A debate over a lack of debates in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama is devolving into a scrum over taxes between two leading Republican candidates.
U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Huntsville and former Business Council of Alabama CEO Katie Britt are butting heads over their records on taxes.
The back-and-forth comes as the two have different viewpoints over why there will be no organized and structured political debates ahead of the May 24 primary. The Brooks and Britt campaigns, late last month, agreed on three dates for debating with the first possible opportunity occurring on Tuesday.
But a GOP Senate candidate debate crumbled after Army veteran and author Mike Durant declined to participate. The Alabama GOP and participating TV stations agreed to hold the debate without Durant, but the Britt campaign refused.
“The proposed debates were between the three leading candidates, and Katie would’ve been happy to participate,” said Sean Ross, a Britt campaign spokesman. “Mike Durant’s refusal to participate killed these debate proposals.”
Brooks told AL.com on Monday that he would have welcomed a debate with Britt, but that she refused to participate because Army veteran and author Mike Durant backed out.
“Mike Durant and Katie Britt are afraid of the questions they might get asked or the issues that might be brought up,” said Brooks. “If you’re Katie Britt, would you want to have to defend having supported more tax increases than any other Republican in Alabama history? Probably not. But that’s the kind of stuff that would come out of a debate.”
“So, it’s a smart political strategy to suppress the opportunity for that kind of questioning to occur,” Brooks said.
The Britt campaign fired backed, citing a 2017 “Alabama Today” article that criticizes Brooks’ pre-congressional background of supporting fee increases, tax-increment financing and a water rate hike while he was on the Madison County Commission.
“The reality is that Congressman Brooks has voted to allow taxes and fees to be raised over 100 times throughout his 40-year career in office, he openly opposed President Trump’s plan to build the wall and it’s his candidacy that’s being propped up by millions of dollars from the original Never Trump Club in Washington, D.C.,” Ross said.
Brooks called the statement “ludicrous,” and cited conservative national organizations that support his candidacy including Eagle Forum, the American Conservative Union, and the National Taxpayers Union. Heritage Action for American currently gives Brooks and overall, 88% score, two percentage points over the average U.S. House member.
Brooks also said he backed former President Donald Trump’s tax cuts in late 2017, despite having just had a prostatectomy and having to fly to Washington, D.C. “with a catheter in order to be on the House floor to vote for the passage of the tax cut.”
“So, Katie Britt’s allegations that I’m a big tax and spender does not pass the laugh test,” Brooks said. “And no one who knows anything about my record would be that ludicrous claim.”
Said Ross, “He can cite as many special interest groups in Washington, D.C., as he wants to, but his voting record is what it is.”
‘Self-serving’ or ‘dishonest’
Brooks called allegations that he supported past water free rate hikes or property tax increases while serving on the Madison County Commission from 1992-2001, as “100% bovine excrement.”
He said the water rates represented a cost to provide water consumers want to buy and were “definitely not a tax.” He also said argued that tax increment financing, otherwise known as TIF, is a diversion of tax collections and revenue growth toward capital improvements.
He also said that his past votes on property taxes while on the county commission “were not to raise and did not raise” taxes. He said his votes were to allow voters to decide whether to raise taxes.
He noted that he took either neutral stances or urged voters to oppose tax referendums.
“Further, these property tax referendums did not affect anyone I represented,” Brooks said.
He added, “once again, as they have done throughout (the campaign), the Katie Britt team is shamelessly dishonest.”
Ross called Brooks “self-serving” who has made money in trading stocks while in Congress, including purchasing and selling Pfizer stocks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooks’ wife, Martha, told the media last year that she is responsible for handling the family’s investments, including filing disclosures.
But Brooks said that insinuation by the Britt campaign that he’s backed tax increases “is so bizarre and dishonest.”
“If she (Britt) wants to make tax increases and issue, then we ought to have that debate she refused to participate in,” Brooks said.
‘Debate out tax records’
Brooks said that it’s Britt whose past includes support for tax increases.
In comments to AL.com, Brooks repeated points raised in a February editorial written by Roger Hill, a past chairman of the Walker County tea party. Hill cited a number of tax hikes he claims Britt has supported in the past that includes income taxes, car sales, auto repairs, among others.
Ross said the list are “falsehoods.”
Brooks also noted that Britt publicly backed the state’s fuel tax increase in 2019, which enabled Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s “Rebuild Alabama Act” infrastructure program to move forward.
Britt, in an AL.com article, told the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce three years ago that she felt the issue had bipartisan support, noting that Alabama had not increased its state fuel tax since 1992.
“We’ve had about 30 states that have increased their gas tax in the last few years, and I certainly don’t want us to be last,” Britt said during February 2019 speech before the Mobile chamber. “I want us to lead.”
Brooks said he’s challenging Britt to “debate our tax records, if she is not too chicken to do so.”
Britt and Brooks have been at several event and forums together, most notably sparring during a Republican Women of Coffee County forum in September.
But recent events haven’t offered opportunities for much interaction among candidates. The top three Senate candidates were in the same venue together last week in Salem but did not interact during public remarks.
Ross said the “end result” of the two appearing on stage together -but not directly debating – during the election cycle has been “Brooks going from a 50-point lead” to third place in polling.
A new Alabama Daily News/Gray TV poll conducted by Cygnal shows Britt as the race’s frontrunner, and Brooks polling in second place with Durant slipping into third.
“The people of Alabama are clearly ready for fresh blood to shake things up in Washington, not a do-nothing career politician,” he said. “Katie is going to continue to outwork the field, bring her conservative message directly to Alabamians and happily answer her plans, beliefs and vision for the future of Alabama every day until May 24.”