Democratic hopefuls for the District 12 House representative spot voiced their thoughts Wednesday on faith, party standards and the future of Alabama.

Representatives from the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce and The Cullman Times questioned candidates Ed Flaig, James C. Fields Jr. and Sheila Kretschmar about their legislative goals if elected.

Fields, who has spent over two decades working with the Northwest Council of Local Governments, said he would hope to accomplish a solid budget with a system of accountability as well as continued advancements in education and health care.

Flaig, who owns and operates the Hanceville-based Trinity News, said his goal would be “to bring God back into schools.” He also said he would like to emphasize more education for adults in Cullman County, as well as an increase in vocational education.

Kretschmar has served four terms on the Cullman County Board of Education and said she pledges to work with the constituents of District 12 and work closely with other legislators in the budget process. She said she also hopes to work to improve education, work with local seniors and bring money for the “betterment of all the people here.”

Each candidate was then asked how his or her personal beliefs differ from the Democratic Party platform.

“I believe the Democratic Party is very much in line with my values,” Flaig said. He said he believed strongly in the “right to life” and anti-abortion, as well as an emphasis on improving the workforce.

“I think Alabama Democrats are pro-workforce,” he said. Flaig also said he wants to work to keep eminent domain out of Cullman County.

Kretschmar said her personal beliefs differ with the Republican Party.

“Republicans believe Democrats can not be Christians and go to heaven,” she said. “I believe I’m a Christian and I’m going to heaven.”

Fields said his moral beliefs are solid and while he sees the Democratic Party as being primarily pro-choice in the abortion debate, he believes in the “right to life.”

“No one should be counted out or lost,” he said.

Forum moderators then asked the candidates what they felt was the biggest challenge facing Alabama Legislature in the next four years.

“Education,” Kretschmar said. “I think education is going to be the No. 1 issue because we are going to see deficits in money.”

She said she would fight challenges to the state’s education system by working to ensure education budgets get passed in a timely manner.

“Everyone will say education, that’s a no-brainer,” Fields said. “I think the most pressing issue is illegal immigration.” He said he would work to stay on top of national and state policy regarding border control to keep out the negative things that come along with illegal immigrants, such as gangs, drugs and disease.

“Immigration is not a simple problem. It’s a huge problem,” he said.

Flaig said he thinks the next challenge in state government will be pressure to increase taxes.

“I want to make sure we go back to four-year property appraisals,” he said. “We (legislators) should act like we do at home...spend what we have.”

Each candidate was asked to share his or her biggest life challenge and how that experience would help them become a better leader.

Fields said he learned a lot from working with the Department of Industrial Relations and developed integrity and a transparent character.

“This is serious business,” he said. “Your lives will be affected by who you choose to send to Montgomery.”

Flaig said his biggest challenge was working alongside Mother Angelica to build the monastery in Hanceville.

“I had nothing,” he said. “I can relate to the poor, I can relate to the very rich...it’s amazing what God can do.”

He said he feels called by God to serve as the District 12 representative.

Kretschmar said she can relate in the same way.

“I’ve been poor...I’ve been wealthy and I’m not ashamed of that,” she said. “I’m telling you I’m the person to send to Montgomery.”

Forum moderator Seth Thompson asked candidates how they would work past partisan boundaries to represent the district, in light of last year’s legislation stale-mate.

“I’ve learned quite a lot of people think I’m a Republican,” Flaig said. “I think I would be the easiest of the three to focus on Democratic and Republican values...I have no problem working with people of different values.”

Kretschmar said she feels she communicates well with Democrats and Republicans and can do as well of a job or a better job at representing the district than former District 12 representative Neal Morrison.

Fields said he approaches situations by looking at others’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You find common ground and you build on it,” he said. “A person with no sense of purpose or direction can’t lead you.”

Candidates were then asked what they thought the biggest mistake the Alabama government made recently.

Kretschmar said she thinks the government could have come together better on an education budget.

“The governor and the Legislature could have worked more closely without friction,” she said.

“The saddest thing that could ever happen is what happened last legislative session with that altercation,” Fields said. “The biggest mistake is letting folks like that represent us...we are not barbarians.”

Flaig said he saw the governor’s amendment to the four-year appraisal bill as a mistake.

“Representatives should have stopped that,” he said. “Look at all the problems and paperwork at the courthouse that caused.”

Next, each was asked how they would encourage improvements and expansion to infrastructure within the district.

“We must have solid infrastructure,” Fields said. He said his work with the Council of Local Governments and the Alabama Department of Transportation has prepared him to get funding and research to build up roads and highways in the area.

Flaig said he feels the main thing to work on in the area is planning. He said he proposes getting each town’s mayor and council involved in planning the future of development in each area and building roads before constructing buildings.

Kretschmar said she does not have much experience working with different companies but said she is willing to learn how to get funding and studies.

“The representatives from the area are good to work with and I would welcome their input,” she said.

Forum moderators then asked the candidates how he or she viewed vocational and technical education and how they would further develop technical training in the area.

“I think technical training is a very viable thing,” Flaig said. “We have a diamond here to train students,” he said, mentioning Wallace State Community College. “Kids need to be focusing on vocational education to stay in school.”

Kretschmar said she also supports vocational education.

“The career center is a wonderful tool for skilled people in Cullman County,” she said.

Fields said he thinks technical training is important to motivate students to stay in school.

“Every child does not learn at the same level,” he said. “We need to keep our children enthused about education...if we have a lack of funding, I will pursue funding.”

Finally, each candidate was given the opportunity to explain how he or she is the best candidate for the position.

“I have experience with public service,” Kretschmar said. “I feel I can do this job, I can give it 100 percent. I don’t have a job I have to go to every day and I can work for you every day and represent you, people of Cullman.”

Fields said his experience working with governments to obtain funding and pass laws will make him a stronger candidate.

“Alabama needs an individual who can go do those things that come naturally,” he said.

Flaig said his views and values make him different and a prime candidate for representative.

“I visit with people and am amongst the people,” he said. “People have come to me with their problems. Now, I want to make a difference,” he said.

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