The thing about Mo Brooks, his friends will tell you, is that he’s Mo Brooks.
He believes what he believes, they say, and it doesn’t change for the sake of convenience or political prosperity.
It’s evident on the campaign trail, too. To attend his town hall meetings with voters in recent months is to see his message is more consistent than gravity, unbending and unwavering in his beliefs. To his political life, the U.S. Constitution is his oxygen and not necessarily convincing people to vote for him in the next election. He makes no grandiose promises to Alabama voters if they choose to elect him to the U.S. Senate. His record says he will adhere to the Constitution and never stray, which includes preserving the path of self-determination for the future of his home state.
And if that’s what cost him the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, then so be it. Brooks maintains he lost Trump’s support because he refused Trump’s urging to work in Congress to remove President Joe Biden from office – because, of course, the Constitution didn’t allow it.
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“The number one job of the United States Senator, as it is as a United States Congressman, is to make America the greatest that we can be,” Brooks said in a recent interview. “Which in turn, enhances all 50 states and all citizens in each of those states.”
If you accept that, then Brooks would appreciate your vote in the May 24 Republican Senate primary. If not, he has a sprawling family that includes 13 grandchildren to hang out with on a full-time basis once his term in Congress ends in January 2023.
But that’s who Mo Brooks is. Even as he fights for his political life, even as this may possibly be the last time his name ever appears on a ballot, the 68-year-old Brooks remains true to his beliefs.
“He just a good, decent person that you know where he stands,” said longtime friend Mark McDaniel, an attorney in Brooks’ hometown of Huntsville. “You might not agree with him. You know, there are things I don’t agree with him. But you know where he stands.”
It’s almost an eerie echo to a 2017 AL.com profile of Brooks when another friend, Huntsville city councilwoman Jennie Robinson, spoke of their longtime friendship.
“You never have to second-guess Mo,” Robinson said in the profile. “You may not always agree with him, but you know where he stands.”
And so it is in this GOP primary with two opponents running for office for the first time against Brooks, an attorney by trade who perhaps best fits the “career politician” profile. He’s held elected office on the local level as a Madison County commissioner, the state level as a legislator and, most recently, 12 years in Congress representing the 5th District in north Alabama.
Altogether, Brooks has been elected to office 14 times.
And always as a Republican. Indeed, there once was a time in Alabama history when Republicans were about as common in state politics as Democrats are today. When he was first elected to the state legislature in 1982, Brooks was one of only 11 Republicans and the only Republican representing a district north of Birmingham.
Voters in his south Huntsville district elected him three more times to the legislature before voters elected him four times to the Madison County Commission. Then six times to Congress.
It’s at this juncture of Brooks’ career that he is most comfortable in his conservative, Constitution-clutching skin. It’s a regular feature of his campaign town halls to recite his Republican bona fides, to outline his dedication to the Constitution and unswerving concern over the country’s rising debt. And if that’s not who you want in a senator, Brooks will tell his audience, you need to vote for someone else.
Terry Lathan, however, will vote for that kind of senator. She is the former chair of the Alabama Republican Party, stepping down in 2021 after six years.
As chair she had to be neutral, unable to support one Republican candidate over another before the primary.
“So, for the first time in almost 10 years, in a primary, I’m able to speak up,” she said. “I have my freedom back per se.”
And with that freedom, she not only supports Brooks but also agreed to be co-chair of his campaign.
“Watching Mo Brooks with his voting record, overlaying his record with the Republican Party platform, is a perfect match for myself,” Lathan said. “I say that Mo Brooks’ voting record is the gold standard of the Republican Party. And while I know most of the people in the race and are friends with many of them, Mo has a voting record.”
The others – Katie Britt and Mike Durant – do not because they’ve never held public office.
There is, of course, more to Mo Brooks than decades in elected office as a Republican and a “gold standard” voting record.
Brooks often plows ahead in the wake of controversy.
There was a time when he frequently spoke of a “war on whites” in response to Democrats invoking race into issues where Brooks saw no basis for race. There was the time he supported any means necessary “short of shooting them” to force illegal immigrants out of the country.
It even goes back to his days on the country commission, describing the Huntsville Housing Authority as “arrogant do-gooders” in suggesting an end to public housing.
And sometimes controversy finds Brooks even when he isn’t looking for it.
On June 14, 2017, a gunman opened fire on the northern Virginia baseball field where Republicans were practicing for the upcoming Congressional baseball game. Five people were wounded by the gunfire but Brooks was not injured. He helped attend to two of the injured.
Days later, the shooter – who was killed when police returned fire – was found to have what has been described as a hitlist of Republicans that included Brooks.
Brooks, who last week was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, recently released a campaign ad recounting the shooting to reiterate his support of gun rights secured by the Second Amendment even in the immediate aftermath. Again, the Constitutionalist to the end.
Of course, maybe the “gold standard” – to borrow Lathan’s description – of Brooks’ controversial statements occurred Jan. 6, 2021.
“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks said in a speech at the pro-Trump rally the morning before Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of Biden’s election.
Those words have been parsed and studied ever since and Brooks has explained the nuance with which he wrote that sentence. The speech led two Democrats in Congress to introduce resolutions to punish Brooks – one calling for his censure, the other for his expulsion. And while Democrats presumably had the votes to do one or the other as the chamber’s controlling party, nothing ever came of either effort.
Brooks was also sued by still another Democrat in Congress, California’s Eric Swalwell, over the speech and the role Swalwell alleged it played in the Capitol siege. But a federal judge dismissed Brooks as a defendant almost immediately – saying he would have done it quicker had Brooks already filed for a motion to be dismissed from the suit.
The speech, which Brooks gave at the request of the Trump White House, culminated a weeks-long battle to object to the certification of election results. Brooks was the first member of Congress to publicly state he would formally object to the election, which led to other House members joining him and, eventually, a handful of senators as well.
Ultimately, of course, the effort failed. Trump supporters pushed past Capitol police and breached the building as members of the House and Senate as well as Vice President Mike Pence scrambled to safety. Debate over the election results were interrupted and, once order was restored, there were few votes to sustain the objections.
Though Biden was inaugurated two weeks later without Trump present, there is still no resolution to the 2020 election in some Republican circles. Brooks walked in those circles long before he launched his Senate campaign and he has not left the neighborhood.
When a reporter asked Brooks what his go-to piece of voter fraud evidence, Brooks responded, “How much time do you have?”
Brooks has summarized his position by saying that if all “legal votes” had been counted, Trump would have won a second term – the insinuation being that Biden rode illegal votes to the White House. Books could be written on Brooks’ views of the 2020 election – he even gave a series of eight speeches on the House floor in December 2020 outlining why he thought the election was compromised.
Such full-throated support of Trump’s election fraud claims, combined with the fact that the former president had previously endorsed his House campaigns, made Brooks a natural candidate to back in Alabama’s Senate race. That support evaporated on March 23, days after an independent poll showed Brooks’ support at just 16%.
Trump said Brooks had gone “woke” and was no longer the election fraud soldier he had endorsed. Brooks said it was because the Constitution – again, the Constitutionalist – did not permit him to work as a congressman to remove Biden from office despite Trump’s repeated requests.
Brooks has dismissed Trump withdrawing support as the former president getting bad advice. Still, his campaign that had been anchored with Trump’s endorsement had to reinvent itself. The new version highlights Brooks as a “proven conservative” as a contrast to Britt and Durant, who have never held elected office.
Again, it goes back to Brooks being Brooks. While his fight over the 2020 election can be defined in the “kicking ass” statement in his Jan. 6, Brooks said the fight gets overlooked. And in the context of the 2022 Senate race, it’s a fight he insists he waged alone.
“I discuss (Jan. 6) in the context of the public policy issue of voter fraud and election theft activity on the part of the Democrats,” Brooks said. “And then I hear Mike Durant and Katie Britt claiming that they were engaged in the fight against voter fraud and election theft. And I ask voters to ask them to prove it. Show what they actually did between Nov. 3, the election day, and Jan. 6, the day of the congressional votes, to be engaged on that issue.
“Johnny Come Lately doesn’t count. But the fight was fought between November 3 and January 6. And as far as I’m aware, they were both AWOL.”
This, to Brooks, is the crux of the campaign. Agree with him or not, he has a record. His opponents do not. And how does that contrast influence voters when they go to the polls on May 24? Do they gravitate toward the congressman who’s a proven failure at sitting quietly? Who will do what he believes best without regard to the consequences?
Or will voters look elsewhere?
“You know who else wasn’t quiet?” Lathan said. “The founding fathers. The founding fathers were quite adamant and had their own private wars to move our country forward. I don’t think sending people to Washington to sit down and be quiet is what we need.
“Mo has led some things and stopped some things that would have been harmful to our nation.”
Asked for examples, Lathan points to Brooks objecting to the election results as well as his opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act last year that included provisions with which he disagreed. Eventually, provisions such as requiring teen-aged girls to register for Selective Service – the mechanism that creates a pool of candidates should a military draft be reinstituted – and “red flag” laws to undermine the Second Amendment were removed.
Brooks touted those changes in a December press release with the headline, “Congressman Brooks declares victory on NDAA!”
This is an example to which Brooks points to demonstrate his record of achievement in Congress. While he has been criticized for not sponsoring legislation that becomes law, it’s a rare occurrence for any congressman. Brooks’ only bill to become law in 12 years was the naming of a U.S. post office in Athens.
At the same time, the state’s senior congressman, Robert Aderholt, has sponsored three pieces of legislation that become law in 26 years. Yet Aderholt has risen to become one of the most influential Republicans in the House.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” Brooks said. “There’s more than one way to get something done. You can get legislation in effect by passing a standalone bill. Or more traditionally, what happens in Congress is you have your legislative agenda attached to other bills, at which point if those other bills pass, then your mission has been successful with respect to the legislation that you want it passed?”
So what does that mean for Alabama?
To Brooks, it’s not a senator’s job to do the job of the state and local government. This, Brooks will remind you, is what the Constitution says.
“Do I have ideas for how to make Alabama much better place?” Brooks said. “Sure. I served in the legislature for a while. And I know some of our statutory weaknesses, some of our structural weaknesses that need improvement. But as a firm believer in the Ninth and 10th Amendments, I’m not going to mandate or dictate those kinds of things to our state government or city and county governments. I’m encouraging them to do the right things.
“But ultimately, if you believe the Ninth and 10th amendments and you believe in states’ rights, then you have to defer a lot of that decision making to your city, county and state elected officials. I’m not going to be dictating to cities, counties and states what they can and cannot do. If anything, I’m going to do the exact opposite. I’m going to try to eliminate a lot of the dictates that come from the federal government, particularly with respect to K-12 education.”
If you believe the popular perception of campaigning politicians, the easiest thing for Brooks to do would be to make promises.
“There are a lot of politicians that way,” McDaniel said. “Mo Brooks is not that way. He’s not going to look you in the face and tell you what you want to hear to get your vote. You know how he stands. If you don’t want to vote for him, then that’s it. But he’s not going to change and say something just to get elected to this position. And then tomorrow, he’s a different man. That’s just not Mo Brooks.”
From her days as state Republican Party chair, Lathan has the same perspective.
“There’s been more than one time throughout the state, it might be county or state officials, and I’ve had to pick up the phone and go, ‘What the heck are you doing? What are you thinking?’” Lathan said. “I can tell you this. I never placed that call to Mo Brooks.”