Special Election 2017: meet the candidates


Democrat Doug Jones, left, and Republican Roy Moore, right, are the leading challengers for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Luther Strange, center. / Images courtesy of Doug Jones for U.S. Senate and State of Alabama

CULLMAN – When U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed by the Senate in February, former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley was tasked with temporarily filling the Senate seat vacated by Sessions until a special election could be held. Bentley chose Luther Strange, the Alabama attorney general who had recently called off an investigation into the governor’s allegedly illegal activities.  Strange could prove to be a capable and effective lawmaker, but the suspicious looking circumstances surrounding his appointment led many to call for the state to give citizens an option to decide for themselves sooner rather than later.

In response, in one of her first actions, new Gov. Kay Ivey, who took control of the state after an embattled Bentley resigned on April 10, moved up the special election, which Bentley had set to coincide with the regular 2018 election, to this year.  Party primaries will take place Aug. 15; runoffs, if needed, are scheduled for Sept. 26.  The election will take place on Dec. 12.

Even with short notice and an abbreviated campaign season, 18 candidates got their paperwork filed ahead of the qualification deadline. Below is a brief rundown of each.

Republican party candidates

James Beretta: A Shelby County pain management physician and grandson of immigrants.  Supports immigration reform with strict rules for immigration, including a three-year time limit to learn English.

Joseph Breault: An Air Force Chaplain at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery.  Nominated for the Utah House of Representatives last year.  Known to avoid the press and skip interviews; platform still unclear.

Randy Brinson: A Montgomery physician who founded the Christian youth voter registration movement “Redeem the Vote,” and who has served as head of the Alabama Christian Coalition.  Promotes development of trade ties in Africa and Latin America.

Mo Brooks: A current U.S. Representative from Madison County, and the current no. 3 candidate in polls.  Platform includes lowering national debt, securing borders and promoting free enterprise.  Endorsed by conservative radio hosts Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin, U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers and Mark Meadows, and the Tea Party group, Alabama Patriots.

Dominic “Dom” Gentile: A Jefferson County businessman who promotes a flat tax and promises reduction of the power of the IRS.  Refuses corporate contributions, and supports term limits; says he will run only once more if elected.

Mary Maxwell: A Massachusetts native who spent much of her adult life in Australia.  A YouTube conspiracy theorist who once ran for Congress in New Hampshire on a platform of “discovering the truth about 9/11.”  Moved from Australia to Montgomery just to take part in this campaign.

Roy Moore: Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice removed from office for advising probate judges to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s order supporting same-sex marriage.  Endorsed by former state Sen. Bill Armistead.  Leads or second place and gaining fast in polls.

Bryan Peeples: A Jefferson County business manager and consultant with no political background.  Three years younger than the youngest current senator.  Says he is a fiscal conservative who supports small government and term limits.

Trip Pittman: A Baldwin County businessman and current state senator.  Though an elected official, advertises himself as a successful businessman and political outsider who will help “drain the swamp” in Washington.

Luther Strange: The incumbent candidate, and former state attorney general.  Endorsed by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, the Alabama Farmers’ Federation and the National Rifle Association.  Platform includes support of religious freedom, support of the Trump administration agenda and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.  Currently second or first but fading in polls.

Democratic party candidates

Will Boyd: A Lauderdale County resident and former Greenville, Illinois city councilman.  Pastor of St. Marks Missionary Baptist Church in Florence, claims to differ from other Democrats by being pro-life and supporting second amendment gun rights.

Vann Caldwell: A Talladega County constable.  Platform includes support for the Affordable Care Act, growing the economy, and support for the military and homeland security.

Jason Fisher: A Baldwin County businessman with no political background.  After the loss of his wife, became an advocate for healthcare reform which is his main platform item.  Promotes reform of the Affordable Care Act without replacement.

Michael Hansen: An openly gay Jefferson County activist and environmental nonprofit executive, whose political views have been compared to those of Bernie Sanders.  Calls for an increase to the minimum wage, Medicare for all Americans, and an end to all discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Doug Jones: A former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Alabama, based in Jefferson County.  An advocate for education, healthcare and LGBTQ rights, he is best known for his successful 2001 prosecution of two perpetrators of the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham.  The leading Democratic party candidate.

Robert Kennedy, Jr.: No relation to the famous presidential Kennedy family.  A Mobile marketing executive, a political unknown, even to party members in his home county.  Supports the Affordable Care Act, but calls for reform.  Opposes Trump’s border security plan, but supports second amendment gun rights.

Brian McGee: A Lee County Vietnam veteran and retired Department of Defense overseas base school teacher.  Supports the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, wants to reform the Veterans’ Administration.  Advocates mandatory government service for all citizens after high school.

Nana Tchienkou/Charles Nana: Born in Cameroon, a Jefferson County business consultant who won 44 percent of the vote in the Democratic party’s 2016 U.S. Senate primary.  Supports a minimum wage hike, free college education and immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  Calls for increased care for the poor and veterans.

All polls show Republicans in firm control at present.  Some informal polls indicate Strange with a narrow but fading lead, while most show Roy Moore in front.  Brooks is consistently in third place behind the other two Republicans, while Doug Jones trails behind Brooks as the leading Democrat.

In a recent Google online poll that may have some politicians concerned, more than 48 percent of Alabamians surveyed said they are opting out of the process, answering that they do not intend to vote in the special election.

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