MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gubernatorial challenger Walt Maddox on Tuesday said it is "senseless" that Alabama is one of the few states without a state lottery and stepped up his criticisms of Gov. Kay Ivey, calling her a candidate without solutions and suggesting her advisers are scared for her to meet him on the debate stage.

Speaking at a candidate forum hosted by retired state and local government employees, Maddox said state leaders, including Ivey, have failed to address the state's longstanding problems in education, health care, mental health and other issues. The Tuscaloosa mayor emphasized two of his signature campaign issues, establishing a state lottery to fund education programs and expanding Medicaid which he said would stop the closure of rural hospitals in the state.

"I am 45 years old and my entire life, we've been at, or near, the bottom in everything that matters," the Democrat said.

Alabama, one of the few states without a state lottery, will soon be surrounded on all sides by lottery states. Mississippi politicians approved a state lottery earlier this year. Maddox said lottery tickets bought by Alabamians benefit education programs in those states instead of their own.

"I believe it's senseless we continue to educate children in Tennessee, Florida and Georgia (without reaping the benefit in Alabama)," he said.

Maddox is proposing to use lottery proceeds for college scholarships, prekindergarten and to provide additional money for chronically struggling schools.

Maddox said expanding the state's Medicaid program would be the "greatest economic development proposal" in state history.

"If we do not expand Medicaid, rural hospitals in Alabama will continue to close," Maddox said.

Both of the Democratic candidate's signature issues, expanding Medicaid and establishing a state lottery, will require the cooperation of the Alabama Legislature which is now under GOP control. Lawmakers would have to introduce a constitutional amendment to put a proposed lottery on a statewide ballot for a vote. While the governor could initiate Medicaid expansion with an executive order, lawmakers would have to approve related rules and funding.

Maddox said the state needs someone who is willing to use the bully pulpit and said Republican legislators are also seeing their districts hurt by the closure of rural hospitals.

He also continued his criticisms of Ivey's refusal to debate him in the race for governor.

"The governor doesn't think the people of Alabama are worthy of such a debate. She doesn't believe it's appropriate for her to talk to the people who pay her salary. My question is what are the governor's people scared of," Maddox told reporters after the speech.

An Ivey campaign spokeswoman called the criticisms, "a desperate attempt to distract voters from his liberal agenda."

"Governor Ivey has chosen to focus on governing and creating a brighter future for Alabamians, and it's paying off. With record employment and education investments, Alabama is working again," a spokeswoman wrote in an emailed response. Ivey will address the same retiree group on Wednesday.

Maddox is seeking to become the first Democrat elected governor in Alabama since 1998. In the final two months of the campaign, Maddox said he wants to continue to contrast his proposals with Ivey's.

"We have one candidate who is embedded in the politics of the past and wants to talk about issues that do nothing to move the average Alabamian forward," Maddox said of Ivey.