By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, May 26, the Alabama Political Reporter (APR) interviewed Christopher A. Countryman, the first to declare his candidacy for Governor of Alabama. Mr. Countryman answered a series of APR’s questions in writing, about the issues facing Alabama as we head toward the 2018 elections.
APR: Should we borrow $800 million to build four new prisons?
Countryman: No we should not. The fact is that close to 2,000 inmates have been incarcerated for non-violent crimes. We should be looking into more cost effective solutions that we can use in the area of corrections, rather than keeping those who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes locked up. The money saved could then be used to renovate our current prisons, as well as going to other long term projects within the state.
APR: Would you expand Medicaid? And if so how would you pay for it?
Countryman: Yes, I would definitely expand Medicaid. We have to many citizens in the state who depend on Medicaid for vital healthcare and to improve their quality of life. The first step towards paying for Medicaid expansion would be to accept the Federal funds designated to be used for Medicaid. The second step would involve a detailed audit of the state’s expenses and eliminate all wasteful and excessive spending.
APR: State Representative Terri Collins (R) has proposed grading the Alabama publics schools from A to F. Do you favor this approach of public shaming the poor performers, or does this do more harm than good?
Countryman: I am mostly against this idea. The reason is because I do not believe that publicly shaming one of our educational institutions will encourage our teachers and administrators to succeed. If anything it would cause them a great deal of stress, humiliation, and ultimately a lot of finger pointing. If anything we should implement a program that rewards those schools, administrators, and teachers that are operating in the top 5 percent.
APR: Do you favor allowing the voters of Alabama to vote on a lottery? If so where would that money go: Medicaid? Prisons? General Fund? Education? Or a new scholarship benefit?
Countryman: I remember when Governor Bentley campaigned on the promise of letting citizens vote on a state lottery. Because of this I am sure that many voters are discouraged about the matter because he didn’t exactly follow through with this promise. However, I do believe that citizens should have the right to vote on a state lottery because when it comes to our budget and revenue they should have a say so in how our state generates some types of revenue as well as how that revenue is spent. That additional revenue, from a state lottery, would go towards Medicaid, education and schools, our prisons, and then our general fund. This could be negotiated as long as our Medicaid and education budgets got first priority.
APR: Should the State of Alabama expand gaming in the State? If so should the State open it up to competition or do you favor giving exclusive gaming licenses to only a handful of operators already with bingos or dog tracks in Alabama?
Countryman: If by definition you are referring to card gambling and slot machines, then this is a lot different than electronic bingo, or even a state lottery. I am not opposed to the current electronic bingo machines that are currently in operation at several facilities across the state. And like Governor Bentley I think each county should be able to decide for themselves if they want to operate electronic bingo facilities in their area. When it comes to other forms of gaming, such as traditional slot machines and card gambling, then the citizens of Alabama should be able to vote on the matter. Ultimately this would be a situation that would rely heavily on the state and citizens working together to figure out what would be best for the state and the citizens in it.
APR: Do you believe the State of Alabama was founded on Judeo-Christian values and should State government actively promote those values?
Countryman: I believe that there are many moral principles that our state, as well as other states, were founded on that are found within the Christian Bible. But these moral principles can also be found in many other religious texts as well. The United States was founded on the principals of equality granting each person the right to worship and believe the way that they choose without influence or interference. I myself come from a very Christian family, and I attend church when work permits, but I cannot force my beliefs on others from an executive or legislative level. By doing so I would be violating the 1st amendment of the Constitution of the United States. I will protect each citizen’s religious freedom, without favoring one religion over another, as long as one person’s religious views, or lack thereof, doesn’t cause any physical or emotional harm to another citizen.
APR: Is the Court of the Judiciary the proper venue to discipline an elected statewide official or should matters like Roy Moore’s fate be referred to the Alabama Legislature as requested recently by the Alabama Republican Executive Committee?
Countryman: I believe that our Chief Justice should be held accountable by the higher courts, just as any elected official is. We need to reform the ethic’s laws within the state to hold our Chief Justice more accountable on a state. Ultimately I do not believe that the Alabama Legislature should be responsible for the discipline of a member of the court system.
APR: Are you running as a Republican or a Democrat?
Countryman: I am proud to be running as a Democrat. In fact, Alabama has had a long history of bringing forth many great Governors who were Democrat and I will be proud to bring back that legacy.
APR: Alabama has the lowest property taxes in the country. Do you favor raising property taxes?
Countryman: I believe that we have taxed the lower and middle classes to death. We do have though about 3 percent of our population who are millionaires, if not multi-millionaires. Some of these who have not been paying their fair share because of crooked politics and tax loopholes. This needs to be fixed. In order to fix these problems, as well as to help generate needed revenue in the state, I would favor closing these loopholes so that all individuals within the state that make up that 3 percent are paying their fair share, and then increasing the property taxes for that 3 percent fairly if needed.
APR: Does the State receive enough tax dollars or do taxes need to increase?
Countryman: Our population is increasing. The truth is that as that population increases so does the amount of revenue that will be needed to sustain the programs in our state that are there for our citizens. While one of my goals is to eventually get our food tax down to 3 percent or less, as well as reducing taxes in other areas, we certainly do need to consider this question on a bipartisan basis. It is not enough just to generate revenue through tax increases. We also have to be responsible for what we do with that revenue.
APR: Some have suggested that the State is losing its sovereignty to what they call “judicial tyranny” where the will of the people and our representatives is being thwarted by unelected federal courts. Do you agree or disagree?
Countryman: I strongly disagree. This is because the concept of state sovereignty refers to the legal interactions from state to state. What this means is that we cannot force other states to comply with our laws any more than they can force us to comply with theirs. A good example is our law on the legal age to purchase tobacco products. In Alabama it is 19 while in Florida it is 18. We cannot force Florida to comply with our law any more than they can force us to comply with theirs. A state’s sovereignty does not apply to whether or not we obey federal law because we are part of that government system, the United States. By being a part of the union known as the United States each state agrees to abide by those federal laws first, in return states receive certain benefits, rights, and protections they may not otherwise have.
APR: Should the BP oil settlement be used, to pay down debts, for roads, or to avoid Medicaid cuts?
Countryman: The BP oil settlement should first be used to continue funding programs that are involved in the cleanup and continued maintenance of our marine and coastal regions. Part of moving towards our goals of creating clean and renewable energy sources, that get us away from our dependence on fossil fuels, includes maintaining a clean and healthy marine environment. Aside from using the settlement funds for this, those funds should also go to continued research and development of clean and renewable energy sources that would help create a cleaner and more sustainable ecosystem. Whatever funds were left over after ensuring that these programs were fairly and adequately funded should be used to upgrade our infrastructure and further fund Medicaid. However, I am not opposed to allowing the citizens to provide their input on this either. As a matter of fact, I am in favor of having a very active administration when it comes to allowing more input from our citizens in how we spend their tax dollars and settlements such as the one that BP is having to pay.
Countryman said that he has, “…an extensive amount of leadership and public service experience which he has gained over the years.” Some of this experiences include: time he spent serving on a community action coalition, as an equal rights activist, as one of the founders of Equality Wiregrass, as a juvenile corrections officer, as an associate pastor, and as a youth pastor.
Countryman also cited his business experience in the consumer marketplace. He wrote that he “…has committed himself to continued education and personal study in order to grow as a leader within his community.” Countryman attended Bible College and is currently an Ordained Minister. He is currently completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Government and Law at Grand Canyon University. If elected, he would be the first openly gay Governor of Alabama. He is married to Bruce Countryman. Countryman is originally from Los Angeles. He lives in Dothan.