Campaign Updates

8 questions for Bradley Byrne, Burton LeFlore in congressional rematch

Posted on October 23rd, 2014

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Democratic challenger Burton LeFlore disagree on a number of issues. Those differences, perhaps, are most on display when they talk about their priorities.For Byrne, who beat LeFlore in a special election in December to finish the remainder of former Rep. Jo Bonner’s term, that priority is national defense. For LeFlore, it’s health care.

Both men shared their views with AL.com reporters and editors on Thursday. They found common ground on some topics. Both support using money from BP PLC fines under the RESTORE Act to fund environmental restoration. Both support the state’s open meetings law. And oppose cutting back on the military’s littoral combat ship, a vessel built on the Mobile waterfront by Austal USA.

Byrne said he was honored to be in the race with LeFlore, whose grandfather John LeFlore, was a renowned civil rights leader in Mobile.

The rematch between LeFlore and Byrne is Nov. 4. The district includes Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia, Monroe and Washington counties, as well as part of Clarke County. The winner will earn $174,000 a year.

Here is how Byrne and LeFlore answered questions from AL.com

1. What would your top priority be if elected?
Byrne said the nation must secure the border and invest more in defense.”We need to rebuild the defense of the United States,” he said. “We’ve weakened our defense.”

Byrne said that weaker posture – the result, he said, both of budget cuts and President Barack Obama’s words – emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to seize Crimea from Ukraine and allowed the Islamic State to seize much of the territory between Damascus and Baghdad.

“We’ve allowed that by pulling back,” he said.

Noting that his father was a physician, LeFlore said health care needs to be the nation’s first priority. He criticized efforts by Byrne and other Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and urged Alabama to expand its Medicaid program.

“I believe every individual does have a fundamental right to have health care,” he said. “We have some of the highest indicators of poor health.”

Along with health care, LeFlore said, Congress needs to spend more money on education. He called for higher salaries for teachers.

2. Do you support efforts to reinstate a requirement that Alabama and other Southern states receive advance permission from the Justice Department to make voting changes?
Known as “preclearance,” the provision of the Voting Rights Act for decades mandated that jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination to get approval before making any changes to the election rules. But the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down that provision.An effort to rewrite the law in order to comply with the high court has stalled in the House of Representatives. LeFlore on Thursday handed Byrne a petition with close to 800 signatures and asked him to co-sponsor the bill.

“To me, it’s very important that out people have a voice. I personally don’t feel right now that our people don’t have a voice in Washington,” he said. “It seems to me that the GOP has lost sight of what America is really all about. … I will fight for my right to vote.”

Byrne pronounced himself a “very strong supporter of the Voting Rights Act” but said any legislation on updating the law should treat all states the same.

“I don’t want Alabama to be singled out as it was under the old Voting Rights Act. … Everybody should be treated the same,” he said.

But LeFlore said Alabama is not the same as every other state.

“The fact of the matter is the state of Alabama has a long history of suppression, a long history of racism,” he said.

3. What is Byrne’s biggest achievement in office (or his biggest mistake)?
Byrne cited the law passed by Congress to amend the National Flood Insurance Program to prevent huge increases in rates from taking effect for property owners who have enjoyed heavily subsidized rates. Under the legislation, those rates will rise more gradually.

U.S. House Candidate Bradley Byrne Oct. 23, 2014U.S. House candidate Bradley Byrne comments at the Alabama Media Group hub Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, in downtown Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell/mkittrell@al.com)

“We got a bipartisan bill through Congress several months ago that doesn’t keep their bills from going up, but it keeps them from going up these huge amounts,” he said.LeFlore said his opponent’s biggest error has been to violate his promise to seek bipartisan solutions. He lambasted Byrne’s support for a lawsuit by House leaders against Obama over his use of executive action to bypass Congress.

“Bradley promised us that he wasn’t going to go to Washington and get caught up in this partisan, party politics that we’ve just been seeing go on in Washington,” said LeFlore, who hand-delivered a petition on the lawsuit issue to Byrne’s district office in Mobile in July. “It’s very counterproductive.”

4. What is one tax you would be willing to raise or one program you would cut that would make a meaningful impact on the budget deficit?

Byrne flatly rejected raising taxes but offered several ideas for saving money. One was transferring responsibility for measuring the Gulf of Mexico red snapper population from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to local scientists. The agency responsible for it now has a budget of $930 million and, Byrne said, uses flawed science. He also said he would cut $3 billion in subsidies for alternative energy and reduce the $750 billion that the nation spends on means-tested entitlement programs.LeFlore said he would close military bases in foreign countries where there is no threat to U.S. interests. “Certainly, that would save taxpayers a significant amount of money,” he said.

5. Do you believe the military should follow through on its commitment to buy 52 littoral combat ships, and if so, what is the best way to ensure that?
Byrne said he supports the program, and not just because it helps provide more than 4,200 jobs at Austal USA. He said the small, fast ships are crucial in an era of a smaller of Navy. The nation can provide 10 of the vessels for the price of a single destroyer.

U.S. House Candidate Burton LeFlore Oct. 23, 2014U.S. House candidate Burton LeFlore comments at the Alabama Media Group hub Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, in downtown Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell/mkittrell@al.com)

He said testing of a Norwegian-made missile indicates that the military has found a solution for concerns that the ship lacks sufficient firepower.”These are exactly the ships that the military needs going forward,” he said. “The best way for America to project force (around the world) is to take American naval ships and put them forward into those environments.”

LeFlore agreed. “We need to lobby in Congress and make sure that other representatives in Congress understand the need.”

6. What is the best way to fund a proposed Interstate 10 bridge over the Mobile River?
In a separate interview, LeFlore questioned the need for a new span and said he wanted to hear more from business leaders who oppose the project. But he said he likely ultimately would support it because of its job-creating potential.On Thursday, he told AL.com staffers that there is only one feasible way to pay for the project. “I think the only way the bridge is going to be paid for is with taxpayer money,” he said.

Byrne, who has made jumpstarting the long-stalled proposal one of his highest priorities since taking office, said he continues to oppose tolls – as Gov. Robert Bentley has suggested. But he said the decision on how Alabama will fund its 20 percent match is up to state officials. He also said alternatives that have been used on other large infrastructure projects – life private funding – should be considered.

“At the end of the day, we have to build the bridge as quickly as we can,” he said.

7. What is the best way to reform Alabama’s troubled prison system, and would you support a tax increase to improve the system?
Both candidates opposed a tax increase, and both voiced support for improving rehabilitation.”I think what the corrections system need to focus on rehabilitating criminals as opposed to just incarcerating criminals,” LeFlore said. “I think the state and federal government both should work on this issue.”

Byrne noted that he has experience dealing with the state prison system, both when he was a state senator and later as chancellor of the two-year college system. He said the Department of Postsecondary Education provided training programs for the prisons that were highly successful.

“Our experience was that if we got a prisoner completely through, successfully completed one of our job-training programs, we got them a job 100 percent of the time. And the recidivism rate was less than 3 percent,” he said. “The best thing we can do is get them a job skill so that they can get a job so that they don’t go back into that line of crime.”

8. What is your view of Alabama’s open meetings law?
Byrne said that when he was the two-year college chancellor, “we went beyond the actual letter of that law and what we thought was the spirit of the law.”Said LeFlore: “I believe government must be transparent.”