Former Books-A-Million CEO throws hat in Alabama governor’s race

Published 9:48 pm Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Former Books-A-Million CEO Lew Burdette, who now heads a nonprofit that provides shelters and group homes for abused women and children, announced Tuesday that he is running for governor of Alabama against fellow Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

Burdette joins a growing list of candidates challenging Ivey in the GOP primary in May. Burdette filed qualifying papers Wednesday after making his announcement Tuesday at the main campus of the King’s Home nonprofit in Chelsea, outside Birmingham.

“I’m Alabama through and through. It’s just in my DNA, and it just breaks my heart that when I left the University of Alabama 40 years ago, we were at the bottom of every category — in health care and prisons and education. And here we are 40 years later and we’re in the same spot. Nothing’s changed,” Burdette said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Burdette, 63, spent 13 years with Books-A-Million — starting when it was a mall chain called Bookland — and served as executive vice president and chief operating officer.

He left the retail giant in 1998. In 2002, he became the president of King’s Home, a Christian-based nonprofit organization which operates 21 residential group homes. The King’s Ranch serves neglected and abused children while Hannah Home serves women and children fleeing domestic violence.

“For the past 18 years, I’ve poured my heart and soul into fighting for abused youth, women, moms and children fleeing domestic violence,” Burdette said. “I’ve seen countless lives transformed, given hope and opportunity, and our precious children deserve more than they’re getting in Alabama. They deserve fighting for.”

In his announcement video, Burdette recalled surviving a kidnapping when he was 15. He said he was abducted outside his father’s grocery store in Roanoke, shot, stabbed, thrown down a well and “left for dead.”

“I battled for my life in the bottom of that well and only survived by the grace of God,” Burdette said on the video.

Former Trump ambassador Lindy Blanchard, businessman Tim James, correctional officer former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George and Opelika pastor Dean Odle have also announced their candidacies against Ivey.

Burdette is making his first run for political office. Like other challengers to Ivey, he positioned himself as a political outsider and said he would be a “disrupter” in Montgomery.

“As a political outsider, somebody who has never been involved in politics, I don’t owe anybody any favors. Nobody has influence over me. I’m going to go down there; I’m going to be an agent for change. I’m going to be a disrupter because that’s the only way we’re going to move the state forward,” he said.

Asked about what he would do on corrections and health care — two of the policy areas he mentioned — Burdette said he thought better training opportunities are needed for inmates so they can have a “path for success” when they are released.

He said rural areas are struggling with health care access, noting the hospital that cared for him after the kidnapping has since closed.

When asked, Burdette did not say if would support Medicaid expansion — something advocates have argued would help small hospitals stay financially afloat. He said he has seen the program’s benefit to the abused and neglected children they serve, but as a conservative, he was “wary of Washington printing money.”