Although there were three candidates on stage at First Congressional District forum tonight, the heated exchanges between the two Republican candidates overshadowed the issues and drew the most response from the audience at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center.

Throughout the night, Republican candidate Dean Young went after party rival Bradley Byrne before the crowd. The two will meet in a Nov. 5 runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner will face Democrat Burton Leflore on Dec. 17 in the general election.

Byrne’s campaign released a statement highly critical of Young’s professional background and businesses last Friday and that appeared to bleed into tonight’s debate.

During the hour-long forum, hosted by AARP, Mobile Chamber of Commerce and WPMI, Young twice said, “the last thing a businessman wants to do is talk to a lawyer” when discussing how to help stimulate the economy and ways to help Americans build retirement.

After Byrne said he thought reducing taxes would help the economy, Young brought up his opponent’s past as a Democrat and talked about Byrne voting to raise taxes.

“Bradley Byrne is talking about cutting taxes, but he was (in Montgomery) voting for one of the largest tax increases. He voted for a $1.2 billion tax increase,” Young said.

Byrne did not return fire throughout much of the forum, but the two exchanged heated remarks at the close of the night. Up first was Byrne.

“We need people in Washington who are doers and problem solvers not problem makers,” he said. “Mr. Young is a political consultant. He has spent his life involved in political campaigns that have been a detriment to a great many people. He tries to posture himself as a businessman instead of someone who he really is, which is someone who causes problems.

“He wants to run his campaign attacking instead of addressing the real issues. I’m here to address the real issues. Mr. Young loves Ted Cruz. He loves Judge Roy Moore. Both of them are lawyers.”

Young wasted no time in painting his picture of Byrne, who he says is a Democrat in Republican’s clothing.

“Ladies and gentlemen this is where the rubber hits the road. You’ve got a lawyer and an ex-Democrat who supported Bill Clinton and didn’t vote for Reagan — that’s who he is — and he’s sitting here telling you what you want to hear. I’m a businessman and a conservative. The first person I voted for was Ronald Reagan. You have to decide if you’re going to listen to the man, Bradley Byrne, continue to spew out these lies,” he said. “Mr. Byrne, if you want to compare our businesses with yours, then you’ll probably find my businesses that you say don’t exists they pay more taxes than you made last year.

“He’ll stand here and he’ll tell you I’m not a businessman. He’s also got a commercial out right now that says I took all this money and stuck it away. That money … every penny of it … that he says I kept bought commercials for Roy Moore … every penny of it.

“This guy’s going to stop at nothing. You’ve got a man who is going to look into the camera and lie to you just like Obama does. It must be some of that old Democrat blood coming out. Don’t be tricked.”

Before the accusations and heated exchanges reached a fever pitch, the candidates did talk about pertinent issues for the district.

The timeliest question asked by moderator and WPMI anchor Greg Peterson was about how each candidate would handle the discord in Congress.

Young said he wouldn’t roll over if elected.

“I’m going to fight for this country. I’m not going to back down,” he said. “If something isn’t done and I mean quick, this could be the end of the nation. This could be the end of the Western Christian Empire.”
Byrne looked to the Alabama legislatures’ guidelines as a way to keep national lawmakers in check.

“In my five years in the Alabama Legislation we passed a balanced budget on time every year. That’s because we were required by law,” he said. “I would like to see the constitution amended to require Congress to pass a balanced budget on time.”
Leflore said the bigger issue was Congress taking paychecks during the government shutdown.

“It angers me to know during the shutdown people in Congress were still collecting checks,” he said. “That’s a problem.”

A question on energy policy may have served well to show differences between the three candidates. Peterson asked them to comment on federal energy policy. Leflore said the Energy Council needs to be looked at first.

“We need to stop wasteful spending by the Energy Council. I just read a report about them wasting $100 million,” he said.

Young held to getting the federal government out of the way.

“We need to get the feds out of it. Drill. Drill. Drill. Coal. Coal. Coal,” he said.

Byrne said the newest Environmental Protection Agency stipulation is hurting states like Alabama the most.

“We need to repeal the newest EPA law that keeps us from tapping into our own assets,” he said.

Lagniappe will have full profiles on the two candidates facing off on Nov. 5 —Byrne and Young — in the Oct. 31 issue.