By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Within 72 hours of taking the oath of office, Governor Kay Ivey met with the press fielding questions and expressing her determination to restore Alabama’s reputation and bring back a rule of law based government. It was obvious to those of us who’ve watched her over the years that she was confident, well prepared, ready and able to “right the ship of State” as she has promised to do.
Gov. Ivey displayed an “Alabama First” attitude that has been missing from the Governor’s office for far too long.
However, less than 36 hours after taking office, Gov. Ivey received a call from US Senate Majority Leader Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, according to multiple sources in Montgomery and Washington, DC. McConnell is believed to have asked the Governor to not reschedule the date for the US Senate Special Election to fill the seat left vacant by former Senator Jeff Sessions (when he assumed the role of US Attorney General).
This is not the only time McConnell has shown preference for who represents our State in the Senate. After it became apparent that Sessions would be Attorney General for the Trump administration, McConnell met with then Governor Robert Bentley to press him to appoint a moderate Republican to the seat, preferably a woman, according to DC and Montgomery insiders. The implication coming from Washington was Rep. Martha Roby was the first choice to replace Sessions. However, Bentley allies say the Governor’s alleged lover, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, nixed appointing Roby straightaway. McConnell also urged Bentley not to appoint a “Freedom Caucus” type lawmaker. Bentley delivered for McConnell and now the Senate Majority Leader wants Gov. Ivey to show him the same deference.
In February, Bentley appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, a moderate Republican, to Sessions’ post. He then set the Special Election some two years later to coincide with the 2018 General Election. This action betrays the will and intent of the Alabama 1901 Constitution which declares that the election is to be held, “Forthwith,” which the State’s Secretary of State said means immediately or as soon as possible. Now comes the most powerful Senator in Washington, DC, and other powerbroker asking our new Governor not to adhere to the clear meaning of our State’s Constitution.
The matter of the Special Election, allowing the people of our State to determine who will represent them in the US Senate is of such grave concern, that it was the first question asked of Gov. Ivey during her meeting with the press.
On last Thursday, Gov. Ivey told gathered reporters, “There has no doubt been a dark cloud hanging over our great State,” Ivey said. “People all over the world, much less the nation, have all their eyes on Alabama, and it’s not for the right reasons. That’s very troubling. People have lost trust in their government leaders.” On Bentley’s appointment of his nemesis, Strange and the date set some two years out, the Governor said she had “concerns about the whole situation.”
Ala. Code 36-9-8 reads in part, “Whenever a vacancy occurs in the office of Senator of and from the State of Alabama in the Senate of the United States more than four months before a general election, the Governor of Alabama shall forthwith order an election to be held by the qualified electors of the state to elect a Senator of and from the State of Alabama to the United States Senate for the unexpired term.”
We have adopted a saying here at The Alabama Political Reporter: “Not only must it be right, it must look right.”
Actions taken by officeholders within a constitutional government should be above suspicion. The elevation of Strange to the US Senate, along with giving him two years to gain incumbent status not only looks wrong, it is wrong, according to State Law.
While we have no doubt that Gov. Ivey will do what’s right, there are powers afoot with impure intentions.
There is a very brief window for the Special Election to be rescheduled. The dates have been outlined by Secretary of State John Merrill and can be seen here at APR.
Gov. Ivey acknowledged this limited period of time and the cost of holding a Special Election at Thursday’s presser saying, “There’s a limited time available to make a reasonable decision on that,” she said. “If we move the date, it will cost about $15 million that will come straight out of the General Fund Budget. So, while I have some concerns about the whole situation, I have to also be very mindful of the impact it will have.”
Gov. Ivey’s concerns are valid, but there is also a lawsuit pending over the matter of Bentley’s interpretation of State Law, and the Ivey administration will have to defend Bentley’s actions. Gov. Ivey, as a former educator, certainly knows what the word “forthwith” means and modifies in the context of the simple language of the State Constitution.
Unfortunately, Bentley’s lawyers don’t see it that way and argue that “forthwith,” in the statute, modifies the word “order” not the word “held.” Thus, they do not consider that the plain language of the statute that requires the Governor to issue his or her order “forthwith,” rather than hold the election “forthwith.”
Gov. Ivey will be tested many times over the next two years, this is one of those times.