Alabama 2nd Congressional District hopefuls address infrastructure, health care, residency

A woman at a lectern speaks to three men behind a table
A woman at a lectern speaks to three men behind a table

Former U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, who represented the 2nd Congressional District from 2011 to 2021, moderates a Montgomery Chamber of Commerce forum for Alabama 2nd Congressional District candidates to discuss their visions for the district. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

Three candidates for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District faced each other in a forum hosted by the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning.

Democratic primary run-off candidates Shomari Figures and House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, were both present, as was Republican Dick Brewbaker, a former state senator from Pike Road. 

Republican candidate Caroleene Dobson, a real estate attorney, was present briefly at the beginning but said she had a schedule conflict.

The runoffs will take place on April 16.

Former U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, who represented the 2nd Congressional District from 2011 to 2021, said the forum was an opportunity for the business community “to learn more about you and hear your approach.”

Candidates discussed topics ranging from their approach to health care to challenges for rural areas in the district to the committees the candidates would like to be assigned to in Congress.

Figures started the forum by saying that he embraced public service because he was raised by parents deeply engaged in public service: state Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, and the late Sen.  Michael Figures, D-Mobile, who served as Senate President Pro Tem.

“Because I grew up in Alabama. I grew up Black in Alabama, and I know that it has always taken the federal government in many cases to make this state do right by the people here in this state,” Figures said. “So that’s what spurred me into a career in federal government service.”

Brewbaker and Daniels discussed their experience serving in state government at length. Brewbaker saying that people in the crowd probably benefited directly from his public service.

“If you’ve been taking advantage of any of the school choice options that are available now. I passed the first charter bill out of the State Senate,” he said, and added that he also passed the Alabama Virtual School Act, which he claimed prepared Alabama to go virtual during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Daniels said that during his time in the Alabama House of Representatives he worked across the aisle to address issues affecting Alabama, such as eliminating the state income tax on overtime work as well as carrying parts of an economic development package promoted by Gov. Kay Ivey.

Daniels also highlighted his experience working on a federal level. He said that as chair of the National Education Association Student Program, he shared his story about having student debt and going into public service careers like teaching. Daniels said he felt that contributed to the passage of College Cost and Reduction Act, which provides measures aimed at reducing the cost of undergraduate and graduate education by increasing Pell Grants, lowering interest rates on student loans and implementing income-driven repayment plans.

Candidates also discussed how to address health disparities in the district. Both Daniels and Figures pushed for Medicaid expansion. While saying the decision would have to be made at the state level, Daniels said that he would work to introduce legislation that would increase federal matching funds to 100%, putting pressure on the governor to expand the program. He said he would also look at a “hybrid” model to promote buy-in.

“There’s a delicate balance that you have to have understanding that we’re in a state that has been very resistant to expanding Medicaid, but the art of being a person that actually can work and negotiate, is being able to negotiate and work to ensure that we’re passing something that’s reasonable, that’s accepted, but also solves the problem,” he said.

Figures said that since the state won’t expand Medicaid, he would look into earmarking funds to address health disparities in the district. He said that having hospitals is not just a health care issue but also an economic one.

“I think we have to look at this through a holistic lens driven by healthcare, but also the economic impact that having a failing healthcare system in too many parts of the state is having on businesses,” Figures said.

Brewbaker disagreed with both, and said that expanding Medicaid would decrease employer-based insurance coverage in the state, and that many providers don’t accept Medicaid. When it comes to expanding Medicaid, he said there are three questions to be answered: Is it affordable? Is it accessible? And is the quality adequate?

“If you expand Medicaid through the coverage gap, those employers will drop that company health insurance,” Brewbaker said. “If the state is going to give it to them for free, why should we pay for it privately?”

As far as preferences for committee assignments, Daniels said his first choice would be to serve in the House Armed Services Committee “because of the uniqueness of this district of having five military installations” to focus on growing the region through the military.

Figures said he would like to serve on the House Committee on Appropriations, though he called it a “pipe dream” for a freshman legislator. But he said he supports earmarking and bringing federal funding to state and local governments for specific projects. He said he would also like to serve in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to support ongoing projects around the district, such as expanding the Port of Mobile.

Brewbaker, as well as Figures, also said that he’d like to be in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee because of “so many projects that are going to be crucial to [Alabama’s] growth.” He said all those projects are interconnected to promote growth throughout the state.

“Sometimes the way we talk up here, it sounds like what’s good for Mobile somehow is not going to be good for Montgomery, but that $110 million container port we’re building on the river in Montgomery — it’s going to look pretty silly empty, if we can’t get the containers out of Mobile,” Brewbaker said.

Candidates also voiced concerns over residency in the district. Daniels, who represents a Huntsville district, said that he has a house in Montgomery and spends significant time in the Capital as House Minority Leader. He also said that he grew up in Bullock County, going to school there, and that he’s been doing work for the district in the state Legislature.

“Whether it’s helping some of the surrounding counties with their infrastructure by virtue of my position on the Budget Committee currently, so I’ve been delivering for the district for some time,” Daniels said after the forum.

Figures said after the forum that it’s important to have someone from the district to prioritize specific issues affecting constituents.

“We have enough cities and towns in [the 2nd Congressional District] to worry about, so as to not be concerned about whether or not the member of Congress that we’re sending to Washington, DC is focusing on bringing resources to Redstone Arsenal instead of Maxwell Gunter,” Figures said.

Brewbaker also said that it’s important to “grow up in a town that you actually care about what happens to it.”

“It is my father and grandfather, both had a little framed thing on their office wall that said, ‘live in your community, not off of it,’ and I think that’s important,” he said.

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