When Donald Trump nominated Jeff Sessions—the love child of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Keebler elf—as attorney general of the United States, it was a bittersweet moment.
On one hand, the Vulcan-eared bigot who once, according to sworn testimony, called a white civil rights attorney a “disgrace to his race” and the NAACP an “un-American” organization trying to “force civil rights down the throats of people,” would now be in charge of the Justice Department, which includes the Civil Rights Division.
On the other hand, the U.S. Senate was being rid of the man who said he thought the guys in the Ku Klux Klan “were OK until I learned they smoked pot,” and who allegedly once told a black assistant U. S. attorney, “You ought to be careful as to what you say to white folks.”
Now, as the state of Alabama heads toward the special election to fill Sessions’ vacated Senate seat, a number of Republicans have tossed their hats into the ring. They will face off in a primary Aug. 15, and—if needed—a runoff Sept. 26. And the two most prominent would-be successors to Sessions are Sen. Luther Strange and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.).
Strange currently holds Sessions’ U.S. Senate seat after being appointed as Sessions’ temporary replacement by Alabama’s governor, who was recently ousted because of a vomit-inducing phone-sex scandal. (If you listen to the recordings while staring at a picture of Robert Bentley, you are guaranteed to throw up in your mouth. Go ahead. I dare you.)
And Brooks’ racism résumé is so extensive, he makes Steve Bannon look like Martin Luther King Jr.
Both candidates have a troubling history of using their political power to advance racial discrimination and inequality. Here is the head-to-head matchup of the two men vying to replace the distinguished gentleman from Middle Earth.
Luther Strange: As Alabama’s attorney general, Strange didn’t have a horrific record of discrimination against black people, unless you count how he continually raided businesses in black areas (especially VictoryLand casino, which employed almost 2,000 African Americans near historic Tuskegee, Ala.), looking for “illegal” gambling machines while overlooking casinos in whiter areas. Ultimately, a judge stopped Strange’s targeting of minority communities, but that’s the only racist act he committed against Alabama’s black community.
Oh, yeah, there was that one time he teamed up with Robert Bentley (yeah, the phone-sex guy) to close ... you know what? We’ll talk about that later.
Mo Brooks: This is where Brooks shines. Brooks believes in the mythical “war on whites” and once said that anyone who talked about race was “a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else.” To be fair, that was way back in 2014. He knows that he can’t use that kind of rhetoric in 2017. Except in January, Brooks went on an Alabama radio show and said of people who oppose Sessions as attorney general:
It’s really about political power and racial division and what I’ve referred to on occasion as the “war on whites.”
Luther Strange: When Alabama passed a more draconian version of Arizona’s “Papers please” law, as the state’s attorney general, it was Strange who went to court to defend it. Called “America’s harshest immigration law,” H.B. 56 required law-enforcement officers to arrest anyone they suspected of being an undocumented immigrant unless he or she could prove citizenship. Called the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, the law made it a crime to rent a home, sell a car or give a job to an “illegal” and forced districts to kick undocumented children out of school.
On Monday, as a U.S. senator, Strange introduced the Securing Our Borders and Protecting Our Children Act in the Senate. The bill would prohibit federal transportation funding from sanctuary cities and instead send the money to build Donald Trump’s mythical border wall.
Mo Brooks: Although he famously blamed undocumented immigrants for a measles outbreak, Brooks’ record on immigration is nothing to sneeze at. Here are a few of the bills he sponsored in the House:
- H.R. 2685, which prevents the use of the temporary protected status, which allows the attorney general to grant refugee status to immigrants;
- H.R. 4597, which directs immigration officers to hunt down and deport criminal aliens;
- House Amendment 422, which removes undocumented immigrants from federal housing;
- House Amendment 219, which ends the practice of giving citizenship to immigrants who serve in the military.
But perhaps Brooks’ most defining moment on immigration is this quote:
They have no right to be here. They are clogging up our emergency rooms, and making our education system more expensive. ... As your congressman on the House floor, I will do anything short of shooting them. Anything that is lawful, it needs to be done because illegal aliens need to quit taking jobs from American citizens.
Luther Strange: When Trump banned Muslims from seven countries, Strange said he wanted to “applaud the president for taking action, and I look forward to working further on keeping America free from violent terrorists.” Strange also sued the Obama administration to make sure no Syrian refugees were coming to Alabama because, of course, there were Muslims in Damascus who always dreamed of moving to Eufaula or Roebuck in Alabama to take part in the 44th-worst education system in America.
Mo Brooks: He said that Muslims would “kill every homosexual in the United States of America” if they could. Brooks also said, “The root cause of the kind of terrorism we’ve been seeing the last 15 years is Islam.” According to Brooks, every Muslim is a terrorist because, he said:
I think you can make a very compelling argument that these terrorists are doing exactly what the Quran tells them to do. I think you can also make a pretty good argument that there is a large segment of the Muslim population that is not engaged in terrorism but who is morally in support of what these terrorists are doing. ... It’s been this way for 1,300 years.
Luther Strange: When it comes to same-sex marriage, Strange is exactly what you’d expect from a Republican from Alabama, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to LGBTQ issues. When he went to the Supreme Court to argue that Alabama’s law banning gay marriage was legal, Strange didn’t use taxpayer money to fight it. Instead he went to the conservative nonprofit Alliance for Defending Freedom to fund his legal campaign, explaining, “If the traditional definition of marriage is not a rational basis for legislative action, it is hard to imagine what is.” Strange solicited the help of scientific kooks to argue that gay marriage harms children, because when it comes to hate and divisiveness, it’s always about the kids.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him, Strange still wasn’t finished. He resorted to the age-old “religious freedom” argument:
I expect the focus will now turn to the exercise of one’s religious liberty. I will continue to defend the religious liberties of Alabamians and ensure that people and businesses honoring their religious beliefs are protected.
Mo Brooks: When the Obama administration threatened to withhold funds from schools that discriminated against transgender students, Brooks got his fellow Alabama Republicans to pen a sternly worded letter to the president that read, “We ask that you rescind your poorly executed threat to school districts across the country and reaffirm their right to govern themselves as they see fit within the bounds of the law.”
While Strange believes that individual states should have the right to define marriage, Brooks thinks that a few white guys in Washington should be able to make that determination for you. In 2013 he co-sponsored the Federal Marriage Amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the entire country. Instead of proposing a law, Brooks wanted to change the Constitution.
Wait ... I thought he just said ... what about the “govern themselves as they see fit” part? Apparently, Brooks believes in small government, states’ rights, individual liberty and religious freedom for all Americans—except for gays.
Luther Strange: When the Supreme Court dismantled the Voting Rights Act, Strange praised the ruling. He championed Alabama’s voter-ID laws because he’s one of the people who trumpet the myth of rampant voter fraud. But those are petty misdemeanors compared with what Strange did after his state enacted voter-ID legislation but a court required Alabama to offer discounted nondriver identifications.
He shut down the state’s motor vehicle offices.
Not all of the offices—just the ones where black people lived. Of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of black residents, Strange and then-Gov. Bentley closed eight of them. In fact, they closed every single motor vehicle office where the black voter population was over 75 percent.
Mo Brooks: Brooks parrots the Trump claim that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the last election. He also believes that Democrats rigged voting machines against him in his election, with no proof. Brooks is clear—he wants a whiter voting pool, saying:
Immigration is far and away the most important problem facing America because it changes the voter pool, thereby controlling the outcome of every single public policy challenge America faces.
No one knows who will win the race between these two, but there is one thing we can all be sure of: Whatever the outcome, the person who fills Jeff Sessions’ seat will continue his rich anti-immigrant, discriminatory and homophobic legacy.