By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News
Jerry Carl, who will soon take office as congressman for Alabama’s 1st District, spent much of last week in Washington, D.C. for new member orientation for a new Congress that will include more Republicans but is still majority Democrats.
Alabama Daily News talked with Carl about his priorities once he takes office and the prospect of working with Democrats, including a Joe Biden administration.
Carl, a former Mobile County commissioner, said he’s politicking to get on two House committees: Armed Services and Agriculture.
“With our connections here with Austal shipbuilding and also with Ingalls shipyard right next to us (in Mississippi), It makes sense for me to represent them, if I could on that committee,” Carl said. “And the Ag committee, I’m very anxious to serve our agricultural community. Most people don’t don’t really realize it, but we have such a huge cotton and peanut and cattle population of farmers down here and there’s no one on the Ag committee in the state of Alabama, so there’s every reason in the world while I need to be on there for the entire state.”
Carl said he hopes tighter margins between Democrats and the GOP will “help mellow things a bit.”
“We can quit trading punches up there and start working together,” Carl said. “… We’ve got to come together and, you know, the news reports the big things that we argue about. But if you go back and look, Congressman Byrne did a great job of reaching across the aisle. No one was better at that than Jo Bonner and Sonny Callahan and of course Jack Edwards was a master at working both sides of the aisle. So, yes, that’s something that is truly needed, but you know, the Democrats are going to have to be a little more open to it, in my opinion, and I think by taking more seats and having a little more control, that they’ll be a little more apt to listen to us and try to work with us.”
As far as working with President-elect Biden, Carl said he respects the office of the president.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed that Trump did not win, or at this point, has not won,” Carl said.
He said that the U.S. has had good presidents and bad presidents “and this country has lived through and worked through all of them.”
“If (Biden) is our president, I certainly hope he serves the people as a whole, and I’ll do my job that I was elected to do to make sure that Alabama’s voice is heard.”
Carl said there are still unanswered questions about the Nov. 3 election and processes in some states.
“One of the things I really want to address when I get up there is coming up with a standardization of some type on these federal elections that all states can actually follow,” he said. “You can’t have states just changing the rules as they move along … These elections need to be uniform across the nation so we don’t have problems, and all these questions laying out there and questioning one another.”
Carl favors ID requirements to vote, as is the law in Alabama, and a focus on in-person voting.
“We don’t need any more strife between one another so to come up with a uniform way that we handle the federal elections I think is extremely important moving forward,” he said.
“…I assure you, I’m not the only one thinking this way.”
As far as local priorities, a new bridge across the Mobile Bay is high on the list.
“I want to explore the options of bringing that project back up,” Carl said. He said he and Gov. Kay Ivey discussed the possibility last week.
Last year, Ivey said the proposal for a Mobile Bay toll bridge was dead after Baldwin County officials took a decisive stand against the controversial plan.
“We have got to get the local officials and members of the Legislature from this area to actually sit down and let’s put our thoughts and our ideas together and become one on this,” he said.
“…We have no choice but to build this bridge. It has to be done, there’s not an option.”
Carl said Mobile and Baldwin counties have worked hard to bring new companies and industry to the area, but traffic flow is a critical component of continued growth.
“And that bridge is a bottleneck,” he said.
Asked what the 1st District needs from D.C. Carl said there are some trade issues with some of the about three dozen foreign countries represented in businesses in the south Alabama district.
“And we have some immigration issues we need to work on, especially in the ag community,” Carl said.
One issue facing farmers is a lack of labor, Carl said. He’d like to see changes made to the federal federal H2-A Visa program that allows temporary immigrant labor in the agricultural industry.
“It’s backlogged with bureaucracy,” Carl said. “We’ve got to speed that program up… We need these people, we need them in our economy, but we have to do it in a structured way.
“… When you bring up immigration, people get all flustered and upset about it but you know these are people that actually do a job and perform a function that we need.”
Recent figures show about 1,449 certified H2-A workers in the state and more requested.
“Many of Alabama’s farms depend on a reliable and affordable labor force,” said Hunter McBrayer, executive director of the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Association and director of the Alabama Farmer Federation’s Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Division.
“While agricultural producers work to employ as many local (domestic) workers as possible, we continue to see an aversion to farm labor by our existing workforce,” McBrayer said. “Due to this, farmers in Alabama and across the country depend on the H-2A foreign labor program.
“… the program proves to be the only viable option to ensure that crops can be harvested from the field season after season. A more workable and streamlined application and certification process for growers is needed and continues to be a focus for farm advocacy groups across the country and here at home.”
Carl wasn’t ready Thursday to announce his chief of staff, but said building his team was coming along very well.
“I kept a lot of Congressman Byrne’s staff intentionally,” Carl said. “I worked with them as a county commissioner for the last six years, so I know most of them. I know how they respond to their constituents and the other elected officials and I’ve always found them a pleasure to work with, so I just kept as many of them as I could.”