Inside the Statehouse

By Steve Flowers

As I have suggested to you, we are looking at one momentous 2018 election year, and it has begun. Get this, folks, we have an open governor’s race. We have openings at Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Agriculture Commissioner, three seats on the Supreme Court including the Chief Justice position, all 35 state Senate seats, all 105 House seats, one hotly contested congressional seat, as well as 67 sheriffs. Folks, that’s the most political marquee year in my long political life. If media outlets do not make money next year, they ain’t ever gonna make any money.

As though the aforementioned cavalcade was not enough of a circus, we’ve got ourselves an open U.S. Senate seat. I believe that Ringling Brothers Circus closed in deference to us in the Heart of Dixie and our roadshow Vaudeville act called Alabama politics.

Our good “ole” Governor Robert Bentley has been a great ringleader. He is quite a show. Poor ole Bentley has relegated himself to not only being irrelevant, but is considered a clown.

I have been around the state on a speaking / book signing tour and everywhere I go they ask about “ole” Bentley. I have to deflect the questions about his personal advisor following him to Washington or sitting in the gallery for his speech to the Legislature.

In fact, I try to put some levity to the situation by telling folks, “Well, you know my observation of Alabama politics over the past 50 years is that we really haven’t got to have a governor.”

Big Jim Folsom stayed drunk his whole second term, George Wallace was on pain pills his last term and did not know where he was, Fob James seemed disinterested and went duck hunting his second term, and they put poor ole Hunt and Siegelman in jail. At least Bentley shows up and does his duties to the best of his abilities. He just leans on one advisor, exclusively. They say she wrote his last State of the State speech. If she did, she ain’t much of a speechwriter.

Well, ole Bentley got himself a U.S. Senate seat appointment to grant. He milked it for what it was worth. He ultimately used it as a get out of jail free card. Even if his appointment of Luther Strange looks like chicanery and collusion, it was a shrewd political move by Bentley. It keeps him and his advisor out of the pokey.

The Luther Strange appointment looks brazen and audacious. The facts are clear, Strange as Attorney General of Alabama openly asked the House Judiciary Committee to cease their impeachment proceedings because he and his office were investigating the Governor and his advisor. Then all of a sudden, the Governor appoints him to a coveted senate seat. If that does not look like collusion, I do not know what does.

If given those facts the average fisherman in Mobile Bay would say that it looks fishy. A baker in Birmingham would conclude that it does not pass the smell test.

As a political historian I will have to record these very facts for posterity. Folks can draw their own conclusion.

Luther Strange will probably go on to be a good U.S. Senator. He is imminently qualified for the role, and has planned meticulously for this seat for the last 20 years. However, the taint of Bentley will follow him to Washington and could come back to bite him in the June 2018 GOP primary, which is tantamount to election.

Big Luther is betting that as the incumbent senator for the next 15 months, he will be able to raise so much Washington campaign cash that he will be unbeatable.

That is probably a good bet. However, Alabamians may have a longer memory than he thinks. Just ask Bill Baxley how getting the governor’s nomination from the Democratic hierarchy when Charlie Graddick got the most votes in 1986 turned out. Folks in Alabama do not like appointments, especially one that comes with a cloud that appears to be collusion.

We have a great 15 months of Alabama politics ahead of us, folks.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.