Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Will Luther Strange pay politically for being appointed?

  Lots of folks are still angry about our lame duck governor Robert Bentley naming Attorney General Luther Strange to Jeff Sessions' U.S. Senate seat.

  If the sitting attorney general of a state openly says that he is investigating the governor for misfeasance, and then that governor appoints that attorney general to the senate seat, it looks funny. It gives new meaning to the word collusion.

  This brazen move has incensed Alabama lawmakers who have heard from their constituents back home. It has especially upset members of the House Judiciary Committee. They were asked to cease the impeachment proceedings last year in deference to Strange’s request to lead an investigation of the governor’s shenanigans. Needless to say, they have reinstated their impeachment proceedings against Bentley with renewed vigor.

  Several legislators have taken issue with the governor’s calling for the senate seat election in 2018 rather than immediately. The constitution says the election should be held forthwith. That is open to interpretation. The more prudent path is 2018 since there are elections anyway. That is traditionally the way it has been done in the past. However, most seats in bygone days were vacated by the death of one of our senators, and the governor usually appointed the deceased senator’s widow for the remaining year or so on the term. She was considered a caretaker for the seat. There has been so much grief and acrimony toward Strange’s appointment that he may be a caretaker.

  I have never before seen a governor treated with such disdain and irreverence by a legislature as ole Bentley. They probably will not technically impeach the ole fellow. He only has about 20 months left in his tenure and he has essentially been impeached from power anyway. Most of them look at him as a buffoon or a clown. He has about as much relevance in the legislative process as one of the former goats that used to graze on Goat Hill.

  The ultimate fallout from Bentley’s actions and unpopularity may accrue to Luther Strange in his election race in 14 months. Winning the GOP Primary in this Senate race is tantamount to election in Alabama. Therefore, the race is in June of next year.

  Big Luther stands a good 6’9”. His height is daunting. He was actually a college basketball player at Tulane. Luther spent the first 20 years of his career as a corporate lobbyist in Washington. Seeing the power of being a U.S. Senator made an impression. He came home to run for a secondary constitutional office and get ready to run for a Senate seat vacated by either of his friends, Richard Shelby or Jeff Sessions. He chose the right stepping stone job, Alabama Attorney General.

  Big Luther is basically a shy and reserved fellow. He is not a natural politician. He was on the right course when he initially said that he would not seek or accept Bentley’s appointment and that he was running for the post independent of the discredited governor’s appointment. He changed his mind, met with Bentley, and accepted the appointment.

  His trusted advisors convinced him that folks have short memories, and that over the next year as a sitting U.S. Senator, he can raise so much Washington campaign cash that he can outspend his opposition to such an extent that it will wash away the taint of the Bentley appointment. He may be right. That may be a good bet.

  However, folks may be smarter and more cognizant of bold, brazen backroom deals than some think. Just ask Bill Baxley how that worked out in 1986 when some Democratic Party leaders got behind closed doors and selected Baxley to be the Democratic nominee over Charlie Graddick who got the most votes. The people were so incensed they elected an unknown Republican named Guy Hunt as governor.

  But there is the pragmatic side of the equation. During that 1986 debacle Bill Baxley, who was lieutenant governor, had become close with the King of Alabama politics, Gov. George Wallace. Wallace was in his last term as governor and Baxley had sensed a backlash might occur with such an audacious move by his Democratic Party buddies, so he went to Wallace for his advice. Ole Wallace took a puff on his cigar and looked at Baxley wryly and said, “Bill you know what they call a governor who gets to be governor by a backroom deal?” Baxley asked “What?” Wallace said, “They call him governor.”

  About the author: 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 He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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