Byrne, Bentley square off in debate

Robert Bentley (left) and Bradley Byrne debate Wednesday morning in Oneonta (source WBRC video)
Robert Bentley (left) and Bradley Byrne debate Wednesday morning in Oneonta (source WBRC video)

By Alan Collins

ONEONTA, AL (WBRC) - The two men seeking the Republican nomination for governor squared off Wednesday for the very first time.

Robert Bentley and Bradley Bryne addressed almost 200 people at the Blount County Oneonta Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The men agreed on most issues: the state is facing tough economic times, they pledge no new taxes, oppose illegal immigration and the state needs to create new jobs.  

Both also opposed expanding gambling but differed on a vote on the issue.

"I'm totally opposed to all types of gambling," Byrne said. "I'm opposed to a referendum on gambling which is something they tried to push through the legislation the last session."

But Bentley is open to a vote.

"I believe the Christian people of Alabama," Bentley said. "I have faith in them, we could vote that down and get rid of all gambling in the state of Alabama."

Both candidates also vowed to try and clean up corruption in state government.

"We are going to find the best people to serve in Montgomery. We are going to clean house in Montgomery," Bentley said.

"We are going to call a special session of the legislature to pass comprehensive ethics bills that need to clean up state government," Bryne said.

Did the candidates hit on the issues the voters wanted to hear?

"Ethics... I think they need to clean up Montgomery," Bill Newman said.

 "More jobs... people back to work and cleaning up the state," Penny Deaton said.

During the debate, Bentley renewed his pledge not to run negative campaign ads against Bryne, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.

"That tells me people don't want negative ads," Bentley said. "They want issues discussed. They want to know what we are going to do. They don't want us talking about each other."

Last weekend, the Bryne campaign began running attack ads accusing Bentley of allowing teachers who break the law to continue to get state benefits and of not supporting efforts to block lawmakers from double dipping with taxpayer paychecks.

"Dr. Bentley has a track record of voting right down the line with Paul Hubbard and the democratic leaders in Alabama," Bryne said.

Bentley says Bryne is distorting his record.

While Bentley is pledging not to attack the former Alabama two-year college chancellor, Byrne is expected to be attacked by the Alabama Education Association because of his criticism of the teacher's union.

"I've asked no one to attack my opponent," Bentley said. "I would encourage people not to do that. I don't want that."

Despite the crowd's favorable reaction to the no negative campaign ads, Bryne says he will continue to be on the offensive.

"We are going to put out information so people will decide is that the vote we want our governor to have or governor not to have," Bryne said.

The two candidates will again meet in a Friday debate in Birmingham at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center sponsored by the Alabama Young Republicans. The event starts at 7:00 p.m and the debate starts at 8:30 p.m. The runoff is set for July 13th, and the winner of the runoff will face Ron Sparks in the general election in November.

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