A total of seven candidates are running as Republicans for the right to face U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in November, and that crop of GOP candidates includes some familiar faces, some newcomers and the seat’s previous holder.
Among the candidates is Mobile native and Baldwin County resident Bradley Byrne, who is giving up his current seat in the U.S. House of Representatives to challenge Jones, the incumbent.
Byrne, who has been involved in the Interstate 10 Mobile River Bridge and Bayway project since he took office in the First Congressional District, helped secure a $125 million grant for its construction and advocated for more federal funding. His plan had originally called for money from oil and gas wells to be used on the project. Those funds were not considered by the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).
Instead, ALDOT went with a more privately funded model that included tolls. The plan was rejected by the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The Mobile MPO delayed a vote on the bridge.
In a phone interview, Byrne said he’s hopeful a plan developed by local legislators for an expressway and no tolling on existing roadways can be successful. He said the plan is in the state’s hands now, though.
Byrne said he’s made a lot of progress on veterans healthcare during his time in the House, but “we haven’t made enough.”
He supports true veterans choice, which would allow those who’ve served to make the best choice for their own healthcare.
While in the House, Byrne worked to secure more state control over red snapper season and was successful.
“The state has control now,” Byrne said. “It’s as close as you can get to a full season.”
On tariffs, Byrne has twice now been able to announce that Airbus in Mobile has been exempted from additional fees levied on aircraft parts coming from Europe. In general, Byrne said he supports President Donald J. Trump’s policies on trade and he has been able to engage with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who has previously listened to the congressman and helped come up with a solution.
“I think we get pretty good support,” Byrne said.
Trump’s trade policy, Byrne said, has led to wins for the country in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) replacement known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), as well as with China, which just came to terms with the U.S. on phase one of a trade deal.
Looking ahead to 2021, Byrne said the growing divide among Democrats and Republicans will make it “difficult to get much done.” However, he believes the Senate will continue to approve conservative judges and both bodies have a chance to come together on an infrastructure bill.
There is still a need to reform the country’s immigration policies, Byrne said.
“It’s something we’ve got to address,” he said.
As for the deficit, Byrne said it has “got to come down.”
“It’s not a revenue problem,” he said. “Some 70 percent of all federal outlays are mandatory.”
To solve the issue, Byrne said he would change all the mandatory outlays, except for Social Security, Medicare and payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to make them discretionary.
“We’ve started looking at that,” he said. “We could balance the budget and pay it down.”
Running against Byrne for the seat is former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who occupied the seat until 2017, when Trump named him to the post. Sessions, who did not return Lagniappe’s interview request, held the Senate seat for 20 years, from 1997 to 2017.
Sessions, a Selma native who resides in West Mobile, was credited with being among the first Senate Republicans to endorse Trump during the 2016 campaign. When Trump visited Mobile for a stump speech at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Sessions joined him onstage, donning a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
However, Sessions began to lose favor with the Commander in Chief as AG when he recused himself from the Russia probe and the relationship deteriorated from there. Trump fired Sessions, according to media reports, in November 2018.
Former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville is also a leading candidate for the seat currently occupied by Jones. Tuberville was unavailable for a scheduled phone interview with Lagniappe.
Following the 1998 regular season, Tuberville was named Auburn head coach. He led the Tigers to a perfect record in 2004 and was named SEC Coach of the Year, according to his campaign website. Following Auburn, Tuberville coached at Texas Tech and then at the University of Cincinnati. He retired after the 2016 season as one of the top 50 most-winning college coaches of all time, according to his site.
Joining the top three candidates in the GOP Senate race is former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, the previous Republican nominee who lost to Jones in the special election. In addition, Stanley Adair is running, along with Arnold Mooney and Ruth Page Nelson.
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