About the Author: Trey Edwards is a conservative GOP strategist that works in Alabama. Analysis and opinions are his alone.
A couple weeks ago, we conducted an interview with Alabama State Senator Trip Pittman (R-Baldwin County), who is one of several Republican candidates running for the US Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he was appointed to the position of Attorney General by President Trump.
Trip Pittman jumped into the race at the last minute, throwing a wrench into the proceedings for many of the other candidates. See, he is the only credible candidate running that lives south of Montgomery. While up to half a dozen candidates are competing with rivals practically living in their back yard, Trip is the only candidate with a geographic advantage in Mobile and Baldwin county, two of the top five counties with the most Republican voters in the state. This potentially gives him an early advantage that he could use to springboard himself into a deeply divided field. What ultimately ends up happening remains to be seen, but all eyes are on this special election, and it will be a fascinating one to watch, no matter what happens.
The first thing Senator Pittman will tell you when you meet him is that he’s a businessman – he owns Pittman Tractor Company, which he founded in 1998. They work with customers in Alabama and worldwide. He was born in Birmingham, but moved to Baldwin County at the age of eleven. He got his degree from the University of Alabama, majoring in General Management, while serving in the ROTC program, through which he received a commission in the Army National Guard upon graduation. He served for 5 years with Troop E, 31st Armored Division out of Slyacauga. He met his wife Lynn in Mobile, and they have three adult children – a teacher, an engineer, and a nurse. He served on the Commission for Higher Education from 1994 to 2005. In 2007, he survived a plane crash, and ended up spending nine days in the hospital recovering and re-evaluating his priorities in life. According to him, it was in this moment that he decided to transition into public service and run for office. Almost immediately after his recovery, then-State Senator (now Congressman) Bradley Byrne resigned from his seat after receiving an appointment from Governor Riley.
“I got into a race that was very similar to this one,” Senator Pittman told me. “There were five candidates. All of them had run for political office… At the end of the day, I didn’t receive any endorsements. Didn’t take any PAC money. Ended up winning in a runoff against the establishment candidate with all the Montgomery support. I came to Montgomery and governed, I’ve been in a leadership role, I’ve been the Budget chairman, I’ve balanced every budget that I’ve managed, paid back debt, defeated AEA and passed tenure reform, passed a separate board for the two-year college system… I’ve always supported term limits, so I made the decision to lead by example and step down after two full terms and one partial term in the State Senate. With the election of Donald Trump and subsequent appointment of Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, and then the appointment of Luther Strange by Governor Bentley, we’ve ended up with a special election.”
“I decided to put my name in the hat and qualify and give the people of Alabama a choice on who they think would be the best person to represent them.” And with that, we were off to the races.
One of the main policy focuses by Senator Pittman during his terms of service, especially as chair of the Education and General Fund Budget Committees at different times, has been reducing fraud and waste across the board. In fact, he led the fight to pass a bill in the legislature to require people to pass a drug test to get access to PANF government benefits.
“I’ve led the fight on opposing the expansion of Medicaid. We can’t afford to cover more people when we can’t afford to take care of the people that we have.”
“Until you systemically change the rules and regulations that are coming down from the Federal Government, it doesn’t matter how much you put towards Medicaid or towards mental health, or towards corrections.”
Later on, he brought up an issue that I didn’t even realize existed: “We have a million people over 100 years old getting social security,” he explained. “The problem is, there’s only 10,000 people over a hundred years old in the country. We have all these people out there getting benefits that are for somebody else.”
One of the first things that became clear to me as I talked with Senator Pittman is that he’s far more than a businessman. He’s also a policy nerd. Economics is a passion of mine, and we struck up a lively conversation about free markets and individual liberty. “I think the moniker of the Republican Party should become ‘Liberty Requires Responsibility.’ In fact, the Baldwin County Republican Party, at my suggestion, adopted that moniker a couple years ago. The idea that you can have liberty without being responsible is something that will never happen, because ultimately then you are dependent on somebody else to take care of you. And, while we are compassionate and want to help people, we ultimately want to embrace the fact that we want to help everybody be responsible that’s able bodied so that we can take care of the truly needy, and help people to be successful in the free enterprise system. And that’s why I’m running – to help encourage that. To speak to that.”
I remembered that he ran as a Ron Paul delegate back in 2012 – the first time I’d ever seen his name on a ballot, since I live on the other side of the state. I asked him if he saw himself as being in the philosophically libertarian wing of the Republican Party.
“I do,” he responded. “The libertarians came from the Republican Party in the early 70s when Nixon put on price controls and took us off the gold standard,” he continued. “Philosophically, I align with Dr. Paul and what he believes in. Now, I’m also a realist, as a businessman, and as someone that’s been involved in governing. […] I would submit to people that you don’t get more conservative after you get elected. I have shown that I have stayed true to my values by standing up against unfair advantages and tax credits – even though I’ve agreed to some, under certain conditions, because I thought they were needed in order to jump-start certain sectors. But I’ve always believed that incentives need to be limited, they need to be sunset, and they need to be targeted. I believe in serving the military, certainly, so I believe in the need for a strong defense. But I think we need to be a lot more careful in terms of what we do and how we do it. I was opposed to the Iraqi war. I felt like, at the end of the day, that we needed to go into Afghanistan to kill the terrorists, but what we did in Iraq was under false pretenses. We’ve got ourselves involved in a lot of wars under less than total facts. […] I believe that we should be careful. In fact, I believe that, beyond the War Powers Act, we should not be putting our men and women in uniform into harm’s way for extended periods of time without a declaration of war.”
This philosophy applies to all aspect of policies for Pittman:
“If you want to know my philosophy, I grew up reading the Foundation of Economic Education… I’m an Austrian. I believe in the free markets. That’s my base. That’s my core values. That’s who Trip Pittman is. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m running as. You know, I want to win, I’m running to win… but we need to have a debate about this.”
“Compassion can be exhibited in a lot of ways, but a nation that has people that are successful can take care of the environment. A nation that is successful can take care of people that have maladies or have problems.”
“The idea that socialism works is absurd, it’s a race to the bottom. If you want to look at examples – people like to look at islands like Madagascar and Easter Island and the Galapagos, and Australia. Look at Taiwan. Look at Cuba. Look at where those countries have come in the last 40 years. Look at a satellite view of North Korea versus South Korea. Look at the lights. Look at the economy. Let’s see what works and what doesn’t work. It’s self evident. […] Free enterprise is the tide that lifts all boats.”
“At the end of the day, you know, innovation and profit motive have created Adam Smith’s invisible hand. This is about people improving their condition in life. It’s like the environment, the history of the world has been man against nature. Finally, in the last 100 years, we’ve gotten to a point where we’re kind of able to break even in some cases.”
The US Senate hopeful takes pride in his consistency:
“I may be a son of a gun, but I’m not a hypocrite.”
His passion to remaining philosophically consistent attracted some negative attention to him in the recently concluded legislative session. He was the only member of either house to vocally and actively oppose a bill that mandated that in-state insurance companies cover some specific procedures related to autistic disorders. He opposed the bill even after it failed to get a single “no” vote in the House, which is controlled by a Republican supermajority. He managed to get several changes to the bill passed in the Senate. After the session wrapped up, he wrote a lengthy op-ed on the topic that I think demonstrates the State Senator’s careful and thoughtful approach to policy, regardless of where you stand on the issue.
Beyond policy, Senator Pittman went into great depth with me about how he felt about the appointment of Luther Strange, who is currently holding the seat, and who is being treated as an incumbent by Mitch McConnell, whose PACs have already spent well over $2 Million supporting him . Pittman explained, “There is a code for prosecutors that say they will not accept anything from people that they are investigating.” […] “The facts are: The Attorney General’s office was investigating Governor Bentley. There was an impeachment move in the House. The Attorney General went to the House Impeachment Committee Chairman, Representative Jones, and told him to stand down because his office was handling it. Subsequent to that, after Attorney General Strange interviewed for the position, and was appointed, he said there was not an investigation, and that he did not ask the House to stand down. And then after he was appointed and Governor Bentley appointed the new Attorney General, [Steve] Marshall, he (Marshall) in fact verified that there was, in fact, an investigation that had already been started under Attorney General Strange’s term, and the was recusing himself and appointing a special counsel. I don’t see how you can be more clear. I think there’s reporters that have written more concisely the timeline and the actual course of events.”
As for Strange’s campaign rhetoric to date, Senator Pittman was equally unambivalent:
“Luther Strange spent nine years in Washington as a lobbyist. So you’re going to send someone to Washington that’s been a lobbyist to drain the swamp? As Mo Brooks says, he’s a swamp critter.”
He says he is running to provide a different approach to the issues facing our state and our nation:
“What I can promise to the people of Alabama is that I’m going to do the same thing in Washington that I did in Alabama – that I’m going to go up there and put the light of day on what’s going on. I’m not going to play games. They deserve someone that’s going to go up there and call balls and strikes, and call it like it is, and quit letting people play games, and think about and say why they can’t do stuff. At the end of the day, we owe it to the American people to try to accomplish things that will revive our economy, and to be responsible, and to reward responsible behavior. Because when you reward irresponsible behavior, you get more irresponsible behavior.”
Final thoughts on the race?
“We need a debate. We don’t need a yes man.”
Trip Pittman is a policy-oriented businessman and veteran with a focus on individual liberties and free markets. He wants to cut waste and have a frank debate on issues. If you live in Alabama and that’s what you are looking for, he may be your guy. I’m not endorsing anyone, however – all I ask is that you don’t vote for Luther Strange. In fact, when people ask me who I’m supporting, I tell them I’m voting “Anybody But Luther.” But I’m just one guy. Do your research and make your own decisions. The election is on August 15th.