Steve Flowers is Alabama’s premier political journalist and commentator. He is also considered by many to be the preeminent authority on Alabama politics and Alabama political history.

May 17, 2017

Weekly Column This Week in Alabama Politics

The race for our open U.S. Senate seat will be the marquee political event for the remainder of this year. It will be a great show. However, we have a sensational and pivotal 2018 governor’s race evolving simultaneously. This much-anticipated gubernatorial derby will be affected by the preliminary Senate horse race.

The political landscape has changed dramatically with the decisive move by new Governor Kay Ivey to call for the election of Jeff Sessions’ successor to the Senate this year.

Unlike in olden days where running a preliminary statewide race was a stepping-stone to getting elected four years later, in recent years losing statewide is not good – especially if that loss has occurred within less than six months. Therefore, three or more thoroughbreds are removed from the governor’s race. One will be in the Senate and the other two will be exiled to Buck’s Pocket and will not be players in the governor’s race. You can remove Roy Moore, Luther Strange, and any unknown wealthy person, who can and will spend five to ten million dollars of their own money. This unknown rich man will either be Senator or gone from the scene.

Roy Moore’s removal from the governor’s race is the most significant change to the gubernatorial track. His evangelical base, which probably accounts for 20-30 percent of a GOP primary vote, will be splintered among the field.

As I peruse the horses grazing in the pasture, let’s take a look at them because the race begins in less than a month, with fundraising for the June 2018 primaries beginning on June 6. Before I mention some horses who look to be frontrunners, let me say that most of these folks ain’t ponies.

Kay Ivey is 72. She would have probably gone out to pasture had she not become governor. With 18 months as governor she begins to look very gubernatorial. If she decides to run, she will be running as the incumbent and will be a viable horse, if not the front-runner.

Huntsville Mayor, Tommy Battle, 61, is going to be a player in this race. He has done an exemplary job as mayor of Alabama’s most important and successful city. Folks, if we did not have Huntsville, we would be last in everything. Battle is popular in his neck of the woods and will come out of the Tennessee Valley with a good many votes.

The “Yella Fella,” Jimmy Rane, 70, may make the race for governor. He is a successful businessman worth $600 million, according to Forbes Magazine. His business success has not gone to his head. He is and would come across as a “good ole guy.”

Jack Hawkins, the 72-year-old Chancellor of the Troy University System, would be the best-qualified person to be governor. If you put his resume into a merit system roster, the computer would print out his name. He would also be an attractive candidate. Besides building and presiding over a university system for 30 years, he is tall, handsome, and very articulate and exudes honesty and integrity. He would also be the only Marine in the race.

David Carrington, 69, is a Jefferson County Commissioner and successful businessman. He could garner significant support from the Birmingham business community. He also should have some name identification from being seen on Birmingham television for six years.

John McMillan, 75, is one of the best-liked and successful statewide officeholders in Alabama. He has had a stellar eight-year reign as Agriculture Commissioner. John is a native of Baldwin County, which is one of Alabama’s fastest growing and largest Republican counties. If there is a large field, a strong vote in his home county could catapult him into a runoff.

What about the other statewide officeholders? Twinkle Cavanaugh and John Merrill are younger than the aforementioned horses. At 50, they could sit out this race and come back either four or eight years later. Most observers expect Twinkle to run for Lt. Governor. She would be a favorite in that race. John Merrill probably stays another term as Secretary of State, which is prudent. If he and Twinkle bide their time, they would be the frontrunners for governor next time around.

Two older horses in secondary statewide office are question marks. Young Boozer, 68, is term limited from running again for Treasurer. He is mum on his plans. State Auditor Jim Ziegler, 68, has garnered a lot of press the last few years from that benign office. Folks would be wise to not underestimate him. However, his best race would be for Attorney General. He would enter as the favorite in that race.

See you next week.