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Governor is silent on BBAC criticism

Gov. Bob Riley has chosen not to comment on the contention that his Black Belt commission is a political move.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Artur Davis held a leadership forum at the University of West Alabama which discussed the opportunities and ills of this region.

One of the speakers at the event, Rev. Lawrence Wofford, took issue with politicians who come into the Black Belt and pledge to change the long-standing struggles of the region. In particular, Wofford said Riley’s attention to the Black Belt must be questioned.

“When he ran for governor, he did not campaign in the Black Belt once,” Wofford said. “He didn’t even come over here.”

Along with his challenge of Riley’s intent, Wofford also expressed concerns about the latest effort out of Montgomery to help cure the region.

[The Governor’s Black Belt Action Commission] is almost hypocritical,” Wofford said.

In an e-mail, Wofford said he never called the BBAC “hypocritical.” The Times stands by its original story.

After the comments were published, Riley spokesman John Matson said there was no purpose in answering such critics.

“We appreciate the opportunity, but right now, the Governor wishes not to comment,” Matson said.

In his response to The Times, Wofford said that he does still question why Riley did not make one campaign stop in the Black Belt during his challenge of incumbent Gov. Don Siegelman in 2002.

“I also said that I think the Governor’s position on Constitutional reform, Amendment 1 and Amendment 2 is commendable,” Wofford said. “In the context of state politics, I maintain that the Black Belt has been a political football.

“I did not call the Governor’s Black Belt commission hypocritical,” Wofford continued. “I, quite frankly, support the goals and aspirations of the commission… I believe that its work is critical and could be a significant first step in the long march towards making the Black Belt a better place to live.”

Wofford, who is a co-founder and board of directors member of the Jonathan Daniels CDC in Selma, joined Davis, State Sen. Hank Sanders, Phillis Belcher, Felicia Jones, Bill Johnson and Kimball Forrester on a panel at UWA on Monday. The meeting allowed more than 200 Black Belt residents a chance to openly discuss challenges facing this region.

Riley established the Black Belt Action Commission in August and appointed Sanders and State Treasurer Kay Ivey to serve as co-chairs of the commission. It’s purpose, according to Riley, is to implement measurable strategies to improve the 12-county Black Belt region within 12 months.

Editor’s Note: Jonathan McElvy, who wrote this story, is a member of Gov. Bob Riley’s Black Belt Action Commission. He also is publisher of The Demopolis Times.