Alabama governor's race splits on health care

AP News
Posted: Nov 10, 2009 4:45 PM

Health care legislation in Washington has split the Democratic candidates for governor in Alabama, with Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks accusing U.S. Rep. Artur Davis of betraying his constituents by voting against the bill.

"He was the only Black Caucus member to vote against it. I don't get it," Sparks said Tuesday.

Davis said Sparks' message about health care changes based on what his audience wants to hear. He said Sparks told business leaders in August that he was opposed to the legislation, but now he's supporting it.

"Ron Sparks is being deliberately dishonest," Davis said Tuesday.

Davis and Sparks meet in the Democratic primary for governor on June 1. The Republican primary is the same day, but the GOP candidates for governor have all been critical of the health care legislation.

The health care debate is the latest issue to separate the Democratic candidates.

Earlier, Davis called for a constitutional convention to rewrite Alabama's 1901 constitution, and Sparks opposed it. Sparks called for a referendum on creating a state lottery and legalizing and taxing full-fledged casinos to generate tax revenue. Davis said the next governor should boost revenue through increased industrial recruitment.

Davis was one of 39 Democrats who voted against the legislation when the House passed it Saturday night. One reason for his opposition was the public insurance option, which he said could cause private employers to drop insurance coverage for their workers.

Sparks said he supports the public option and would have voted for the bill. He accused Davis of siding with political power brokers in Washington and predicted that vote will be remembered as "a defining moment" in the race for governor.

"Artur Davis has failed the people of Alabama miserably," Sparks said.

Davis said he and Sparks participated in a forum for gubernatorial candidates at the Business Council of Alabama convention in Point Clear on Aug. 1, and Sparks had a different view then.

When the moderator asked Sparks about the health care bill pending in Washington, including the public option, Sparks replied, "Do I support the current legislation that we have on the table? No, I don't. And I commend Congress for slowing this legislation down and not moving swiftly."

The business gathering came three days after the White House and Democratic congressional leaders announced a revised version of the bill that retained the public option.

Sparks said his remarks did not mean he was opposed to the health care bill as it evolved over the next three months. "I've always said we need to slow down and get it right," he said.

In July, Davis voted for a version of the bill to get it out of the House Ways and Means Committee and go to the House for debate. He said at the time his vote indicated his desire for the debate to continue, but it did not mean he would support the final version.

Reviewing the outcome Tuesday, Davis said his message has been consistent.

"Leadership in politics requires telling different audiences the same thing," he said.