Richard Shelby made it official Monday he’s not running for re-election, which means Alabama will endure yet another wild senate race next year. There has been plenty of speculation about whether the 86-year-old would run again before he actually turns to dust while speaking on the Senate floor. I’m kidding. Believe it or not, Shelby is only the fourth oldest current U.S. Senator, so in senator years he still has plenty of time.
There’s a famous line about Alexander the Great: “When Alexander looked upon the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” Perhaps that’s more or less why Shelby decided to call it quits. For 44 years he’s been bringing home more bacon, fatback, pork belly, snout, rinds and pickled pig’s feet than anyone could have ever imagined. Maybe he gazed out across Alabama and wept because there were no more buildings to name.
Regardless of why he’s packing it in, Shelby’s departure means a few things — the loss of a political powerhouse in the U.S. Senate who has been able to steer billions of dollars to Alabama, and the scuffling of tiny feet lining up to replace him. We’ve been through a ridiculous amount of U.S. Senate races over the past four years, so most of us know the drill. This won’t be pretty.
There’s been a lot of immediate chatter about Shelby’s desire to see his former chief of staff Katie Boyd Britt take his place. Britt, an Enterprise native, has been at the center of speculation for months, as discussions about whether Shelby would stay or go became more frequent.
Regardless of Shelby’s desires, there’s no guarantee Britt would be able to outpace the likely gaggle of other Republicans vying for the nomination. Even if Shelby retires late this year or early next to have Gov. Kay Ivey appoint his hand-picked successor to give her time in office and some benefits of incumbency, that’s no guarantee. Alabama Republicans have shown a recent stubborn streak when it comes to such efforts to force-feed them an establishment candidate. (Ex. see Strange, Big Luther; Sessions, Jeff)
With the beating Tommy Tuberville put on Doug Jones this past year, it’s hard to imagine the person filling Shelby’s seat won’t be from the GOP. Jones was probably as mainstream a candidate as Democrats could field, short of Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, and he stood no chance against Tubby. So barring the nomination of Roy Moore, the GOP should cruise. That leads us to the big issue — maybe just as important as who should run for Shelby’s seat is who shouldn’t.
As with our past two senatorial elections, it seems a foregone conclusion some of Alabama’s political opportunists and has-beens will almost certainly see the situation as one too great to pass up. After all, it could be another 30 years before the seat is open again. I’m sure former Congressman Bradley Byrne and Secretary of State John Merrill are currently staring at themselves in the bathroom mirror saying, “You CAN win! You CAN win!” but their lack of support in this past year’s senatorial election might say otherwise. Still, they’re reasonable candidates.
But there are some who hopefully will do us all a favor and stay away. For instance:
Roy Moore — Clearly not many Alabama races for statewide or federal office in the past 20 years have been safe from a run by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, but after stunning Luther Strange in 2017 and winning the Republican nomination, only to lose the Senate seat to Doug Jones, Moore was essentially a non-player in last year’s Republican primary. Does that mean he won’t jump into this race after getting his butt kicked in the last one? Has an electoral butt-kicking ever kept Roy Moore from running again?
Moore is a serial candidate and running is what keeps his name in the news and feeds his popularity with the Religious Right. I think the Roy Moore Magic has worn thin and he has no chance, but his previous improbably come-from-behind wins will probably be too much for him to ignore. I won’t be one bit surprised if Sassy is carrying Roy to the polls on Election Day to help him draw 5 percent of the vote.
Jim “Zig” Zeigler — Our strange State Auditor has managed to turn a position nobody ever thinks about into a springboard for all manner of political fistfights that have nothing to do with what he was actually elected to do. He’s riding high these days after essentially claiming to be the one who slew Kay Ivey’s toll bridge dragon, and now he’s going after her private prison deal.
Jim wields his 52,000-member Block the Toll Facebook page as a political blunderbuss others should fear, but it’s really more of a “blusterbuss.” Zeigler’s name is sometimes bandied about as a potential gubernatorial or U.S. Senate candidate, but most of that noise is likely put out by him through back channels.
Whether you like his populist style or not, the fact remains that Ziggy surrendered his law license for five years in 2017 and was forced to pay back $10,000 to a client from his elder care legal practice. He claims he retired as a lawyer and surrendered his law license so he wouldn’t have to pay dues and malpractice insurance, but that’s total hogwash. Essentially, Zeigler’s punishment was the same as disbarment, and it’s listed by the Alabama Bar Association as a disciplinary measure.
If he did somehow manage to win the Republican nomination, the national media would tear into that issue like it was filet mignon a la Roy Moore, hold the cowboy hat. But Ziggy is term limited, so he’ll be on the prowl for another office in ‘22.
Luther Strange — I haven’t heard “Big Luther’s” name mentioned yet as a potential candidate, and I hope it stays that way. But as a short-time U.S. Senator, I have little doubt the big man would love to be back in the club.
But the former Alabama AG still has the “stank” of the Luv Guv all over him after very clearly manipulating things to help Governor Robert Bentley avoid legal trouble. You have to ask yourself what kind of Attorney General would go see someone being investigated by his office to ask for an appointment to the U.S. Senate? Strange’s behavior was totally unethical at best and highly criminal at worst. He shouldn’t hold office again.
Jeff Sessions — I’d be surprised if Sessions ran again. It had to be embarrassing to lose the seat he held for so long to Tuberville, especially when so many people thought it would be a cakewalk. But if he is thinking about it, perhaps he should heed the timeless words of ‘70s rock gods, Boston: “Don’t look back.”
Mo Brooks — After his outlandish role revving up the pre-Capitol invasion crowd Jan. 6, coupled with continued efforts to portray the election as a massive fraud, I’m really not sure we want to bookend Tuberville with Brooks. Brooks also claims he was talking about donkeys when he told the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Clearly, he must think we’re jackasses.
It’s doubtful all of these players will sit on the sidelines next year as Shelby’s seat is filled, but it would be great if at least a few of them do us that favor.
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