By Hastings Wyman –
In two years, Alabama elects a governor to succeed term-limited – and embattled – Gov. Robert Bentley (R). While interest in the position is high, there’s little consensus as to who will be the major contenders. More than a dozen Republicans have expressed interest in running, but only one has announced. When asked to name potential candidates for governor, Republican National Committeeman Paul Reynolds answers, “The line starts right down the street from my house (in Jefferson County) and stretches all the way to Mobile.” The race “is extremely fluid,” says Marty Connors, former chairman of the state GOP.
The early stirrings of the race are happening against a background of scandal, an ethics investigation and possible impeachment, all involving incumbent Gov. Bentley’s relationship with Rebekah Mason, the former aide to the governor to whom he sent inappropriate emails. Bentley’s impeachment is unlikely, says Glenn Browder, Emeritus Professor of American Democracy at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, and a former congressman (D) from Alabama’s 3rd District. Browder. “He’s a Republican governor” and GOPers wouldn’t want to see him impeached. He adds, “Most Democrats are black and don’t want to kick out a governor on personal issues, as they are often the targets of such charges.” Nevertheless, “Whoever runs will be denouncing Bentley’s conduct,” says Browder.
The leading possibility, if you go by one poll taken last July, is former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore (R). The survey, taken for the Alabama Forestry Association, showed Moore in the lead with 28%, followed by 19% for state Attorney General Luther Strange (R), who has since moved over to the US Senate contest, where he will stay assuming incumbent Jeff Sessions (R) is confirmed as President Trump’s attorney general. The other eight potential contenders in the poll were all in single digits.
Moore, 69, was suspended from the court – for a second time – after he urged country probate judges to defy federal courts over same-sex marriage. The first time, in 2003, he was removed for defying a federal court order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the state Supreme Court premises. But despite a populist appeal, in 2010 he garnered only 19% in the Republican Primary for governor, putting him in fourth place. While the
state’s business and civic establishment is firmly against him, Moore has been a strong Trump supporter and may get a second wind in the current political environment.
Other Republican possibilities, in alphabetical order, are:
US Rep. Bradley Byrne of the 1st District (Mobile), who led in the 2010 first primary but lost to Bentley in the runoff, might choose to run again.
David Carrington, Jefferson (Birmingham) County Commissioner, has already announced. He got favorable publicity for getting the county through a bankruptcy crisis.
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivy may or may not run. “If Bentley is impeached, Kay Ivy would have two years to entrench herself,” says Browder. This, he notes, gives legislators interested in running for governor a further incentive not to impeach Bentley. Whether Ivy runs “is contingent upon what happens to Bentley,” says Connors. “If she takes [the governor’s] office, she would run for reelection. If not, it’s less likely she would run.”
Tim James, the son of former Alabama Gov. Fob James (R), is a businessman who finished third in gubernatorial primaries in 2002 and 2010. “He’s a good guy,” says Reynolds.
Del Marsh, president of the Senate, was elected to the state Senate in 1998. He recently made news calling for “a comprehensive education plan.” He is from Anniston.
John Merrill was elected secretary of state in 2014 with 63% of the vote. He recently said it was illegal for the Bentley campaign fund to pay the legal fees of Mason.
John McMillan, the commissioner of agriculture, has been a prominent conservationist. When he served in the state House, he chaired the Agriculture Committee. “He is known and liked around the state,” says Connors.
US Rep. Martha Roby of the 2nd District (Montgomery) might run, but she angered many Republicans when she opposed Trump after the Access Hollywood tape surfaced.
State Auditor Jim Ziegler was elected n 2002. He is known across the state. He recently commented on Bentley’s possible selection of a US Senate replacement for Sessions: “Pray for anybody but Luther Strange,” Zeigler told AL.com. “The reason? If Strange is appointed, then Bentley gets to single-handedly name a new state attorney general who can ‘handle’ the investigations of Bentley and Rebekah Mason. If you think Bentley has been bad the last two years, just wait to see the next two with him having his own attorney general.”
“Marsh, Moore and Ziegler are the top three, at least starting out,” says Browder. “And Byrne, if he decides to run.”
Democrats are definite underdogs in Alabama. “I don’t think Democrats could win a statewide election in Alabama,” says GOP committeeman Reynolds, admittedly a biased source. But he has a point: The GOP holds all statewide offices, controls both houses of the legislature, and Trump carried the state with 62% of the vote. Nevertheless, at least three Democrats are considering the race.
Former state Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb (D) is considering a run for governor. She was elected in 2006, one of the last Democrats elected statewide in Alabama. Although Cobb has endorsed Sessions (R) for US attorney general, she said, “Just because someone has Republican by their name doesn’t automatically make them a good person or a good leader.” She also decried “toxic partisanship.”
Outgoing state House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) is also looking at the race. He points to GOP leaders who have ethical and/or legal problems. “The people of Alabama are discouraged by the Mike Hubbard, Roy Moore, Robert Bentley tactics,” he said recently. Ford has also tried to distance himself from the Democratic Party leadership, including state chair Nancy Worley and former education powerhouse Joe Reed.
Former US Rep. Parker Griffith (D), an oncologist, received 36% of the vote against Bentley in 2012. He had briefly switched to the GOP, but returned to the Democratic fold. In a recent interview reported in Al.com, he said he will “probably” run a second time in 2018, citing education and healthcare problems. “The middle class is melting away,” he added.
For developments in both parties, stay tuned.