By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
During a Cabinet meeting last week, Gov. Robert Bentley said that well over one hundred individuals were seeking the US Senate seat, soon to be vacated by Sen. Jeff Sessions. Several present at the meeting believed Bentley slyly tipped his hand as to which individual currently holds the inside track for the appointment. Insiders say the die was cast weeks ago, and the interviews that began last week are a perfunctory charade.
Since President-elect Donald Trump tapped Sessions for US Attorney General, a legion of current and former lawmakers have been working contacts to convince Bentley that they deserve the position. Add to those numbers cabinet members, judges and assorted others and the field looks pretty crowded.
State Senators Del Marsh, Cam Ward, Trip Pitman, and Arthur Orr are public contenders, as are current and former house members including Perry Hooper, Jr., the entire Alabama Congressional delegation is in the hunt as well as ADECA Chief Jim Byard, Supreme Court Justice Jim Main and Attorney General Luther Strange.
Strange and Hooper are the only individual so far to formally declare their candidacy for 2018. Until last week, State Senator Dick Brewbaker was considering a run, but has taken himself out of the race.
Of all the names in the hat for the seat, only Strange and Marsh are thought to have the ability to quickly raise money for an actual campaign. Given Strange’s name, ID pollsters believe he is the front-runner in a special or general election. Marsh, a wealthy businessman, could self-finance, which makes him a serious candidate in an election.
On Goat Hill, the process is an ongoing guessing game with lots of questions and even more speculation.
But those close to the Governor admit that only one question matters in the isolated world of the Bentley administration: That question is…
“What does Rebekah want?”
Bentley’s alleged lover, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, is reportedly the power behind the throne. According to cabinet members and administration staffers, ADECA’s Byard is Mason’s pick. The former Prattville mayor hasn’t been shy about his aspiration to replace Sessions, and members of his staff have made it known that their boss is the front runner.
At the cabinet meeting, Bentley spoke about the potential candidates he recently interviewed including, Marsh, Ward, and Hooper. During the discussion Bentley jokingly said to Byard, “We’ll get to you, Jim,” which several individuals present felt it was an inside joke between the two men.
Byard is the son-in-law of former Chief Deputy Attorney General Richard Allen, who currently serves as Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey’s parliamentarian in the State Senate. While Allen is a political heavyweight, Byard’s appointment rests more on the triangle that is the relationship between Bentley, Rebekah and her husband Jon; this according to highly placed staffers.
Jon Mason receives a six-figure state salary as Director of Serve Alabama, Bentley’s faith-based initiative. He continues to hold that position despite the very public nature of Bentley’s presumed affair with his wife. After the publication of the scandalous tape in which Bentley was reenacting the groping of his wife, Mason said he had made peace with the situation.
According to Cabinet-level individuals and others within Bentley’s circle, Byard has agreed to give Jon Mason a federal job, if appointed US Senator. If true, this fits the narrative being gamed out by politicos across the State.
Meanwhile, prospective candidates are conducting polls, and even one has lawyers looking at the timeline when Bentley must call for an election to fill the seat. The State’s 1901 Constitution says the Governor must call a special election “forthwith,” but the exact meaning for some is ambiguous enough to send lawyers scurrying about for answers.
Bentley has suggested to those in his inner circle that he may make the interim appointment with a special election to follow in 120 days, but even that, cabinet level staffers say, is subject to what Rebekah wants.