AUBURN — Jeff Turner had the full attention of Senator Mike Braun.
There was a good reason for it; Turner was firmly gripping Braun’s light blue tie.
It was in jest, as Turner led Braun around several tables to auction the senator’s tie following his remarks at the DeKalb County GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner Thursday evening at the National Auto & Truck Museum in Auburn.
The tie auction has become a tradition at GOP events in DeKalb County. Thursday’s impromptu auction raised just over $2,000 for the local party.
State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, an auctioneer, stepped to the podium and started the bidding for Braun’s tie at $500. It quickly jumped to $600 and then $700.
“I’ll put it back in the box,” Braun said. He explained he had worn the tie while on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C.
“He’ll sign the back if you want,” Turner added as he encouraged higher bids. “He’ll wipe the sweat off his brow with it.”
The bids jumped to $800 and then $900 before State Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola, offered the winning bid at $1,000. Mike Shuherk pledged $1,000 for another tie if Braun wears that one on the Senate floor.
In his remarks, Braun cautioned that President Joe Biden’s three-part, $7 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the Build Back Better Plan, is the tip of the iceberg in terms of more federal spending.
The first component — the American Rescue Plan Act, an economic stimulus package — was signed into law by Biden March 11.
The second component — the American Jobs Plan — focuses on infrastructure. This provision passed the Senate 69-30, but a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives has been delayed.
The third component — the American Families Plan — focuses on spending initiatives for health care, child care, community college and paid leave.
“Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, those are trillions and trillions of dollars that will make what we’ve just done pale in comparison,” Braun said.
The senator took a few questions from the audience, including his thoughts about COVID vaccines, mandates and border security.
“It’s a modern miracle that we’ve got a vaccine,” he said.
Braun served on the committee that interviewed the Centers for Disease Control and the Food & Drug Administration as the COVID pandemic worsened, saying, “The first meetings we had, they were arguing over which agency was going to orchestrate the entirety of getting a vaccine done.
“Thank goodness the White House was there because we’d still be stumbling over who was going to do it and we would not have a vaccine.”
Continuing, Braun said, “I don’t like mandates at the federal or state level. I believe it’s totally an individual decision. All that is a segue to big government doing other things.
“I’m not going to tell you whether I am (vaccinated) or not,” he added. “I haven’t told anybody. I don’t think it’s anybody’s business whether you’re vaccinated or not.
“What this leads to is a heavy-handed, authoritarian state. What does that lead to down the road? I’ve been careful and I advise others to do the same thing. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Braun said he has advocated to Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House chief medical adviser, of the need for therapeutics in addition to vaccines.
Turning to the border crisis, he called President Biden’s reversal of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies “an unforced error.” That reversal included halting construction of a border wall that began during Trump’s administration.
“You had the problem contained better than ever, the lowest border crossings in recent history under Trump’s rules,” he said. Braun called Biden’s reversal “just crazy. You were doing it just to spite a policy that was working. That doesn’t get at the long-term issue.”
Braun called the Jan. 6 uprising in Washington, D.C. “an ugly event,” but noted little was said or done in days and months of civil unrest “in cities that have been run by the same politics for decades and they just let it run amok.
“I’ve never heard anything dumber in the time I’ve been watching politics than defunding the police,” he said. During a recent “vote-a-rama” Senate session, he said most Democrats voted for a bill to hire 100,000 police officers.
When he’s away from the nation’s capital, Braun said one of his favorite pastimes is mushroom hunting.
“That’s a fungus you can eat,” Braun said. “There’s a lot of fungus in D.C.”
While Braun recently agreed to sit on a climate caucus with Delaware Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat, he pledged to maintain his conservative roots.
“I will never, ever bend on conservative principles, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be engaged in the conversation.”
Instead, Braun called for more bipartisan legislation like the Growing Climate Solutions Act that he authored. The bill, according to Congress.gov, establishes a voluntary greenhouse gas technical assistance provider and a third-party verifier certification program to reduce entry barriers into voluntary environmental credit markets for farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners.
That bill passed 92-8 in the Senate June 24. It was delivered to the House of Representatives that day, but has been held at the House desk without a vote since.
“If we don’t do it better, political entrepreneurs are fast afoot. They’ll rule the dynamic and they’ll wait for moments like this. Rahm Emanuel said don’t let a crisis go to waste. Look what they’ve delivered,” Braun cautioned.
As he did with Braun earlier, Turner led Auburn Mayor Mike Ley around the room to auction his red, U.S. Constitution-themed tie.
DeKalb County Sheriff David Cserep offered the eventual winning bid at $350. “That’s bail money,” Turner quipped.
Still seeking higher bids, Turner continued, “We’ll throw in the jacket with it.” Maintaining a firm grip on Ley’s tie, he said, “For $400, you get the mayor with it.”