(Times-Journal) – U.S. Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) will make a stop in Rainsville Thursday to hold a socially distanced drive-in event to speak to voters.
The Times-Journal had the opportunity to sit down with Sen. Jones via a Zoom call this week to discuss his goals for reelection and how he hopes to benefit the rural areas in Alabama.
Campaigning during COVID
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, campaigning looks very different than in 2018. Jones said his team is utilizing apps like Zoom and also hosting drive-in events with voters in order to maintain social distancing.
“We’re doing more of these virtual meetings. We’re doing more virtual town halls. We are not out knocking on doors. I still take this COVID crisis very seriously, and I don’t want to put my family at risk or my supporters at risk,” Jones said.
With Alabama still averaging hundreds of new virus cases a day, Jones thinks it’s the best way to get his message out now and going forward.
“I have a record that I am very proud of the last two years, working for the people of Alabama, and we’re getting that message out,” he said. “We’re letting them know that everything I’ve done, I tried to live up to what I said I would do when I ran for the Senate, and that is represent Alabama across the board in every zip code. We’re getting the message of all we’ve done for farmers, for national defense, for teachers, for healthcare, for equality.”
Even with COVID, Jones and his team are finding ways to still interact with the people of northeast Alabama.
“I get a chance to meet with folks, talk with folks and hear their cares and concerns and it does two things: Number one, it confirms to me that we have more things in common than divides, and we let too many politicians divide us right now, us verses them, because the kitchen table issues are really the same. It’s jobs, it’s the economy, it’s education, it’s healthcare and it’s a strong national defense.”
Needs in rural Alabama
Broadband: speed and affordability
Jones said he is cosponsor on most, if not every, bill in the Senate that deals with broadband expansion. Some were able to be included in The Farm Bill and increased the amount of grant monies for broadband in rural areas from $50 million to several hundred million dollars.
“I’m a sponsor of the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities program that we’ve got, and I thought it ought to be in the next COVID package, if we ever get one,” he said.
Jones said it has been one of his driving issues.
“Clearly, the pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for, not just broadband, but high speed broadband and affordable broadband, and those go hand in hand because we’ve got places in Alabama right now in our urban areas that have access to high speed internet but people can’t afford it. I think it’s up to us to do what Franklin Rooselvelt did with electricity in the 1930s, and we need to create access to broadband, high speed and affordable, and get it out everywhere.”
The last few months have shown that access to affordable and high speed broadband is important for things like telemedicine, telehealth, businesses and education, Jones said.
Funding for healthcare is another “critical” need in rural areas and Jones worries rural areas are neglected.
“One of the things that we were able to do was to get that Medicare Wage Index up. That’s helped our rural hospitals, but I still am going to push for Medicaid expansion. It will bring billions of federal dollars to those rural areas and into those hospitals that badly need it.”
Quality of life
“I want to make sure our rural areas are growing as much as our urban areas,” he said. “I want to make sure that the kids growing up in our rural areas want to stay in those rural areas and that involves bringing jobs in there. It involves getting an education there, but it also involves making the quality of so that they want to stay. We are losing population in our rural areas and we need to change that.”
Jones said there is a teacher shortage in Alabama and there is now a program that sends grant monies to rural areas to “try to get kids in high school interested in teaching and encourage them to come back and teach.”
“I am hoping we will continue to push for our rural areas,” he said.