Voters in Alabama’s 1st congressional district will choose a Republican nominee in a runoff today that pits Bradley Byrne against Dean Young. Byrne has deep support from the business wing of the Republican Party, while Young is a controversial candidate counting on tea party activists and Christian conservative voters to help him spring an upset. Polls show a close race, and the winner is near-certain to win the Dec. 17 general election in the heavily Republican district. We sat down with both candidates in Alabama late last week. Monday, we posted our conversation with Young, edited for length and clarity. Below, is our chat with Byrne, also edited for length and clarity.
Fix: You don't seem to think too highly of shutting down the government. But you also say you want to repeal Obamacare. Some conservatives saw the budget/debt debate as a good chance to fight the health-care law. How do you find a balance between not shutting down the government and trying to repeal the law?
Byrne: I think Obamacare is becoming so unpopular that Democrats are literally going to come to Republicans and say, ya'll have got to help us. They are going to want Republicans to help them fix it. And my position is, we are not going to help you fix it, we will help you repeal it and talk about a common-sense replacement.
Fix: Do you agree with the notion that some of the problems with the rollout of Obamacare were overshadowed because of the shutdown?
Byrne: I think they did get overshadowed by the shutdown. But, it's amazing how quickly the shutdown's in the past, and people are really focused on these substantive problems with the law. I wasn't up there, and I know the Republican caucus in the House voted the way they voted, and I wouldn't have voted any differently. But, everybody's made their point now. And this is going to come back up again. I think the question for the Republican Party is: Do we want to go through that again, or do we want to come up with a very straightforward solution to just pass appropriations bills out of the House into the Senate and say, your turn.
Fix: The Senate compromise to reopen the government -- would you have voted for that?
Byrne: I would not have voted for that. Because it is kicking the can down the road and I don't want to kick the can down the road anymore. I want a solution. Everyone should be embarrassed that we are funding government by continuing resolution. The Alabama legislature passes a budget every year on time, and the vast majority of legislatures do. And the federal Congress can't?
Fix: What's your opinion of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)?
Byrne: I think he's got the toughest job in the United States of America. And while I don't agree with everything that he's done, I've watched with respect as he's tried to thread the needle with the difficult hand he's been dealt. I don't know if I would support him for speaker -- I'm not even thinking about things like that. But, just as a person that watches television, tries to follow the news, I've seen him deal with a very difficult problem and I don't know that I know of anybody that could have done any better.
Fix: Is this election more about a difference between you and your opponent in approach to governance or is it more about policy?
Byrne: There is a way of doing things that is effective. And there's a way of doing things that's counterproductive. The way he does things is counterproductive. The way I do things usually is effective. We're never going to solve our problems in Washington if all we're doing is is fighting. Never. And you can't solve problems if you're not talking. So, I'm a big proponent of talking. Don't ever surrender your principles; and I don't think I've ever had to surrender my principles in the past.
Fix: This race is being portrayed as the business wing of the GOP reasserting itself. You have deep support in the business community. Do you view it that way?
Byrne: I've got tea party people that support me. The tea party is not an organization. It's a movement. I've been to many tea party meetings. It's not like you sign up and you are a member. It's a movement, it's not an organization. There are some people who have tried to capture the movement and force it into an organization, and some of those people may be doing good stuff with that, I don't know. But here locally, I think it's been harmful to the tea party movement that they've tried to force it into an organization. And the result of that is that it's weakened the movement. I agree with a lot of the principles and a lot of the policy positions of the tea party.
Fix: Who is the leader of the Republican Party?
Byrne: I don't know. That's a question I'm going to have when I go to Washington.