By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
When Alabama’s Governor Kay Ivey took the stage at the Montgomery Renaissance Tuesday night to kick-off her campaign for governor, she was buoyant, charming and in command of the evening. Most attendees agreed that Gov. Ivey hit all the right notes in her 10-plus-minute speech.
But it was her introduction by the state’s most wealthy private business owner, Jimmy Rane, that left heads shaking and tongues wagging across the state’s political landscape.
When Rane described meeting Ivey at Auburn University when she was, “A beautiful, fresh-faced girl,” almost everyone who had followed former Speaker Mike Hubbard’s corruption trial remembered how Rane had used almost the same words to describe Hubbard during testimony in Lee County. Rane, the chairman of Great Southern Wood, was a key witness in Hubbard’s trial, ardently defending “his friend,” Hubbard. Even now, he remains perhaps Hubbard’s most loyal ally.
Ivey, who during her speech said she had kept her promise to clean up corruption in Montgomery, was privately mocked for Rane’s appearance. Hubbard was convicted for receiving a thing of value from Rane and was sentenced to 18 months confinement (concurrent), three-and-a-half years suspended, three to five years probation for his crime. His case is still on appeal even though it has been before the Court of Appeals for months.
Recently, Ivey accepted a $50,000.00 campaign donation from Rane – the same amount he reportedly offered disgraced former Gov. Robert Bentley to intervene in Hubbard’s public corruption prosecution.
When asked why Rane was chosen to introduce Ivey, her campaign staff claimed ignorance as to who made the arrangements or who had selected Rane.
In 2010, Rane was tapped to introduce ill-fated gubernatorial candidate Bradly Byrne, who was then the hand-picked successor to then Gov. Bob Riley, another player in Hubbard’s public corruption trial.
Other than the introduction, Ivey’s speech was pitch-perfect according to several observers.
Ivey ticked off her administration’s accomplishments including historically low unemployment, a fast-growing economy and its success in luring Toyota-Mazda and a host of other marquee businesses to the state.
Gov. Ivey took office after Bentley resigned over campaign finance violations and an alleged torrid affair with his former senior advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, who is reportedly still under investigation by the State’s Attorney General’s public corruption division.
Ivey remains widely popular with voters, but her competition hopes to tie her to former Gov. Riley and Hubbard. Many staff and cabinet positions in Ivey’s administration are filled by former Riley, Hubbard and Bentley loyalists – a correction Ivey’s advisors have been reluctant to undertake for fear of being embarrassed over bad choices.
ALFA recently endorsed Ivey, and most believe she has a clear opening to winning the governorship in her own right.
But her foes will undoubtedly work to link her to Bentley, Hubbard and Riley – something she can avoid by cleaning house as promised and wisely choosing her surrogates.