MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones spoke on a wide variety of subjects at the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast Tuesday morning.
Jones discussed items ranging from the F-35 program to Medicaid expansion and even the controversy surrounding Gov. Kay Ivey’s admission of using blackface.
ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE
Since his last visit to the chamber’s breakfast, Jones has been assigned to the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, calling it “an eye opening experience.”
Jones traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan in April as a member of the committee and said “Alabama should really be proud."
The senator said the opportunity to sit on the committee allows him not only to show his commitment to national defense but to Alabama’s economy.
“You guys would be amazed, and I know the Air Force here, you see some of it, but until you go behind the fence and the walls at Maxwell, or you go behind the walls and the fence at Redstone Arsenal or Fort Rucker, you don’t really fully appreciate what’s happening and how Alabama contributes to our national defense,” Jones explained. “It’s remarkable.”
WEAPON MODERNIZATION, SPACE COMMAND, F-35, AND MILITARY FAMILIES
Jones said Congress has been working for months on approval of the National Defense Authorization Act.
“Our bill is a $750 billion bill,” he stated, to help modernize the U.S. military’s weapons.
“We’ve lagged behind a bit," he said would be the answers if you asked military commanders for their assessment. "China and Russia are threats, and growing threats.”
“Now we’ve got a whole new area of war, potential warfare, that’s space,” he added, referring to the creation of Space Command and Space Force.
The senator also touched on other things the NDAA would address, including approval for approximately 60 F-35 fighter jets. That would be good news for Dannelly Field.
There’s also the elimination of a military widows tax, a 3.1 percent pay raise for those serving in the military, as well as fixes for military family housing, which has been an issue at Maxwell, the senator said.
“If we can’t uphold commitment to vets we may as well close our doors and go home,” he explained.
To date, Alabama is among 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid. Senator Jones called it a “moral victory” that the legislature even considered expansion during the last session, even though it didn’t pass.
Jones said he has a bill pending in Congress that would give Alabama a “second chance” on expansion.
“Healthcare has always, since I started running for this office, been a driving issue for me,” the senator said. “It has probably been the top issue for me."
Jones said “it’s difficult to stick around when your local hospital closes. Hospitals are absolutely vital to our well being of our residents and to our economies.”
The senator has made no secret of his desire to see the state expand Medicaid.
“If we had expanded Medicaid when we should have years ago, we would have brought billions of dollars into this state. We would have healthcare for some 300,000 more Alabamians.”
IVEY’S BLACKFACE CONTROVERSY
Jones’ prepared speech ended on a topic he called “not so nice, not so pretty,” for Alabama.
“Once again Alabama has hit the national news over a racial issue,” he said.
Jones cautioned that he wasn’t there to criticize Ivey “for what she may or may not have done in college.” Ivey has come out apologizing for taking part in a racist skit involving blackface in the late 1960s. Ivey was the SGA Vice President at Auburn University at the time.
“I really want to try to seize this moment, as uncomfortable as it might be to talk about," Jones said. "There is a long and painful history associated with blackface in this country. It’s been used to demean and dehumanize African Americans and there is absolutely no excuse for it. But I appreciate the way Gov. Ivey has addressed this issue in such a straightforward manner. Accepting responsibility while apologizing, expressing sincere remorse, are important ways to move beyond our mistakes of the past.”
Despite the apology, Jones said “it is painfully clear that we have never fully reckoned with the issues of race that continue to divide us,” pointing to numerous racial disparities across the state.
Jones said an Alabama governor still having to promise to show how far the state has come on racial issues decades beyond the Civil Rights era “is quite frankly a painful admission that in the eyes of the nation, folks just don’t believe we’ve come as far as we have.”
Jones said the issue of correcting racial injustice isn’t just on the governor. He urged every Alabamian to pledge to take action.