By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Governor is breaking the law and he knows it.
That was the opinion of State Rep. Chris England, a former prosecutor, on social media Tuesday night, as he again challenged Gov. Robert Bentley’s plans to schedule an election to fill Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat during the General Election in 2018.
England was prompted to speak out again on Tuesday after the Governor’s legal advisors released a letter to members of the Legislature that essentially placed the blame for the long delay in holding the election on State lawmakers.
“It is beyond ridiculous,” England said. “After reading this letter you should be convinced of two things. 1. The Governor is breaking the law. 2. He knows it.”
The letter sent from Bentley’s legal advisors provides two general assertions for why the special election can’t be held prior to the 2018 General Election.
First, it cites a recent Federal court opinion in a case, Hall v. Merrill, challenging Alabama’s ballot-access laws in a special election. Essentially, Federal Judge Myron Thompson found that Alabama’s 3-percent signature requirement for ballot access became over-burdensome on would-be candidates when it is applied in combination with the short turnaround time of a special election.
Because of that ruling, and because of a line in that ruling in which Thompson says the issue should be settled by the Legislature, Bentley’s office says it can’t speed up the process without action from State lawmakers.
“The Governor has a responsibility to comport Alabama law in a manner which complies with the Federal constitution and with Judge Thompson’s order,” the letter from Bentley’s office reads.
However, Thompson’s order doesn’t direct the Alabama Legislature to fix the problem. It simply states that the matter would be best resolved by legislation, but it also provides a solution: If the Special Election is within a similar timeframe, the Secretary of State can’t impose the three-percent signature requirement.
Still, Bentley’s legal team makes it clear that it plans to follow an alternate remedy: expanding the timeframe between the announcement of the election and the election itself – a solution Thompson’s order says could be a viable solution.
In addition to the signature issue, Bentley’s office also says the costs to conduct the special election would be significant – somewhere in the $14 million range. To pay for it, the letter states that the legislature would need to divert funds into the Secretary of State’s coffers to cover the costs.
As the letter from Bentley’s legal team was being circulated around the State House on Tuesday, England was at the podium, urging his fellow House members to speak out against the governor’s “illegal plan.” He again focused on the language of the state statute concerning special elections, noting that it says the elections shall occur “forthwith.”
“If I owe you money and I tell you that I’m going to pay you back forthwith, would you think that means 15 or 16 months from now?” England asked.