HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Seven candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Alabama U.S. Senate seat were in Huntsville Thursday looking to build support for the August 15 primary.
The event, hosted by the Madison County Democratic Women at the Huntsville Country Club, drew an energetic crowd and the candidates seemed to respond to that energy during the forum.
There was quick agreement on the need to improve health care, calls to stop fighting in Washington and move on to solutions, a stated commitment to equal pay for women, calls for common sense when debating the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms and the need to give voters real choices.
Charles Nana, a native of Cameroon, who is a Homewood businessman, spoke passionately about the promise of America, the current dysfunction in Washington and the need for leaders committed to solving problems.
Nana also has a proposal on how to stop elected officials from lying. He wants to offer a “truth” bill.
“Any elected official, elected by the people, who is caught in a lie,” Nana said. “He must be forced to resign. That will be, the very first day I get into the Senate, I will try to propose that bill.”
Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who in the late 1990s led the prosecution after the reinvestigation of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.
Jones said he’s not running for the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he’s looking to fill the seat of his mentor, the late U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin of Alabama. He said Heflin was a leader and a statesman and that’s what the state needs. He said voters are less and less concerned about political party affiliation.
“It means absolutely nothing,” he said. “And that’s why, I think people are seeing that now. I think the health care debate has brought this home to so many people, that they’re looking at those issues. And it’s about what somebody is going to do for them on those very issues, regardless of party.”
Jones is the best-known candidate in the race and was presumed the front-runner, but recent polling shows political newcomer, Robert Kennedy Jr., in the top spot and approaching nearly 50 percent of the vote. Kennedy had been dubbed a "mystery candidate" by AL.com
Kennedy, a former Naval officer who reenlisted after the Sept. 11 attack, said that his strong poll showing wasn’t because of voters – mistaken – assumption that he’s tied to the Boston Kennedy political dynasty, but rather, the appeal of his message. He said his lack of money and powerful supporters has helped him connect with voters.
“We saw based upon the last election cycle that the American people decided that they were going to elect somebody different and it was because of all of the discontent folks have had for the establishment over time,” Kennedy said. “This is where me coming in, with nobody knowing my name at the beginning, just being an average everyday citizen is really resonating.”
Will Boyd, a Florence minister and professor, ran as a Democrat in the 2016 U.S House race against U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville. Boyd said Alabama needs leaders with vision and ideas and integrity.
Boyd told the audience he is prepared on the day he is sworn-in to the Senate to introduce legislation addressing major areas of concern for Americans.
“I’m ready to roll out a jobs bill, an American Job Creation and Preservation bill, to put people back to work in Alabama and the whole United States,” Boyd said. “I have an America Cares bill, that’s going to make sure that health care is truly affordable and accessible to all and I have a Student Success and Empowerment bill, as I was business professor and a dean, to make sure all of our students, especially in public education, have quality education.”
Jason Fisher, an Orange Beach resident and executive with an education consulting company, said he personal tragedy helped shaped his determination to run for office. Fisher spoke of the death of his wife, when their daughter was just 2.
Their daughter has special needs, and Fisher said caring for her on his own meant he spent a lot of time in hospitals and schools. She’s made good progress, he said. But he was bothered by the rhetoric out of Washington on issues critical to American families.
He chose to run for the Senate and on the campaign trail he’s seen grassroots energy that seems spurred on by the “vitriol” out of Washington.
“I also think the people want choices, we’ve been a one-party state for so long,” Fisher said. “The thing I hear the most when I’m out talking to folks on the trail is, ‘I want a real choice, I want to be represented by a typical Alabamian, I want to be represented by someone who’s not a career politician.’”
Michael Hansen, an openly gay candidate who runs an environmental advocacy nonprofit in Birmingham, told the crowd he was running on an “unapologetically progressive platform,” so as to give voters a real choice.
“So I’m calling for single-payer health care, I’m calling for investment in clean and renewable energy, I’m calling for decriminalizing marijuana, stopping for-profit prisons,” he said. “I’m calling for a more just, fair and stable future for all of our kids and grandkids.”
Talladega County Constable Vann Caldwell told the crowd he wanted to represent all of Alabama’s people. He said he wants to focus on the economy, health care and education, to spur job growth in the state, make sure every Alabama resident has access to good health care and ensure an education system that prepares the state’s children for the future.
Caldwell said he knows it will take time for Democrats in Alabama to reclaim majority standing with voters. He believes that process begins with good candidates.
“At this point it’s based on a personality and a connection with the people, and then later we can draw the party power, but it’s more of a individual,” Caldwell said. “And it’s what I can actually do and deliver.”