By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Currently, the most coveted prize in Alabama politics is to be chosen to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, upon his confirmation as US Attorney General. Governor Robert Bentley will choose the recipient.
In all likelihood, Bentley’s choice wins reelection in 2018, he or (remotely) she would become the senior Senator from Alabama and the leader of the State’s Congressional delegation.
Since 1822, only ten Alabama Senators vacated their office before the end of their term.
After the passage of the 1901 Constitution, five Senate seats became vacant due to the death of the office holder. In 1909 and 1914, the governor did not appoint a new senator following the death in office of Edmund Pettus and Joseph F. Johnston respectively. Elections were held to replace those men. The others were replaced immediately by appointment.
The last appointment occurred after Senator James Allen died on June 1, 1978.
The governor appointed his wife, Maryon Pittman Allen, as his replacement on June 8 and she served in the Senate for five months. In November of that year, Donald Stewart won election to the seat once held by Allen.
Daily, Bentley is being bombarded with suggestions and pleas from all corners of the State, to choose who will ascend to the lofty heights of the US Senate. Selecting the State’s next senator is potentially the most important decision Bentley will ever make in his stormy tenure as Governor. As he seeks to fashion his legacy, this one appointment could have a greater impact on the State’s future than any other act of his administration.
In an email from Bentley’s Appointments Director, Will Edwards, to the Alabama Republican Executive Committee, he says the Governor wants candidates who will, “uphold the Constitution, value the rights of the Second Amendment, the rights of the states, support pro-life issues, implement a strong national security policy, support domestic job creation and, most importantly, always put Alabama first.”
Any Republican Senator from Alabama will certainly stand for those issues Edward’s outlines in his email, but Senators plant their battle flags on the matters where they believe they can make the most difference.
Senator Sessions staked his flag most prominently in the Armed Services and Immigration as national interests. His determined commitments to protecting our national security are why he now stands to become US Attorney General.
Senator Richard Shelby on the other hand firmly planted his flag in growth and prosperity in Alabama. While both Senator’s have worked tirelessly for our State as with most of their colleagues, they focus on different priorities. Bentley should realize that the State will need a senator who takes up Shelby’s flag, and quickly learns how to maneuver within the Russell Building.
As one Hill staffer said, “For the first two terms they (other senators) don’t even know your name.”
The fact is that seniority within the upper chamber of Congress is rewarded with power. In other words, the longer one sits, the taller one stands in that august body. Today, Senator Shelby is the fourth-longest-serving senator, and the power and respect he has gathered are unquestionable within the corridors of the Washington elite.
Since being admitted to the Union on December 14, 1819, only 43 individuals have served as US Senators from Alabama. From March 1861 to July 1868 due to its secession from the Union, Senate seats from Alabama were declared vacant. In close to 200 years, only 43 Alabamians have obtained the rank of US Senator.
The recent lobbying effort by some, who seek the office through gubernatorial fiat, should be disqualify from consideration because of their shameful graveling or gratuitous solicitation. The list of office seekers is so long that it would be easier to name those not wanting the position.
Will Bentley look at the long game or the immediate gains that come with political appointments?
Far too many of those who are now solicitous of the position, want it for all the wrong reasons. In the US Senate, there are show horses and work horses. In Shelby and Sessions, the people have been represented by workhorses. Individuals with strong convictions, willing to pull the heavy loads. For all their failings real and perceived these men are public servants who have acquitted themselves with dignity and honor. They have served the people instead of wanting to be served at the next Washington soiree.
The weight of this choice is greater than a lobbying contest or a prize handed out like so many trinkets at the State Capitol.
We should pray for Bentley to make a sober-minded choice for Senator, and not because of the last voice to whisper in his ear.