Governor Robert Bentley has now interviewed 20 Republicans on his path to selecting a replacement for U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, who President-elect Donald Trump announced as his pick for Attorney General.
Under Alabama law, Bentley has the right to appoint a temporary replacement if a U.S. Senate seat becomes vacant, although a special election must be held sometime before the next general election cycle in 2018.
After Trump’s announcement, Gov. Bentley released a statement saying that he would seek to appoint someone to the seat who holds the same “conservative values” as Sessions.
“I will choose an appointee who shares those values and will work to further the agenda of President-elect Trump, all while keeping Alabama first in his or her mind,” Bentley said in a statement released by his office. “This person must uphold the Constitution, value the rights of the Second Amendment, the rights of the states, support pro-life issues, implement a strong national security policy and support domestic job creation.”
Bentley also said he’d reached out to some of the state’s top Republicans to hear their thoughts on who should replace Sessions.
“I have already spoken today with ALGOP chairwoman Terry Lathan and told her that I will be asking members of the executive committee to submit names of those they feel are most qualified to serve as U.S. Senator,” Bentley said.
Although those particular recommendations weren’t made public, the list of those interested in the position is a long one. The number of those interviewed is nearing two dozen, and the governor’s office has yet to say the sit-downs with the state’s Senate hopefuls are over.
Those already interviewed by Gov. Bentley for Sessions’ seat are: Alabama U.S. Representatives Martha Roby, Gary Palmer, Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt; state Senators Phil Williams, Greg Reed, Del Marsh, Arthur Orr, Bill Hightower, Trip Pittman and Cam Ward; state Representatives Bill Poole and Connie Rowe; Cabinet members Julie Magee and Jim Byard; Trump’s state campaign chairman, Perry Hooper; former gubernatorial candidate Tim James; Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice Glenn Murdock; suspended Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore; and state Attorney General Luther Strange.
The first and only person to throw their hat into the electoral ring for the seat so far, though, has been Strange, who has said that, regardless of who Bentley chooses as Sessions’ successor, he will run to become Alabama’s junior senator when the special election rolls around.
“The people of our state sent me to Montgomery to fight corruption and fight for them. I’ve worked hard to honor that trust,” Strange said in a statement announcing his eventual bid for the seat. “I plan on doing the same in Washington.”
Aside from Strange, those most publicly interested in Sessions’ post have been members of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation.
Rep. Aderholt said his time in Washington would help him represent the state if he were chosen.
“Having spent 20 years here, I feel like I at least understand how the structure works up here and I would be someone who could hit the ground running,” Aderholt said in a statement
Rep. Brooks has also expressed interest, saying he is the candidate for the spot with a record most like Sessions’.
“I’m the candidate that has the proven track record with respect to the very same issues that Sen. Jeff Sessions has so ably highlighted during his term as a United States senator,” he said.
Most of those interviewed by the governor, however, have either kept tight-lipped about their interest or talked it down when asked.
“There are a lot of good people seeking this appointment,” said state Sen. Orr, who many consider one of the top contenders for the position. “I would be honored to serve and represent the people of Alabama at that level.”
When asked her view of the governor’s interviews, Nancy Worley, chairwoman of the Alabama Democratic Party, told Lagniappe she believes the process may hurt Republicans — particularly Gov. Bentley — in the end.
“The governor is using an interesting, but lengthy, process,” she said. “While politicos normally apply for these positions, I do not recall this kind of public invitation to apply. The more people he interviews, the more people ‘get their hopes up’ and the more people are angry when they don’t get the appointment.”
Worley also said she’s not holding her breath when it comes to Bentley interviewing Democrats, but added that his appointment may be a surprise: himself.
“Our [Democratic Party] Executive Board met on Dec. 10 and discussed this position and potential interest from Democrats, but I have not heard of Democrats who think they will get the appointment. He should interview at least one Democrat, just for comparison’s sake,” she told Lagniappe, adding “He could always appoint himself, which would make Kay Ivey the governor.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearings for Attorney General are scheduled to begin Jan. 10-11. Bentley’s appointment of his successor could be made immediately following Sessions’ resignation from the Senate.