By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
Retired Marine Corps Col. Lee Busby, a former top aide to President Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff retired Gen. John Kelly, is coming out of a retirement defined by sculpting to honor fallen service members to launch a last-minute write-in effort for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat against Republican nominee Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.
Busby, who now lives in Tuscaloosa, said he isn’t satisfied with the two candidates on the ballot and wants to offer himself a more moderate alternative to the two men whom he says are too extreme for Alabama voters.
“At first, I didn’t know if that was just a personal problem or if it was more widespread than that,” Busby told the Alabama Political Reporter. “My sense is I was right on a big scale, that there is a lot of people in Alabama who are not happy with the two choices they have.”
Busby says he votes Republican, considers himself conservative and supports Trump with few reservations. But for him, even before the sexual misconduct allegations against Moore, the campaign was too polarized.
“Too much of it is concentrated at the far right flank and the far left flank, and the center is being ignored,” Busby said. “I think I can drive straight up the middle.”
Busby, now 60, served as a vice chief of staff to Kelly when Kelly was a three-star lieutenant general overseeing the Marine Reserves. He graduated from Alabama and spent more than three decades as a Marine Infantry Officer including several years deployed after the Sept. 11 Attacks. Since retiring in 2010, Busby has spent his time as an entrepreneur, a small business owner, in the corporate world and as an artist, sculpting busts and other pieces to honor and memorialize Alabama’s fallen service members.
A once solid Republican Senate seat has been thrown into limbo in recent weeks after three women came forward with sexual assault allegations against Moore, a longtime firebrand jurist. The Alabama GOP has warned Alabama Republicans against mounting or supporting write-in candidates, but Republicans from outside the state borders have largely called on Alabama voters to reject Moore, whom they view as a danger to the party’s future.
Busby hopes to capitalize on enough weary Republican and centrist voters — and even some Democrats — to get enough votes to outpace Jones and Moore.
Alabama GOP Chairwoman Terry Lathan has warned Republican candidates that they could be disqualified as the party nominee in state races if they support a candidate that isn’t Moore. But Busby, who hasn’t held any high-profile elected positions and doesn’t seem prime to launch any other campaigns anytime soon, isn’t fazed by that threat.
Busby says he doesn’t know if the allegations are true and frankly doesn’t care. He wasn’t going to vote for Moore to begin with, and the allegations were enough to solidify that decision.
“I don’t care, it’s enough that I know as a voter I don’t want to vote for him,” Busby said. And Jones, a former U.S. Attorney who might be the most viable Democratic candidate in recent Alabama history, isn’t getting his vote either.
Busby spent his time in the military split between the reserves and active duty with tours in Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq, in 2007 and 2008. Busby, who served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Marine Forces in Europe before becoming Kelly’s Vice Chief, said qualities taught to and drilled into service members, like “leadership, discipline and fair treatment,” make him a qualified candidate for the Senate — on top of the pure managerial and work experience he gained.
“Another problem with the two existing candidates is I don’t see any compelling qualifications for the U.S. Senate,” Busby said. “I see a couple of Alabama judiciary guys without any experience in foreign relations, defense and intelligence, counterterrorism, economics and international finance. I don’t see that. What I see is a fairly narrow background experience in the judiciary. If they want to go be attorney general, then that’s great, but I don’t see any compelling experience.”
Busby said he put his four children through the public school system and gets his health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I understand the things that grow out of that,” Busby said. “I’m not a politician, never have been, but I think I know what the Alabama people want, and I think I can provide that. I think they want good, honest leadership. I think they want somebody who will give them some comfort. … I think they want somebody that’s not Roy Moore and not a Democrat.”
With just 15 days to go until Alabamians head to the polls on Dec. 12, Busby doesn’t have much time to get his name out there. He spent the weekend getting a basic foundation together — a logo and skeleton staff. His website didn’t go live until Monday afternoon, hours after The Washington Post first reported he was launching the campaign.
Busby said he would like to see tax reform, the Affordable Care Act repealed and the military adequately funded.
His last-ditch campaign could come as a welcome relief for some Republicans who are torn over the allegations, including those in Washington who have condemned his campaign. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said he wrote in a vote for a “distinguished Republican.” He wouldn’t vote for Moore.
Moore’s campaign has dismissed the allegations in the Washington Post and AL.com as hit pieces against his campaign, blaming them on the “Republican establishment.”
Trump has tweeted frequent attacks against Jones in recent days and has neared an endorsement of Moore. But the White House has said the president won’t travel to Alabama to campaign for him. Busby said he hasn’t spoken with Kelly, now a top adviser to Trump, in at least five years, and there was “absolutely no” coordination between him, Kelly or the White House.
“I”m quite happy with Donald Trump’s tenure so far. He’s not perfect, nobody is,” Busby said. “It makes me happy we’ve got a man like that up there, but this isn’t coordinated.”