By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday’s “Yes” vote on amendment one was a shocking victory for Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s (R) administration and a crushing defeat for anyone who had ambitions of unseating the popular Governor in 2014.
Both of the previous two Alabama Governors: Don Seigelman (D) and Bob Riley (R) staked their governorship on highly controversial referendums to shake up Alabama. Nobody has ever compared Bentley’s leadership to the more charismatic Seigelman and Riley; but here on Tuesday night he succeeded in stirring up popular support for his agenda where they both failed miserably. Of course Seigelman wanted a lottery and Riley wanted massive tax increases on virtually everyone in the state, while Bentley’s controversial trust fund plan was not nearly so massive. Sensing that the referendum was going down in defeat, Gov. Bentley promised to repay the $437 million to the trust fund in coming years and the people believed him. It is another political victory for the Governor whose leadership style is not nearly as flamboyant as Riley, Seigelman, George Wallace, Jim Folsom Sr. and other governors historically elected in Alabama.
In 2010 Bentley just narrowly defeated Tim James to get into a runoff with Republican establishment favorite Senator Bradley Byrne. In the runoff, the moderate Bentley was able to attract James’ and former Chief Justice Roy Moore’s conservative primary voters as well as substantial AEA support to defeat Byrne in a victory that no one though possible just six months earlier. Bentley then crushed his Democratic challenger with an unprecedented broad spectrum of Alabama rallying behind the GOP banner (many for the first time). Tuesday’s victory over the vote “No” forces, perhaps coincidentally led by Bradley Byrne and Tim James sends a message to everyone in the state that this Governor may speak softly and (by Alabama gubernatorial standards) rarely; but when he talks the people of Alabama listen and they had his back on Tuesday and presumably will have his back in his 2014 reelection campaign.
Tuesday was a very bad day for the Alabama Tea Party. They came out against the CA too late, did not raise any money, or accomplish anything to change the hearts and minds of Alabama voters. Tea Party favorite’s Sen. Scott Beason, Sen. Paul Bussman, Sen. Dick Brewbaker, and Rep. Phil Williams all came out strong against the CA and apparently the voters chose to believe the Governor and the moderate wing of the GOP over the more conservative elements of the Republican party. Corporate interests, professional lobbyists, and the power of money clearly triumphed over conservative talk radio hosts and conservative grass roots organizers. Alabama’s hospitals and nursing homes threw over a million into targeted advertising and Tuesday’s results show that that was money well spent.
Strangely similar to the situation in the Republican Party, the old hands in the Alabama Democratic Party emerged triumphant over the younger more energetic party leaders. Senator Roger Bedford, AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry, and Party Chairman Mark Kennedy urged Democratic voters to vote “Yes”; while up and coming leaders like House Minority Leader Craig Ford and state Rep. Joe Hubbard had been urging a “No vote.
Arguably the most powerful man in the state, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn avoided the whole debate. The Speaker supported the Barton budget that passed out of the House which would have slashed $180 million a year from the Alabama Medicaid budget; but when the Governor threatened to veto the budget and lobbyists appealed to Senate Republicans, Hubbard supported the compromise constitutional amendment proposal originally crafted by AEA Executive Secretary Mabry and Governor Bentley. While Hubbard voted for passage of the CA in the legislature he has been eerily quiet on the subject during the ca campaign. It is not fair to suggest that Governor Bentley has eclipsed the first Republican Speaker since the 1870s and former Republican party chairman in power and prominence in Montgomery; but Governor Bentley clearly has demonstrated a deft political hand in this episode that most political observers didn’t think he had.