By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
As candidates continue to jockey for position in the race to land the soon-to-be-vacated US Senate seat currently held by US Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions, the temporary appointment looks more and more like a done deal.
On Monday, APR’s Bill Britt reported that several insiders told him that current head of Alabama’s Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Jim Byard, would get the nod from Bentley. Several additional sources, including high-ranking legislators and longtime lobbyists have also confirmed Britt’s report in the past 24 hours.
Additionally, those sources have added some context to the selection of Byard.
The sources, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, said Byard became Bentley’s choice after a whirlwind of activity behind the scenes over the past week, and especially last weekend. Heading into the weekend, many believed that former US Rep. Spencer Bachus would be Bentley’s choice.
“He just needs someone to hold the position through the special election and then get out of the way – someone who isn’t a threat to run for the seat,” one source said.
According to multiple sources, Bentley’s plan – once Sessions is officially nominated and confirmed by the Senate – is to appoint a sort of place-holder to the seat and then call for a special election to be held within 120 days. Those sources said the change from Bachus to Byard came about when, as APR reported, Byard said he would be open to providing a federal-level job to Jon Mason, the husband of former Bentley advisor Rebekah Mason. Jon Mason continues to run Serve Alabama, Bentley’s faith-based initiative office.
Rebekah Mason resigned her role last year after the Governor was forced to admit that he had an inappropriate relationship with her, and after uncomfortable recordings of the pair speaking on the phone were released to the media.
Attempts to speak with Byard on Tuesday was unsuccessful. Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for the ADECA office, said Byard was out of town on vacation with his family.
As APR reported Monday, a special election with such a brief campaign period would give a huge advantage to candidates who are well known and well funded already. That likely leaves only two: Alabama AG Luther Strange and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, both of whom have enough campaign cash and popularity to make strong runs.
Given that he’s already announced his intention to run for the seat, Perry Hooper Jr., the co-chair of President-elect Donald Trump’s Alabama campaign, could raise enough money to siphon votes and affect the election, but his lack of name recognition statewide would make his winning the race a longshot.
According to private polling conducted by several firms, Strange is a heavy favorite currently.
That bodes well for Bentley, who, according to sources, has made it known that he plans to appoint his current legal advisor, David Byrne, to the AG’s role should Strange win.
Many see that as a move meant to give Bentley control over an ongoing State-level grand jury investigation, of which he’s a possible target.