By Hastings Wyman –
When the Senate confirmed President Trump’s nomination of US Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to be the nation’s attorney general, Gov. Robert Bentley (R) quickly appointed the state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, to the vacancy. Strange, who had already announced he would run for the Senate if Sessions was confirmed, will hold the seat until 2018, when there will be an election to fill the last two years of Session’s term, which ends in 2020. Sessions, a fixture in Alabama politics, had held the Senate seat for 20 years.
Strange “was and always was the obvious choice” to take Sessions’ place in the Senate, says Marty Connors, former chairman of the state GOP. He enjoys “tremendous regard on the grassroots level,” for protecting the state’s coal industry by challenging President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, for opposing Obamacare, and especially for negotiating the $1 billion settlement with BP-Deepwater Horizon after its disastrous oil spill in 2010.
Strange, who will also relinquish his post as the new chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association, has brought or been associated with more than 50 lawsuits against what he has called “federal overreach.”
Strange has also prosecuted Republican officeholders who ran afoul of the law, including state House Speaker Mike Hubbard, convicted of ethics charges and sentenced to four years in prison.
The main difference between Strange and Sessions, quips Connors, “is about two feet,” alluding to Strange’s 6’9” height, compared to Sessions 5’7”. Indeed, Strange played basketball at Tulane, where he earned the nickname, “Big Luther.” Adds Connors, “I don’t know of any [policy] differences between Jeff and Luther, so it’s a match.”
Glenn Browder, Emeritus Professor of American Democracy at Jacksonville State University in Alabama, and a former Alabama congressman (D), says Strange “is very well suited for the job, by his personality and his background.” He “has had an interesting career,” noting that Strange “got into elective politics midway in his career.” Browder says that when he was in Congress, Strange was a lobbyist, for Sonat Offshore, an Alabama-based gas utility. “He would visit my office. He’s was always a very nice guy. I was impressed with him.” And while acknowledging that Strange has a “pretty solid career” as Alabama’s attorney general, Browder believes he “is more suited for national politics than state politics.”
Strange lost a 2006 race for lieutenant governor to Democrat Jim Folsom Jr., a former governor, but was elected attorney general in 2010.
While the appointment has been generally well received in Alabama, Strange has taken some flak from Bentley foes who note that as attorney general, Strange stopped an impeachment movement, based on the governor’s questionable relationship with a female aide, from proceeding in the legislature, then later accepted the Senate appointment from Bentley. Strange pointed out to the Christian Science Monitor that his ending the impeachment effort happened before the presidential election and before there was a Senate vacancy.
Browder says some are saying “It was a horrible mistake that will haunt Strange… I doubt it will haunt Strange.” Connors acknowledges “There were some issues about the implications” for the governor’s problems, “but the governor made the right choice.”