By Steve Flowers
Those of us who follow Alabama politics had circled June 6, 2017 as the beginning of the 2018 governor’s race. However, we did not foresee Donald Trump’s election as President in November and the subsequent appointment of our U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions, as his Attorney General, thus, opening a U.S. Senate seat and causing the need for an unanticipated special election for the open senate seat this year. Therefore, the race for Sessions’ Senate seat will dominate the political news for at least the next three months.
This Senate seat race has pushed back the timetable for gubernatorial aspirants by about three months. The thoroughbreds who might enter the Derby for the Brass Ring of Alabama politics probably have the luxury of waiting until Labor Day or maybe after the September 26 GOP runoff for U.S. Senator.
However they do need to declare by October 1, because qualifying will begin in late November for next year’s June 5 Primary.
Also we did not anticipate the resignation of Governor Robert Bentley on April 10 and the ultimate elevation of Lt. Governor Kay Ivey to Governor.
Kay Ivey has been governor for less than three months; however, she has taken to the post like a “duck to water.” She has been deliberative and decisive and looks very gubernatorial.
She is slowly putting her people into Cabinet posts. Enterprise Mayor Ken Boswell is a good choice for ADECA Director. This is a prime post as it doles out all the Federal grants that come to the state for infrastructure projects.
She has named Christopher Blankenship acting Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources. She has removed Serve Alabama Director Jon Mason, and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency secretary Stan Stabler.
Her two closest advisors throughout her career have been Steve Pelham and Will Sellers. She has brought Pelham with her as her Chief of Staff. She has appointed Will Sellers to a vacant seat on the State Supreme Court. Pelham will be the most important person in state government for at least 18 months.
These unforeseen events have changed the political landscape dramatically when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race.
This time last year, Roy Moore and Luther Strange were two of the lead horses for governor. They are now the two frontrunners for the open Senate seat. Win or lose they are removed from the governor’s race.
Kay Ivey’s elevation to governor has made her the favorite at this time. However, as this past year’s events reveal, a lot can change in a year’s time.
As we assess the field with less than a year to the finish line, Kay Ivey is the linchpin of the race. She is the incumbent. She has good name identification and her age, 72, is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. She looks like your grandmother. That sells better than young and glamorous, especially among female voters. They can identify and feel comfortable with Kay. Currently, Kay is in the proverbial catbird’s seat.
The million dollar question is does Kay really want to run for a full four-year term. If she were to ask me as a friend, I would tell her no. If I were her, I would not want to go through the rigors of a yearlong campaign. She can go to the house and proudly say that she was Governor of Alabama. A 20-month tenure as governor is not an insignificant amount of time.
There are four significant thoroughbreds in the race, regardless of Ivey’s intentions.
PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh, 50, is popular and well positioned. She has won three statewide races.
Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, 75, has been at his important post for eight years. He has done an exemplary job. However, he cannot run again. He is well liked.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, 61, will be a player in the governor’s race. He is the popular Mayor of Alabama’s economic crown jewel.
Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington, 69, could be a factor. He has some name recognition from being seen often in the all-important Birmingham media market. If he gets strong support from the Birmingham suburbs, he could be a dark horse.
Birmingham based evangelist Scott Dawson, 49, might catch fire.
Tuscaloosa’s popular young mayor, Walt Maddox, may make the gubernatorial plunge as a Democrat.
We will see.
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.