.’ How many people have done that? Can you name one person? Not one person has done anything to change things. I feel like Alabama needs to change. We need to move forward from where we are.”
Fields outlined several areas on which he intends to focus his attention:
“Our teachers are being lied to. They’re taking money away from public schools, and it’s being directed to charter schools; that’s hurting our educational system. Our system needs to be in the 21st century, not back in the 20th.
“In Piedmont, a 3A school, every student has a laptop computer. That’s because the people in the community took ownership and did something themselves. People took pride in their school. Graduation rates went up, employment went up in the community. Why doesn’t Hanceville have that? Why doesn’t Good Hope have that?
“We’ve got to reinvigorate the citizens of Alabama to take interest in schools, and provide children with the best education (we) possibly can.”
Business: job creation and infrastructure improvement
Fields promotes the idea of a high-speed commuter rail system to connect distant points in the state.
He said, “Think about I-65; you know how much traffic there is there. Imagine a commuter rail running all along I-65. If you wanted to go shopping in Mobile, you could be there in two hours.”
Fields feels that such a system would give workers more job opportunities further from home, and make getting to work easier.
“It would reduce traffic,” said the candidate, “encourage jobs and business. It would create jobs, and show the rest of the country that Alabama is moving forward.”
Noting that Cullman County has created a great model for vocational education through, for example, Wallace State Community College and the Cullman Area Technology Academy, Fields is calling for renewed emphasis and support for such programs.
“Cullman does vocational training well; the state needs to improve,” he noted.
He is also calling for programs that promote the development of infrastructure and business in communities throughout the state.
“We need to promote all communities,” said Fields, “not just one. If you promote only one, Alabama’s not moving forward. We’re going to look at waterways. We’re going to look at our state parks and historic sites. We need to look at our farmland, and we need more business incubators.
“That’s the way we reduce the poverty level, and move people to work and off welfare. We’ve got to move people off welfare, and get people working.
“We need to look at fair wages for workers. We have the highest rate of employment in a long time, but there are still too many people below the poverty line. If James has to work three jobs to provide for his family, he’s going to miss time with his kids. He’s not going to get to go to games. People miss out on family when they have to work three jobs.
“Everyone’s broke, and when that happens, families start to crumble. So many family problems involve money; they’re broke, they get frustrated, and they just move on.”
Prisons and the correctional system
“We need to look at how we incarcerate people,” said Fields. “There’s some people in prison who don’t need to be in prison. You’ve got people who stole a pack of gum three times, and they’re locked up. Alabama is one of the few states to have the ‘three strikes’ law, and people are being put away for little things, and they’re being put in the general population with hardened criminals.
“Our prisons are at 174 percent capacity. We need to reduce the prison population. Now, there are some people who just need to be locked up, but we can reduce the population.”
Fields offered the idea of building self-sustaining prisons, where supervised prisoners carry out the day-to-day activities of the facility with minimal need for outside resources. At such prisons, inmates could work gardens, manage livestock and learn business and industrial skills they can carry out of the prison when they leave.
“We need to prepare these prisoners to re-enter society,” stated the candidate.
Fields told The Tribune that his campaign should have a plan together in the next few days that voters will be able to review online or receive in hard copy form.
“We want people to follow our campaign,” said Fields. “Don’t judge us until you hear us. Don’t judge us until you know what we’re about.
“This campaign is not about abortion or same-sex marriage; those issues were settled over 2,000 years ago. It’s about educating our children and putting food on our tables and bringing families back together.
“Give us a chance. You’ve seen what’s going on in Montgomery and Washington. If you’re tired of it, take one more chance; support James Fields for governor of Alabama.”
Fields, a native of Colony, will face a crowded field of Democrats. Other declared candidates are Chris Countryman, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama Sue Bell Cobb, Minister Anthony White and former pastor Jason Childs.
Republican candidates include Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, pastor Scott Dawson, former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George, businessman Josh Jones, State Sen. Bill Hightower and Gov. Kay Ivey.
Independent candidates include Chig Martin and Michael Johnston.
Alabama’s primary will be June 5, 2018, with a run-off primary election on July 17, if needed. The general election will be on Nov. 6, 2018.
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