AL-Gov: In a few days, we may have a much better idea of whether Alabama can expect an open-seat gubernatorial race in 2018 or not. GOP Gov. Robert Bentley is termed-out of office, but for over a year, he’s faced accusations that he used state resources to conceal an affair with a staffer. The GOP-dominated state legislature has been conduct a long-running, slow-moving impeachment investigation, but now, we might finally see some results.
Jack Sharman, who is the special counsel overseeing probe, said last week that he planned to issue a public report to the state House Judiciary Committee on April 7, though he cautioned that his schedule is tentative. But when it arrives, if the report is sufficiently damning, it could motivate enough members of the state House to vote to impeach the governor.
Bizarrely, while it would only take a simple majority of the 105-member chamber to actually impeach Bentley, at least 60 percent of the House needs to vote in favor of allowing the legislature to consider impeachment. If the House can actually hit that threshold and impeach Bentley, though, the governor’s powers would be transferred to Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, a fellow Republican. If the state Senate ultimately votes to acquit Bentley, he’d resume his duties; if Bentley is convicted or resigns, Ivey would officially become governor.
Ivey is a potential 2018 candidate regardless of what happens to Bentley, though she isn't particularly respected in Republican circles after presiding over the collapse of the state's Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program during her tenure as state treasurer. So it’s not surprising that several other Republicans are laying the groundwork to run for governor even if she’s the incumbent (or de facto incumbent).
Last month, Twinkle Cavanaugh, the chair of Alabama's Public Service Commission, filed paperwork to set up a committee, though she didn’t formally announce she’d run (but sounds likely to). In the last few days, two more potential candidates have made similar moves. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle formed a committee of his own, and he says he’ll likely decide in late April or early May. Meanwhile, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville recently said he’d make up his mind in the next few weeks, but he’s not only also set up a campaign committee, he’s loaned his nascent bid $100,000 of his own money.
As we’ve noted before, Tuberville might have a tough time winning over primary voters if he gets in. The football rivalry between the Auburn Tigers and the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide is legendary, but Bama fans far outnumber Aurburn’s. Tuberville famously enjoyed trolling Alabama when he repeatedly beat them, so he may not exactly be the best person to bridge the divide. And while Tuberville's reign was mostly a success for Auburn, he resigned in 2008 after a lousy season, including a 36-0 loss to Alabama, so even some Tigers partisans may not want him back. Tuberville, who is originally from Arkansas, has since coached in other states since he was sacked at Auburn. And while Tuberville did keep his home near his old team, he repeatedly tried to sell it, so his affection for the Yellowhammer State may be open to question.
Tuberville himself has an ... interesting argument for why he can win over Bama fans, though. Tuberville said that, if he hadn’t repeatedly humiliated the Crimson Tide, Alabama never would have hired Nick Saban, who is now a revered figure with five national championships to his credit. We’ve covered a lot of political campaigns, but we don’t think we’ve ever seen a politician make quite this type of appeal.
And note: Alabama (the state, not the school) requires candidates to win a majority of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff, so Tuberville can’t just rally Auburn fans to score a plurality victory. He has to win outright, and that means getting a whole bunch of Bama backers to put aside old hatreds and pull the lever for him. Roll Tide!