Byrne-ing Washington

by Quin Hillyer

Nearly two days late, it’s time to give Washington an introduction to its newest congressman-elect, Bradley Byrne of Fairhope, Ala. This is personal: I have known Bradley and his whole family rather well, originally through church, for 15 years. It is even more personal: I ran in the nine-way primary from which Bradley, the front-runner all along, emerged the eventual victor. This is not the time to rehash that race, or why I would have been an even better congressman (of course I think so!). And it is true that Bradley does not come from within the conservative movement, per se. But he is, indisputably, a conservative; and he is a reformer, and a dedicated and energetic one, at that. He is also a truly fine individual, intent on real public service. All of which led me to the unusual (and perhaps politically unwise) position, during my campaign, of repeatedly saying that if I didn’t win (I finished fourth of nine), I would hope that Bradley did, and would feel well represented.

Fortunately, I need not recreate all the reasons for that stance. I covered most of them when Bradley ran for governor (unsuccessfully) in 2010, in an online piece for The American Spectator. For example:

Byrne is a bit more self-deprecating. “Facing a very liberal majority of the Senate, I learned fairly quickly that one of the best things I could do was to block bad bills. I was on the judiciary committee, and I was the speed bump there that alerted everybody there was a bad bill. We either kept it from coming up on the floor of the Senate at all or we beat it once it came up.”

He blocked an attempt to weaken the state’s ethics commission. He blocked a serious attempt to raise taxes. (“If we’ll stay in that room and work harder, we can find solutions that don’t require those taxes,” Byrne told the Birmingham News at the time. “We need to look in every corner. We need to turn over every rock.”) And again and again he blocked [The Alabama Education Association's] agenda of weakening school accountability while garnering more benefits for administrative paper pushers…. 

When the board six years later accepted Riley’s recommendation to hire Byrne as the new chancellor of the two-year college system, [state school board member Randy] McKinney and Byrne led the effort to clean up the mess. They fired the malefactors. They put all the system’s financial transactions online for all to see. They reworked the system’s entire policy manual. They cut $70 million from an $800 million budget without major layoffs. And after another epic battle against the AEA, they ended the practice of state legislators working (or at least taking salaries) from the two-year system — a clear conflict of interest, as they also control the system’s budget and thus their own paychecks and benefits.

Bradley’s record offers plenty of other fodder for conservative confidence. He was the lead sponsor of the successful bill treating an unborn child as a full “person” if killed or injured in an assault on a pregnant mother. He fought for a spending-limitation amendment to the state constitution, for independent audits of government funds, and for limiting the power of eminent domain to ensure it truly was only for public use. And those are just a few highlights.

During the runoff primary in November against a firebrand named Dean Young, the national media portrayed the race as one between a moderate establishmentarian and a tea partier. That was absurd. Before the race started, the Tea Party down here considered Bradley Byrne a solid ally. After the race started, the Tea Party co-founder told me the Tea Party would win in any of three outcomes: me, Young, or Byrne. 

The truth is that Bradley is the type of legislator who will work to try to unite the Right — to make the “establishment” more conservative while helping the Tea Party actually achieve more of its goals, forging common ground between them while fighting the Left. Conservatives should welcome him, befriend him, and enlist him even more determinedly for our cause.

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