Our View: Johnson a valid candidate

Our View

In short: While Bill Johnson may not have the strongest campaign for governor, his presence in the race has contributed to an energetic debate.

With six candidates competing to become the Republican nominee for governor, the field is understandably competitive. That may explain why Bill Johnson, who formerly served as a senior official in the Bob Riley administration as head of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, has failed to gain much traction in the polls.

The most recent survey from Public Policy Polling, taken at the end of last month, showed Johnson garnering just 1 percent of the primary vote.

Johnson’s lack of public support may make him less serious as a candidate, but in an interview with The Crimson White last week, Johnson proved he is serious as a potential governor. He responded to questions with surprising depth and vitality.

As the only Republican in favor of letting the people of the state vote on whether or not to legalize electronic bingo, Johnson embraced a position long supported by The CW. Johnson also signaled he was willing to negotiate a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians to allow them to offer card tables and other forms of gambling currently prohibited at their casino in return for a revenue-sharing agreement with the state.

Some of Johnson’s other ideas warrant skepticism. On PACT, Johnson supports rescuing the program but says university budgets must be reduced. He proposes establishing committees of students and parents to look for “waste” and allowing them to split the savings they find with the state. However, what one student sees as waste might be critical to another student’s education.

After endorsing a repeal of the state sales tax on groceries, Johnson sidestepped a question on how to pay for it, saying only that it would require smaller government. At a time when the government is already up against major budget cuts and the looming expiration of federal stimulus money, cutting government more is not a plausible solution.

Johnson also promoted the ACCESS distance-learning program as a way to expand opportunity to schools in the Black Belt. He said he believes students in even the most underprivileged circumstances will be able to succeed in online classes without supervision from a teacher, which is doubtful.

Johnson’s very public disagreements with Riley, his former boss, gave voice to many Riley supporters and other Alabama citizens confused by the governor’s recent actions. This has prompted skepticism as to whether Johnson came forward with his concerns as soon as he grew skeptical of Governor Riley’s conduct, as he claims, or if he waited until he set his eyes on the Governor’s Mansion.

Still, Johnson has introduced ethical leadership as an important topic in the campaign. He has also demonstrated that he has thought through the important issues, even if he has not always reached the best conclusion. While Bill Johnson will likely not be moving into the Governor’s Mansion next year, his presence on the campaign trail has been a plus for the state.

Our View is the consensus of The Crimson White editorial board. Managing editor Jonathan Reed recused himself from this editorial.