By Jim Ellis
April 12, 2017 — Gov. Robert Bentley’s (R) resignation from office Monday, and his reported plea bargain agreement relating to charges that he squandered public and campaign funds in connection with maintaining and then covering up an extra-marital affair with a state employee changes the current Alabama political picture.
Bentley was ineligible to seek a third term, and his resignation comes ahead of what looked to be a sure impeachment. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ascended to the governor’s office immediately upon Bentley’s resignation becoming official. Though she had not announced a campaign for governor next year, it was widely believed that Ivey would become a candidate.
Now that she is governor, it remains to be seen if the long line of potential gubernatorial candidates will move forward with their own campaigns, remain on the sidelines if it looks like she will become a strong incumbent, or look toward appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) who must stand for election in 2018 to serve the balance of the current term.
Two Republicans had formed gubernatorial campaign committees prior to the Bentley resignation. Public Services Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville both have active gubernatorial campaign committees. State Senate President Del Marsh, Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler, Secretary of State John Merrill, and State Treasurer Young Boozer, are frequently mentioned as potential candidates. US Reps. Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope/Mobile) and Martha Roby (R-Montgomery), along with Mayors Sandy Stimpson (R-Mobile) and Tommy Battle (R-Huntsville) are also in the potential gubernatorial mix.
The question will now become just how many of these individuals, and possibly others, will challenge Gov. Ivey in the GOP primary, assuming that she will seek her own four-year term in office.
If Ivey appears strong when candidate filing approaches (Feb. 9, 2018), how many of the aforementioned might jump to the Senate primary? Sen. Strange is a Bentley appointment, and chosen amidst curious circumstances since he was the top law enforcement officer who convinced the legislature to postpone gubernatorial impeachment proceedings so his own investigation would be unencumbered.
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R) appointment as US Attorney General, Strange replacing him, the Bentley resignation, and now Lt. Gov. Ivey assuming the governorship has drastically changed the 2018 Alabama political landscape. Things will again transform during the coming weeks, which now make Alabama one of the key states to watch for the impending election.