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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.
And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.
Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.
That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.
In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.
Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.
In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.
“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“
Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light
In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.
Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.
Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.
State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.
The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.
Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.
Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.
Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.
Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.
The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.
Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.
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U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks jumps into Alabama’s U.S. Senate race
Four-term congressman says he offers “proven conservative leadership”
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
HUNSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks has announced he will run in a special election to fill Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat, adding a high-profile name to a crowded field trying to unseat the temporary incumbent, U.S. Senator Luther Strange.
Announcing his candidacy in a series of events across the state on May 15, including in his hometown of Huntsville, Brooks touted himself as “the only candidate for the Senate who has a proven record of conservative leadership,” citing a list of accolades from business and conservative groups for his work in Washington.
“The solutions to America’s challenges are there. The roadblock to these solutions is all too often the U.S. Senate,” Brooks said. “We must elect senators with the understanding and backbone needed to face and defeat America’s challenges.”
Since 2011, Brooks, 63 has represented Alabama’s 5th District, which is anchored in Huntsville and takes in five counties in the northern part of the state along the Tennessee border.
During his announcement speech Brooks–who pointedly refused to endorse Donald Trump in last year’s presidential race–did not mention the president, a contrast with other candidates in the race who have embraced him.
Strange was appointed to the Senate seat in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions left to become U.S. attorney general. Although state law mandates that Senate vacancies be filled “forthwith,” Bentley delayed a special election until November 2018, giving Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.
But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election this year, which opened the floodgates for candidates eager to send Strange back home.
Brooks is the eighth Republican in the race, along with Roy Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice; State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who launched the effort to impeach Bentley, and Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama.
Also expected to run is the top Republican in the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh from Anniston.
Two Democrats are also running, although any Democrat would be considered a longshot in a state where the party hasn’t won a Senate seat since 1992.
Party primaries are scheduled for August, with a runoff to follow if no candidate gets a majority. The general election is in December.