By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, August 4, 2017, The Alabama Political Reporter (APR) had an in depth conversation with US Senate Candidate Robert Kennedy Jr. (D). Kennedy is running in the Democratic Party Special Election Primary for the Senate seat vacated when Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) was confirmed as Attorney General.
APR asked: The VA scandal exposed the fact that most federal employees can not be fired, even for incompetence. Should that change?
Robert Kennedy Jr.: Absolutely. One of the things we talk about is accountability. The employees should be held responsible for their actions and their supervisors should also be held accountable. Federal employees can be fired now, but it is a very arduous process and takes a year and a year and a half. What happened to those veterans on those waiting lists, particularly in Arizona, is ridiculous.
APR: Should veterans be allowed to receive their health care from doctors and hospitals outside of the Veterans Healthcare system?
Kennedy said that he supports whatever is in the best interests of the individual. On the campaign he met Walter a Vietnam veteran who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He earned his benefits. When he is denied services at a VA center and goes on a waiting list, he should have the option of transferring his care to a private doctor. The Veterans have earned their benefits.
APR: If the Assad government in Syria uses chemical weapons against civilians should the US send in American troops to overthrow the Assad regime?
Kennedy: That is a vast oversimplification. I am a Naval Academy graduate in 1992. I am the only Democrat candidate who served in uniform. I served for nine years. I rejoined the armed forces after 9-11. We need to evaluate and be very discerning in how we respond to any situation. As President he can commit troops, but only Congress has power to declare war. It is way too early to tie down what our response would be to a chemical weapons attack.
APR: The President has discussed spending a $trillion on infrastructure needs. The national budget deficit is $567 billion. Do you support the President’s infrastructure plan even if it means increasing the debt?
Kennedy: Again the situation is more nuanced than that. Yes we should invest in infrastructure not only roads, bridges, airports, and ports; but also things that help our rural communities as well including broad band so they have the opportunity to rise like the rest of us. I am a fiscally responsible Democrat. Every program should have a time frame, a goal, and a standard by which it is evaluated. If a program is not working it should be eliminated. This would help bring annual budget back into balance.
APR: Would you support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution putting term limits on members of Congress?
Kennedy: Yes, this is something that we need to talk about either through the convention or amendment process. I do believe that we should have term limits.
APR: Do you support a bill demanding that all 50 states honor the concealed carry permits of every other state? Reciprocity?
Kennedy: I have a concealed carry permit and it is recognized by the states around us. I believe right now that we have the appropriate balance. We don’t like large states like California, Illinois or New York establishing a standard and telling us what to do. Likewise we should be concerned about us in Alabama telling New York, Illinois, and California about what they can do. We in Alabama think differently about guns than people in the south side of Chicago do, for example. As a concealed carry holder myself, I am glad that I am and I appreciate the states that honor that.
APR: Congress recently imposed tougher sanctions on Russia. Do you support expanding sanctions against Russia?
Kennedy: I support sanctions on Russian and I support sanctions on any of those countries around the world that are not conducting themselves appropriately.
APR: Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Conference endorsed Doug Jones for Senate saying he is more electable. What is your response to those who say that a White guy with more name recognition is more winnable?
Kennedy: Joe Reed and the Alabama Democratic Committee have been instrumental in making a better environment especially for people like me: a black man from Pritchard. That allowed me to go to the Naval Academy. I have nothing against that organization. When I interviewed with that group someone literally blurted out that ‘White people will never vote for you.’ White people already voted for me. Sonny Callahan did my application to the Naval Academy. I was the first Black person elected as student President of the Naval Academy. Only 40 out of 1000 students there were Black. There were large number of White males who voted for me or I could not have won. I am a different kind of candidate. I am a manifestation of the dream that organizations like the ADC helped make possible. As Senator, I want to represent White people as well as Black.
APR: If North Korea were to successfully launch a nuclear warhead at the United States, would you support the US retaliating with our own nuclear counter strike?
Kennedy: It is way too early to address how we would respond. When I was in the Navy, in 1997 I served on the USS Dubuque which was training for that mission. The sailors, soldiers, and Marines in that theatre are properly trained and are prepared for that mission. They are able to take them out if they were to do that. We do not even need inflammatory language about us using nuclear weapons.
APR: Would you support raising taxes on upper income earners if it were part of a broader package to reform the tax code and end the budget deficit?
Kennedy: It is too early to answer that question. To ultimately address the deficit, we need a pass a budget. We know that we operate the best when we have a robust economy. To know what we have to work with, we have to grow the economy. I do not demonize anybody, including upper income earner. We need to work together.
APR: US Senate candidate Michael Hansen (D) called for the decriminalization of marijuana, what is your view?
Kennedy: I think we need to study this issue. The problem we need to be addressing is criminalization. Lots of people of color have been affected by these laws. How we address sentencing reform. That is the core issue here.
APR: If the people of Puerto Rico vote to apply for statehood in their current referendum, would you support of oppose making the island territory of 3.4 million people a state?
Kennedy: It is not something that happens in isolation. This is a collective decision made by the whole country and it is just not just Puerto Rico; but also the District of Columbia that wants statehood. We as a people should make that decision collectively.
APR: The F35 fighter has failed to achieve some of the cost and performance objectives set by the Pentagon. Should we cut short the ambitious orders for the new aircraft and instead order less costly F16s, A10s, and F/A-18s.
Kennedy: I question your premise. It has not met cost objectives. We need to look at the three components: Mission, production, and training. We may need to make modifications and changes in order to improve the performance of the program. Those older airframes were cheaper, but they are also less advanced. We need to do the work, before we make the decision on whether or not to cut the F-35 purchase short.
Kennedy: I am currently polling as the number one candidate. I am getting support across the state. Ultimately it is the voter who decides whom they want to vote for. It is not the candidate with the most money, as one Birmingham area candidate has. I am a fiscally responsible Democrat who leads with faith. I am a graduate of Duke with a Masters in Business Administration. I have worked with Fortune 500 companies. I am business friendly. I am a military veteran. I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. I am able to reach across the aisle. I can appeal to the moderate Republicans, who used to be conservative Democrats, to win the election.
Kennedy said he is a different kind of Democrat. He has been married to his wife, Aqua, for two years and said that he is a Christian.
The Democratic and Republican Primaries will be on Tuesday, August 15, 2017.