FORT PAYNE – If you have spent any time in politics around the state of Alabama, you have likely heard one of Secretary of State John Merrill’s talks about the progress he has made while in office, which is usually accompanied by figures like the number of voters registered or taxpayer dollars saved to back up his claims.
However, since announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senate last week, Merrill the U.S. senatorial campaigner is not as well known.
At an appearance on Saturday before the monthly Dekalb County Republican Breakfast Club meeting, Merrill laid out some elements of his campaign and argued why he thought he was the best candidate among the field of declared Republican candidates seeking the party’s nod.
Merrill acknowledged that he was not with President Donald Trump from the very beginning given his support for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the early stages of the 2016 presidential election cycle. However, he said once Trump won the nomination he gave his full support from then through now, despite some “hard” times along the way.
“People will tell you they want to be your United States Senator because they want to support the president,” he said. “I’ve supported the president. I supported the president when he was the nominee. I remember being in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention. I was being interviewed by CSPAN on the floor of the convention. And the lady that was interviewing me – she said, ‘Have you always been a supporter of the nominee, Donald Trump?’ And I said, ‘No, ma’am. I supported Mike Huckabee in the primary, and I don’t make any apologies for that. But I’ll tell you this: Not only did I not support him then, but 85% of the people that are here didn’t support him, either. But you want to know something? We’re all supporting him now because he’s our nominee and he’s going to be our next president. And he’s going to help turn this country around.’”
“From that point to November, there were a few times it got hard for a few people to support him. It didn’t get hard for me, and it didn’t get hard for y’all,” he added. “Because we understood what he was trying to do. That is why when I become your next United States Senator, we’re going to help build the wall. Why are we going to do that? Because we’re going to stop the bleeding of illegal immigrants that are coming in this nation.”
With those remarks, Merrill earned the gathering’s applause and touted being the only candidate in the race to have helped Trump on immigration given that included among his duties of being Alabama secretary of state, he has promoted voter registration and photo identification and insured the integrity of the voter rolls, which he said has kept illegal immigrants off voter rolls and out of the election process.
The U.S. Senate hopeful also railed against the move toward socialism by some on the Democratic side of the aisle.
“We’ve got to push back against that socialist agenda that’s being advanced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Senator Chuck Schumer, and by Speaker Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “We have to push back against what they’re doing because they will continue to tear down the basic foundational principles of our country and what has made our country great today.”
Merrill also urged fiscal responsibility, and pointed to his opponents, presumably referring to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville.
“You ask the other candidates how you push back against record spending, where have you been. Ask how they’ve cut their budget, how they’ve cut staff,” he said. “Because you’re not going to get a positive answer from somebody who expanded the court system. You’re not going to get that answer from somebody who has been in Congress who has been a part of the swamp. And you’re not going to get that answer from an athletic administrator football coach who says I need more coaches and more money. You’re not going to get that answer from them.”
According to Merrill, he had, in fact, cut his operation to do more with less by downsizing his staff from 49 to 36 and significantly expedited business filings that once ranged from taking seven to nine months before confirming receipt, to same-day service.
“We’re not operating at the speed of government anymore,” he added. “We’re operating at the speed of business.”
Merrill took a jab at Byrne for his remarks about the proposed toll for the new Mobile Bay Bridge. Byrne told a town hall meeting in Magnolia Springs last week he had “pretty much done as much” as he could do, to which Merrill seemed to indicate was an unsatisfactory response.
“Those people are not prepared to do what I can do for you,” he said. “They don’t have the proven track record that I have of accomplishment and effectiveness to show you what they’ll be able to do when they’re there. One of them is already there. They asked him about a major bridge project that’s going on down in Mobile. He said, ‘I’ve done all I can do. My hands are tied.’ What if you told your son who is out working in the yard you needed that wood finished and he said, ‘Daddy, I’ve done all I can do. I’m through.’ You’d jerk a knot in his tail until he got out there and got it right.’ We need people who are not going to accept ‘no’ for an answer. We’re going to find a way to get it done. That’s what my daddy taught me. That’s what y’all’s daddy taught y’all.”
He fielded a question from the group gathered about the shift in the culture and noted that some of that shift could be attributed to the changes in pop culture, including what was being shown on television.
“[T]hat’s what we’ve allowed to happen,” Merrill said. “How have we allowed it to happen? There are no more good TV shows on like ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Virginian,’ ‘Andy Griffith,’ ‘I Love Lucy.’ We don’t have those shows anymore. We’re too interested in homosexual activities. We’re too interested in seeing how this family’s finding a way to mess on this family or to see how people are trying to date on TV, or having wife-swapping on TV. That’s what we watch. When we push back against that, and we quit allowing it to be in our homes – that’s how those changes have occurred because we’ve allowed them to slowly but surely come into our lives.”
Merrill pledged that he and his wife Cindy were willing to face the scrutiny of what is likely to be a very competitive statewide campaign.
“One of my friends asked me, he said, ‘John, are you prepared to go through what you’re going to have to go through if you run for the United States Senate,’” Merrill said. “He asked me this on the Sunday before the Tuesday. He said, ‘Are you prepared for the attacks that you’ll face and that Cindy will face? Are you prepared to stand up and fight against that? Is it worth it to you to go through what you’re going to have to go through and pay the price to make it happen? Is it worth it?’”
“’And I said, ‘Ron, let me ask you a question,’” he continued. “He said, ‘OK.’ I said, ‘Is the Republic worth it? Is the Republic worth it? It is worth it to me. And I know it is worth it to y’all and that’s why there is a room full today because y’all understand it. We have got to stand and push back, and continue to fight and support the president and to make these changes that we have to make in order to protect and defend our country as we have known it to be or it will cease to be that way.”