The West Blount Chamber of Commerce hosted seven U.S. Senate candidates in the upcoming U.S. Senate party primaries. Democratic candidates Vann Caldwell, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Charles Nana and Republican hopefuls Dr. James Beretta, Randy Brinson, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, and state Sen. Trip Pittman spent some 90 minutes introducing themselves and fielding selected pre-submitted questions to an estimated audience of around 100.
The Hayden Lions Club provided a free hot dog meal prior to the forum at the Hayden Community Center. Local club president Tim Sosebee offered opening remarks followed by fellow Lion and chamber member Bob Manney who moderated the event. Cullman resident Brenda Horn spoke briefly on qualifications of her candidate, the Robert Bentley-appointed and seldom Alabama-seen current senator Luther Strange.
The candidates rotated the microphone among themselves based on the seating arrangement they had chosen and alternating parties. Manney called on Kennedy first.
The Prichard native began by polling the audience as to Republican preferences. He then queried why he should, as a Democrat, come to one of the reddest of the red spots in Alabama. He responded that he came because he is a different sort of candidate. He established the theme that he enshrines “faith, family, and freedom.” The U.S. Naval Academy graduate (holder of an MBA from Duke) asserts he is a business-oriented fiscal conservative.
Following the Horn endorsement of Strange, Nana amused the audience by joking of his “Southern accent,” later self-labeled as “phony Southern accent.” A native of Cameroon, Nana last year sought, unsuccessfully, the Democrat senate nomination against Alabama’s senior Sen. Richard Shelby.
Nana mentioned little of his background, choosing to emphasize key points of his platform. He heralded the importance of a living wage for those working full time, decried the cynical use of faith to foster hatemongering, and asserted his weariness with Alabama’s ranking last on almost all metrics.
Pittman followed, emphasizing his entrepreneurial background. He said that following a serious airplane accident, he re-examined his priorities and decided to enter public service in 2007. Currently a state senator from Baldwin County, he asserts he wants to help Trump and is the only candidate who actually wrote a check to the Trump campaign. He summarized his position as trust in the superiority of free enterprise, faith, and family.
The University of Alabama public administration graduate Caldwell spoke of the importance of economic development through investment in infrastructure and related jobs and providing agricultural support while protecting the environment. He spoke of the importance of a strong military and his desire to see bases restored to places such as Anniston and further development at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and Ft. Rucker in south Alabama.
United States native but long-time former Australian resident Maxwell chose to note her strong support for the Second Amendment and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. She also voiced opposition to the “Common Core” educational push and her perception of the attempt to push the nation toward support for a world government.
Brooks highlighted his more than 30 years in public service without a single ethics violation charge. The 5th District Congressman asserted that he has had nine successful re-election victories with the closest margin of over 30 percent.
Brinson announced his recent endorsement by Citizens for Trump to demonstrate his connection with the president. Choosing to make Alabama his home some 30 years ago, he has served in various capacities with several Christian-tied organizations and institutions. The former gastroenterologist founded faith-oriented Redeem the Vote as an alternative to the progressively-aligned Rock the Vote registration effort.
Brinson proclaimed his ability to create jobs outside his medical field background and asserted his opposition to Common Core and Obamacare. He views himself as a businessman rather than a career politician.
Beretta, a 25-year Alabama resident, claims he brings a different face to the race. He emphasizes ending corruption in government, repealing Obamacare and bringing electric trains to Alabama. The pain management physician holds the federal government has no place in education or medical care.
Beretta’s statement reflected the view of his fellow party candidates who tackled healthcare in the first question. They underscored a typical Republican view, rejecting that as a role for government.
Maxwell identified her total opposition to the so called “nanny state,” while somewhat surprisingly observing that it seems to work well in Australia. In a bit of a different twist, Brinson claimed that big insurance and medical companies owned the government and do not want the Affordable Care Act (frequently referred to as Obamacare) repealed.
Two of the Democrats spoke of fixing and reforming, with Kennedy sharing the story of his wife’s prior dismissal from insurance when she had hit the then established maximum following two heart attacks and a stroke. Nana pronounced his belief that healthcare is a fundamental right.
America First Asked of their positions on the America first label President Trump has used, specifically tied to the three areas of jobs, energy, and defense, the speakers again underscored usual party lines. Maxwell, again, referred to her fear of her perceived trend of moving toward a world government with the influence of the G-20 and NATO. She asked again, “Who’s making the decisions?” and called for a “return to the Constitution.”
Nana spoke strongly of his opposition to the concept noting, “If we try to make America first, it will be America alone and last.” To bolster his claim, he referred to Trump’s near isolation at the latest G-20 conference and argued against the nation being “provincial.” “It may be a good campaign slogan, but it is nonsensical policy,” he asserted.
The next question specified asking only Democrats. It queried how they would work with others on the issue of Obamacare (the ACA). Caldwell spoke of working together to improve the legislation.
Kennedy argued, that from a business standpoint, one must look at receipts versus expenses and see how to balance those. He noted no one really knows how much specific healthcare procedures cost. He avowed his willingness to work, so long as there is a set goal and that there is movement toward that goal.
Nana promised to work with Republicans so long as they are serious. He spoke of the diversity of the nation and decried the fact that the Republican Senate panel of 13 did not include a woman. “We can’t go back to the day where being a woman is a ‘pre-existing condition’,” he concluded.
Building the wall
Again, answers generally fell along partisan lines over the question of building a wall. Brinson, Brooks, and Pittman offered strong statements of support for the idea. Beretta advised of different types of walls and that he supports the idea of limiting immigration, but that can be achieved without a massive, full physical structure.
Maxwell said she cannot see a wall as such. She suggested greater use of the nation’s police power to identify where illegals may be. She claimed that when she lived in Germany, the government knew each day where she and others were.
Brooks contended the United States has the most compassionate immigration policy for lawful immigration. He expressed concern, though, for his understood costs in terms of lost jobs, lost tax revenues, and perceived abuse of the nation’s welfare system by illegals. While Pittman spoke of the need for the wall, he also noted the nation needs more legal immigration to benefit the work force.
Caldwell spoke, too, of greater use of current laws with more national security personnel assuming a more involved role. At the same time, he spoke of the need for compassion and balance.
Kennedy spoke against the “free flow” of immigrants but also noted we must determine why these people come. He held that those who have come illegally must face consequences but that the nation needs to re-examine those who have long lived here and the so called “dreamers.” He called for a host worker program and announced we should not spend money on a wall that will not work.
Kim Jong Un and North Korea
The final question Manney read asked each candidate’s thoughts on how best to deal with the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea and its developing nuclear capabilities.
Pittman took a strong stance on the issue. “We need to protect U. S. citizens. [Kim] doesn’t have ICBMs or nuclear warheads. . . . but if he does, he can’t deliver them [against the United States]. . . . If we had taken care of Korea in the 1950s, we wouldn’t have this. . . . We need to tell China to take care of North Korea or we will.”
Most shared Pittman’s view that China is a key player in addressing the problem. Brooks diverged a bit, laying blame for the North Korean nuclear buildup at the feet of presidents Clinton and Obama.
The congressman discounted some possible options, a few of which had found favor with other forum members. He opposes doing nothing but said an outright attack would threaten the South Korean capital of Seoul and discounts the viability of a nuclear shield for the near future. He indicated his preference to a return to the one-time cold war strategy of the threat of mutual self-destruction: the idea that each side acts with restraint with the knowledge that any attack would bring horrific responses.
Elaborating, Brooks asserted he believes North Korea has no desire to see the possible consequences of an attack. He then warned, however, that his greater fear is Iran, which has also begun nuclear weapons development. Unlike Kim, he believes, the Iranian leadership is suicidal.
Brinson diverged further by labeling Venezuela along with Iran as partners in the North Korean nuclear developments. He urged the removal of President (Nicolas) Madura of Venezuela and addressing the United States trade imbalance with China as important in resolving the Korean tensions.
Kennedy spoke somewhat more reassuringly, arguing that from his years of naval service, he is aware the military has plans to deal with this possible event. He assured the audience that the Navy and others have the plans and practice daily for this possibility.
Nana attempted to identify the issue as the question of how the nation deals with leaders with whom it does not agree. He opposed any pre-emptive strike, referring to the unintended results of (President George W.) Bush’s Iraq policy. He urged talking with leaders and working with allies to ease the tensions there and anywhere else.
The candidates closing statements offered little new. Brooks cited his endorsements by various Fox news and other popular media conservatives. Horn promised that if any who wished to speak with Strange on his ideas would give her a telephone number, Strange would call them back. (Horn departed before the reporter could reach her.)
Maxwell offered one surprise. She claimed that in Australia, candidates are expected to identify the candidate they would support in their race after themselves. She gave her nod to Brinson.