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House passes bill setting scrapping distinct special elections for US Senate

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 17, which would mandate that future special elections for U.S. Senator would coincide with the next regularly scheduled election.

The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.  Clouse said that this was the first vacancy in 39 years when Sen. James Allen died in 1978.  The governor appointed Allen’s wife to the office, who lost the special election the same year.

“It has only been a hundred years that people have been electing Senators by popular vote,” Clouse said.

The 17th amendment changed the election of Senators from being chosen by state legislature to popular election.  Clouse said that most states have the special election for U.S. Senator at the next regularly scheduled election like 36 other states already do.

The latest vacancy is in  Minnesota where Al Franken resigned.  Their governor has appointed a replacement and the people will vote in November.  Their election will not cost them any additional money.

A number of House Democrats expressed concerns about the bill.

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“You have been primarily concerned with the general fund budget and what it is going to cost from the very beginning of this debate,” state Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, said. “I don’t want to give any governor that much power. Your bill gives the Governor the power to create incumbency. If there is something in this world that is priceless it should be that the people have a voice in the process.”

Clouse said that a special election for Senate would cost the general fund budget $10.5 to $12 million.

“We have not had one happen but once in last 39 years,” state Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, said. “The cost would be just $11 million divided by 39 years. Your rational is solely on that it could be saving the state money.”

Clouse amended the bill at the request of the Secretary of State’s office so that the latest that a vacancy could be filled would be the day before one of the major parties open up party qualifying for the next election.  This year that would have been January 7.

“The peoples voice would not be heard,” State Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, said. “We live in a Democratic society and the Alabama Constitution already had a process in place.”

“Your amendment is not right. Your bill is not right,” Moore said.

Democratic lawmakers also tied the bill to the recent U.S. Senate  election, which saw Democrat Doug Jones defeat former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

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“These elections are not going the way they have been going,” state Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said.  “I know you had a bad candidate; but if this was in place Luther Strange would still be in place in the Senate.”

State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, called it an “anti-Doug Jones bill.”

Rogers said that Republicans will regret this bill, “When Walt Maddox wins the next election.”

“We are about to have a Democrat in office with all the power that we about to give the governor,” Rogers said.

Clouse responded to the accusation that the bill is a response to the special election by saying he filed the bill in August.

Several legislators asked Clouse why not do this for state legislature vacancies as well. The representative said he couldn’t put it in the bill, but said Rep. Mike Ball, R- Madison, is carrying a bill that would reduce the cost of special elections for seats in the legislature.

In 2017, President Donald Trump appointed incumbent Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. Attorney General creating a Senate vacancy.  Then Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange to the post and set the special election for the 2018 regular election.  The appointment was enormously controversial.

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Bentley resigned  in April and Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey ascended to the Governor’s mansion.  State Auditor Jim Zeigler and other officials had sued as the law requires that the special election be called “forthwith.”  Ivey agreed and set the special election for December.

Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore defeated Strange in the Republican runoff election, but was defeated by Democratic nominee Doug Jones in the general election after the Washington Post released a report accusing Moore of sexual misconduct.

After over two hours of debate on Monday the bill passed 65 to 29.

HB17 now goes to the state Senate where state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, is carrying the bill in the Senate, according to Clouse.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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