Daily Mountain Eagle: Dawson Says We Don't Need Anymore Surprises in Alabama Politics

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Dawson said he did not favor mandatory Pre-K in Alabama, although he did favor mandatory drug tests for extra curricular activities in Alabama high school and promoted volunteerism in schools.

Dawson, a minister known for preaching at evangelical crusades through the non-profit Scott Dawson Association, spoke Monday to the Jasper Kiwanis Club. He had also come to Jasper recently during BamaCarry's state meeting at the Jasper Civic Center.

He is running against Gov. Kay Ivey, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, state Sen. Bill Hightower and Michael McAllister in the June 5 Republican primary for governor. Runoffs will be on July 17, with the General Election set for Nov. 6.

Dawson, who has preached in every county in the state, noted he has nearly raised $875,000 of his $1 million campaign goal and has gotten endorsements from radio hosts Rick Burgess ("my best friend on the planet") and Bill "Bubba" Bussey, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. He also has the endorcement of the founders and owners of Hobby Lobby, David and Barbara Green, with the Greens sending $100,000, his largest contribution to date. A total of 20,000 have signed up as volunteers.

Dawson told Kiwanians if they they were surprised to see him run, "I'm going to go ahead and tell you, I was shocked that I was running."

He grew up in Ensley and after attending the high school there, he graduated from Samford University in Birmingham and obtained a master's of divinity from Beeson Divinity School. He is known for a Billy Graham-style ministry that sponsors student conferences and other ministry events where he would speak at.

When the scandals involving former Gov. Robert Bentley came to light and resulted in his removal from office, he did research to realize two of the last three elected governors have been removed from office, as well as three of the last six.

"In the history of Alabama, we've only had two governors serve two consecutive terms without being impeached, indicted or arrested," Dawson said. "And this is Alabama."

He said he became part of a group who were looking to find someone to stop that trend, and was surprised when some around him were pointing to Dawson and urging him to pray about it. He said he turned them down twice but they kept urging.

"I've been in church long enough," he said. "When pastors come to you and say they want you to pray about something, that is translated, 'You are going to do this. You just don't know this yet.'" That led to what he said was a "burning bush moment" when he felt called to run.

His first meeting afterward was with Huckabee, himself a Baptist minister before getting into politics, who warned Dawson he could lose his job, his reputation, his savings and the election. "You better wake up the next morning realizing you did what God told you to do," Huckabee said.

Dawson pointed first to the need of character. "Anyone can develop a 30-second commercial that makes you look good. Integrity is who you are," he said, noting integrity can be lost in one weak moment.

"I wanted to know the person that is going to lead us, he must be, she must be a person of character," he said. "I get out in front and say I make decisions through a biblical world view. I'm not trying to scare you. I know you are not electing an evangelist. You are electing a governor. You don't want a theocracy."

However, he said a governor makes decisions based on some authority in their life. "We just hope it is not the special interest group whispering in his ear," he said.

As for those who do not agree with him on his faith, he said the Bible says to treat every person with respect, meaning to hold in high regard.

"When did civility die in America?" he asked. "Remember the times we could sit across the table, agree to disagree, but still get along and live in a community?" He said whoever one decides to vote for, he pleaded to vet that person. "We don't need any more surprises in the history of Alabama politics."

To questions about what a preacher knows about politics, the audience laughed when Dawson noted, "I've worked in church for 30 years. I know politics pretty well." As for business knowledge, he pointed out he would not have been successful with his non-profit without that knowledge.

"We started in 1987 with nothing and now it is a multi-million non-profit organization," he said, adding he thinks he is the only candidate to have built something like it.

He said he has worked for 30 years with pastors, who are like CEOs of their churches, who disagree sometimes but can work together on goals. He compared that to the Supermajority Republicans in the Legislature, adding they still cannot accomplish some goals.

"Alabama needs a leader that can cast a vision to this next generation and articulate that can bring unity to this state," he said.

Dawson said he has spoken at over 2,000 junior and senior high schools across the nation, adding a generation is being lost.

"To me, Pre-K, we can make it available, but hear my heart: I'll never make it mandatory," as he doesn't believe government can do a better job with a child than a parent can. He said it would be made available as some parents are not there for their children, "but why should be punish parents who are doing the best job they can because we think government can do a better job? That will never work."

Dawson said volunteers with a background check and proper adult supervision can serve as mentors in the classroom so that every child can learn to read, write and do arithmetic by third-grade. Leadership would be taught in middle school to help students dream big.

"In high school, I'm proposing mandatory drug testing for any and all extra curricular activities starting in the ninth-grade," he said, pointing out his son had random testing as a high school athlete and was clean, but another classmate who had an actual addition slipped through the system. He said companies across the state would line up to partner in funding a program to stop drug addiction in the schools.

Dawson also said the governor as chairman of the Alabama State Board of Education needs to attend all meetings. "You can't lead by absenteeism," he said. On the behavioral issues in schools, he suggested mandatory ROTC training starting in high schools to introduce structure and discipline. He also supported vocational training for graduates who didn't want to go to college. He wants to get rid of Common Core, not to get rid of standards, but to prevent "someone from California or Illinois dictating to our kids" instead of developing Alabama standards within the state.

He noted he will likely not be perfect in office.

"I may make mistakes. They tell me that is political suicide. But I would rather you know I'm advocating to not deify a candidate," he said. "One guy told me, 'We're not looking for the perfect candidate. We're just looking for someone consistent, whose actions match what they say on the campaign trail."

Dawson said the last non-politician elected as governor was Fob James in 1978. A later biography on James said the three major issues then was prison overcrowding, education and roads. "Does that sound familiar to you?" he asked. "There is only so long you can kick the can down the road."

He noted that prisons can predict how many prisoners to expect in the future by how well students are doing by third-grade. He said his efforts in the schools could lead to handling the drug problem, which leads to more prisoners in jail.

"It is correctional facilities, not generational facilities, and now we have second and third generations being incarcerated," he said. He noted many small businesses have trouble hiring because job applicants can't pass drug tests, and the Alabama Sheriffs Association say 60 percent of county inmates with mental health are have drug-induced mental health issues.

On roads, "I'm reminded Walker County is supposed to have 17 cents out of every ton of coal go to roads. Does that happen?" He said the Alabama Department of Transportation has a $1.2 million budget and $63 million "is taken off the top" to fund the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and court costs. Also, he said 93 percent of the state budgets are earmarked due to lack of trust in Montgomery.

He noted the Legislature passed HB317, the Alabama Jobs Enhancement Act, giving looser ethics restrictions on economic developers and allowing them not to register as lobbyists. He added state Rep. Tim Wadsworth, R-Arley, who attended the meeting, voted against the bill.

"Ethics laws were not written for lobbyists. Ethics laws are written to protect Alabamians from corruption," Dawson said. "We have to live within our means. So to me, build the trust. Start looking at the General Fund." He advocated loosening up legislative earmarks to free up money for road repairs and maintenance. "It's not a money issue. It's a leadership issue."

He said it is the governor's job to recruit the right industry for the state. He said Alabama is "not a business friendly state" due to regulations and fees. "The first thing I am going to do is a performance audit across all agencies. Second thing, when that is lined up, we're going to set up an independent counsel." If a business challenges a regulation, fee or license that is unfair, the counsel will go to the agency.

"If the agency can't justify to this independent counsel, it needs to be removed from the books. It needs to be struck," he said.

Asked after the meeting about President Trump, whose character has been questioned as the leader of Dawson's party, Dawson referred to Trump's "failures," noting as "a follower of Christ, I would never condone anyone's actions that are unscriptural. I try not to throw rocks. I try to throw ropes at everyone. I look at his policies, but I also look at the people around him."

He said Vice President Mike Pence "was barbecued for having the conviction of never being alone with another woman. If our former governor had lived by that principal, my life wouldn't be in this situation right now, because this (race) was the furthest thing from my mind.

"Actions do have consequences. I can only pray — I did hear during the campaign that he had had a spiritual significant moment in his life. So as we look before Christ, post-Christ, hopefully he is learning, he's growing. But I will never condone someone's actions that are blatantly wrong in scripture, no matter who they are."

This article was published at The Daily Mountain Eagle on April 3, 2018.