INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
By Steve Flowers
Believe it or not we are less than one week away from the 2014 Primary Elections. The Republican and Democratic primaries are next Tuesday. The turnout may be historically low. The reason is simple. There are no good statewide races on the ballot.
The Governor’s race is usually a marquee event. However, Gov. Robert Bentley is essentially running unopposed. The same is true for Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Attorney General Luther Strange. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey has a viable opponent but Stan Cooke is running a grassroots campaign with no money in a race for an office where there are no issues, only name identification.
Former Huntsville State Senator and Congressman Parker Griffith should garner the Democratic nomination for Governor. However, he will face long odds against a very popular incumbent in the fall. Even if Bentley was not unbeatable on his own, winning the GOP nomination for Governor is tantamount to election in Alabama.
The most spirited statewide races will be for the inconsequential positions of Secretary of State and State Auditor. There are also two seats on the Public Service Commission up for grabs.
The Secretary of State contest has drawn three quality opponents seeking this open position. Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue, former Montgomery County Probate Judge Reese McKinney and Tuscaloosa State Rep. John Merrill are vying for the GOP nomination. This one will more than likely be decided in the July 15 runoff.
Merrill should lead the ticket. He has run a very formidable initial statewide race. He started two years ago and has never stopped. He picked up the endorsements of most of the business groups and raised a lot of money for this obscure office. His television ads are the best seen in the state in quite a while.
The Auditor’s race has four male GOP candidates. Republican incumbent Samantha Shaw has served two terms and cannot run again. One time PSC Commissioner and perennial candidate Jim Ziegler, former State Conservation Official Hobbie Sealy, Adam Thompson, who is a Secretary of State official and Shelby Countian Dale Peterson are running for an office that may eventually be abolished. Adam Thompson has lined up most of the business endorsements. He and Ziegler will be favored to make the July 15 runoff.
Dale Peterson’s wife, Kathy, is challenging incumbent PSC member Jeremy Oden. Gov. Bentley appointed Oden two years ago. He should be easily elected to a full term on Tuesday.
The best PSC race is for Place 2. There are four men seeking the GOP nomination. Jonathan Barbee, Phillip Brown and Chip Beeker are striving to remove first term commissioner, Terry Dunn who won the seat by accident four years ago and has had a bizarre ride. He has openly sided with Democratic anti coal groups in a pro coal state. The business groups have given tepid support to Beeker in this race.
There will be pockets of moderate turnout around the state due to hotly contested local races. The best race will be for the open 6th District Congressional seat in suburban Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Blount Counties.
There are also several good state Senate races to watch. The Senate seat in St. Clair and Talladega Counties was expected to be very close. However, private polling indicates that Dr. Jim McLendon may beat incumbent Jerry Fielding by as much as 60/40.
AEA gave Garreth Moore $150,000 to run against popular incumbent Jimmy Holley in the South Alabama seat made up of Coffee, Covington, Dale and Pike Counties. Polls reveal Holley will win by 60/40 or more.
Incumbent Democrat Marc Keahey dropped out of the Southwest Alabama Senate seat 22. There are a handful of GOP aspirants. Either Greg Albriton, Danny Joyner or Stephen Sexton is favored to prevail. This will be a pickup for the GOP in the State Senate.
Todd Greeson looks to be edging out Steve Livingston in the open Northwest Alabama Senate seat made up of Jackson, DeKalb and Madison Counties.
The open Senate seat in North Jefferson and Blount Counties has six GOP aspirants. Gayle Gear, Shay Shelmutt and Jim Murphree are the favorites fighting for a runoff spot.
Most Goat Hill eyes are intensely watching East Alabama. Popular veteran lawmaker Gerald Dial is being challenged by Tim Sprayberry of Cleburne County. Polls are showing that challenger Andy Carter could beat incumbent State Senator Tom Whatley in the Lee County Senate seat. A lot of folks also will be following Speaker Mike Hubbard’s reelection contest. There has been a lot of money spent on both sides. Challenger Sandy Toomer is expected to make this race interesting.
We will see next Tuesday.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.