Ronald Davan Sparks (born October 29, 1952 in Fort Payne, DeKalb County) is the Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries and a Democratic candidate for Governor of Alabama in the 2010 general election.
Early life and career
Sparks is a graduate of Fort Payne High School, and before beginning his political career worked in Fort Payne's iconic sock mills. He later served in the Coast Guard, and was awarded several commendations. Following his discharge from the service he completed a degree at Northeast Alabama Community College in Rainsville. In 1978 he defeated a two-term incumbent to serve on the DeKalb County Commission.
In 1993 Sparks was appointed Director of the county's newly-created 911 System. As director he was responsible for overseeing the construction of the headquarters office, procuring equipment, hiring and training staff, and field verifying street addresses for over 30,000 homes and businesses. He was elected president of the Alabama Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.
Department of Agriculture and Industries
In 1999, Sparks was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, where he ran the day-to-day operations of the Department. When then-Commissioner Charles Bishop entered the 2002 gubernatorial election, Sparks qualified as a candidate to succeed him. During the campaign, he was criticized for having his face appear more prominently in media produced by his department. He explained that Bishop had scaled back his involvement while running for Governor. In the general election, Sparks won the endorsement of the Alabama Farmer's Federation and defeated J. Lee Alley with 53% of the vote to become Commissioner.
During his first term as Commissioner, Sparks pushed for country-of-origin labeling for food and agricultural products, citing health problems and under-cost dumping associated with imports from certain countries. He also initiated the establishment of state laboratories for expanded testing of food and agricultural products. Sparks also led efforts to open the Cuban market to Alabama farm products, traveling to the nation and meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, leading to Cuba’s agreement to begin imports of poultry and timber from Alabama.
Sparks was reelected in 2006. During that campaign, the Birmingham News, which had criticized him four years earlier, spoke favorably of Sparks' handling of a mad cow disease scare that could have threatened the state's cattle industry. Sparks built on his 2002 margin, defeating Albert Lipscomb with 59% of the vote.
During his second term, Sparks has continued the expansion of the state lab system. When a salmonella outbreak linked to tomatoes occurred in the spring of 2008, Sparks acted to secure verification that tomatoes grown in Alabama were not suspected of contamination with the disease, and to facilitate marketing of those tomatoes as "safe." Later that year he assumed the presidency of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, to which he had been elected the previous year.
With term limits ending his run as Agriculture Commissioner, there were rumors that Sparks would seek Jeff Sessions' Senate seat in the 2008 general election, but he declined to run. He was a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primary. In late 2008 he launched a campaign website looking forward to the 2010 election, without specifying which office he planned to seek. Most expected him to run for Lieutenant Governor. He announced his campaign for Governor on April 3, 2009. When Congressman Parker Griffith switched to the Republican Party, he considered switching to the congressional race, but decided to remain a gubernatorial candidate.
Sparks' support for health care reform and the public option provided a contrast between him and his primary opponent, Artur Davis, who voted against the health care reform package that passed the House of Representatives in 2010. Davis was the only African-American Democrat to vote against the proposal, which was backed by President Obama. Sparks also opposes charter schools and supports an educational lottery and gaming tax to fund pre-kindergarten programs and college scholarships. He won endorsements from the Alabama New South Coalition and the Alabama Democratic Conference, majority African-American voter organizations whose favor Davis declined to seek.
- Spencer, Thomas (May 11, 2010) "Alabama governor's race: Ron Sparks pushes stance on health care, gambling." Birmingham News
- Ron Sparks (politician) (May 24, 2010) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia - accessed May 24, 2010