Democratic Senate Nominee for Alabama Doug Jones

The Democratic candidate in the Alabama Senate race for the seat once held by Jeff Sessions, discusses his campaign.

Doug Jones is the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in the Alabama special election on December 12, 2017. Jones served as U.S. Attorney in Birmingham beginning in 1997. Among many cases, he successfully prosecuted the Klansmen responsible for killing four young girls in the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

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TRANSCRIPT

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Tavis: Pleased to welcome Doug Jones to this program. Last month, he won the Democratic primary in Alabama’s special Senate race. His Republican opponent is Roy Moore, a former State Supreme Court Chief Justice. They will face off in a special election on December 12. Mr. Jones joins us tonight from Alabama. Doug, good to have you back on.

Doug Jones: Oh, it’s great to be with you, Tavis. It’s good to be back.

Tavis: Good to have you back on this program. Let me start by explaining to the audience why this race is so important and why it’s being talked about so much. One, it’s important because it’s a U.S. Senate race. All U.S. Senate races are important, but this is the seat to replace Jeff Sessions who is now the Attorney General.

This is also the seat in the State of Alabama where Donald Trump was a few weeks ago when he called those NFL players SOBs while he was there campaigning for Senate Luther Strange. Donald Trump was throwing, to my mind, red meat out to a red state.

Trump’s candidate, Senator Strange, lost to the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, so he’s the Republican nominee. Doug Jones is the Democratic nominee, so this fight in Alabama is going to be a dogfight and we will see what happens come December 12.

That said to the national audience, Doug, for them to get a better understanding of why this seat is so critical and the role that Trump and others have played in making sure this seat stays Republican, give me your sense of how you read Trump coming to town, the comments that he made. Just give me your sense as an Alabaman what you made of all of that as a Democratic Senate candidate.

Jones: You know, Tavis, I think that one thing that people need to remember is that the president’s got a lot of support in Alabama. Unfortunately, I think his comments were just out of line. You don’t come to any state and use that kind of language talking about anybody who is protecting their First Amendment, exercising their First Amendment, without also talking about the reasons behind that.

I was very disappointed in the president’s comments. We knew he was coming to campaign for his candidate in the race. At the end of the day, I don’t think it really mattered very much, didn’t make a lot, but it made a lot of national news and it once again put Alabama in a bad light when I thought it was just completely unnecessary.

Tavis: You know something about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. You know something about fighting for peoples’ human rights.

We’ve known each other for years and we became friends in part around your work to make sure that there was justice done finally in that case where those four little girls were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church. For those who don’t know about your work as a U.S. Attorney back then, take us back to that day and what you did in Alabama.

Jones: Sure, Tavis. Thank you for that. I mean, I became the United States Attorney under President Clinton in 1997. At that time, we began to reopen and investigate the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in which, as you said, there were four young African American girls that died in that horrific act of domestic terrorism. We took a lot of pride in the work that we did. We did have to delay a little bit.

You may remember, Tavis, that there was another bombing in Birmingham at a women’s clinic and Eric Rudolph who was on the lam for five years. We put that case together and we worked with a state and local taskforce to help ultimately capture him and bring him to justice.

But the case of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing was one of the most fascinating and the most important case that I’ll ever work on. We had a great team that put that together. We did so with a lot of passion. I think we were able to demonstrate that justice delayed does not have to be justice denied.

We brought a sense of healing to this community and to the state and something that was badly needed when we convicted both Tommy Blanton and Bobby Frank Cherry for the murder of those four young girls.

Tavis: You were something of an icon in Alabama and around the country for those of us who care about social justice and about civil rights being honored. Why with the status you’ve already achieved, having done something that nobody else could do all these decades later, why put yourself up for elective office, Doug? You’ve never run before. Why now?

Jones: You know, Tavis, I think it’s because, you know, Washington is broken. I think both parties right now have broken the system a little bit. They don’t talk to each other. They don’t have the kind of dialogs that it takes to kind of bring those cases to justice with that kind of passion that we brought.

It’s time that somebody comes into Washington that can talk to both sides, and I think I can do that. I think I’ve demonstrated that in my career not just with those cases.

You remember, Tavis, I was appointed by a Republican Attorney General to do those cases in state court. I can talk to both sides of the aisle. I’m running as a Democrat, but I can talk to both sides, and I think we need that. I’ve started this campaign talking about the fact that Washington needs people that will have more dialogs instead of monologs. We hear far too much of that.

So every now and then, somebody’s just got to step out when you feel passionate about what needs to be done in this country for equality and for justice for everyone. It’s time to just step up and I had a lot of people encouraging me, and I felt like it was something, the right thing to do at this point in my career.

Tavis: I know that candidates never like to mention the name of their opponent, but we know who Roy Moore is. He’s been talked about, has been talked about on every major network, in every major newspaper.

This is a guy who was kicked out, twice has been removed from office as a Justice in the State of Alabama, and yet he went on to beat the incumbent Senator Luther Strange who Trump had supported. He’s raised a ton of money. He’s got a bunch of endorsements lined up. This is Steve Bannon’s candidate in the State of Alabama. How ugly is this race going to get?

Jones: Well, you know, Tavis, I don’t know how ugly it will be. Obviously, you always want to tout your record. I’m very proud of my record and we’re gonna talk about Roy Moore’s record. I think he is an extremist. I don’t think he fully represents all the people in Alabama.

I don’t think he represents a majority of the people of Alabama with his views. He certainly doesn’t abide by the rule of law, has violated his oath of office and duty to the people that put him in office on two occasions.

But we’re gonna try to run a race that’s positive. I mean, we’re gonna talk about records, but we want to talk about issues. I think that’s one thing that we’ve gotten away from in Alabama, at least with the Democratic Party, is talking about issues and talking about things that people care about.

I’ve called them the kitchen table issues. They’re issues that people sit down and talk about with their spouses, with their children. They’re healthcare, they’re education, the jobs, the income gap that we’ve seen.

Those are what I think people are most concerned about these days and I think we’ve got an opportunity with this special election to really focus on issues more than personalities, although that is certainly gonna be a part of the dialog that we have going forward.

Tavis: So the analysts say that you have to win the Black vote. No doubt about that. You’re gonna pull that and I suspect you’re gonna pull in the big numbers, given what you’ve done to bring justice to those families in Alabama. You’ll get the Black vote, but I’m also reading that you need to pull about 30% of the white vote in a very red state. Can you do that?

Jones: Oh, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think we’ll do better than that. You know, people in this state, Tavis, are tired. We’ve been embarrassed before. Roy Moore is one of the embarrassments of this state, having been removed from office twice. We’ve had Speaker of the House, the Governor, all removed from office.

People are looking for new leadership. They’re looking for genuine, honest leadership and I think that’s the biggest thing. People don’t like extremists on either side of the aisle and that’s what Roy Moore is. Certainly he has a base, but I’ve got a base too, and it’s pretty strong.

We believe that we’ve got a lot of crossover votes, people that are not satisfied with the way things are going with Roy Moore and his candidacy. People want to really see somebody that’s gonna reach out. They want to see somebody that they can talk to even if they don’t agree with them 100% of the time.

You and I have had these conversations before. If we can sit down at that table and we can talk to people and we can agree to disagree on many things, I absolutely believe that the people of the state have a lot more in common than we have that divide us. Those are the issues that we’re gonna be talking about.

Tavis: The Democratic Party, I’ve had my critique of them of late in the aftermath of what happened in the presidential election. How supportive of your candidacy is the party going to be? On the one hand, you deserve their support. You’ve earned their support and yet the Democratic Party is always timid about putting money in states where they think they can’t win.

No Democratic president has won Alabama since, what, Jimmy Carter? What was that? 60 years ago, Carter won in Alabama. No Democrat has won since then. They always elect Republicans in Alabama. So how supportive of your candidacy, given that you got this race really tight right now, are the Democrats going to stand behind you?

Jones: Well, I think we’re gonna get support from around the country in a lot of different quarters, Tavis. When you look at my campaign and when you look and see what we’re talking about, it’s the very issues that the Democratic Party should be talking about across the country.

Again, the kitchen table issues. I think when people start talking about healthcare — and I do believe that this healthcare debate that we saw last summer has really allowed people to focus on the issues rather than parties — that has allowed people to see what is important to them on a daily basis.

You know, in this state, we’re seeing rural hospitals closing because we haven’t expanded Medicaid. Those are the issues that the National Democratic Party should be talking about.

So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna talk about the Alabama issues and, if those are those are the issues that our party wants to jump onboard with, I think they’ll do it. If they don’t, we’re still gonna work. We’re gonna be an independent voice for the people of the State of Alabama, regardless.

Tavis: 30 seconds left here, Doug. The problem or the challenge that one has when one runs for an office that has become nationalized is that you’re right. The focus gets away from what really matters to Alabamans. So are you gonna be more hurt or is Roy Moore gonna be more hurt by this race being nationalized?

Jones: You know, I think there’ll be national interest. I don’t think that will make the race nationalized. We’re gonna focus on those Alabama issues and we’re gonna go straight to the people and talk about them. I think if there is anything that makes this nationalized, it’s gonna be on the other side.

The people that are the extremists, that support Roy Moore, they may want to make it nationalized. They’re the ones trying to upset the apple cart. We’re gonna be talking about issues that people of the State of Alabama that’s gonna be right down their lane that they’re gonna care about. So we’ll see how this goes, but I’m real comfortable in how we’re gonna keep this race focused on Alabama.

Tavis: Doug Jones, we wish you all the best. Good to have you on the program. I suspect we’ll do this again, perhaps between now and December, certainly after December if all things go well. Good to have you on. All the best to you, sir.

Jones: Thank you so much, Tavis. Great being with you.

Tavis: Good to have you back on. Up next, actor Joe Morton with his one-man show about Dick Gregory. Stay with us.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Last modified: October 11, 2017 at 3:16 pm