Gov. Bob Riley conducted telephone interviews with media throughout the state Monday, taking advantage of the opportunity to plug his new Plan 2010, a strategic plan that outlines his vision for the state during his second administration, provided he is re-elected in November.

The governor also took time to answer a variety of questions ranging from a statewide amendment which directly affects Cullman County, to the recent controversy surrounding U.S. Rep. Mark Foley and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, to Monday’s announcement that North Korea has successfully tested a nuclear weapon.

Q: What is the basis of your Plan 2010?

A: The first time we ran for the governor’s office we presented Alabamians with a book entitled, “A Plan for Change,” which basically said this is what we believe we can accomplish during the next four years. We believe we can build an economic model in this state which places a priority on creating new jobs and encourages economic growth, adequately fund and support a world-class education system that places an emphasis on excellence in the classroom, and we believe we can reform state government by providing a new level of integrity in Montgomery. Looking back, I believe we accomplished those objectives.

We’ve gone from a $675 million deficit to a $1 billion surplus. We’ve helped create thousands of new jobs and incorporated incentives which promote economic growth.

In education, we are fully funding the Alabama Reading Initiative and we’ve gone from investing $4 billion in education in 2002 to $ 6.2 billion invested this year. We gave teachers raises and we’ve instituted more reforms and accountability in education than ever before.

But one of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that we have gone through four years without any hint of corruption coming out of this administration and I believe that is historic.

Plan 2010, basically outlines how we now take the successes we’ve accomplished and use those as a foundation to build on. It’s my dream to see Alabama lifted to a new level. When people talk about economic growth, a world-class education system or ethical government, I want them to use Alabama as the standard.

Q: Property taxes are a concern in Cullman County as they are throughout the state. Your opponent (Democrat Lucy Baxley) has promised if elected she will repeal annual property reappraisals and go back to appraising property every four years. If re-elected, will you consider reverting property appraisals to every four years?

A: Absolutely. We did it last year. What my opponent won’t tell you is we offered three bills last year that would provide for appraising of property every four years. That effort never made it out of committee. We will come back with exactly the same thing again. I feel it is a bit disingenuous for someone to say they will revert annual reappraisals to every four years if elected when we’ve not only supported doing that very thing, but backed legislation to do just that this past year.

Q: Amendment 2 on the Nov. 7 ballot requires that every school system in the state receive at least 10 mills in ad valorem property taxes. Only about 30 school systems would be affected if this passes, one of those being Cullman County. There are some who are opposed to residents in other parts of the state telling Cullman County how many mills in property taxes it should levy for schools. What’s your opinion?

A: Everyone has to look at it and decide for themselves if they want or need 10 mills in ad valorem taxes for local schools. If it is something they need it should be voted on, but I have a real problem with someone imposing their will on others. Just because this school district does this way doesn’t mean every other county or system has to do what they do. This should be a local decision. I believe local government must make that determination.

Q: Political analysts have noted that both yours and Lucy Baxley’s political ads have taken a negative twist in recent weeks. Why is that?

A: I think my opponent’s ads have been very negative. I don’t think ours have. I have been accused of being funded by gambling, when my opponent is the one who has been funded by gambling interests. I’ve been accused of being part of a terrorist organization, the Taliban or some such group, but I also know the people of Alabama know us and they know our administration and I think it is somewhat indicative when you consider that a million and a half dollars have been spent by my opponent in the last month on negative advertising, yet every poll we’ve seen shows us leading the race by a significant margin.

Q: The latest polls do show you with a comfortable lead. How do you go about maintaining that momentum?

A: The biggest thing we have to do is we can’t become complacent. We’re going to run this campaign like were two points behind. We’re going to continue to work hard. I feel the people of Alabama understand what we’re capable of doing for this state the next four years. They support our efforts to build an Alabama that leads the nation in economic growth, has an educational system that is second to none, and an administration in Montgomery that takes ethical government to a new level.

Q: Do you see any repercussions in either your re-election campaign or the election or re-election bids of Republicans in general in Alabama as a result of the controversy surrounding former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley?

A: At a national level there may very well be some repercussions. Personally, if there was ever any attempt to cover it up those responsible should resign. I’ve known Dennis Hastert for many years. He’s a good friend. He’s a family man. He was a high school coach, and he understands kids. I can’t imagine him not doing everything he could to protect kids.

Q: Americans awoke this morning to a potential new threat with the report that North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon Monday. The president went on TV this morning condemning the test and declaring the action as “unacceptable.” How concerned are you and what do you want to say to Alabamians today to ease their concerns?

A: It is a major problem and no one needs to take it likely. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is one of most radical, unstable people and he heads one of most radical regimes on the planet today. I think President Bush is handling the situation in the right manner. I hope the U.N. will take appropriate, aggressive action. It’s interesting to me that 50 years have passed and North Korea detonates a nuclear weapon on the day South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is nominated as the next secretary general of the United Nations. I don’t think there has ever been a more profound comparison that be drawn between what democracy can achieve as in the case of South Korea and the repressive nature of the communist government of North Korea.

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