CULLMAN – Local mayors, members of the Cullman County Commission, and representatives of numerous city and county agencies and boards gathered at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce this week to hear from U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, R-Alabama about happenings in Washington.
Strange began, addressing the county’s economic leaders, telling them he understands and sympathizes with them in their sometimes troublesome relationship with the government.
“My background in economic development is what I take to the office, and I’ve got Kevin Turner, my chief deputy, here with me. All of us kind of come to the office having represented businesses, so we understand taxes and regulations, and all the things government does or doesn’t do to help or hurt you in your efforts to recruit business small and large,” he said.
Following are highlights from Strange’s address:
“Washington I have found to be pretty dysfunctional. Is that not an understatement? I’ve been honored to be there taking my friend Jeff Sessions’ place. He’s a great guy; he’s doing a great job as attorney general of the United States. But, frankly, I thought that we’d be able to get a little more done when we got up there. So, foolishly, I thought that we actually had a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. They’ve been talking about it for seven years. I got there, and I said, ‘Well, where is that plan? Because I’m ready to sign off on it and let’s move on to the next issue.’
“And of course, when we actually got control of everything, it became much more difficult for people to agree, and as y’all all saw three or four weeks ago now, we couldn’t even get 50 votes to repeal and replace, or address that serious issue.
“So small businessmen and women and large companies, it’s a huge problem. I don’t have to tell you that. I hear from people all the time about the issues with health care. We’re going to address that when we get back to Washington.
“We have the worst situation in Alabama, because our insurance rates have almost tripled for small businessmen and women. Deductibles are unaffordable; that’s not sustainable. So we’re going to have to address that, and we will start that process when we get back. I hope we can get rid of the grandstanding and the political theatrics, and get to concrete solutions to problems that affect people in the real world. That’s my goal and my record. I’m an old basketball player. You know, I like working as a team, and we’ve got to do that. We’ve got to start doing that.
“Medicaid’s also unsustainable. Your hospital depends on a system that works, so we’ll get back to that.”
Strengthening the economy
“Two things that I know we’ll work on, that I hope we get to immediately: one in particular is tax reform. I call it tax relief. The president campaigned on that. I’ve been to the White House several times. We’ve talked about how we’re going to get the economy really going again. There’s a lot of optimism; I think you’re seeing it here in this community. The stock market, of course, is going wild. But we have to follow through, to make sure we make a real difference, in terms of allowing people to keep more of their own money–I think that’ll be the first goal–and then allow companies and businesses to be treated fairly, simpler tax code. All that’s going to be aimed toward growth. So the companies here in Cullman County can expand, they feel comfortable expanding, employing more people, paying higher wages. To me, that’s the most fundamental thing we do, and it will be determinative of whether we’re successful–are we really going to do that or not.
“Then, the other thing that I’m particularly interested in–we mentioned a little bit about it: when I was (Alabama) attorney general, we spent a lot of time pushing back against the federal government’s regulatory overreach.
“We want clean air and clean water, but we want them to follow the law. As somebody put it the other day, and I think it’s right, ‘We want to be governed–that’s what our country’s about, but we don’t want to be ruled by these bureaucracies.’ And that’s what was happening.
“I’ve been really proud, working with the president and with (U.S. Sen.) Richard Shelby to confirm good men and women in the administration, who are going to take that view of government: what’s the proper role of these agencies. I would scale back their authority and power, get it back closer to the people, and all that would help our economy, and us individually.”
“If you read the papers just this morning, you know that there’s more activity in North Korea, even as we sit here. It’s an incredibly dangerous, volatile situation. I’ve been briefed on that; it’s very serious. There’s an unhinged, unpredictable, immature dictator in North Korea, who doesn’t seem to be open to reason, and so the president said nothing is off the table, everything’s an option. So we just have to be prayerful about that situation, and make sure our military is supported.”
Strange’s appointment to the Senate Agricultural Committee
“If you think about it, and I don’t have to tell y’all in Cullman County, pretty much everything we do touches agriculture: whether it’s poultry, cattle, you’ve got timber and forestry in the south, you’ve got all the row crops all across our state, new and innovative things, Auburn Extension Service. It is a really, really important part. Maybe the most significant part of our entire economy is the ag sector.
“So, just in the short time I’ve been in the Senate, I’ve been able to bring down to Alabama to see first hand the problems, and the challenges, and the opportunities, the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. He’s from Georgia; he’s a farmer and a veterinarian, was the governor of Georgia. So he speaks our language; we don’t need an interpreter to talk to him. He comes down and he knows the challenges.
“And then the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, a guy named Pat Roberts–the first time we’ve had the chair of the Ag Committee here in decades, probably. So our farmers and our ag community now has a direct line to the leadership of our government, and that’s going to pay dividends for us as well.”
“I’m obviously very honored and pleased to have the support of President Trump. He’s trying to change Washington, make a difference–no more business as usual. He’s not a traditional politician; I don’t have to tell you that. I have to check my Twitter every morning to see what he’s either might have done or said.
“But that’s what people want, and the agenda of changing that quagmire in Washington, of getting actual solutions to problems, and a businessman’s perspective on things is good and refreshing. There are people who are trying to stop that agenda; I’m working very hard to accomplish it.
“I think it helps Alabama to have a senator with a relationship to the president, so we can call and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on. Here’s where we need help. We could have a disaster tomorrow like Houston is experiencing right now, or we could try and recruit industry, or whatever it might be. Having that kind of relationship and teamwork is really important.”
Strange went on to talk about the need to confirm staff for government agencies as soon as possible, but he expressed pride in the number of conservative judges that have successfully been confirmed. As would be expected, he also reminded the crowd about the upcoming runoff and election, saying, “It’ll be a very defining election.”
Strange is facing former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Sept. 26 run-off election for his U.S. Senate seat. The winner will face Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 election.
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Image: Sen. Luther Strange speaks with Sammie Danford, executive director of the United Way of Cullman County