HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said Alabama has serious problems, but he sees only rhetoric coming out of Montgomery.
"We have a state where we are about to leave the next generation worse off than the one we inherited. You look at where we are in every quality of life ranking. We are at or near the bottom. That needle has not moved in 45 years," Maddox said in an interview with The Associated Press.
A Democratic candidate for governor, and often viewed as a rising star in the party, Maddox is proposing a state lottery that would fund a mixture of college scholarships, pre-kindergarten expansion and assistance for the state's poorest and struggling schools.
"I am tired of educating kids in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee," Maddox said in a recent speech in Madison County, referencing how neighboring state lotteries benefit from tickets purchased by Alabamians.
Maddox, 45, is a native of Tuscaloosa. He has degrees in political science and public administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he was a defensive lineman on the university's fledgling football team. Maddox has been Tuscaloosa's mayor since 2005. He previously served as personnel director for the Tuscaloosa public schools and worked five years as a field director of the Alabama Education Association which represents public school teachers and employees. Longtime AEA leader Paul Hubbert had approached Maddox about taking over for him when he retired in 2012. Maddox declined, saying at the time Tuscaloosa was recovering from a deadly tornado outbreak, and "Tuscaloosa was where I needed to be."
His campaign for governor has put on an emphasis on education and health care. Maddox said, if elected, he would immediately sign an executive order to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, saying it would provide critical resources to keep rural hospitals open and provided needed health care.
To pay for needs in the general fund, Maddox said he wants to sign a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and to legalize "the gaming institutions that exist," ending a long-running attempt by the state to shut down electronic bingo operations at dog tracks.
"Alabama needs revenue. ... I think there's going to be an opportunity for all of us to come together and reach a compromise that helps Alabama without raising taxes."
His biggest challenge as mayor came in 2011 when Tuscaloosa was hit by a mile-wide EF4 tornado that destroyed or damaged 12 percent of the city. Maddox drew a mixture of praise and criticism as the city took a long-term view of recovery, slowing immediate reconstruction as new zoning regulations were put in place to build the city back better.
Maddox faces former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, former state legislator James Fields, and others in the June 5 Democratic primary.
The primary race with Cobb has become increasingly heated. In recent debates, Cobb accused Maddox of not doing enough to help the working class of his city, saying he opposed a local minimum wage increase and saying the tornado rebuilding plan benefited wealthy developers and students. Maddox fired back that his record is backed up by the fact that Tuscaloosa residents twice re-elected him after the tornado. He said city attorneys across the state did not think that local governments had that authority to set a local minimum wage, and asked Cobb if she would promise something she couldn't legally delivery.
Running in the wake of a series of Republican scandals, Maddox said the major accomplishment out of Montgomery in recent years has been, "to take us to the most corrupt state in the nation." Maddox has described himself as personally against abortion, but says he is also "pro-law" and the state should not waste time passing restrictions that are destined to get struck down by the courts.
Maddox said he won't pretend to be someone else this election, joking that you won't see him "walking through a cornfield with a shotgun over my shoulder" or speaking vaguely about values.
"I'm a mayor. I solve problems. We need a governor who solves problems," Maddox said.