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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.

And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.

That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.

In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.

“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“

Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light

In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.

Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.

Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.

State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.

The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.

Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.

Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.

Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.

Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.

The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.

Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.

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Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne first to take on Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones in 2020

Byrne’s past criticism of President Donald Trump could become an issue in the GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff. Video below story.

MOBILE (CFP) — U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne has become the first Republican to enter the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Alabama, drawing a contrast between what he called “bedrock” Alabama values and the priorities of Washington — and between his positions and those of the  Democrat now holding the seat, Doug Jones.

“Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there,” Byrne said at his campaign kickoff February 20 at an oyster house in Mobile. “Look at Washington and tell me you don’t see people that have a vision that’s fundamentally at odds with what America is.”

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne kicks off Senate campaign in Mobile (From WKRG via YouTube)

Byrne drew a contrast with Jones over his opposition to Brent Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, his stand in favor of legal abortion, and his opposition to the president’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“When the people we charge with patrolling our Southern border, with protecting you and me, tell us we need to build some more border wall, we build a border wall,” Byrne said, to applause from his supporters.

Byrne also warned his supporters that “the people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it, and they will stop at nothing.”

Byrne, 64, from Baldwin County just across the bay from Mobile, was elected to Alabama’s 1st District U.S. House seat in a 2013 special election and has won re-election easily three times. He had previously served in the State Senate and as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.

While Byrne offered full-throated support of Trump in his campaign kickoff, his previous comments about the president could come back to haunt him in a Republican primary in a state where the president remains popular.

During the 2016 campaign, after a video surfaced in which Trump was heard describing how he groped women’s genitals, Byrne withdrew his endorsement and called on Trump to exit the race, saying he could not defeat Hillary Clinton. However, he later made it clear that he did not support Clinton and would vote for the Republican ticket.

Byrne was joined by two of his House colleagues from Alabama, Martha Roby and Mo Brooks, in criticizing Trump during the campaign — and both of them discovered, as Byrne might, the political consequences of running afoul of the Trump faithful.

Brooks came in third place in the Republican primary in a 2017 special election to fill the Senate seat Jones now holds against two candidates who criticized him for his comments about Trump. Roby was forced into a primary runoff in 2018 for the same reason, although she survived.

Jones, 64, won a special election to the Senate in 2017 after the Republican nominee, Roy Moore, was accused of pursuing sexual relationships with underage girls, allegations which Moore denied. Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats on the ballot in 2020, in a state Trump carried in 2016 by 28 points.

During his time in the Senate, Jones has not tried to tack to the right to appeal to Alabama’s conservative electorate. He has supported the Democratic leadership on key votes, which included voting against the Republican tax cut plan and the Kavanaugh nomination, and he also supports same-sex marriage and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants.

Jones ended 2018 with $2.1 million in cash on hand for the 2020 race, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Given Jones perceived vulnerability, the race is expected to draw an number of Republican challengers into the primary with Byrne. State Auditor Jim Zeigler has formed an exploratory committee, and others considering the race are U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer from Hoover and State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh from Anniston.

The Senate race in Alabama is one of 13 Southern Senate races in 2020. Only two of those seats are held by Democrats, Jones and Virginia’s Mark Warner.

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Watch Byrne’s campaign kickoff:

Trump stumps for U.S. Senator Luther Strange ahead of Alabama runoff

President tells Huntsville crowd that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a “mistake” if he loses

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — President Donald Trump put his power and prestige directly on the line by traveling to Alabama to campaign for U.S. Senator Luther Strange, who is locked in bruising GOP primary runoff against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Trump and Strange onstage in Huntsville (Photo: Twitter)

But addressing Strange’s supporters in Huntsville just four days before Alabama Republicans make their decision, Trump conceded that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a mistake should the senator lose — and that he would campaign “like hell” for Moore if the challenger wins the September 26 vote.

“I’m taking a big risk, because if he doesn’t make it, they’re going to go after me,” Trump said, a reference to the likely media reaction if Moore wins.

“If Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They’re going to say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump,'” he said.

However, Trump also said that he thought a Moore victory in the primary could put the seat Alabama seat in play in November, in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in 25 years.

“Roy has a very good chance of not winning in the general election,” Trump said. “Moore is going to have a hard time winning.”

The Democratic nominee is Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, whose uphill task in deep red Alabama might be less uphill against someone with Moore’s controversial past, which includes being ousted twice from his chief justice post for defying federal court rulings.

Both Strange and Moore have cast themselves as champions of the president’s agenda, in a state where Trump remains popular. But it was Strange who earned a formal endorsement from Trump just a week before the first round of voting in August, which Moore won.

Since then, Moore has been endorsed by the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, and received support from Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also traveled to Alabama to campaign with Moore.

In addition to Trump, Strange has received support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies, who have dumped millions into the race on his behalf.

The battle in Alabama has become a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye — and possibly saddling him with a Republican caucus member who has publicly and repeatedly called for his ouster.

The twist in the Alabama race is that Trump is on the side of the GOP establishment, rather than Moore, the insurgent outsider who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House.

Five statewide polls taken since the first round of primary voting in August have shown Moore with a lead beyond the statistical margin of error; in three others, the margin between the candidates was not large enough to draw inferences about the state of the race.

The latest poll, a September 18 survey from JMC Analytics, showed an inconclusive margin between the candidates. However, that was a marked shift from the same poll in August, which had Moore with a 19-point lead over Strange.

About 13 percent of voters polled in the survey said they were still undecided.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, have dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, 70, first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.

Alabama GOP U.S. Senate primary runoff battle heads down to the wire

A Roy Moore victory would be win for religious conservatives — and a loss for Trump and McConnell

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CFP) — With just a week to go before Alabama Republicans decide on their U.S. Senate nominee, the burning political question across the Yellowhammer State is, can Roy Moore really pull it off?

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Polls show Moore — an unapologetic culture warrior twice elected and twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying federal courts — has a clear shot at knocking off U.S. Senator Luther Strange, which would be politically embarrassing for both President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who have backed Strange to the hilt.

Trump, who despite his political difficulties nationally remains popular in Alabama, will campaign with Strange in Huntsville on the Friday before the runoff, even though Moore — who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House — has also cast himself as a solid supporter of the president’s agenda.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Five statewide polls taken since the first round of primary voting in August have shown Moore with a lead beyond the statistical margin of error; in three others, the margin between the candidates was not large enough to draw inferences about the state of the race.

The latest poll, a September 18 survey from JMC Analytics, showed an inconclusive margin between the candidates. However, that was a marked shift from the same poll in August, which had Moore with a 19-point lead over Strange.

About 13 percent of voters polled in the survey said they were still undecided.

Moore got a major boost on when he was endorsed by the candidate who placed third in the first round of voting on August 15, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks.

“We are in an epic battle between the people of Alabama who put America first and the Washington swamp that hopes to buy our Senate seat and put America last,” Brooks said at a September 16 Moore campaign rally in Huntsville.

The battle in Alabama has become a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye — and possibly saddling him with a Republican caucus member who has publicly and repeatedly called for McConnell’s ouster.

Most recently, Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been boosting Moore, even as the president has waded further into the fray for Strange.

A victory by the Moore would also cheer Democrats, who haven’t won a Senate race in Alabama in 25 years. Waiting in the wings for the GOP runoff winner is Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, whose uphill task in deep red Alabama might be less uphill against someone with Moore’s controversial past.

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, have dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

Moore, 70, first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.

Luther Strange gets Trump endorsement in Alabama U.S. Senate primary

Opponent Mo Brooks says president was “misled” into endorsing Jeff Sessions’s successor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — A week before Alabama Republicans go to the polls to decide a hotly contested U.S. Senate primary, U.S. Senator Luther Strange has snagged a coveted endorsement from President Trump, in a race where a host of GOP candidates have been vying to claim the Trump mantle.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

“Senator Luther Strange has done a great job representing the people of the Great State of Alabama. He has my complete and total endorsement!” Trump said in an August 8 tweet.

One of the men Strange is battling for a spot in a likely Republican runoff, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, reacted by firing off a statement suggesting Trump has been misled into supporting Strange by the Washington establishment, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I respect President Trump, but I am baffled and disappointed Mitch McConnell and the Swamp somehow misled the president into endorsing Luther Strange,” Brooks said. “While Mitch McConnell and the Swamp managed to mislead the president last night, I still support the America First Agenda. … We believe our message will win out over the Swamp and Lyin’ Luther.”

Strange was appointed to the Senate temporarily in February after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general. He is running in an August 15 special election primary to fill the seat permanently, a race that has attracted eight GOP candidates

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks

All three of the leading Republicans — Strange, Brooks and former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore  — have emphasized their support for the president on the campaign trail. But Brooks, who initially supported U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in last year’s presidential race, may have run afoul of Trump in July by coming to Sessions’s defense after the president made noises about firing the attorney general.

Brooks offered to drop out of the race and let Sessions have his Senate seat back, provided the other candidates also agreed to withdraw. None of them did, and, in the end, Trump did not fire Sessions.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House, joined Brooks in attributing his endorsement of Strange to the Washington establishment.

“The people of Alabama know me and know that I will stand for the principles which made this country great,” Moore said in the statement. “All of the money, power and prestige of Washington D.C. will not determine who the people will elect as the next senator.”

Polls have shown the race headed to a September 26 runoff, with Moore in the lead and Strange and Brooks battling for second place.

Strange’s pitched battle to stay in the Senate is not what he expected when he was appointed to the post in February by former Governor Robert Bentley. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.

McConnell has backed Strange, and a PAC affiliated with the Senate leader has run ads against both Brooks, a House Freedom Caucus member who has called for McConnell’s ouster, and Moore, whose controversial past has made him a darling of the religious right but a polarizing figure both nationally and in Alabama.

In 1995, Moore, then a little-known circuit court judge in Etowah County, shot to national notoriety after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

While Strange and the other Republicans battle for their party’s nomination, seven Democrats are vying for a spot in the general election against the winner. Limited polling in the Democratic race has shown a lead for Robert Kennedy, Jr. — not the son of the slain U.S. senator but a Mobile businessman and former naval officer who appears to be benefiting from name misrecognition, in a race full of little known candidates.

Former U.S.Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham, the choice of Democratic party leaders, is in the second spot in the polls.

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks jumps into Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Four-term congressman says he offers “proven conservative leadership”

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

HUNSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks has announced he will run in a special election to fill Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat, adding a high-profile name to a crowded field trying to unseat the temporary incumbent, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

Announcing his candidacy in a series of events across the state on May 15, including in his hometown of Huntsville, Brooks touted himself as “the only candidate for the Senate who has a proven record of conservative leadership,” citing a list of accolades from business and conservative groups for his work in Washington.

“The solutions to America’s challenges are there. The roadblock to these solutions is all too often the U.S. Senate,” Brooks said. “We must elect senators with the understanding and backbone needed to face and defeat America’s challenges.”

Since 2011, Brooks, 63 has represented Alabama’s 5th District, which is anchored in Huntsville and takes in five counties in the northern part of the state along the Tennessee border.

During his announcement speech Brooks–who pointedly refused to endorse Donald Trump in last year’s presidential race–did not mention the president, a contrast with other candidates in the race who have embraced him.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.

Brooks is the eighth Republican in the race, along with Roy Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice; State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who launched the effort to impeach Bentley, and Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.

Also expected to run is the top Republican in the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh from Anniston.

Two Democrats are also running, although any Democrat would be considered a longshot in a state where the party hasn’t won a Senate seat since 1992.

Party primaries are scheduled for August, with a runoff to follow if no candidate gets a majority. The general election is in December.

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