Five Questions With Doug Jones
This article continues an ongoing series of articles where BamaPolitics.com will ask questions of the candidates running for federal office in 2020. These articles are designed to give our readers an introduction to each candidate and give you a better understanding of why they are running. We also wanted to ask questions, that are not a part of their regular stump speech or talking points. Let us know what you think and let us know if there are questions you have you would like to see answered by reaching out on our BamaPolitics social media or my personal Twitter account @dpreston2020.
Senator Doug Jones is the current Junior Senator from Alabama. He was elected to that position in a 2017 Special Election after Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General for President Trump. Before serving as Alabama’s junior Senator, Sen. Jones served in private legal practice and as a U.S. Attorney under President Bill Clinton. His most notable accomplishment as a U.S. Attorney was getting convictions of Ku Klux Klan members for the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing back in 1963.
Why do you believe you deserve to be reelected to a full term by the citizens of Alabama?
The people of Alabama deserve a Senator who will work as hard as they do, ignore partisan politics and labels, and put their best interests first. As their Senator, that is exactly what I have done. During my career in public life, including as a U.S. Attorney and now as a United States Senator, I’ve remained dedicated to issues that affect all Alabamians, from social justice to health care and the economy. Even though so much of our political discourse has been divisive, I remain focused on finding common ground and bringing people together as one Alabama.
During my time in the Senate, I have dedicated my energy to working across the political aisle to strengthen our national defense and tackle issues that impact the economy, health care, military families, veterans, and farmers. For example, the first bill I authored as a member of the Senate, the Rural Health Liaison Act, was drafted with the help of South Dakota Republican Mike Rounds. I was proud to see this legislation, which reduces red tape for residents of rural communities seeking access to health care, signed into law by President Trump.
As is more fully detailed in the answer to question 2 below, I have been a strong advocate for measures that would provide quality affordable and accessible healthcare for all Alabamians. Healthcare, and particularly healthcare for women, children, and in rural areas, has been a top priority of mine and will continue to be so if re-elected. As a freshman Senator, I am very proud that the National Rural Health Association recognized my efforts on rural healthcare its 30th annual Rural Health Policy Institute, where I received the 2019 Rural Health Champion Award.
We all want a strong military and honor for those who serve in the defense of our country. That’s why, this year, my Republican colleague Susan Collins of Maine joined me in introducing legislation to repeal the “Widow’s Tax,” a problem that’s affected military families for decades. The “Widow’s Tax” hurts Gold Star families by denying military widows the benefits their spouses earned while serving our country. Our bill currently has 75 co-sponsors, a full ¾ of the Senate.
In Alabama, we understand how important farmers are to our rural communities and to Alabama’s economy. This past year, I was able to assist our cotton farmers with provisions that were included in last year’s Farm Bill, help lead disaster relief efforts for farmers devastated by Hurricane Michael, and, most recently, work with Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley to increase bankruptcy protection for family farms. I also worked with South Carolina Republican Tim Scott to write legislation that was signed into law by the President. This legislation tackles the “heirs property” issue that has prevented many black farmers from participating in the same federal agriculture programs as other farmers.
I recently worked to secure a 14% increase in federal funding for our Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Alabama has more HBCUs than any other state and these institutions of higher learning have produced many graduates who have gone on to serve as business and community leaders. More needs to be done to make sure these institutions have the resources they need to serve and prepare future generations of leaders. For that reason, I have authored legislation to permanently extend and increase funding for HBCUs.
Although I have supported President Trump on many occasions, I’ve been an outspoken critic of the Administration’s tariff policy, noting that tariffs are nothing more than taxes on the American consumer. While China has clearly been a rogue actor in regard to trade, we should have enlisted the support of our allies in seeking better trade agreements with China rather than simply going it alone. The Administration now has us engaged in a protracted trade war with China, one that is hurting Alabama farmers and threatening the economic growth that we have been building since the 2008 recession. I have been particularly outspoken against the Administration’s threatened foreign auto tariffs, proposed under the guise of “national security,” which have created so much uncertainty and anxiety within our state’s automobile industry, which employs over 57,000 people. To that end, I have partnered with Republican colleagues like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Rob Portman of Ohio in authoring a number of bills and letters designed to protect our auto manufacturing businesses from these taxes.
As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I’m working to advocate for our servicemen and women and their families as well as for a strong national defense posture. I’ve worked to adequately fund our active duty military, including a 3.1% pay raise–the largest in a decade. Doing so not only keeps our national defense strong, but helps support Alabama’s economy from Huntsville to Mobile. At the same time, I recognize that terrorist organizations are still active and pose a threat to the United States. That’s why I have advocated for a continued, strong counterterrorism presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We all want secure borders and immigration policies that do not break up families and separate children from their parents. That’s why I’ve supported strengthening border security measures in addition to reforming our legal immigration policies. Rather than simply locking up children and their families who are fleeing violence, we should be looking for ways we can help their home countries address corruption, gang violence, and economic instability. That’s why I’ve cosponsored legislation that would enact a “Marshall Plan” for the Central American countries whose citizens are most likely to seek refuge in the U.S.
I also recognize that our investments abroad should not get in the way of meeting our many needs at home in Alabama. Too many residents of our state do not have clean drinking water or sanitary sewage systems. I have actively been involved in the effort to bring better wastewater management to Alabama, and in particular to the underserved Black Belt region. In 2018, I cosponsored two pieces of legislation addressing wastewater issues, both of which became law. The first was the Residential Decentralized Wastewater System Improvement Act. The second was a bill amending the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act. These bills authorize and provide grants to help connect low- and moderate-income households to existing wastewater infrastructure and install and maintain individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems. I also hosted a public health fair in Lowndes County with Representative Sewell to help raise public awareness about the health consequences associated with failing septic systems and wastewater contamination.
There are also many Alabamians who lack basic necessities like a hospital or doctor within an easy drive, the means to pay for college for their kids, or opportunities to save for an adequate retirement. These men and women don’t need someone representing them who is more focused on divisive dog-whistle politics than on the plight of working families. I understand that the people of Alabama did not send me to the Senate to vote with Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer. They voted for me because they had had enough divisiveness and wanted a change. I remain committed to honoring the trust they placed in me.
What is the one issue that you feel passionately about that you will make your top priority of focus if reelected, by either introducing, sponsoring, or co-sponsoring legislation that will help solve that issue?
While there are several issues I feel passionately about, the one that I think can have the greatest positive impact for Alabamians is the one that I have focused a great deal of energy on since joining the Senate: ensuring quality affordable and accessible health care, particularly for women and children. That focus is why I have not only been a vocal advocate for Alabama to expand Medicaid, but I have also been working to protect Medicare as a member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. I have worked across the aisle to reduce costs for families, expand access to care, promote innovation, and make sure that Alabama gets a fair shake with regard to Medicare reimbursements. For example, I worked with Senator Richard Shelby and with my House colleague Terri Sewell to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to change decades-old reimbursement rules that have hurt cash-strapped Alabama hospitals in the past. CMS recently announced a new rule that will help Alabama hospitals get the Medicare reimbursements they need to stay afloat.
The fact is, Alabama does a poor job in providing access to quality healthcare for women and children. Alabama consistently has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the country. This is particularly true for African American women and children. We need to be working together to change that. Medicaid expansion should be a part of this change, but I have sponsored several pieces of legislation at the federal level that would address these important concerns, including the following:
- The Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness (MOMMA) Act, which would expand Medicaid coverage for mothers up to one year postpartum (versus 60 days in current law) with full federal funding for this expansion population, require oral health coverage for pregnant women, improve hospital coordination and reporting on maternal outcomes, ensure adoption and implementation of best practices for improving maternity care, and create regional centers of excellence to improve implicit bias and cultural competency training among health care providers.
- The Maternal CARE Act would help end the maternal mortality crisis for black woman by creating a new grant program to identify high-risk pregnancies and provide mothers with the culturally competent care and resources they need.
- The Healthy MOM Act which will make it easier for pregnant women to get health insurance in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces by making pregnancy, like getting married or changing jobs, a qualifying life event. Currently, if a woman finds out she is pregnant and does not have insurance, she cannot sign up for insurance in the individual market until the open enrollment period.
- The Rural Maternal and Obstetric Modern Services (MOMS) Act, which aims to improve Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Data by directing the CDC to coordinate efforts to address maternal mortality and morbidity, report on women’s health conditions according to sociocultural and geographic contexts, and emphasize research on pregnancy-related deaths. This bill would establish regional innovation networks to improve maternal mortality and morbidity as well as birth outcomes; expand existing federal Telehealth Grant Programs to include birth and postpartum services as part of telehealth networks and to allow federal funding to be used for ultrasound machines, fetal monitoring equipment, and other pregnancy-related technology; establish a new Rural Maternal and Obstetric Care Training Demonstration programs to support training for family medicine physicians, obstetricians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, midwives, doulas, and other professionals to provide maternal care services in rural community-based settings; and require reporting on Maternal Care in Rural Areas to identify the locations of gaps in maternity care and activities to improve maternal care in rural areas.
- I was also a cosponsor of the Maternal Health Accountability Act (signed into law in 2018), which directs the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create a grant program for states to establish a maternal mortality review committee. This will allow states to get better data to truly understand the disparities in maternal health outcomes.
In the past decade, 13 Alabama hospitals were forced to close due to rising financial pressure. In turn, those closures forced Alabama families to travel long distances for care. Imagine having to drive hours to deliver a baby or to get access to an ER–it’s just unacceptable. Hard-working Alabama families should be allowed to focus on their personal health and not have to worry about access to quality care. We need to be investing in healthcare for all Alabamians in the same way we invest in economic development to attract new businesses. This will continue to be my top priority.
With the fact that there are two emerging aerospace clusters in Alabama, one in Huntsville surrounding the Redstone Arsenal and the Space Center there, and one in Mobile, surrounding the Airbus Final Assembly Line manufacturing facility, if re-elected to the United States Senate for a full term, would you try to get an assignment to the US Senate Committee on Commerce, and their subcommittee on Aviation and space?
Clearly the aerospace industry is important to Alabama. While Huntsville has long been at the forefront of the nation’s aerospace industry, Airbus in Mobile will continue to take a growing role in aviation. We also have Bell Helicopter in Ozark competing for the vertical lift helicopter modernization contract and Sikorsky manufacturing Navy Seahawks helicopters in Troy. I would love to have a seat on the Commerce Committee and the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space. That would, however, mean that I would have to give up my seats on the Banking and Housing Committee, the Health and Education Committee and the Armed Services Committee, each of which is also very important to folks in Alabama.
The fact of the matter is that many of the issues dealing with aerospace also come up in the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, which I was appointed to at the end of 2018. I sought an assignment to that committee because I wanted to have a voice in strengthening our national defense and ensuring that our men and women in uniform had the resources they needed to do their jobs well and return home safely. I also wanted to be a voice for the tens of thousands of Alabamians who work in related industries supplying our armed forces. From my position on the Armed Services Committee, I have advocated strongly on behalf of our many defense and aerospace assets, including to leaders at the Defense Department to place the new Space Command in Huntsville.
I think it is important to know that while not a member of the Commerce Committee, I have been vocal in my opposition to the Administration’s tariffs and duties that threaten the important work Airbus is doing in Mobile.
Infrastructure is quickly becoming a major issue in Alabama with the recently passed gas tax and Mobile I-10 River Bridge Toll do you support President Trump’s proposed infrastructure plan and what projects in Alabama would you make a priority for inclusion in any final plan?
While everyone would love to see an infrastructure plan enacted, the President’s proposal simply will not work for Alabama because it does not bring the real federal dollars that we need to the table. The plan makes only a limited federal investment while relying on private for-profit companies to provide more than 80% of the plan’s funding in the form of public-private partnerships. In Alabama, we have another word for public-private partnerships–tolls. The President’s plan would divert a large portion of the government’s transportation resources to urban areas that private companies like to invest in, while leaving rural states like Alabama behind. We can’t do this to the farmers that feed our cities and the rural communities that already struggle to attract new businesses.
The Mobile bridge is an example of a public-private partnership that relies on unacceptable tolls. Those tolls are ultimately taxes that would hit working families the hardest. Instead of tolling individual projects, I believe the federal government should be making robust investments in our country’s infrastructure. Studies prove that investments in infrastructure provide one of the best returns taxpayers can get for their money–creating jobs, improving commerce, and making our roads safer and more efficient. TRIP, a transportation research group, recently found that Alabama drivers lost $5.3 billion last year in extra vehicle operating costs because of our state’s decaying transportation infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure creates good paying jobs, reduces congestion, improves driver safety, and attracts new employers to communities.
We need to get more creative with solutions to problems like the Mobile bridge. For instance, along with Republican colleagues Cassidy and Kennedy of Louisiana, I introduced legislation earlier this summer that would create a new grant program, of up to $100 million, to expand and improve evacuation routes in small cities and rural communities with populations under 200,000. I’m very proud of the fact that many of the provisions of my bill, including the new grant program, were included in the most substantial highway funding bill in history. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently passed this bill unanimously. If enacted into law, communities could apply for evacuation route improvement grants to defray the cost of projects like the I-10 Mobile Bay Bridge or to update other aging roadways in the state.
What can you do as a U.S. Senator to promote Job growth in the state and make sure that people in Alabama that need jobs have the skills to perform the jobs that are growing in the State?
I have made Career and Technical Education (CTE) a priority in my work as a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. I have met with countless Alabama employers and potential employers to discuss their ongoing concerns about finding workers qualified for evolving jobs. I visited students and faculty at community colleges and our Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) to discuss ways to improve partnerships between schools and employers. Last year, with my support, legislation was signed into law that improves funding and standards for technical education. However, more needs to be done to improve access to technical education, including reducing costs and providing childcare for those who are unable to attend school due to parenting responsibilities.
It’s important to note that successful job creation requires close collaboration between business and industry, education and government. There are counties in our state–St. Clair County for example, in the growing I-20/59 corridor–that have had great success teaming industry and the community college system together to create good new jobs. St. Clair has also been successful in attracting national and international firms that offer quality, high-paying jobs. We can learn from successful efforts like these to bring new jobs to the entire state.
However, preparing students for the workforce is only one part of the equation. We also have to create a climate in our state that attracts employers. In that regard, we cannot overstate the importance of access to quality, affordable healthcare in all parts of our state. Attracting new business to rural areas of Alabama has a direct correlation to the ability of residents to access healthcare. I also believe it is important to eliminate costly tariffs that threaten tens of thousands of jobs across our state. I have listened to businesses across our state, including our farmers and automakers, who have spoken out to share their concerns about the impact of tariffs and uncertainty from a protracted trade war on their bottom line. They tell me that these taxes on consumers will cause sales to plummet and jobs to disappear. I have written multiple letters and pieces of legislation in an effort to protect our businesses from these tariffs. I will continue this effort until common sense prevails and these taxes on Alabama are repealed.
Finally, as Alabama’s Senator, I often explain to business and political leaders the many reasons why we are an ideal state for investment. I encourage companies to locate new facilities in our state and protect or expand existing ones. I want employers around the country to understand how talented our workforce is and to compete to employ the people of our state. This will lead to more jobs and higher wages.
David is a small business owner who attended the University of South Alabama and studied political science. He ran for his first and only political office in the city of Daphne, Alabama for city council where he lost by less than 200 votes to a sitting incumbent. David has a passion for all levels of politics, aviation, business development and recruitment, history (his dad drug him to Civil War battlefield for Summer vacation instead of Disney world and six flags) and the Mobile region.