MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley has changed his political uniform from red to blue and is talking again about running for governor of Alabama, possibly in 2010.
"Alabama, that's my home. I'm thinking about running for governor; they need the help," Barkley said.
His decision was received warmly by Joe Turnham, Alabama's Democratic Party chairman, but with skepticism by a political observer.
"I say welcome Charles Barkley. Charles Barkley has been a Horatio Alger story for many people, not only in sports but in business and broadcasting," Turnham said Wednesday.
Turnham said he plans to contact Barkley and invite him to some events the party has coming up.
Jim Seroka, a political science professor at Auburn University, said the former Auburn basketball star is getting ahead of himself by talking about possibly running without first building a base of support or looking at finances.
"He doesn't have any of the bases necessary to run a statewide campaign," Seroka said Wednesday.
Barkley, a Leeds native, has been talking about running for governor of his home state since he was playing with the NBA's Phoenix Suns. In 1995, he said he was considering running in 1998 as a Republican but that never materialized.
After that, Barkley continued to identify himself as a Republican until recently, when he switched to the Democratic team.
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"Sir Charles" reinforced that Tuesday while speaking to a convention of public school board members in Destin, Fla.
"What I've said is I'm rich like a Republican. But I'm not one," Barkley said in remarks reported by The Birmingham News.
Barkley said his immediate goal is to get his 17-year-old daughter through high school and into college. Then he plans to decide on his future, including whether to run for governor of his home state.
"I really believe I was put on Earth to do more than play basketball and stockpile money," Barkley said. "I really want to help people improve their lives, and what's left is for me to decide how best to do that."
Alabama's last Democratic governor, Don Siegelman, said Barkley has become a role model for many people and "would make an excellent candidate for high office."
Siegelman noted that Barkley has the personal wealth to stage a strong campaign. "He's definitely going to be taken seriously," Siegelman said.
Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, said Barkley was never involved with the state party when he identified himself as a Republican, and she has no idea whether he's serious when talking about a future race for governor as a Democrat.
"To be governor requires more than a publicity stunt. It requires real leadership," she said.
In Barkley's remarks in Destin, he was not complimentary of Alabama's past leadership.
"If it wasn't for Arkansas and Mississippi, we'd be dead last in everything. I think we can do better," he said.
Barkley told the school board members that poor children don't have a level playing field with wealthier students, because the poor children have to cope with more problems like crime, drugs and teen pregnancy. But he also admonished some black parents and their children.
"There are too many black kids and their parents who do not value a good education," he said. "There are places where a black kid who is a good student and tries to speak correctly, you hear stuff like, 'He's trying to be white.' Well, I say, if that's true, we need more kids trying to be white."
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