INSIDE THE STATEHOUSE
by Steve Flowers
The decisive move by newly minted Governor Kay Ivey, to declare a Special Election for Jeff Sessions’ Senate Seat this year rather than next year changes the entire complexion of who will sit in that coveted seat. It also redefines the landscape of an ever changing and pivotal Alabama political scene.
This next year will be an adventure as we elect a Senator and concurrently the 2018 Governor’s Race will begin its evolution. We have already seen the downfall of a sitting governor this year and by September 26, we will see the election of a new junior U.S. Senator. There is an assumption that only a Republican can win statewide office in Alabama and winning the GOP primary is tantamount to election.
The decision by Governor Ivey was the right decision. Most folks would assume that “forthwith” means this year rather than next year. It was also a wise political move by Ms. Ivey if she wants to run for a full term.
Ivey’s calling for the Special Election for Sessions’ seat immediately could be the death knell for Luther Strange. By December, he may go from being the newest and tallest member of the U.S. Senate to the shortest serving senator in Alabama history. His defeat could be very inglorious and humiliating.
With the election being this year, it will be the only show in town. It will be a spectacle. Every politician who is in any office can run without risking his or her current posts. In other words, everyone has a free shot. Therefore, it will be a free-for-all.
Everyone will run against poor Big Luther and the Bentley taint. They will use their campaign resources to give you the unmitigated details of how Luther got put in that seat by ole Bentley. You will be told so many times that Bentley and Luther got together in a backroom with Rebekah and brokered a deal to sell Luther the Senate seat in return for Luther not prosecuting Bentley and Rebekah that you will know the story by heart. Luther will be as tarnished and feathered as ole Bentley.
In about two weeks, when the Washington PAC’s see the polling that reveals Luther is in trouble, his campaign resources will be less than he expected and he may not be able to defend against the onslaught of negative ads.
The question becomes, who will be the early frontrunners? Roy Moore enters as the favorite. His evangelical base becomes crystallized in a large field. It will probably reserve him a place in the September 26 run-off. Who will be the other candidate in the runoff? It may very well not be Luther Strange.
The U.S. Senate is a select club. A cursory look around the chamber reveals very wealthy people or celebrities. Senate seats are bought by wealthy individuals in a good many cases. We have some people in Alabama who could very easily buy the Senate seat.
The short period of time that exists to raise money for an August 15 election even further enhances the advantage for someone who can self finance and write a big check. The name on most lists is the “Yella Fella,” Jimmy Rane. He would sell. He is a natural salesman.
Folks close to Yella Fella get the feeling that he does not want to go to Washington at this time in his life. However, he is adamant and determined that Luther Strange will not remain in the seat. Therefore, he may bankroll another candidate through a super PAC.
Rumor has it that he will get behind Del Marsh. Marsh has his own money also. However, he needs more money because he is totally unknown to Alabama voters.
I will keep you posted on the developments. I do not know how many of these folks will join the fray but this is how I will handicap the horses at this time.
Jimmy Rane and Roy Moore are one and two. Other possibilities are Congressman Robert Aderholt, Congressman Bradley Byrne, Luther Strange, Secretary of State John Merrill, Congressman Mo Brooks, State Auditor Jim Ziegler, State Senator Del Marsh, Trump Trumpeter Perry Hooper, Jr, State Senator Slade Blackwell, State Senator Trip Pittman, ADECA Director Jim Byard, State Senator Arthur Orr, and State Representative Ed Henry.
It will be a great show.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.
Opinion | A little of this, a little of that
This week, a little gumbo for your bowl. There’s a lot going on out there, even as Alabama reached a grim milestone. This week, the state’s confirmed COVID-19 cases crossed 100,000, with deaths rising to 1,821.
Sadly, since I wrote that sentence Thursday, it’s likely we now have more than 101,000 cases and even more deaths.
This is not just going away, and the horrible way the Trump administration and mostly Republican governors have managed the pandemic is only making it worse.
Still, the Southeastern Conference claims it’ll put on a football season. One SEC coach (not in Alabama) referred to the coronavirus as just a “cold.”
And then there’s this: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 200,000 more Americans died since March than died during the same period last year.
Over the years, David G. Bronner, the highly successful CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, has rarely shied away from controversy. In this month’s issue of The Advisor, the newsletter of the RSA, Bronner goes directly after Donald Trump and his management style.
“We are slightly past halfway of 2020 and to be honest, it feels like a decade of problems thrown at the world in a mere six months,” writes Bronner in his monthly column. “Unfortunately, our president enjoys conflict and turmoil over progress and a United America.
“I have known President Trump for over 25 years. We have played golf twice, and sat beside each other during numerous public and private events – the Miss Universe pageant and the Elevated Acre Park dedication in New York City. Our relationship cooled when he built Trump Towers with illegal immigrants from Poland and abused contractors in the process.
“Take his unusual management style, add to it the world’s first pandemic in our lifetime, toss in legal protests (don’t forget that is how women got to vote), some taken over by rioters – and here comes hurricane season.”
Bronner warns that the state’s $17 billion tourism industry could be cut 50 percent to 75 percent “if a solution to COVID-19 is not found.”
Here’s some other Bronner predictions:
- “This recession will likely be worse than the recession of 2008-09 [the Great Recession.
- “U.S. Gross National Product in 2019 was +2.3%, 2020 will likely be -6% to -7%.
- “Housing, banking (financial), manufacturing will be harmed, but services (hotels, sports, malls, higher education, tourism) will be critically wounded.”
The good news? From Bronner, there really isn’t any.
Officials with the Alabama Democratic Party appear thrilled that former Vice President Joe Biden has added U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris to his ticket. Biden-Harris sounds right. Harris is the first South Asian and African-American woman ever to be presented to voters by a major party.
Will Biden and Harris win in a landslide? They could. Trump has angered just about every voting group in the country except for Angry White Men.
What I like is that the Alabama Democratic Party isn’t just ceding the state’s vote, either, like it did under the previous leadership.
“We’ve said this before but we will say it again. The days of passively ceding ground to Republicans are over in Alabama,” says the ADP in a fund-raising email. “That means we are going to fight to re-elect Senator Doug Jones and help our other Democratic candidates win this fall. It also means that we are also going to fight to win Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Alabama’s electoral votes this November. We are all in for Biden and Harris.”
The Alabama Democratic Party’s tone is much different this election year than during the 2018 midterms. If Alabama can truly rebuild a competitive two-party system, the ideas all around will get better, and voters will be the real winners.
Yes, there will be an all-out effort to suppress the vote this fall. But we all have to overcome the Republican-generated hurdles and make sure our votes count.
Opinion | Tommy, can you hear me?
That Morning Consult poll of Alabama voters that showed Republican Tommy Tuberville with a 17-point lead over incumbent Democratic Sen. Doug Jones for the U.S. Senate was such a stunner, a Jones campaign aide rushed out an email fundraiser trying to quell any panic.
Until now, most polls have shown Jones to be competitive against an unnamed Republican and, specifically, Tuberville, the former Auburn football coach who defeated Jeff Sessions to win the Republican nomination.
“I would never respond to an outside poll, but a new poll is out there showing Doug Jones losing by … wait for it … 17 points,” writes Joe Trippi, senior adviser for the Doug Jones for Senate campaign.
“Here is my comment,” Trippi writes. “No way.”
Unfortunately, in Alabama, there is a way.
Republicans in the state tend to vote straight ticket in overwhelming numbers. Alabama is one of a handful of states that even allows straight-ticket voting, but the reality is, it does. So voters who want to cast their ballot for, say, Donald Trump in November, but who also like Jones, will have to split their ticket.
The Morning Consult poll showed that a large number of independent voters are undecided, and that could swing the election toward Jones. But straight-party voting can be a hope killer.
Not yet, though. It’s still early. The election is still nearly three months away. We’ve not seen Tuberville do much of anything but bow before Trump, who endorsed him over his former attorney general. But that’s Trump loyalty for you.
Indeed, the country is going so poorly right now, one wonders other than the hard-core racists, who still supports Trump.
I know, I know: Alabama is different (plus, we still have more than our share of hard-core racists). But c’mon, folks, more than 157,300 Americans are dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, completely mismanaged by the Trump administration. There have been more than 4.7 million cases. In Alabama, there have been more than 90,000 cases and more than 1,600 deaths.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Alabama economies are in shambles and getting worse, not better. Trump has sided with Confederate statues and flags over eliminating the systemic racism found in police departments and other government agencies. Plus, most recently, Trump sent his secret army of unidentified goons to sweep protesters off the streets in American cities.
Trump is nobody’s friend but his own.
Then there’s Tuberville. A decent if mediocre football coach, Tuberville certainly is no Nick Saban. Tuberville isn’t even a Gus Malzahn.
Sessions tried to argue that Tuberville wasn’t a resident of Alabama, either, but that’s not fair. Where Sessions is concerned, unfair is a character trait.
While Tuberville does maintain properties in Florida, he and his wife have owned a home in Auburn for at least three years. Too, they both are registered voters in Alabama, though Sessions said Tuberville cast his ballot in Florida during the 2018 midterms.
What’s more important is where Tuberville stands on the issues. And that, we don’t know much about. We know Jones is a moderate who works with members of both parties. He clearly represents Alabama’s best interests as well as any U.S. senator who has served from Alabama.
Though the loons try to paint Jones as a liberal-socialist-communist bogeyman, he’s nowhere close. Certainly, he’s different from Sessions, who held that Senate seat for two decades before becoming Trump’s attorney general. He’s different from Sessions in that he actually gets legislation through the Senate. Sessions mainly interfered with progress while a senator.
The first U.S. senator to support Trump’s candidacy, Sessions identified with Trump most likely because they’re both die-hard racists. Trump rewarded that loyalty by back-stabbing Sessions out of Washington.
At some point, though, Tuberville must make his positions clear, and not simply that he’ll support anything Trump does. That would be a disaster for Alabama, as much as Trump is a disaster for the United States.
The former Auburn University football coach can’t just continue being a sycophant for Trump, whose own poll numbers are tanking and who is likely not going to win re-election.
Should Alabama send a Republican to represent the state with a Democratic president, a likely Democratic Senate and a solidly Democratic House? That would be useless.
But Trippi, in his email, did show how Tuberville wins easily: “One bad poll turns all of us off … you write the race off, and Tuberville coasts to victory because no one is paying attention,” says Trippi. “Everyone abandons Alabama except Mitch McConnell, who is ALL IN to beat Doug. The proof is in the money he (McConnell) is spending now.”
It’s true that McConnell is working hard to unseat Jones to protect Republicans’ wobbly control of the U.S. Senate, and if they weren’t concerned that Jones has a good shot at winning re-election, McConnell would spend that campaign money in another state.
Tuberville must do more than hide behind Trump. We need to hear Tuberville’s plan, where he stands on the issues and what he’ll bring to Alabama that Jones hasn’t already.
Let’s hear it, Coach Tommy. But you’ll have to scoot back a bit first.
Opinion | Tommy Tuberville ran a good, disciplined campaign for Senate
Old political maxims clearly played out true to form in the GOP runoff for our junior U.S. Senate seat on July 14.
Tommy Tuberville ran a very wise and disciplined campaign. He steadily stayed on point and simply said I am going to support Donald Trump. Undoubtedly , when Tuberville decided about a year ago to leave his Florida home and run for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, whoever was advising him knew that the only issue was going to be who could cozy up to Donald J. Trump the most. They gave Tuberville the script and he followed his playbook to perfection. He never deviated and never got distracted by issues, questions, or debates. He simply rode the Donald Trump horse all the way home.
Trump is very popular among Republican voters in the Heart of Dixie. That same horse will more than likely carry Tuberville to victory over Doug Jones in November. Trump will beat Joe Biden 60–40 in the state and Tuberville’s numbers over Jones should be close to that same margin. There will be a lot of straight ticket voting in the Fall. There are more Republican voters than Democratic voters in Alabama.
Therefore, Tuberville’s victory illustrates two cardinal maxims of Alabama politics. Number one is more people vote against someone or something than for someone or something. Trump said he did not like Jeff Sessions and asked Alabama GOP voters to vote against him and they obliged Trump. Secondly, Tuberville kept it simple. He epitomized the old saying, “Keep it simple stupid.” It is called the KISS formula. He stayed on message just like a parrot. He did not have to say much. Trump said it all. It also accrued to Tuberville’s advantage that he was a nonpolitician and Washington outsider. Sessions had sat in this seat in the Senate for 20 years.
Coach Tuberville began the race with some significant name identification. Thus, the third maxim, you must have name identification before you have a chance to win. People are not going to vote for someone they have never of. Tuberville’s name identification numbers were 35% going into the race, which was about as high as Jeff Sessions and a little higher than Bradley Byrne. That is truly a testament to how popular college football is in Alabama.
It had been 10 years since Tuberville had coached at Auburn, but Auburn fans traditionally stick together. I suspect every Auburn football fan in the state voted for Tuberville. It is like one big family. It is not just called the loveliest village on the plains, it is also referred to as the friendliest place you ever visited.
Coincidentally and ironically, Tuberville’s victory is a carbon copy of another Auburn man’s victory for governor 32 years ago. Forrest “Fob” James won the 1978 Governor’s race with the same KISS formula as Tuberville.
Fob James had become wealthy by starting and running a barbell manufacturing company in Opelika. When Fob signed up to run for governor, the press wrote him off as a rich gadfly. Fob quietly used his millions to sign up the most brilliant campaign media strategist in the South, Deloss Walker. Fob was told by Walker never deviate from the script I give you and do not answer any questions.
There were three heavy weights expected to finish first, second and third. Former Governor Albert Brewer, Attorney General Bill Baxley, and Lt. Governor Jere Beasley. As Walker expected, all three spent their time and money beating up on each other while Fob rode a yellow school bus over the state simply saying I am getting back to the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic. Thus, more people vote against someone and the KISS formula.
Walker’s initial polling showed that Fob actually had some name identification from being an Auburn football player in the 1950’s. He was a pretty good halfback. That poll also picked up that Auburn Alumni yearned for an Auburn man to become governor.
In this most recent race, it helped Tuberville immensely that the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) endorsed him early in his quest. This key endorsement gave him credibility and early impetus. Most of the farmers on the endorsement committee by the way are Auburn graduates and Auburn football fans.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
See you next week.
Opinion | The inevitable is inevitable
Donald Trump, in full panic mode – and that’s dangerous for the nation – floated the idea Thursday morning in (of course) a tweet that perhaps the Nov. 3 election should be delayed.
We knew it was coming. One event Trump does not want this year is an election. He’s completely bungled the federal (and state) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and, in fact, made it much worse. More than 150,000 Americans are dead; hundreds of thousands more permanently injured. That’s because Trump basically golfed, held rallies, touted fake cures and treatments for the virus, and, as a result, destroyed the economy and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of American lives.
Of course, Trump wants to delay the election. He’s so dim, he believes that’s the only way he can stay in office. Except, like on most things, he’s wrong. The president’s term ends Jan. 20, 2021. After that, if there isn’t a president to inaugurate, that opens the possibility House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could become president. That is choice.
But it won’t happen. Because the November General Election will not be delayed. The president can’t do it on his own. It takes an act of Congress to move an election. Remember, too, that if the presidential election is delayed, so are the congressional races. That could conceivably keep Republicans in control of the Senate when an election could very well give that control to Democrats.
That won’t happen, either. Because the November General Election will not be delayed.
Besides, this nation held elections during the U.S. Civil War and in world wars and during other crises and pandemics.
My bet is both of Alabama’s U.S. senators, Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, will oppose moving the election. Jones, a Democrat, is on the ballot against Trump sycophant and former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville. Jones wants the matchup, because he’s faring well in the polls, and he’s clearly the far better candidate. Shelby is a pragmatist. He knows in the long run (and short run, for that matter), there’s only a dead end for Trump. Shelby usually will go along to get along, but he broke ranks with other mainstream Republican politicians in 2017 by opposing the election of alleged child predator and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Too bad other Alabama Republicans in Congress are so far up Trump’s ample bootie that they won’t stand up to him. That’s the way of Republicans, though: Party over country; billionaires over the workaday folks. Weirdly, in Alabama, most common folks support Republicans who want to keep them on the margins; Republicans, who want to keep them in their “place.”
Here’s the real reason Trump would like to see the election postponed:
Trump is terrified. The most important factor to him in the election is himself, and he’s going to get clobbered, if polls hold.He needs to somehow save face if there is any way possible, and there likely isn’t any way possible. Every day Trump spouts something else offensive, or insulting, or just plain stupid and idiotic. He supports Confederate flags and generals and statues, sends secret police to round up Black Lives Matter protesters, then refuses to accord proper respect to honor the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Alabama native and one of the most distinguished civil rights leaders in the nation.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama attended Lewis’ final memorial in Atlanta on Thursday. Trump suggested we delay November’s election.
Every day, Trump’s support wanes.
The economy is close to complete collapse, and Republicans in the Senate and the president can’t figure out the next COVID-19 aid package to help hurting Americans. Democrats in the House passed a plan more than a month ago, a plan to keep unemployment benefits flowing, to support schools, to increase COVID-19 testing. The Republican plan has billions for fighter aircraft, a new FBI building near Trump’s Washington hotel, and, yes, more tax breaks for the nation’s richest people. Oh, and it slashes federal unemployment support for those workaday Americans from $600 a week to $200 a week. A $1,600 a month pay cut. Nice.
Trump and Republicans have walled themselves into a bad place, and, unlike the president’s boondoggle border wall, this wall isn’t easily scaled or breached.
Republicans, and especially Trump, want to delay the inevitable. But here’s the problem with that: The inevitable is, yes, inevitable.