On Nov. 8, East Alabama voters will be able to choose between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump for the presidency. But they will also decide whether to send Rep. Mike Rogers back to Washington for two more years or elect Democrat Jesse Smith instead.
When Rogers ran for U.S. Congress for the first time more than 14 years ago, he had the same main goal he said he still holds today: being the best public servant he can.
"I've always felt led for a career in public service, going back to when I was an adolescent," Rogers said. "Most people kind of know what they're supposed to be doing with their lives, and it became obvious to me early on that I was supposed to be in public service. I dedicated my life to trying to be the best public servant I can for my state as well as my country."
Rogers was the youngest Republican ever elected to the Calhoun County Commission when he won that seat 30 years ago. In 1994, he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives, where he served for two terms. In 2003, he took the oath of office and became a member of the 108th United States Congress.
Now, he's seeking reelection for the eighth time. If he wins, he will serve from 2017–19. But to get there, he has to get through Smith, who also ran against him in 2014 but lost when Rogers took more than 60 percent of the vote.
Smith said he ran again this year because Rogers has been proven ineffective.
"I decided to run again because I want to remove a do-nothing incumbent from Congress," Smith said. "The congressman graduated from college and never held a job. He went right into politics. He learned early on in his career how to ignore people. He thinks that he's the best at it, but I think we have something coming for him on Nov. 8."
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Rogers said his experience in local, state and national government is an asset, not a burden.
"I'm a big believer that experience matters," Rogers said. "I'm proven. I'm not an unknown quantity. I've got a skill set that can get things done. No one knows what kind of legislator (Smith) would be because he's never been in public office. He's never even been a city council member or a board member."
For Rogers, the Supreme Court and national security are the top two issues facing the country in the general election coming up November.
"We have seen our military and our national security infrastructure atrophy under [the Obama] administration," Rogers said. "We've been at war for right at 13 years. We have worn our equipment and our man power out. We have got to reinvest in our military infrastructure if we want to remain free, safe and alive."
Smith said he believes the American military is the most powerful in the world and that isn't going to change, but Rogers and others who have no military experience don't know how to meet the needs of veterans, he said.
"It's just a matter of having the people who represent our military support our troops when they come home," Smith said. "I know for a fact he doesn't have the experience that he needed to be able to make those tough decisions to advocate on behalf of the veterans."
The Supreme Court and national defense are also the two reasons Rogers has continued his support for Trump, despite revelations about Trump's possible tax evasion and the release of lewd hot-mic recordings from 2005.
Rogers also said Hillary's probable continuation of Obama-era economic policy was another driving force behind his support of Trump.
"I think Hillary Clinton would be a continuation of the policies from the Obama administration, which have been a disaster for the country economically, " Rogers said.
On the other hand, Smith — who was an avid supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont — said he doesn't care who is elected president of the United States. He's focused on his race in the 3rd District and that's it, he said.
If Rogers is reelected, he said he will continue to push for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank economic regulations and would work to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, two of the Democrat's crowning policy reforms following the Great Recession.
"While we're technically not in a recession anymore, it still feels like one," Rogers said. "The growth has been so sluggish, and we're not going to get out of it as long as those policies remain in place. Those things have to be eliminated or significantly modified if we're going to ever get out of these economic doldrums."
Repealing burdensome regulations, Rogers said, would continue to be on the top of his priority list in congress.
Dodd-Frank needs to be modified, he said, to raise the caps so that small community banks and regional banks — which Rogers believes are the life blood of small business — won't be covered by the strict regulations intended to prevent another Great Recession.
"That frees up our community and regional banks, none of which caused the financial crash and none of which would ever get relief because they're not big enough to matter," Rogers said. "We need to give them the freedom to start lending again, to jump start our economy."
Smith said Rogers wants to throw out all of the regulations passed in the wake of the economic crisis because he's beholden to corporate interests.
"When we think about corruption, a person can be bought and they can be sold," Smith said. "We have jobs that have left this area. We have 53 percent of single parents living below the poverty line. We have nearly 20 percent of senior citizens living below the poverty line. We have nearly 80,000 veterans in this district, and we're exposed to some of the worst veteran healthcare facilities in the United States of America."
Smith would work to improve funding for Alabama's VA hospitals, he said. And instead of trying to repeal the regulations Rogers believes are burdensome, Smith said he would rather focus on infrastructure spending on America's highways, bridges, railways and renewable energy.
"We need to rebuild our infrastructure," Smith said. "Putting people back to work will not happen if we have a representative that will not support legislation to rebuild our infrastructure. We spend all these billions of dollars overseas, but we won't support rebuilding our roads and bridges here at home."
Smith also criticized Rogers for voting for the 2013 government shutdown and pushing for the abolishment of the federal Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency, all of which will hurt Americans or harm the economy, Smith said.
"The congressman has, for all accounts, talked about how he's going to bring jobs but he hasn't done anything about it," Smith said. "It's not only good to challenge the incumbent, but we need a solution with someone who is going to stand up regardless of political party, regardless of lobbyists or special interest groups."
Even with all the hot rhetoric from the presidential candidates, Rogers said Americans still live in the best country on the planet.
"There are a lot of bad things going on, but we're still a very blessed country," Rogers said. "There is not another citizenry in the world that wouldn't swap places with us, swap problems with us, if they had the choice. While we've got a lot of tough things to deal with as a nation, we're still better off than any other nation on Earth and we need to always keep that in perspective."
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman