This Bradley Byrne interview is a part of the News-Aegis' ongoing 2010 gubernatorial dialog.

The following is part two of an extended conversation with Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne. Part one was published in the August 6th edition of the News-Aegis.

Bradley Byrne is an Alabama native, born and raised in Mobile. His family roots go back generations. Byrne, a graduate of Duke University and the University of Alabama Law School, is married with four children.

Byrne practiced law in Mobile for over 25 years before entering public service in 1994 with his election to the Alabama State Board of Education. He was re-elected to the board in 1998. In 2002, Byrne won a Republican seat in the Alabama State Senate representing District 32. He was re-elected in 2006.

Byrne became recognized statewide when Governor Bob Riley asked him to become chief executive officer of Alabama’s troubled two-year college system.

At the time, the Alabama two-year college system was rife with problems and systematic corruption stemming from years of systematized error.

By most all accounts, Byrne’s reform efforts have succeeded in returning honesty, integrity and renewed purpose to Alabama’s two-year college system. Byrne says he wants to take his hard-earned experience into the Governor’s Office.

The following excerpts are from a conversation between Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne and Bill Britt, editor of the News-Aegis.

Q: Here in our county [St. Clair], we don’t have the problem with illegal aliens that they are in other parts of the state. However, we know there is a conflict of interest because there is a lot of construction work that is done by so-called undocumented workers or ten guys working off of the same social security card. How do you plan to deal with illegal aliens coming into our counties and yet not take away from the construction industry that so desperately depends upon the cheap labor to do the work?

A: Well, I am very close to the construction industry because I represented a lot of them when I was in private practice and I have a lot of support from that industry. At the same time, however, there is just no way you can justify allowing someone to stay in this country who is here illegally. There is also no way we can justify providing any state benefits for them.

When I was chancellor [of the two-year college system], one of the policies that we changed was we required before enrollment that person show proof that they were either a citizen of the United States or, if you are not a citizen, that they have had documentation to prove they were here legally. Now there was a lot of consternation about this new requirement. But we passed this policy last year when we held the state board of education meeting here [in Pell City]. We had some of the advocacy groups here come and speak out against it.

But we implemented it last January and have had no problems because this really is a common sense policy.

Now my question is, in what other parts of state government are we providing state benefits without asking the question, “Are you a citizen of this country or are you here illegally?” We need this type of common sense policy.

Our state government needs to be required to use e-verify for all of its own employees. That sets a standard.

I believe in that law and I strongly support that law. The question is how far can you force employers to go beyond that because there are some pretty smart people who know how to go out there and “fake-up” the documents.

This is a struggle we are going to have across America over the next few years. We need to make sure that we are not allowing people here illegally. At the same time we must make sure that we are not pushing too much of that burden on employers. The federal government has got to get its act together because the big burden should be on them. However, that does not mean that there aren’t things that state government can and should do and I am for that and I have proven that by what I did as chancellor.

Q: I guess the 800-pound gorilla in the room here in St. Clair County is gambling. You said unequivocally that you are with Governor Riley policy and that you are against gambling. Would you like to elaborate on that for us because when I sat down with Ron Sparks he told me we already had gambling in Alabama and the right thing to do was just legislate it.

A: Well, we also already have methamphetamine here in Alabama that doesn’t mean we want to keep it here. [laughter] The fact that we already have gambling here doesn’t mean its good, its right or its healthy. I think gambling is bad for a community, I think it is bad for a state; I think it is bad for our nation.

I don’t personally gamble. I’m not making moral judgment but I just don’t.

But those people who run those businesses [casinos] make a fortune by preying on people and from my faith background that is wrong.

There is also this myth that this [gambling] is a great way to fund state government; that is truly wrong. I don’t know of a state in the country that derives enough revenue off of gambling to make it worthwhile. All of them are losing money on it right now by the way. All of there revenue is down. Mississippi’s revenue is way down. I just think gambling is bad for the state. The fact that it is already here doesn’t make it any better.

There are cases like the one here in St. Clair County that look like they are going before the Alabama Supreme Court. Maybe we are going to find out whether these machines that look to me like nothing more than a slot machine are legal or not. I feel reasonably confident that the Alabama Supreme Court is going to say they are not legal.

If elected, as the governor of the state of Alabama, it will be my job and it will be the job of everybody in law enforcement to make sure that law is enforced and enforced rigorously. If I get surprised and somehow the court says it is legal what we need to do is go in and regulate it to the nth degree and tax it and try to do all we can to protect the people of this state from the bad things that will come from it. I think they are going to say it illegal and we are going to enforce the law. Also, I would not be in favor of a constitutional referendum to legalize it. I would oppose that. There are some candidates that they are personally against gambling but they would support a referendum but I won’t support a referendum.

I hear people say it is good for economic development but it is terrible for economic development because it takes money out of what would otherwise be productive things. And that is how you grow an economy. If you become more productive not less productive because people are out gambling. There is nothing about it that appeals to me.

Having been in the legislature one thing that worries me a great deal is that if the national gambling interests come into the state it worries me that they will just own the legislature, they will just buy them.

Q: Do you feel like there is a shift in the legislature toward the Republicans and away from the Democrats?

A: Yes, I do. I think that there is a Republican wave coming next year. There is a reaction in what they are seeing in the criminal cases across the state of Alabama. When you have the former executive director of the Democratic Party plead guilty to a major crime and he is going to testify against a former chairman of the state democratic party, people pay attention. We have also had the democratic officials who have been convicted on the two-year college fiasco. I’m not saying that all Democrats are criminals and all Republicans are a saint, that’s not true. I’m not saying that at all. But there is this growing awareness that we in Alabama don’t identify with some of the things that are happening in the Democratic Party particularly with their public leadership. I think there is going to be a major reaction against that next fall. Now, how that plays out in this particular elections I don’t know. A lot of legislative elections are very localized. But I think there is going to be a shift in the legislature. I think you can see that thousands go Republican for the first time since Reconstruction. And that would put a Republican governor, for the first time, in a position to really make some progress and that excites me.

Q: You brought up the crime issue. That’s something that concerns our readers here. Our prisons are currently at 200 percent capacity. What are some of your thoughts on how we can reduce the population of our prisons? How do we do a better job to fix that problem? Is there a fix?

A: Yes, but it’s not an easy one. We have 12 two-year college sites in the penitentiary system. We have one in St. Clair. I’ve visited every one of them. What we do in those sites is teach adult basic education—there are so many of the prisoners who don’t have a high school diploma. We also teach them basic workforce skills in, say, auto repair or electricity or whatever [is available on-site]. It’s amazing going up there and seeing so many of the prisoners who want to do something for themselves who—for whatever reason—haven’t done so before. There are different reasons for different people. If all we do is take those prisoners and warehouse them in the system and pop them out at the other end, then they’re going to go back and do it again and come back. So, we’ve go to break that chain.

The way we break that chain is for with the ones who are willing to improve themselves, make sure they get a GED while they’re in prison. Make sure before they get out that they’ve got a skill that they can use to get a job when they get out before they get out. Then—working with faith-based groups, which is something Governor Riley started—make sure that they have a way that helps them get out and not fall away or back into a bad pattern so that we get them out, get them a job and we don’t send them cycling back through.

Another thing [we can do] is work harder at focusing to make sure that they don’t get in trouble in middle school. Anybody that has ever had anything to do with disciplinary problems in the schools can tell you that you can figure out the ones that are going to be the ones with problems by the time they are in the sixth through eighth grade. We need to get them some intense help then.

Now, I’m going to say something that is going to sound harsh: There are times when we need to take children out of the homes they are in because they are not homes. I know that runs counter to what all the court decisions say; but leaving some of these young men and young women in the houses where they live with people because they are biologically their parents is a mistake because [many of] the parents are neglecting them to the point that it’s abuse, or they’re abusing them. We’ve got to get those kids out of there and put them in a place that’s a foster home or an institutional setting where they’ve got the stability and the values that they need so they won’t fall into that bad cycle of bad behavior.

There are some people in the prison system that it doesn’t matter what we do for them [they won’t change]. They need to be in prison and they need to stay there. Those are usually—and I think the people who are in the pen can tell you—you don’t want these people to go out.

So, I’m not saying for a second that we need to teach the incorrigible group that they need to be electricians. But they set themselves out in the pen. The ones who want to help themselves, we need to help them to make sure they don’t come back and that will help—I think—a lot in terms of our prison overcrowding.

Q: What are the implications of federal money coming into the state and, secondly, what is your opinion on the healthcare system now and in the future for Alabama?

A: We’re going to run out of federal money in the state in two years. We just finished having a forum with [the GOP] candidates at the Grand Hotel [in Fairhope two Saturdays ago]. All the folks there said, ‘We’re against raising taxes.’ I did, too. Okay, so we’re not going to raise taxes. We’re going to have several hundred million dollars worth of gaps in the budgets for state government.

All right, so we’re not going to raise taxes. Now what? I think that is a critical issue in this election because we can’t just have a few sound bites. We can’t have just a few slogans to get us through that. You’re going to have to have someone who is proven by their background and their experience that they know how to manage and manage down in a major part of state government to get us through that.

You were talking about Medicaid. Medicaid is going to be the single biggest issue, because that’s where the biggest gap is going to be in our general fund budget. Well, we’re going to have to completely rethink the Medicaid program. It’s going to take an extraordinary amount of work. We’re going to have to get a lot of different players around the table to rethink and we’re going to have to convince the federal government to give us some flexibility, etc.

If we don’t have a leader like that, the state government is going to crash. We can’t afford that. One of the big reasons why I’m running for governor is [because] I know how to do that. I just finished two years of doing that as chancellor. We had to cut our system by $70 million dollars this year. You didn’t hear about any widespread layoffs. We didn’t cut any general education programs. We didn’t cut any adult education programs; any incoming workforce development programs and we didn’t raise tuition.

There hasn’t been an increase in the two-year college tuition in five years. That’s the sort of management that, as a citizen, I want in state government. I believe based upon what I’ve done over the last couple of years that I know how to do that. I believe that I’m the only person in this race that knows how to do that. And that’s why I’m running. We’ve got to clean up state government to do that. We’ve got to manage it in a completely different way. Otherwise, we’re going to crash.

The interview with Mr. Byrne ended with us walking to his car. As we walked together he continued to talk about his belief in a bright future for the people of Alabama. He expressed his confidence in economic development, his commitment to education and his willingness to take on real ethical reform.

Lastly he said, “I will be coming back to St. Clair County often; I believe that we can really make a difference.”

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