By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, June 30 The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) spoke at length with former US Attorney Doug Jones who is running for Senate in the Democratic Party Primary. Jones was a US Attorney during the President Bill Clinton (D) Administration.
APR: If Syria attacks civilians with chemical weapons again, after both Presidents Trump and Obama have warned Assad not to do that, should the US mission in Syria change to removing Assad?
Jones: Syria has been somewhat of a disaster in foreign policy for both President’s Obama and Trump. This has become a proxy war. Nobody likes Assad and nobody likes ISIS. We need to make it clear that a chemical weapons attack will have grave consequences, but I also believe that should be a coordinated effort with our allies. President Trump should talk about this with Putin when they meet in a few weeks. People get worked up about the use of chemical weapons but similarly get worked up about denying Syrian refuges who seek a free land.
APR: Should Americans have a right to not buy healthcare insurance if they choose not to?
Jones: We always are a land of freedom; but one person’s freedom affects other people’s freedom. Jones said that people who don’t participate will cost other people money in higher healthcare cost; because they will seek healthcare when they need it and the emergency room is the last place that we need healthcare maintenance. At this point I would favor some sort of a mandate. I can’t imagine anyone not seeking healthcare if they need it.
APR: Should the federal government be ordering the states to adopt national education standard, such as No child Left Behind, Common Core, or Every Student Succeeds Act or should the states be given the freedom to run their own education systems without Federal interference?
Jones: The states have an incredible amount of freedom to run their own systems but I think there is a role for the Federal government in many ways. We are a very mobile people. People move from place to place. There is a national interest in setting some minimal standards so that a child in Alabama gets the same education as a child in New York. Federal standards would involve accountability and consistency from state to state and system to system. One issue we have in education is unlimited demand and limited resources. I want to make sure that not only do the kids in Greene County have the same opportunities as the kids in Homewood or Mountain Brook but also other states. So many of the standards you talked about bubbled up from the states, from the governors and the local school systems. It gets political when the Federal government says that is a good idea. All those ideas started at the local level.
APR: Do you favor block granting many Federal programs to the states?
Jones: No. There may be some, but I don’t favor block granting things like Medicaid to the states. The states are going to have to figure out how to meet the demand. In Alabama quite frankly people ought to be very jaundiced about letting state officials decide how to spend a block of money.
APR: If you are elected you will likely be the only state wide elected Democrat official. Can you work effectively with the Republican controlled Legislature and State government?
Jones: Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat the goal ought to be to do the best thing for the people of the State.” Jones said that for every dollar we send up there (to Washington) we get a dollar fifty back so there has to be a relationship. We have to have more dialogue with each other rather than more monologues. I will work with anybody who will work with me. If they want to preach to me we won’t get far, but if they want to move Alabama forward I will work with them whether they have a D or a R behind their name.
APR: If the space launch system and Orion modules successfully fulfill their testing goals would you support a manned mission to Mars by the early 2030s?
Jones: I grew up in a time of absolute awe and wonder about the space program. If I had had my druthers I would have been an astronaut. That has always been a fascination of mine.” There are also enormous economic benefit for North Alabama, but there is also a pragmatic side. We must weigh those costs. The space program produced calculators, computers, and other things that we would use every day. I would absolutely love to see it. I would volunteer but they won’t let an 80 year old go to Mars.
APR: Agriculture and forestry are Alabama’s largest industries. During the Obama Administration many farmers and foresters complained that they were being hard hit by President Obama’s environmental regulations. Do you support President Trump’s effort to roll back many of those regulations?
Jones: I don’t know what regulations specifically affect the farmers. Most of what I have seen from President trump is simply to dismantle the EPA. I do not support that, but I understand that there has to be a balance. I don’t think the farmers and foresters at the end of the day want to see the natural sources destroyed in any way. I worked for Senator Heflin and he was a champion of the farmers. These are the kinds of issues where I can be a bridge. The farmers can tell me what regulations are concerning them while letting them know of my environmental concerns.
APR: How would you eliminate the $587 billion budget deficit?
Jones: That is a $587 billion question. We had a budget surplus until 9-11 happened and we entered into increased military and wars. The rising threat of terrorism and other things have cost the country a lot of money. We have to figure out how to grow the economy” and I don’t believe in trickle-down economics. I don’t believe that cutting taxes to the rich trickles down to the deficit or to the poor. We have a global economy that we need to expand to bring in more revenue to the government and hopefully decrease the deficit.
APR: Most of Alabama’s counties are rural. What would you like to see done by the Federal government to help rural communities?
Jones: The first think is: more attention needs to be made in the area of education. Educating the kids is potentially the most important thing that can happen. Jones said that one problem is that education is funded with property taxes and rural counties just don’t have the tax base. There can be some Federal money to help. One way you can help the rural counties is with the infrastructure program that the President has talked about. Education is part of infrastructure. Where schools are dilapidated, that can be part of the infrastructure plan to help these communities. Jones said that he would like to work to attract new manufacturing jobs; but this also tied to the education so that when those jobs become available you have a work force available to fill them.
APR: Do you support a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens?
Jones: Undocumented immigrants! I support the Dream Act. It is just unlikely that we will be able to deport 11 million people. I would like to look at what President Reagan and President Bush proposed. There has to be some accommodation. I do not believe in a wall. The money can be better used on education or health care. I do want to see more border security. I don’t like to see local police being used as immigration officers. We are a nation of immigrants. We are getting more diverse and we need to figure out how to get along.
APR: Do you support strengthening and enlarging the American armed forces?
Jones: Yes, I do think that we need to continue to modernize the armed forces. The armed forces today is different than they were 14 or 20 years ago. Austal is doing some cutting edge stuff home that we can continue to modernize and build up the fleet. Alabama has always been engaged in defense industries. The biggest issue is modernization versus enlargement. In modernizing what we have that does not always mean more personnel. It is a different world now.
Jones: I want the strongest defense possible. I have children I have grandchildren. I want to make them safe from attacks both outside and inside this country. That also includes cyber-attacks. That is as much of a threat as anything. Defending against cyber-attacks is part of modernizing our defense systems.
APR: Do you support work requirements for those able bodied people receiving federal food assistance benefits?
Jones: I hate the question. I think that it is difficult to require that a person get a job where there is not a one available. There are a lot of able bodied people working that still require food assistant. There are a lot of people who are disabled and can not work and before you can work there has to be a job that you are educated trained and trained for. In an ideal world you would have all of them come together we don’t live in an ideal world.
Jones: So much of this goes back to education. I think that it is such a shame that issues like that have been politicized that way. That comes from the right wing that says that people on assistance are lazy. That is not true. I get really frustrated with the right on that.
APR: Do you think you as a Democratic Senator should work with President Trump on confirming his judicial appointments on a case by case basis or do you think you should stand with the Democratic Party leadership in the Senate and resist many or most of Trump’s conservative appointees?
Jones: I don’t think the Democratic leadership does that. Absolutely the role of the Senator is to exercise their judgement, whether it is a midlevel position in the Justice Department or the Supreme Court. One thing I learned from Howell Heflin is to show great deference to the President, but there is a role of a US Senator to examine the character and background of each nominee. That is what I am going to do whether it is President Trump or a future Democratic President. Confirmation should not be a rubber stamp.
In closing, Jones said, “As a Democratic Senator from the deep South, Mitch McConnell will know that I am not a vote he can throw $ten millions at, and Chuck Schumer will know that I put Country and State before party. I am running as a Democrat because I believe that is where the heart of America is and that is where the heart of Alabama is.”
There are eight Democrats and ten Republicans running for the seat vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as US Attorney General.
The Special Major Party Primaries are on August 15, 2017, and the Special General Election will be December 12.