Ron Sparks (politician)

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Ron Sparks
28th Agriculture Commissioner of Alabama
In office
January 20, 2003 – January 17, 2011
GovernorBob Riley
Preceded byCharles Bishop
Succeeded byJohn McMillan
Member of the DeKalb County Commission
from the 3rd district
In office
Preceded byAuzie Anderson
Succeeded byCecil Shirey
Personal details
Born (1952-10-29) October 29, 1952 (age 66)
Fort Payne, Alabama, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materNortheast Alabama Community College
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branchUnited States Coast Guard Coast Guard
UnitCoast Guard Reserve

Ronald D. Sparks (born October 29, 1952) is an American politician from the state of Alabama. He is the former Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. Sparks is a member of the Democratic party, and was the Democratic candidate for Governor of Alabama in the state's 2010 gubernatorial election.

Sparks ran the state's Rural Development Agency from 2011 to 2017.

Early life, education and career[edit]

Sparks is a graduate of Fort Payne High School. His parents were divorced, and he was raised by his grandmother. He worked in Fort Payne's sock mills. While staying with his father in Merritt, Florida, in 1971, Sparks joined the United States Coast Guard. Initially stationed in Puerto Rico, he transferred to work on the Tennessee River. He earned a Coast Guard Commendation Medal for his service.[1] Following his discharge from the service, Sparks graduated from Northeast Alabama Community College in 1978.

In 1978, at the age of 24, Sparks became a County Commissioner for DeKalb County, Alabama, one of the youngest elected in the State of Alabama. He defeated a two-term incumbent.[1] At first, Sparks could not find anyone to donate to his campaign; he sold his furniture and gun for initial funding.[2]

Sparks returned to the private sector, operating the Scooper Duper Ice Cream Parlor in Fort Payne.[1] In 1993, Sparks was appointed Director of the newly created DeKalb County 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.[1][3] Sparks was elected the President of the Alabama chapter of the National Emergency Number Association in 1998.[4]

Department of Agriculture and Industries[edit]

In 1999, Sparks was appointed as Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, where he ran the day-to-day operations of the Department. In 2002, Sparks was elected Commissioner, winning 54 out of 67 counties, and defeating his Republican opponent in the general election by a margin of 53%-47%.[5] In that campaign, Sparks was briefly criticized for appearing in media produced by the Department. However, he responded that the media in question was time-sensitive, and that the then-Commissioner had scaled back his involvement in the Department's operations following his own defeat in the gubernatorial primary a few months earlier.[6] In this campaign, Sparks became one of the rare Democrats to win the endorsement of the Alabama Farmers Federation.[7]

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.[3] 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 from Alabama.[8]

He was re-elected in 2006. During this campaign, even The Birmingham News, which had criticized Sparks four years earlier, spoke favorably of Sparks's handling of a mad cow disease scare that could have threatened the state's cattle industry.[9] Sparks built on his 2002 margin, defeating his Republican opponent by a margin of 59%-41%, making Sparks the leading statewide candidate on the Democratic ticket.[10]

During his second term, Sparks has continued the expansion of the state lab system.[3] 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."[11]

Sparks is the 2007-08 President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. He took over as President of the association at its annual meeting in September 2008.[12]

Political involvement[edit]

It was rumored that Sparks would run for the Senate seat then held by Jeff Sessions, but he declined to run to avoid a primary contest with state Senator Vivian Davis Figures.[13] Sparks backed the 2008 presidential effort of Hillary Clinton.[14] Sparks, who is ineligible for a third term as Commissioner, was mentioned as a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor in 2010.[15] He launched a website,, in late 2008. The site promoted a Sparks candidacy in 2010, without initially specifying which office he might seek.[16]

2010 candidacy for governor[edit]

On April 3, 2009, Ron Sparks announced that he would run for governor of Alabama. In what was regarded as an upset, Sparks defeated Congressman Artur Davis in a landslide in the Democratic primary on June 1, 2010. Tensions over Davis' opposition to healthcare reform legislation, along with Davis' decision to not seek the support of traditional Democratic Party groups and his ignoring the needs of his constituents in his congressional district, led voters to overwhelmingly vote for Sparks in the Democratic Primary.[17]

Early in the 2010 campaign, Sparks voiced support for healthcare reform, opposed charter schools, supported the Stimulus, and advocated an educational lottery and gaming tax for pre-kindergarten and college scholarships.[18]

Following Parker Griffith's switch to the Republican party, Sparks' political consultants encouraged him to run for Griffith's seat in the United States House of Representatives,[19] however he declined and chose to remain in the running for Governor.[20]

Robert Bentley, the Republican nominee for governor, defeated Sparks with 58% of the vote.[citation needed]

Post-gubernatorial race[edit]

After his loss in the 2010 General Election, Sparks was rumored as a possible candidate for Chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.[21] In a December 6, 2010 article in the Montgomery Advertiser, Sparks said he would support former State Supreme Court Justice Mark Kennedy, son-in-law of former Governor George C. Wallace, for the post of party chairman.[22]

After Bentley's inauguration, the governor merged Alabama's Rural Action Commission and Black Belt Commission into the state's Rural Development Agency, and appointed Sparks to run it.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d "Fort Payne's native son Sparks has risen to heights of state government". Anniston Star. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  2. ^ "Sparks relishes underdog role", by Phillip Rawls (AP), Times-Journal, June 8, 2010
  3. ^ a b c "Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries: Commissioner Ron Sparks". Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  4. ^ "Alabama NENA: Officers". Archived from the original on January 25, 2011. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  5. ^ "Alabama Secretary of State: General Election Returns 2002" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 16, 2010. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  6. ^ Editorial: "Plugging Sparks," The Birmingham News, October 9, 2002, p. 8A
  7. ^ "Farmers Group Endorses Riley, Bishop for Governor," The Birmingham News, April 26, 2002, p. 1B
  8. ^ "Alabama's Cuba Trip Reaps $18M, More Expected," The Huntsville Times, December 22, 2004, p. 13A
  9. ^ "The Mark of the Beast," The Birmingham News, March 29, 2006, p. 8A
  10. ^ "Alabama Secretary of State: General Election Returns 2006" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 16, 2010. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  11. ^ "Food Sellers React Quickly to Outbreak of Salmonella," Mobile Press-Register, June 11, 2008, p. A2
  12. ^ "NASDA Elects Officers at Annual Meeting". October 9, 2007. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  13. ^ ""Sparks Says He Won't Seek U.S. Senate Seat," ''The Birmingham News'' blogs, June 12, 2007". Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  14. ^ "Clinton, Obama to Increase Focus on State," Mobile Press-Register, January 10, 2008, p. A1
  15. ^ "Political Site Looks as Far Ahead as 2010," The Tuscaloosa News, July 28, 2007, p. 2B
  16. ^ ""State Agriculture Commissioner Eyes 2010 Governor's Race," WVTM-TV News, December 2, 2008". December 2, 2008. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  17. ^ "Taking cues from Obama's playbook didn't bring Davis a victory", by Perry Bacon Jr., The Washington Post, June 2, 2010
  18. ^ Huntsville Times. "Ron Sparks speaks to Madison County Democratic Women |". Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  19. ^ "Ron Sparks open to Parker Griffith challenge". Politico.Com. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  20. ^ CST, December 29, 2009 (December 29, 2009). "Ron Sparks to Stay In Governor's Race". WHNT. Retrieved June 6, 2010.
  21. ^ "Ron Sparks Encouraged to Lead Alabama Democratic Party". WAKA. November 24, 2010. Archived from the original on September 6, 2011. Retrieved December 22, 2010.
  22. ^ "Kennedy may be Alabama's next top Democrat". December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 21, 2010.
  23. ^ "Ron Sparks still pounding the pavement – at Bentley's request". Anniston Star. Archived from the original on January 17, 2013. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Lucy Baxley
Democratic nominee for Governor of Alabama
Succeeded by
Parker Griffith