Mike Durant spent 22 years in the military, including time as a Prisoner of War, and another two decades building a successful business in the cutthroat world of defense contractors.
But none of that prepared him for what he called the “corrupt” world of politics and running for office.
“The process is as broken as you can possibly imagine it being,” Durant said. “It’s not about it being a ‘contact’ sport. It’s about integrity and being truthful.
“People should not ask why we have the kind of people we have in Washington D.C. if we allow that sort of behavior and say, ‘It’s just politics.’ That’s not politics. It’s corruption. It should be illegal. It went way beyond what I imagined. Back in the fall when I looked at this race, part of why I entered was seeing the field and asking myself, ‘Who is going to step up? Why isn’t anyone stepping up?’ There are a lot of qualified people, but nobody wants to [run for office] and deal with this.”
Durant finished third in the May 24th Republican Primary for U.S. Senate in Alabama, after polls showed him leading the field for most of the last month of the race. In what was a three-person battle, former Senator Richard Shelby Chief of Staff and president of the Business Council of Alabama Katie Britt and 10-year U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks from Alabama’s 5th Congressional District finished 1-2 in the voting to force a June 21 runoff.
Britt came in first with 44.75% of the votes (288,762), to Brooks’ 29.15% (188,126) and Durant at 23.33% (150,520). The turnout for the Republican primary was just over 23% of registered voters in the state.
In retrospect, Durant says the election “opened my eyes” and left him so disgusted by what he called the attack ads by both Britt and Brooks that he will not support either in the runoff.
“I’m not going to vote," Durant said. "Katie Britt doesn’t deserve to be a senator. Mo Brooks has been in politics for 40 years, and all he does is run his mouth. If that is the best we have, we’re in trouble.”
OpenSecrets analysis showed more than $24.5 million in super PAC spending was steered toward influencing the outcome of May’s Republican primary. Super PACs, or Political Action Committees, must legally remain unaffiliated with candidates, but are allowed to raise unlimited amounts of money to spend in attempts to influence elections.
OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign financing, reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Shelby steered more than $5.5 million from their leadership PACs to pro-Britt groups, while another super PAC, Alabama Conservative Fund, added an additional $2.3 million in outside spending supporting Britt.
All three candidates benefited from millions of dollars in super PAC spending, and all three were attacked by super PACs as well.
“I don’t care if you criticize me for who I am,” Durant said. “But for absolutely fabricating and misinforming voters – there is a problem there. An absolute problem.
“This was a Republican primary. The [Ronald] Reagan years were the glory days of the Republican Party. There is a reason we’re not there anymore. Everybody has their own agenda. Nobody cares what is right for the Conservatives of this country, the backbone of this country. Reagan’s 11th Commandment [‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican’] – we’re a long way from that. Yeah, I was shocked at the lies, the corruption, the influence on the media.
“[The Senate race] wasn’t really an open seat. I came to that realization. This was against an incumbent [Shelby] candidate that had no desire whatsoever to let go of the power and was willing to do anything to hold on to it.”
Durant said the most shocking attack on him was the one using part of a speech from 2011 where he was talking about Somalia and Afghanistan, but it was turned against him in this campaign to say he was against the Second Amendment.
“I wasn’t offended, I was shocked,’’ Durant said. “Everyone who saw that video knows I was talking about Somalia” where Durant’s helicopter was shot down and he was captured, 19 of his comrades were killed, and later was the subject of the film 'Black Hawk Down.'
“Both Britt and the Super PACs supporting her ran an ad that said I was anti-Second Amendment, which is completely false," Durant said. "Brooks also made statements that I was anti-Second Amendment. And they wore that out. If I pointed to one thing, I’d say that was the one issue that was exploited, and it was clearly false. Anyone can look at it and figure out in 10 minutes that I was talking about Somalia, and [Britt and Brooks] knew it, ran it anyway, but it was absolutely false.
“Just this morning, I listened to a Katie Britt ad, and her closing statement was about treating veterans like the first-class citizens they are. Well, I’m a veteran. I’m a POW. But this so-called Christian conservative lied about who I am for two months.”
Asked what can be done to make elections, in his view, more honest, Durant said, “Get rid of super PACs. Absolutely. It will never happen, but that’s 90% of the problem. They launch attack ads. If it’s a legitimate attack on a legitimate issue, I get that; that’s fair. But if it’s false – that’s not fair. It’s propaganda. … It’s misinformation and lies designed to mislead the voters.
“I haven’t figured how to [correct the system]. Maybe it’s impossible, I don’t know. How does a voter reconcile all this? I was the average person until I got into politics. I didn’t have time to research all the information on the candidates. I read what was in the paper, watched the news, heard the ads, maybe got something in the mail. That’s what I based my opinion on. If that’s all false, how do I vote for the right person? It’s not the voters’ fault.”
Durant was asked if he is worried about sounding bitter over losing an election.
“I don’t care,’’ he said. “They can say what they want. It’s not sour grapes. Look at the evidence. The process is broken and needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, it’s the people who are ultimately the victims, just like we were in 2020.
“This was not about my ego. It’s not something I dreamed about. It’s about trying to do the right thing for the people of Alabama and this country – which I proved through 22 years in service to this country. But all the evidence of what I’ve done was all but disregarded by voters over false accusations and the Britt campaign super PAC that spent millions of dollars to make people believe these things about me that were not true. We simply didn’t have the resources to combat it all."
Durant was asked if he has any regrets.
“I don’t have any regrets. It opened my eyes. I lost a lot of friends [in the service] who were fighting for each other and for this country. I don’t think any of us thought it was this corrupt. I know I didn’t.
“When the bad guys win, that’s a problem. That is what bothers me the most. I wasn’t that thrilled about going to Washington anyway, but I wanted to make a difference. What bothers me most is, bad people won.”
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email Ray.Melick@1819News.com.
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