Senate candidates vary on biggest issue facing Alabamians | Elections

MONTGOMERY — The three GOP frontrunners in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race listed different issues as the biggest challenge facing Alabamians — Washington, D.C., the nation’s growing debt, and jobs.

The TimesDaily asked each Republican and Democrat in the primary one question: What’s the largest issue facing this state, and what would you do in the U.S. Senate to correct it?

“Corrupt Washington insiders have failed the people of Alabama,” former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore said last week. “After seven years of promises, (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell has lied to the American people and failed to repeal Obamacare. Alabama needs an outsider, a true constitutional conservative, to fight for them. Someone who will repeal Obamacare, pass tax reform, strengthen our military, and work with Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end sanctuary cities.”

According to a poll of likely Republican voters released Thursday, Moore, twice removed from office, was leading interim Sen. Luther Strange by about eight points. The poll, done by Montgomery firm Cygnal, showed U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks trailing Moore by 13 points, but nearly within the margin of error of Strange.

Brooks on Friday said his own internal polling showed him and Strange within striking distance of each other.

For Brooks, the issue is a looming economic crisis as the national debt approaches $20 trillion.

“The threat of federal bankruptcy and insolvency is far and away the biggest threat to America and hence, Alabama,” Brooks said by phone. “And there’s not a close second.”

He pointed to the current economic crisis in Venezuela as an example of what could happen here if a more sustainable fiscal path isn’t found.

The fix, he said, is to rein in non-defense spending, and promote pro-growth, free-enterprise economic policies.

“We’re going to have to do both of them,” the four-term congressman from Huntsville said. “It doesn’t do any good to increase revenue if you continue to increase spending.”

For Strange, it is jobs and the economy.

“Alabamians have suffered under the Obama economy, watching the cost of living rise without seeing a wage increase,” said Strange, the former state attorney general whose appointment to the seat in February by now-disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley has been fodder for his opponents.

“I’m working with President (Donald) Trump to get our economy roaring and give Alabama families hope. We need real tax relief, so Alabama workers can keep more of their hard-earned paycheck. Congress has sent several bills to the president to roll back the regulatory burden that keeps small businesses from investing and hiring.”

The Republican ballot Tuesday also includes:

Randy Brinson, medical doctor, Christian Coalition leader

Boiled down, the biggest issue is the Affordable Care Act, he said.

“It affects the economy, every single person in Alabama, because it affects your premiums, your coverage, your access to health care, and the viability of our health-care system,” Brinson said.

The act, and its possible repeal, doesn’t just impact those receiving health care through it, but the private sector, too. Many medical care providers accept both Medicaid and private insurance.

“Before we do anything, we have to fix Medicaid,” Brinson said. “We can’t just say we’re going to repeal Obamacare because we’d have no way of paying for Medicaid.”

Trip Pittman, state senator, business owner

The biggest challenge is personal responsibility and virtue, Pittman said. His campaign motto is “liberty requires responsibility.”

“It’s not government that makes us great, it’s individual liberty, and the people who get up every morning, go to work and take care of themselves and their families.”

He said the state needs a leader who appreciates those who take care of themselves, and holds those who don’t accountable. On the campaign trail, Pittman has referenced state legislation he’s supported, including bills to require drug testing for welfare benefits and to increase penalties for Medicaid fraud.

Bryan Peeples, owner of consulting business

Peeples said a variety of reforms are needed in D.C. to help Alabamians, including tax, health care, immigration and criminal justice reform.

“(Those issues) blend together on the burden they put on lower-income and middle-income Alabama families,” he said.

“All of these issues have a tax burden that is preventing growth and progress.”

James Beretta, medical doctor with private practice

“The unemployment rate is at a low 4.5 percent, and 3 percent of those remaining are unemployable,” he said. “Illegal alien workers suppress the wage structure. Paid cash under the table, they have a significant financial advantage over legitimate U.S. workers. I will seek to raise the standard of living for all Alabama workers and include benefits deserved by American workers.”

Mary Maxwell, a U.S. citizen who’s lived in Australia since 1980

“We are at risk of war, in my opinion, not because there is a nut in North Korea,” Maxwell said in an email. “The issue is the method by which the U.S. would make a decision to enter a war. Do we wait for a trigger, and then claim that the president has to respond with full weaponry? Of course not.

“If we are in such danger, Congress should arrange a pre-emptive strike. In the Senate, I would do that.”

Candidate Joseph Breault did not respond to a request for comment.

On the Democrat ticket, there are some recognizable names — a Florence candidate who last year ran for Congress, a former U.S. attorney, and a Kennedy (no relation).

Doug Jones, former U.S. attorney

Jones said a lack of leadership in Alabama has done a deep disservice to citizens.

“An outcome of that lack of leadership is our health care debate being turned into a political football,” Jones said. “Alabamians suffered when our leaders refused to expand Medicaid after the creation of the ACA. Expansion would have provided affordable quality health care to our most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, Alabama is one of the poorest and most unhealthy states and as a result, it is vitally important that Alabamians have access to quality preventive care that can curtail the rates of preventable diseases that are rampant in Alabama.”

He said he’d work to strengthen the ACA.

Will Boyd, a Florence minister and chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Executive Committee

“Perhaps the single biggest issue for Alabamians is access to health care,” Boyd said in an email. “Alabama has been ranked as the sixth-poorest state. There are 900,000 Alabamians living in poverty. Two million Alabamians have pre-existing conditions. Nearly 890,000 people (or roughly 19 percent) of Alabama’s population relies on Medicaid for health insurance as Alabama refused to expand Medicaid.

“Not only are the strides made to health care over the past six years continually threatened by those who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with or without replacement of an improved health care plan, we are facing an opiod crisis, and we have communities in the state that have been ignored as they are simply fighting for clean air, water and soil.”

Robert Kennedy Jr., U.S. Navy veteran

Kennedy said a collective lack of faith, created by some recent high-profile removals of elected officials from state office, was the biggest challenge.

“With a culture of corruption as a backdrop, many Alabamians lost faith in other elected officials who were tainted by the appearance of impropriety,” Kennedy said. “This fueled an additional loss of faith in our government institutions, as a whole. Without faith, we cannot address the specific issues of the day.”

He said Alabamians need a different kind of candidate.

“As a former naval officer who has led sailors in dangerous situations at sea, I believe I am uniquely positioned to bring the honor concept to the U.S. Senate. If elected, my primary focus area will be on constituent services.”

Michael Hansen, executive director of Gasp, an environmental advocacy group

“The single biggest challenge facing this country is increasing economic inequality, which is particularly pronounced in Alabama,” Hansen said. “We’ve got one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and the middle class is no longer expanding. Almost all of the economic gains over the past three-plus decades have gone to the top 1 percent, while the rest of us fall further and further behind.

“In order to remedy this problem, we must start with education. We must invest smarter in public education systems to ensure every single child has an equal shot at receiving a high-quality education.”

Vann Caldwell, Talladega County constable

Via email, Caldwell listed three interwoven issues:

“1) Economic growth with balance to protect the environment and to enrich an entire nation. Infrastructure development and investment in Alabama and including improvements and betterment in health care.

“2) Education is the building block of all.

“3) Military/homeland security is the key to the first two and essential.

“The economy starting first, causing a chain reaction building each area.”

Jason Fisher, vice president of a direct marketing firm specializing in nonprofit development

“The single biggest challenge Alabamians face is the lack of affordable health care for every citizen,” Fisher said. “We cannot afford to take a step backward in health care. We must first fix the Affordable Care Act, working in a bipartisan fashion to improve affordability and strengthen coverage.”

Charles Nana, engineering and management consultant

“The biggest single challenge facing Alabamians and the nation is getting our elected officials to simply tell the truth and live by the truth,” he said. “We have a president of the United States who can’t tell the truth, even if his career depended on it. We had a former governor of our great state of Alabama who could not tell the truth, even when his entire career depended on it.

“When elected to the United States Senate, on day one, I will propose a ‘dishonesty bill,’” he said. “Any elected official caught in a lie would be forced to resign.”