Former state Sen. Bradley Byrne, a Republican, coasted to victory Tuesday night in Alabama’s 1st District special election, easily defeating his Democratic opponent, real estate agent Burton LeFlore.
Byrne succeeds former GOP Rep. Jo Bonner, who resigned over the summer to take a job with the University of Alabama system.
Officials will not swear Byrne into Congress until the new year because the House has already left for the holiday recess. In the meantime, here are six things to know about the newest member of Congress.
1. Byrne was classmates at Duke University with fellow Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks.
Brooks graduated in 1975; Byrne graduated two years later, in 1977.
“Mo and I are great friends,” Byrne said in an interview with CQ Roll Call last week.
What's more, Byrne and Brooks overlapped at the University of Alabama School of Law. Brooks graduated in 1978, while Byrne graduated two years later in 1980.
2. At Duke, Byrne was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, along with CNBC chief Washington correspondent and New York Times columnist John Harwood.
Harwood graduated from Duke a year after Byrne.
“We were great friends at Duke, and of course I followed his career for decades and I always read his stuff and pay close attention to him on TV, because I know how very smart he is,” Byrne said.
3. Byrne and his wife, Rebecca, are on different sides of arguably the biggest college football rivalry in the country.
He is an Alabama Crimson Tide fan; she is an Auburn Tigers fan.
“We’ve been married for 32 years now and we’ve weathered a lot of Alabama-Auburn games,” Byrne said. “We’ve learned that when Alabama is not playing, I root for Auburn, and when Auburn isn’t playing, she roots for Alabama. And on Alabama-Auburn day we just have to love each other.”
4. At the start of his political career, Byrne was a Democrat.
He was elected to the Alabama State Board of Education as a Democrat in 1994. But like many in the South, Byrne ultimately left the Democratic Party to join Republicans in 1997.
“We always had conservative Democrats in Alabama going back to as far as I remember, and there came a time in Alabama where you could no longer be conservative and be a Democrat,” Byrne said. “And just looking at the national party and looking at the state party, it was very clear that my personal beliefs and principles were at great odds with the national party and state party here in Alabama, and when I got to that point I realized the right thing to do was to say, ‘Look I’m not a Democrat, I’m a Republican.'”
5. Byrne is a self-described education advocate.
He began his political career in the 1980s, helping overhaul Alabama’s public education system.
He later served as chancellor of the Alabama Community College System from 2007 until 2009. In that role, he worked to weed out corruption from the system — something he is widely praised for by Republicans in the state.
6. Byrne’s family has lived in the Mobile, Ala., area for more than 200 years, which he said shapes many of his stances.
Aside from traditional conservative principles, including limited government, Byrne is also concerned with water quality and the environment.
Byrne’s district includes miles of coastline and fishing territory, and the Mobile Delta is one of the country’s largest shipping ports in the country.
“I really have a strong attachment not just to my state but to this part of the state, because we’ve been here for so long,” Byrne said. “We love it, we love the special things about the environment. ... We have our own very special way of living down here and it does affect the way I look at things.”