MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Three candidates for governor are running on state lottery platforms and gambling that Alabama voters have changed their views since rejecting Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery plan 15 years ago.
Both Democratic candidates for governor, former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville and Fayette businessman Kevin Bass, are proposing a lottery to pay for college scholarships, and one of the three Republican candidates, former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George, is proposing a lottery to pay for scholarships and several other programs.
They hope the lottery issue will make them stand out against a Republican incumbent with a $3 million fundraising lead and a hands-off approach to a lottery.
“It’s going to be very difficult,” Griffith acknowledged in an interview.
Creating a lottery in Alabama requires an amendment to the Alabama Constitution. The Alabama House and Senate must approve it first, and the voters statewide must pass it.
Democrat Siegelman got elected governor in 1998 by promising to create a state lottery. He got his plan through the Legislature, but voters rejected it in a statewide referendum in 1999 after a campaign funded in part by out-of-state gambling interests trying to avoid competition.
Siegelman sought re-election in 2002 using the lottery as his issue and lost to Republican Bob Riley.
The Democratic nominee for governor in 2010, Ron Sparks, ran on a lottery platform and lost to Republican Robert Bentley.
In 2010 and again in 2014, Bentley says a lottery is not his issue.
“That is up to the Legislature. That’s a constitutional amendment. I don’t even sign a constitutional amendment,” Bentley said.
Bentley said he wouldn’t fight a lottery constitutional amendment in the Legislature. “I always believe in the people’s right to vote,” he said.
But he said he would vote against it in a statewide referendum. “I don’t think gambling is the way to fund education,” he said.
As a private citizen, Bentley voted against Siegelman’s lottery plan in 1999.
Siegelman is now in federal prison on a bribery conviction related to his lottery campaign, but candidates advocating a lottery say the public’s views about a lottery have changed since Siegelman’s times.
George said he joined many other citizens in voting against Siegelman’s lottery because it lacked transparency, but he predicted a new lottery plan with plenty of public scrutiny would pass.
“The bottom line is folks, Alabama defeated the lottery 15 years ago and it’s time we voted on it again,” George said.
Candidates also say Alabamians have had plenty of time to watch and play the lotteries in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
Bass said he didn’t vote on the 1999 lottery plan because he was living in Arizona and playing minor league baseball. He said rising college costs and increasing college loan debt have fueled changes in public attitudes about lottery scholarships. “They are seeing surrounding states have benefited from it,” he said.
Griffith, who voted for Seigelman’s lottery plan, said the Alabama car tags at lottery outlets across the state line demonstrate that attitudes have changed since 1999.
“When you see the numbers of people going to the borders of Alabama spending their money on education lotteries in other states, we have no business without an education lottery,” he said.
One candidate for governor has the opposite view. Bob Starkey, a retired software developer from Scottsboro, said he voted against Siegelman’s plan and remains opposed to creating a lottery or expanding gambling in Alabama.
“It’s an ideal place for more corruption, and you are taking money out of the pockets of people who can least afford it,” he said.
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