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Thursday, April 20, 2017
Decatur Daily Editorial, Ivey cuts Big Luther down to size Apr 19, 2017
Gov. Kay Ivey has a massive job ahead as she seeks to unravel the chaos left by her predecessor, but she prioritized right Tuesday when she called for an early special election of the U.S. Senate seat now held by Luther Strange.
Ever since Luther Strange leapfrogged other candidates to become former Gov. Robert Bentley’s appointee to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he’s sent out a barrage of press releases. He’s taken a stand on every possible issue since Feb. 10, when Bentley appointed him. And those stands, no surprise, are carefully calibrated to agree with the majority of Alabama voters.
There’s nothing wrong with his frequent and strategic emails. When he actually has to run for the Senate seat, Strange wants every advantage that comes with incumbency. The more often the word “senator” is paired with his name, the better his chances in an election that Bentley had scheduled for November 2018.
That date changed Tuesday when Gov. Kay Ivey overruled her predecessor’s refusal to comply with state law and called for an earlier special election to fill the Senate seat. The primary is now set for Aug. 15, with a general election Dec. 12.
While there is nothing wrong with Strange’s effort to capitalize on his incumbency, there is much wrong with the process by which he got the “incumbent” label.
Bentley, engulfed by scandal for the last year, did not want to be impeached. As humiliating revelations piled up regarding his relationship with an adviser and his use of state resources to cover it up, his best strategy was to delay. If he could push back impeachment proceedings until after the 2017 legislative session ended May 22, the outrage might die down and he might finish out his term.
Strange facilitated Bentley’s desire for delay, and did so masterfully. In November, days before the presidential election, Strange used his position as state attorney general to stall the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment investigation. He did so by saying his office was doing related work. It was no secret that if Donald Trump won the presidency, a cabinet post awaited Sessions and Bentley would be charged with picking his replacement.
Strange’s role in halting the impeachment investigation became even more troublesome when he met with Bentley for an interview, requesting that the governor appoint him to fill the coming U.S. Senate vacancy. The job interview had enormous significance for Strange, who already had announced he would run for the seat even if not picked as the interim senator. If Bentley picked him, Strange would have the ability to raise funds as a U.S. senator. He would have the benefit of running as an incumbent. He would get to send out hundreds of press releases on “Luther Strange, U.S. Senator for Alabama” letterhead.
And the interview also had enormous significance for Bentley. He could appoint one of the 19 other GOP leaders who had expressed interest in the job, but then Strange might accelerate what was then just a rumored investigation. So Bentley picked Strange.
The decision backfired for Bentley. Strange’s replacement as state attorney general had the good sense to recuse himself from the case, and the special prosecutor — unlike Strange before her — was both candid with the public and aggressive. Bentley’s decision to ignore a state law requiring him to hold a special election on the Senate seat “forthwith” — as soon as possible — appeared to accelerate the impeachment process.
But until Tuesday, Strange was sitting pretty. He not only managed to get the Bentley appointment, he managed to get from Bentley the longest possible period of incumbency.
Ivey, who has been aggressive in undoing numerous questionable Bentley actions, quickly got around to focusing on the suspicious Bentley-Strange alliance. She couldn’t remove Strange from the Senate, but she could schedule a timely special election as required by state law.
Not only does Ivey’s decision limit Strange’s time in office before he has to face voters, it illuminates the questionable circumstances through which he secured the interim Senate appointment.
Ivey has only been in office nine days, but she’s used those days well.