By Glynn Wilson –
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the Republicans in the United States Senate release their version of a bill to gut the Affordable Care Act and leave millions of Americans without healthcare, there is a sleeper special election Senate race down in my home state of Alabama that could begin to upset the balance of power in Washington.
According to mainstream media sources, the Senate bill would repeal key provisions of Obamacare by restructuring healthcare subsidies and cut funding for Medicaid, leaving millions of children, elderly patients and the poor totally without coverage of any kind. But unlike the House bill, it would keep income-based tax credits and subsidies and stagger the cuts to Medicaid expansion, rolling back spending over four years as opposed to three beginning in 2020.
If the Senate is successful at gutting healthcare and President Donald J. Trump signs a bill into law that throws so many people out in the cold, this issue could become the undoing of the Republican majority at least in the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections.
While many Democrats were disappointed having pinned their hopes for a comeback on the House race in Georgia this week, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman says the trend set by a strong showing on the part of virtual unknown Jon Ossoff may “bode well for the Democratic Party in the mid-terms and beyond.”
The Republicans only hold a majority in the U.S. Senate by two seats, 52-46 with two independents who caucus with the Democrats. In December, when Alabamians go to the polls to vote on a replacement for Luther Strange in the seat long held by (at least for now) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that majority could be cut to 51 to 49, making it difficult for Republicans to pass any of the legislation Trump wants or stop Democrats from filibustering anything the Republicans propose.
The front runner in that race is a Democrat, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who says politicians in Washington and Montgomery, such as Trip Pittman, who is running against Strange in the Republican primary, are playing politics with people’s lives and healthcare. Pittman’s political career will be over after this race, since he has declared that he will not run for his state Senate seat from Baldwin County.
“The plan passed by the Republican House is a cheap political trick – playing partisan politics and leaving 23 million more people without real healthcare options,” Jones says. “It was ‘negotiated’ behind closed doors among factions in the Republican Party without the benefit of the advice of experts and stakeholders that deliver healthcare services. Now the Republican-controlled Senate is doing the exact same thing. “
He said he will work to see that Congress operates with more openness and transparency.
“If we really want to make life better for Americans (and Alabamians) let’s talk about what we keep and what we change in the ACA,” Jones says. He pledges to work to defend Medicare and Medicaid, to ensure that young people are allowed to stay on their family plan, to prevent discrimination against Americans with pre-existing conditions and to ensure that veterans get the care and benefits they’ve earned.
It will not be easy to take the seat away from Strange, who was appointed to replace Sessions by former Governor Robert Bentley, who recently pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was forced to resign, leaving the Republicans in charge of the state with disarray in all three branches of government: A corrupt governor, a convicted Speaker of the House in Mike Hubbard and Ten Commandments Judge Roy Moore removed from the Supreme Court for a second time.
Moore is trying to return to power by also running against Strange in the Republican primary, but Strange seems to have retained the support of the chamber of commerce Republicans, including the Business Council of Alabama, and he is raking in money out of state from the likes of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The money is allowing him to run crazy political ads already, one showing him firing a gun with a silencer at Obama’s policies, even though Trump is president now.
In a state where few people trust any politician in Montgomery or Washington, many people in the state see the appointment of Strange as a corrupt deal, since as state attorney general he slowed down the investigation of Bentley and was then chosen to replace Sessions. That could hurt him in the general election, and that is one thing Jones and other Democrats are counting on.
Sessions himself, who held the Senate seat for many years with little opposition, is not so popular anymore now that he has hitched his little red bandwagon to Trump. Along with the president, Sessions is under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for lying to Congress in his confirmation hearing and for his role in FBI Director James Comey’s firing, while he had allegedly recused himself from any role in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Senate candidate Doug Jones recently went after Sessions, putting out a poll in an email blast pointing out that Sessions offered to resign although Trump did not accept his resignation, even though national reports show the relationship between Trump and Sessions is strained.
“Many have already called for his immediate resignation. He lied about meeting with Russian officials,” Jones said. “There’s no other way to say it: Sessions needs to be stopped.”
Jones is billing himself as a champion of civil rights “who’s spoken truth to power for decades.”
“What Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump are doing to our country is wrong,” he said. “This race is an amazing opportunity for Democrats. If we work hard enough, we can make Trump and Sessions play defense (even) in DEEP RED Alabama.”
But he admits that Sessions and Strange will do everything they can to keep the seat in Republican hands, even turning to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of the behind closed doors healthcare bill, for help.
“McConnell is scrambling to salvage his Republican Senate Majority. He knows Democrats can win everywhere,” Jones says. “But we won’t lie to you: if we don’t prepare for McConnell’s $1O million onslaught now, our chance to win will be over before it starts.”
He knows it will take the grassroots support and high voter turnout on the part of liberal and progressive democrats and disgruntled independents all over the state, including women who are still upset about Hillary Clinton losing the election, and those concerned about healthcare and the environment.
While Alabama Democratic Party chair Nancy Worley said she will not comment on Jones’ chances since there are others in the primary race, she said if a Democrat were elected, returning to the seat long held by Howell Heflin, who Jones worked for, to the party, that would be “good for the economy, public education and affordable health care.”
“A Democrat would return statesmanship to the U.S. Senate,” she said.
Diane Jones, Secretary of the Mobile Democratic Party, said she thinks the political climate is such that a Democrat could win this time around.
“Those resisting, Democrats, liberals, minorities, LGBTQ and all those who stand to continue to lose under a continued Republican attack can vote and if they do, we will win,” she said. “It’s time for the regressive mindset in Alabama to end. Democrats being elected will mean a return to sanity and someone working for the good of this country and its people.”
Other Democrats in the race include Florence minister Dr. Will Boyd, chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Executive Committee who ran an unsuccessful race in 2016 as the Democratic nominee against Mo Brooks in north Alabama’s 5th Congressional District. Brooks is also running in the race as a Republican.
There’s also Talladega County constable Vann Caldwell, Orange Beach Democrat Jason Fisher, Birmingham’s Michael Hansen and Charles Nana, African American Robert Kennedy Jr. of Mobile and Vietnam vet Brian McGee.
While there’s not much public opinion research to draw upon yet in this race, Norman Baldwin, a Political Science professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said Doug Jones does have a chance in the special election.
“I’m not an expert on Southern politics,” he said, but he offered this educated opinion.
“Doug Jones has endeared a lot of voters because of his successful prosecution of Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry for their participation in the 16th Street Church bombing that killed four young African American girls in 1963,” he said. “The special election will be an uphill race for Doug, but he is a smart man with strong moral character and hero status in the eyes of many voters. Paired with the fact that Democrats in the state of Alabama are more mobilized than they have been in many years, he does have a chance to win the special election, especially if voter turnout (among Democrats) is high.”
Typically in special elections, voter turnout is much lower than presidential elections or when there is a race for governor on the ballot. Nancy Worley said that will be the case in the general election in December, but it may actually help the Democrat — if all the fired up grassroots voters mobilize and turn out.
There is not much at stake in this race to bring out the Southern Baptists who typically vote in lock step with the Republicans in great numbers, so many of them may stay at home and not support Trump’s destructive agenda this time around.
What’s left of the tea party seems to be supporting Mo Brooks of Huntsville, and he even got the endorsement of Sean Hannity of Fox News.
What may also be critical in this race is whether or not national Democrats such as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland get behind Jones and send money to help Alabama in the race. We reached out to Hoyer for comment, but so far he has not responded.
Do the people of Alabama really want a former lawyer for Transocean, one of the companies convicted in the BP oil spill, representing them in Washington? Just look at Luther Strange’s background on Wikipedia. He also defended ExxonMobile when the oil giant failed to disclose information it held on the veracity of climate change due to global warming from the burning of fossil fuels. At 6-foot, 9-inches tall, he was called “The Big Bunny” when playing basketball for Tulane University in New Orleans. If that is not material for TV campaign ads, I don’t know what would be.
Here’s a video with Doug Jones talking about this Senate race.
Editor’s Note: We will continue to cover this race with heightened interest as we build our online news presence in the nation’s capital. While the national press and mainstream broadcast media has garnered renewed interest due to the Russian hacking story, and the bloggers are becoming less relevant all the time, we believe there is a bright future for the web press in covering “real news” not sensational “fake news.”
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.