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A Q&A with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman

Chris Countryman is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor of Alabama.

Chris Countryman

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Countryman answered a number of written questions posed to him about various issues.

Do you support a lottery?

Countryman: “First of all Brandon, thank you for taking the time to ask me some questions about issues that are important to the people of Alabama. It gives me an opportunity to hear what the people are concerned about, and an opportunity to share a little about my platform and vision for Alabama.”

“Yes I do support a lottery in the state but with some reservations due to some concerns that some of the people have of the possibility that a lottery could adversely affect impoverished individuals in the state. That is why I believe that we should approach the implementation of a lottery with a great deal of care. I am proposing that we start by allowing voters to vote on the lottery, cutting through the red tape, and putting the issue on the ballot for a statewide vote within my first six months in office. If a majority of voters vote to allow a statewide lottery, we then move forward by implementing a two to four year trial period on the lottery within the state. Doing so would allow us to evaluate any negative effects, if any, that a lottery may have on impoverished individuals within the state. I would also push for legislation that prohibits individuals who receive government financial assistance from being allowed to purchase lottery tickets using those funds. Revenue from a statewide lottery would go towards Alabama’s education system, healthcare for all programs with Medicaid expansion, and improvements to our state’s infrastructure.”

Should the state legalize casino gambling, and if so should certain existing gambling facilities be given those licenses or should we open it up to competition?

Countryman: “This is another issue that ultimately would be up to the voters. I am 100% in favor of building a strong and robust economy in Alabama by bringing new quality entertainment destinations into the state. The taxes related to, and collected from, these entertainment destinations would create new valuable revenue streams for the state. I am also equally aware of the concerns that some voters have with the possible crime and corruption that sometimes accompanies entertainment destinations that provide gambling as part of their business model. Because of this, I would first allow the voters to vote on the issue, then if they vote in favor of allowing casino gaming in the state, I would push to pass legislation setting up an elected independent non-partisan committee that reports to the Governor’s office and Secretary of State’s office who’d oversee casino gaming interests in the state and issue gaming licenses to qualified entities. I would also push for legislation that tightly regulates the type of gambling that is allowed at entertainment destinations that include casino gaming at their venues, as well as requiring an exhaustive application process for those wishing to receive a casino gaming license within the state. Of course, if the voters voted to allow casino gaming in the state; then the tax revenue generated from the casinos would go directly to Alabama’s education system, healthcare for all programs with the expansion of Medicaid, and improving Alabama’s infrastructure.”

The Republicans hold a supermajority in the Alabama House and a supermajority in the Alabama Senate. If elected as a Democrat, do you think you could work effectively with a legislature that is likely to continue to be Republican-dominated?

Countryman: “I come from a very politically diverse family. Some members of my immediate extended family are Democrats, some Republicans, and some are Independent. Then you have My parents who are Republicans, yet they support some Republican policies and some Democrat policies. This has allowed me to learn how to effectively communicate my ideas with those who may have different beliefs or opinions than I do. This political diversity within my family has also taught me how to find common ground with others, who may have different ideas or opinions concerning political issues so that I am better prepared to offer effective solutions to the problems we share. These skills have proven to be a tremendous benefit to me while communicating and negotiating ideas with people of different political affiliations over the years no matter what type of leadership role I was in at the time or what type of political environment I found myself in. Basically, it all comes down to finding common ground, listening to the other person’s concerns and ideas, and then finding a way to work together on finding effective solutions to the problem. Yes, I can most certainly work with Republicans, Democrats, and everyone in between. Whatever it takes to get things done, I can do it.”

What is your plan for modernizing Alabama’s decrepit prison infrastructure? Should we finance this with a bond issue?

Countryman: “{Before we consider financing the construction of any new prisons in the state we must first reform our state’s justice system and address the problems within our state’s corrections department. By this, I mean providing our law enforcement personnel with better training on how to handle situations involving those who suffer from mental disabilities, and how to effectively deescalate a variety of situations without having to use physical force. We also must provide training to law enforcement, and those working in the justice system, on how to effectively respond to situations involving those who are LGBTQ, those who are from black communities, and those who are from other minorities within our state in order to address and eliminate the cases in which these groups are targeted by some individuals working in our criminal justice system or in law enforcement. When we address these issues, as well as seriously looking into the cases of localized corruption among some prosecutors and municipal police departments when it comes to the detainment, the arrest, and the prosecution of illegitimate complaints or charges, then we would be in a much better position to evaluate our prison population problem due to the decrease in the number of incarcerated individuals. Until all this is accomplished I would push for legislation offering alternative forms of correction for some who are currently incarcerated. This legislation would include improvements to existing alternative forms of correction, as well as introducing new ones that would serve as a cost-effective way to reduce the overcrowding in our prison system without placing the general public at risk.”

Should the state continue to use the death penalty? If so and we are no longer able to obtain lethal injection chemicals do you favor nitrogen gas asphyxiation or bringing back the electric chair?

Countryman: “I believe that when it comes to community corrections and rehabilitation that the death penalty does little to alleviate the problem and only provides a quick escape from current or future responsibilities for one’s actions of the person being put to death. Not to mention the torturous side effects that accompany botched executions, which besides being inhumane and unjust, ends up costing the state a substantial amount more in the long run due to legal fees, medical expenses, and administrative costs that the state otherwise wouldn’t have had to pay out had the execution attempt not been carried out, to begin with.”

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Should the state expand Medicaid or has that opportunity passed the state by and we should just move on from that?

Countryman: “I have been advocating for Medicaid expansion and healthcare for all programs in our state since 2014. With the ongoing threats to public health and safety resulting from Covid-19 and other variants of the virus, the implementation of healthcare for all systems in Alabama is more important than it has been in a long time. But here is the really sad part. Had Alabama expanded Medicaid prior to the pandemic thousands of Alabamians, many of who were uninsured or able to pay for healthcare may have not lost their lives. Someone’s physical health, should they become infected with a virus like that of Covid-19, at the time they become infected can play a huge role in whether or not they are able to successfully overcome infection or not. Simply put, the healthier you are when exposed to certain viruses the better your chances of not only fighting off the infection but of not being infected in the first place. It will ultimately end up costing the state more money, in the long run, to provide treatment for uninsured people who become infected with Covid-19, or even more deadly variants or viruses than it will if the state provided healthcare to everyone which through preventive medicine allows everyone to be a little healthier and more able to naturally fight off viral infections and illness. That’s why when I am elected as Governor I will expand Medicaid and implement healthcare for all programs. Part of the funding for this will come from the tax revenue, and related revenue streams, generated from the new recycling centers and clean renewable energy industries that I plan on bringing into the state as part of my “Economic Recovery Plan” and my “Environmental Protection and Clean Energy Plan”.”

Do you support building a new I-10 bridge with tolls? Should we utilize more public-private partnerships to build necessary infrastructure?

Countryman: “Building a new I-10 bridge with toll booths would affect the poor and impoverished citizens the most. If anything I believe that setting up toll booths for commercial vehicles, such as construction crews and government contractors, would be much more efficient at generating revenue through such a system and without negatively impacting the poorer and more impoverished citizens from those areas.”

Amtrak announced that they were going to extend passenger rail to Mobile allowing Mobilians to travel to Birmingham via train to New Orleans. Huntsville is now Alabama’s largest city. As Governor would you prioritize restoring passenger rail service to Huntsville and Montgomery?

Countryman: “I am 100% in favor of this proposal. As a matter of fact, back in 2018, I proposed introducing a statewide high-speed rail public transport system into our state’s infrastructure. Doing so would have a tremendous positive impact on the economy while helping those in the more rural arrears of the state gain access to more gainful employment and education opportunities. The biggest roadblock that many people in the more rural areas of the state face is that they struggle to find work in their area that pays a living wage. Most of the better-paying jobs are often found in the bigger cities. Providing a high-speed rail public transport system, that is accessible to the rural communities of Alabama, that provides transport to the major cities in Alabama would not only boost the economy but also lower the unemployment rate, the poverty rate and so much more.

The census showed that Alabama is indeed growing; but most of that growth is in Baldwin, Madison, Lee, Limestone, Tuscaloosa, and Shelby counties. Outside of the hotspots, many counties are stagnant or even in decline. Is there something that you would do to try to revitalize communities that have been in decline for 20 years or more?

Countryman: “My “Economic Recovery Plan” which I first introduced back in 2018 contained several elements that could also be found in my “Environmental Protection and Clean Energy Plan”, and would have a positive impact on counties that are stagnant and in decline. These counties would be the first ones that would be considered when establishing new recycling facilities, clean energy production facilities, etc. Doing this in these hard-hit areas would stimulate the economy by bringing in new well-paying jobs, encouraging economic spending by the people living there, and creating the perfect environment needed to help rebuild the local economy in these areas. On top of that, the state would also benefit as a whole from the efforts as well by increases in the tax revenue generated by the clean energy production facilities set up in these areas, the revenue streams generated from profits made from the sale of recycled materials from the recycling facilities, savings to state infrastructure redevelopment costs as a result of the financial savings possible from using recycled/repurposed materials in infrastructure projects and helping to reduce our state’s total overall carbon footprint.”

The state has been ordered by a federal court for three years now to hire 2,000 prison guards and to this point, the Alabama Department of Correction has only been able to hire 300. Should the state turn corrections over to private prisons and just invite a corporation to take over housing and punishing the state’s villains?

Countryman: “I have followed much of your writings on this subject Brandon, and I am in agreement with you that Alabama is very much behind on it’s compliance with much of what the federal courts have ordered. The order passed down by the federal court is, as you are already aware of, resulting from the prison guards to inmate ratio recommended by the department of justice. Simply put the more inmates housed the more prison guards are needed. We can offset the number of prison guards needed by reducing the number of inmates being housed in maximum security prisons in our state. I would follow the court’s order to hire more prison guards when elected if the inmate population’s prison guard to inmate ratio still required us to do so. But the key underlying problem that must be addressed is the need for serious reform of our state’s prison system and corrections department. Simply hiring more prison guards will not fix the multitude of problems within our prison system, and turning our prisons over to a privatized system would only make things within them a whole lot worse due to the lack of control or oversight that the state would have into how the prisons are run. I will actually be introducing a complete “Prison System Reform” policy within the next few months that will propose several reforms to our state prisons that would help reduce the number of instances of prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence, and reducing the number of instances where complaints of violence or other issues were underreported, misclassified, or not reported at all. Included in my proposal would be several infrastructure improvements to our prison system as well that would improve the safety and security within the prisons.”

The Governor and the state Board of Education just passed a resolution to ban Critical Race Theory. Do you support this measure?  Should the state wield stronger controls over what classroom teachers can or cannot teach in the state of Alabama?

Countryman: “First and foremost we must ensure that we are providing our students with an education in history that accurately teaches the history of our country, and around the world. Part of this starts by correctly identifying what racism is, how racism has hurt others, and how it continues to hurt others while stalling our growth as a society. Unfortunately. there is a lot of history taught in our schools that does not accurately portray historical events, let alone the struggles that have been placed on minorities due to systemic racism. The issue on how to educate our students on the truths of our nation’s past struggles with racism became even more polarized due to the amount of misinformation that began to surface on what Critical Race Theory is, what it’s purpose is, where it originated, etc. This misinformation started affecting how people on all sides saw CRT. In many cases the misinformation was a result of not having enough information on the subject.  This is because In the day and time that we live we are bombarded and saturated with new information every day. Because of this bombardment of new information it becomes all too easy to look to only one source where we  learn more about this new information, be it a major news network, on social media, or an online publication. But if we are going to have all the facts necessary to make the best decisions on how to educate our students then we need to get our information concerning important issues from a variety of credible sources. After we, leaders within the state, have thoroughly educated ourselves on the ways we can provide our students with an education that is historically accurate and relevant then we can move forward on appropriately implementing that into our state’s education system.”

Only one Democrat has won any statewide race in Alabama since 2008 and Doug Jones’ election was in a special election that was tainted by sexual abuse allegations and considerable in-fighting within the GOP. There are many new voters who were not even born yet the last time a Democrat served as the Governor of Alabama. Why Do you think you can be the first Democrat to win a governor’s race since 1998?

Countryman: “I think that in answering this question, and what a great question it is Brandon, that it isn’t as important as to “why do I think I can be the first Democrat to win the Governor’s race since 1998”, as it is “why that I believe I should be elected Governor in 2022”.  Alabama has a lot of issues that need to be addressed. A quick look at the past 20 years clearly shows that the past three GOP Governors have failed to adequately address a majority of those issues, each one of their administrations ridden with controversy, and when their time in office had come and gone our state was no better off than when they took office. If we are going to see Alabama live up to its full potential, to see our economy grow, to see our environment protected, to see our infrastructure strengthened, to ensure that families are kept safe, and that our state lives up to its name “Alabama the Beautiful” then we need to elect the type of leader who will do whatever it takes to ensure that our state moves forward with real progress. A leader who welcomes innovative ideas that move us forward and not backward. A leader who knows what the people are going through and will do whatever it takes to make sure that the people are taken care of. A leader who isn’t afraid to make the tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions needed to ensure Alabama’s future success. A leader who will listen to the people, address their concerns and work with them in order to get Alabama back on TRAC. I have continued to stand with the people of Alabama, and have proven that I am that leader. Together we can create a legacy that we can all be proud of.”

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To this point, Countryman is the only Democrat running for Governor. He lives in the Dothan area with his husband Bruce. If elected, Countryman would be the first openly gay governor in state history.

The Democratic primary is May 24, 2022.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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