Lew Burdette, president of the youth and women’s shelter King’s Home, on Tuesday announced his candidacy for governor of Alabama.
“I truly, truly love this state,” Burdette told APR by phone Tuesday when asked why he decided to run.
The Republican from Roanoke, former Books-A-Million executive vice president and business owner has headed King’s Ranch since 2002. Burdette said his decision to run comes from his desire to improve the state.
“Forty years ago we were at the bottom of every list in education, health care and prisons,” Burdette said. “And today, 40 years later, we’re still at the bottom.”
As a teen working in his father’s small-town grocery store, Burdette survived a harrowing attempt on his life, crawling out of a water well after being stabbed and shot by two men after work.
“The little hospital they took me to that night that saved my life is closed today,” Burdette said. Alabama has lost seven rural hospitals since 2005.
Burdette said while Alabama has world-class health care in places like Birmingham, he’d like to see improved access to health care in rural areas.
“The poverty issues that we have in the rural area, the healthcare issues that we have in the rural areas and the education issues that we have in the rural areas are really all wrapped up into one,” Burdette said.
Asked his thoughts on expanding Medicaid in Alabama, something hospital administrators and health care advocates say is direly needed to boot access to health care for Alabamians in need, Burdette said “that’s a loaded one.”
“I understand the questions around Medicaid. I understand the questions about taking money like that. Should we take that money? Should we not take that money? And I think in a state like Alabama, we need all the resources we can get, right?,” Burdette said. “That’s something that we got to take a close look at, because I can tell you, as a conservative I have a lot of issues with the way we spend money in Washington.”
Alabama’s COVID cases and hospitalizations are surging as the more contagious omicron variant sweeps across the country. Alabama has the third-lowest percentage of residents full vaccinated against COVID in the nation, and the second-highest COVID death rate per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Burdette explained that he disagrees with the state’s decision early on in the pandemic to temporarily close some small businesses, and said that he trusts Alabamians to make the right decisions for their families.
“I think that personal responsibility should be the key to attacking this issue, that people do have common sense. If they need to be protected, that they’ve got the good common sense to be protected,” Burdette said.
Asked if he was vaccinated against COVID, Burdette said he is not.
“That’s a personal choice, and for me it’s a freedom issue, that all Americans should be able to make that decision for themselves, and I’m not against vaccines. There’s not any of us that didn’t grow up as kids and be vaccinated,” Burdette said.
Burdette was asked about Alabama’s decades-long prison crisis that’s resulting in record instances of suicides and homicides among prisoners. He explained that those in prisons need hope that when they get out they can lead productive lives.
“I think the main thing in prison reform is helping that population to believe that there is hope for opportunity,” Burdette said.
“We can change the trajectory of this state. We can make advancements. We can do better in education and health care and prison reform,” Burdette said. “But it takes somebody that isn’t bought and paid for, that’s a lifetime politician.”
“We need to do away with those old regimes and bring in a whole new group of folks that only care about moving Alabama forward, and I’m that guy,” he said.