Mallory Hagan, former Miss America and Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District Democratic candidate, met with Auburn students last night in the University Student Center to listen to their concerns about Alabama’s political and cultural state and to talk about her stance on education, the environment, anti-discrimination and keeping the political conversation elevated.
“We’re just talking about some of the things that we would like to see change in order for people to be more attracted to the state of Alabama,” Hagan said. “Whether that’s a certain type of industry [we’d] like to see come here or the common thread among everyone has been culture change.”
Hagan said although it is still very early in her campaign, she will be focusing on education, healthcare, jobs and technical training.
“Because those are the things that, first of all, everyone cares about, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on,” she said. “We all have different opinions on how to move forward, but everyone cares about their family having healthcare and their kids getting a good education, and so I think that those things are important.”
From a personal standpoint, she said criminal justice reform and institutional racism are important issues to her.
“I also care very much about anti-discrimination laws, specifically as it pertains to the LGBTQ community, and that is something that I have been an advocate for for many years now,” the candidate said. “I care also very much about the environment and what we’re doing to live more sustainably and how that impacts our kids’ future.”
Several attendees at the meeting voiced concerns about a lack of affordable, high-quality education, a toxic political culture, limited rural internet access in parts of the state and a lack of diversity in Alabama and Auburn.
“I often say politics are like football down here,” one student said. “You pick your team and you don’t budge. … We saw that a lot with the Jones/Moore election. People just didn’t budge. No one was willing to listen to the other side. No one was willing to admit that they were right or wrong. I can live in an environment where I’m a minority, but I can’t live in an environment where no one listens to the minority.”
Hagan said she echoed the attendees’ sentiments on cultural change, and a huge part of her campaign over the next couple of months would be rising above negative political culture.
“It’s almost like if one side of us doesn’t come to the conversation and continually elevate it, then are we ever going to have an elevated conversation?” Hagan said. “I think that over the course of this election cycle we can be really adamant proponents of keeping it to the issues, remaining positive, always trying our very best to remain kind in those conversations, then we collectively elevate each other through the process and hopefully elevate our political climate and our policymakers. … I have no doubt that this campaign will be very ugly on my end, not from me but toward me because of who I’m dealing with.”
The Democratic primary is slim in the 3rd District, with only one other candidate, Adia McClellan Winfrey, in the race. Whoever wins the party's nomination in June will face the 16-year Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Rogers of Saks.
Hagan asked the meeting attendees what concerned them about her running for Congress. One man said that he thought Hagan might receive attacks concerning her lack of experience and political background.
“Just be ready to have some kind of counterpoint to say, ‘I am more than qualified, I can compete with Mike on this issue,’” he said. “Just be able to deflect those concerns because I think that’s probably going to be the first area people will try to target.”
Hagan also asked what issues people would like to see her discuss in future events. Attendees said important issues to them were women’s rights, abortion and access to birth control, gun control, prison reform and economic development.
“I genuinely feel that our democracy is under attack in a lot of different ways from an ideology standpoint, possibly from an actual standpoint,” Hagan said. “I want to be a part of a movement that combats that and puts us back on track.”
Hagan said she is currently focused on building the right team to give her the best shot at winning the election.
Lindsay Hanner, Hagan’s campaign manager, attended the meeting.
“I know a lot of you probably have friends that are conservative, and we’re going to need some cross-over votes,” Hanner said. “I think it’s important that we let people know that she’s listening to both sides.”
Hanner told the attendees that in one of their first meetings together, Hagan said that regardless of the election's outcome, she wins either way because her goal is to encourage young people, especially young women, to use their voices and get involved in politics.
“And so that’s what she’s doing here tonight,” Hanner said. “So if you guys feel inspired to get involved in politics, well we just won today.”