Sen. Doug Jones made several stops in Lee County on Tuesday, including a visit to the tornado site in Beauregard, followed by a speaking engagement with local Democratic organizations on the Auburn University campus.
Jones was invited to campus by the Auburn College Democrats, Lee County Democrats and the Lee County Voter’s League to speak on issues such as impeachment, immigration, student loans, his campaign and more.
He began with a 10-minute discussion on important topics before opening the floor for questions from audience members.
Lindsey Bickerstaff, head of the Lee County Voter’s League, prompted discussion by speaking to the crowd and thanking Jones.
The first portion of Jones’ discussion was centered on his 2020 campaign.
“We’re off and running for 2020,” he said amidst claps from the crowd. “We had a kickoff about a month ago. It was really incredibly exciting, a lot of things going, a lot of energy out there.”
Jones said that he likes to focus on the things Alabamians have in common.
“The energy that we see, the work that we’re doing to represent all Alabama,” he said. “If you see the things that we’ve got, it’s ‘One Alabama’. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about an Alabama for everyone.”
The elephant in the room was the impeachment inquiries about President Donald Trump, and Jones elected to discuss that freely before moving into questions.
“My job is to determine the facts,” Jones said. “That’s my job. I’m going to stand by my oath of office, folks.”
Alabamians sit on both sides of the impeachment argument, and he knows that, Jones said, adding that because the claims are so serious, he will not dismiss them.
“But at the same time, I would have everyone in this room not to make any quick judgments right now, but until we see all the facts,” Jones said.
The Alabama Democratic Party has been facing issues that have raised national concern. It was asked months ago to amend its bylaws to accommodate for a youth caucus, Asian caucus, Hispanic caucus and LGBTQ caucus among other amendments, Jones said.
This past week Democratic executive committee members met to approve new bylaws. And Democratic Party Chair Nancy Worley was not in attendance.
“(The leadership in the state party) have wanted to have their control and they’ve just squandered opportunity after opportunity,” Jones said. “So I’ve been one pushing to get changes in the leadership of the Democratic Party.”
This meeting is valid since 125 people, over the majority, was in attendance, he said.
Jones also expects the November meeting to produce a new chair and vice chair.
A member of the audience asked Jones if Congress would be doing anything about global warming and said it has been quiet on the issue.
“Congress has not taken action,” Jones said. “Doesn’t mean we’re quiet. There’s a lot of people talking about it … It’s a serious issue.”
Though Jones said he understands the seriousness and science of the issue, he said he knows that the government can’t just take away jobs.
“There are a lot of companies around this country that have also taken notice and they’re starting to step up and do the right thing,” he said.
Jones then addressed a question about student debt, loans and the struggles of college students. He had stated previously in the evening that he and the federal government are working toward simplifying federal student aid.
“We’re going to try to lower the cost of college to begin with,” he said. “We’re also going to try to be more transparent. See, one of the problems, I think, is that a lot of people that get in over their head, they don’t really have all the information.”
Providing more information would involve the schools being more involved in warning students about salaries following degrees and whether they would be worth the debt, Jones said.
In addition to lowering the initial cost, he said he would like to see loan forgiveness.
Jones specifically discussed nurses since there is a nurse shortage.
“We’re not going to wipe out a trillion dollars worth of student debt,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what Bernie says. It’s just not going to happen. But that is too expensive to do, we cannot do it. We’ve got to figure out how to work our way out of this problem.”
A tight election
Carsten Grove, president of the Auburn College Democrats, said that he believes it is important for Jones to attend events like this because the election will be tight in a red state like Alabama.
“A lot of the Democrats that are running are just people themselves and so for a Democrat running in a red state, it’s really important that they’re going out and kinda breaking that perception of big-party establishment,” Grove said.