By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
BAY MINETTE — Nine of the twelve candidates running for the US House seat vacated by Jo Bonner (R) met at a candidate forum hosted by a Tea Party group in Baldwin County yesterday. The forum, which was not attended by AL House Rep. Chad Fincher (R), former RNC aide Wells Griffith, or Democrat Lula Albert-Kaigler, was held at the Bay Minette Civic Center. About two hundred conservative voters showed up to rally for their candidates, of which there is no shortage. Appearing at the forum were Republicans Bradley Byrne, Quin Hillyer, Daniel Dyas, Dean Young, “Thunder” Thorton, Jessica James, and Sharon Powe, along with Independent James Hall and Democrat Burton Leflore.
Overall, the debate was not overly contentious. All of the Republicans, the Independent, and even sometimes the Democrat agreed on lots of issues. Typical topics were discussed, such as campaign finances, thoughts on term limits, and general distaste in all things Obama. However, there were some gems in Monday’s forum: snippets that will make you laugh, and yes, probably even cry—but mostly laugh.
In opening statements, some candidates’ messages were instant hits with the crowd, such as when Sharon Powe said that the 1st district needs someone who will ignite it—with jobs, and, apparently, Jesus. Quin Hillyer’s opening statement on the importance of the prose of the founders was also well received.
Later, the first question from the audience would yield an interesting flurry of answers: Are you a Tea Party, McCain, or Rand Paul conservative?
The answers the candidates provided sounded like a potpourri of political sectarianism, or maybe components of a drinking game at Bohemian Grove: “Tea Party” (Young) ; “South Alabama conservative” (Byrne); “South Alabama Tea Party conservative” (Dyas); “a Ronald Reagan conservative” (Hillyer); “a conservative Democrat” (Leflore); “a strong conservative Republican” (Powe); “a Tea Party conservative” (James); “I’ve voted for more Republicans than anyone [here]” (Thornton); “a conservative who thinks the GOP left me” (Hall, although the independent says he is “not into labels”).
But, of course, the forum did not stop there. The next interesting exchange came with the question of what the candidates would do to protect religious freedom.
Jessica James’ response resonated with the crowd, “Last time I checked we are one nation under God. I want prayer back in our schools.” Most candidate reactions were similar, from “We can’t even say Merry Christmas in Wal-Mart.” (Young), to “Thunder” Thornton’s proclamation of “We need to get Christian values back in our schools; I’m not sure how.”
Then, Quin Hillyer, a writer for American Spectator, was forced to one-up his opponents with a challenge: “As a theology major, there is nobody with a record like mine fighting for religious liberty. Google me.”
Hillyer may even be fighting for religious liberties in ways he did not know before yesterday—his outspoken agenda against the Affordable Care Act becomes plainly pro-Christian once one hears the way Daniel Dyas responded to the earlier question: “I will fight to repeal Obamacare because it is the greatest threat to our Christian religion today.”
Later, in a question specifically on the health care law, Quin Hillyer wanted to make very clear: “True story: It was Sarah Palin who named ‘death panels.’ She got the topic from Rush Limbaugh. He got it from editorials I wrote for the Washington Times.”
On the subject of gay marriage, the candidates seemed verbose. The topic came to a head earlier in the campaign when Dean Young circulated a pledge asking the candidates to vow their opposition to gay marriage and their support for changing the by-laws of the ALGOP to prevent gay marriage proponents from sitting on the steering committee. While none of them went as far as to sign the pledge, all of the Republicans were willing to offer their assurances that gay is not okay, at least in the marriage department. And at the forum Monday, Burton Leflore, the Democrat, jumped right on board.
Leflore said “I am not a proponent of gay marriage. We have to accept there are gay people in the world. If they want to live together, so be it. But I don’t understand why they need to get married.”
Leflore may be overlooking the over a thousand federal benefits associated with marriage denied to the LGBT community because of sexual orientation as “a reason to get married.” Maybe he will become the first signatory of the Dean Young pledge.
Or maybe it will be Sharon Powe, who responded, “The first institution God made was marriage. If all the gays got together and Democrats killed all their babies, we’d be sure of one thing, the Democrats would be extinct.”
While Leflore may be compromising the Democratic position on gay rights, he is holding the line on climate change. When asked about global warming, the Republicans all scoffed. Jessica James called global warming a “ruse concocted by the Democrats,” while Hall said that it is “the biggest fraud perpetrated on humanity.” Leflore, bravely, considering the audience, and to the sounds of hisses and boos, said that there is real and convincing evidence of global warming.
In closing statements, all the candidates emphasized the plight of the district and the need for a leader to go to Washington and represent 1st district values: conservative values, agreed virtually everyone at the forum.
One candidate, however, wanted to make his case clearer than he already had, so Quin Hillyer did so with a challenge, this time for the voters: “I’ve been fighting for conservative principles for 34 years. 2 million words in print. Consistent advocate for conservative values. Just Google it.”
The special primary election will be held on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. The special primary runoff, if needed, will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2013. If a special primary runoff is not required, the special general election will be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2013.
If a special primary runoff is required, the special general election will be held on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.