Tim James sat behind the desk in his campaign office off Valleydale Road, waiting out tornado warnings that were coming through Jefferson County, before heading to Trussville to speak to the Republican Women’s club.
He’d been keeping up with yet another education fight in Montgomery, as bills sponsored by Sen. Del Marsh and Rep. Charlotte Meadows, trying to establish school choice for parents in Alabama, faced the usual opposition from the public school bureaucracy.
“It’s a culture war,’’ James said. “We have to understand that. When they start to squeal, you know you’ve hit a nerve and that’s the time to keep applying the pressure.
“I want to expose them as selfish. They’ve made the institution more important than the child.”
Education is an issue that James has put front and center in his campaign to unseat incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey, who was appointed to her first political position by James’ father, former Alabama Gov. Fob James, in 1979.
James is part of a crowded Republican primary field running for governor that includes Ivey, Lindy Blanchard, Lew Burdette, Stacy Lee George, David Trent Jones, Dean Odle, Dave Thomas and Dean Young.
Five candidates are running for the Democrat nomination: Yolanda Rochelle Flowers, Patricia Salter Jamieson, Arthur Kennedy, Chad “Chig” Martin, and Malika Sanders Fortier.
The primary for both parties is May 24. A runoff, if needed, will be held on June 21.
“How do you go from 39th in math in the early 2000s to last?” James said. “How do you go from 39th in reading when (former Gov. Bob Riley) left office to the bottom? How do you do that?
“The system collapsed before our eyes, or else other states are doing something we’re not doing. I don’t know which it is. Maybe it’s a little of both. But I know we can do better. And nothing is off the table. I’m getting ideas from a lot of people. But I know the basics: we have to have strong principals in the under-performing schools, and we have to allow teachers to regain control of their classrooms.”
One idea James said he would like to discuss is having a requirement for a teaching degree from the state colleges and universities, that students in those programs must go to elementary schools to teach reading and math.
“Make it part of their degree, and it becomes a source of tremendous coaching,’’ James said. “That was the idea behind the Alabama Reading Initiative, to have reading coaches who work with students who are struggling in that area.”
The Alabama Reading Initiative began in 1998, and in 2007 Alabama fourth-graders ranked No. 1 in the nation in reading gains on the National Assessment of Education Progress, which is known as the Nation's Report Card.
“We’ve got to convince kids they can do it,’’ James said. “I don’t believe kids in tough situations can’t perform. The truth is, some people have to work harder than others – that’s the way life is. But we can give those people the help and encouragement they need to perform.
“There will be resistance. It will cause conflict for some, but that will only be for a season. Once we bring down the political stronghold, we can get started on a plan to get it done.”
James said he is also committed to changing the state’s gasoline tax, which was implemented in 2019.
“Have you ever seen a tax with escalation to infinity?” James said. “Have you ever seen that in your life?
“When the gas tax was passed, gas was under $2 a gallon. Now gas is over $3 a gallon. It’s a lot different to add a dime on top of a $3 gallon of gas compared to $1.90. The escalating is the crazy part. You have to have a trigger point, a point at which when gas hits a certain cost then the [tax] tapers off. No end to the [tax] escalation is unheard of.”
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