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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.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

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.

Twice-ousted Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore running for U.S. Senate seat

Moore, suspended for defying U.S. Supreme Court on same-sex marriage, will take on Luther Strange in GOP primary

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Roy Moore, the controversial favorite of the Christian right twice elected and twice ousted as Alabama’s chief justice after battles over same-sex marriage and the Ten Commandments, has announced he will run in a special election against U.S. Senator Luther Strange.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

In an April 26 speech to supporters in front of the State Capitol, Moore offered a full-throated defense of religious conservatism, saying “before we can make America great again, we have got to make America good again.”

“The foundations of our country are being shaken tremendously,” he said. “Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has been destroyed by the Supreme Court, and our rights and liberties are in jeopardy.”

Moore also announced he was resigning his chief justice post, just days after a panel of retired judges appointed by his colleagues on the Alabama Supreme Court turned down his appeal of a suspension handed down by a disciplinary panel in 2016.

Moore becomes the third Republican to step forward to challenge Strange, who was forced to defend his seat nearly a year before he expected to face voters after new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed a decision by her disgraced predecessor and ordered a special election.

Moore was elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That suspension was upheld April 20 by the panel of retired judges appointed to hear his appeal.

In 1995, Moore, then a little-known circuit court judge in Etowah County, shot to national notoriety after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Although he won two statewide races for chief justice, Moore lost races for governor in 2006 and 2010 to Robert Bentley, whose resignation led to the special election for Strange’s Senate seat.

Bentley resigned April 10 as state lawmakers were considering impeaching him over efforts to cover up a relationship with a former female aide. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and agreed never to seek political office again.

In February, Bentley appointed Strange to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions left the Senate to become U.S. attorney general. But he delayed a special election for the vacancy until November 2018, despite a state law mandating that vacancies be filled “forthwith.”

After taking office, Ivey reversed course and ordered the election this year. Party primaries are scheduled for August, with a general election in December.

In addition to Moore, two other Republicans have so far entered the race for the Senate seat — State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, who launched the effort to impeach Bentley, and Randy Brinson, president of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, who will likely vie with Moore for the Christian conservative vote.

No Democrats have so far announced.

Will Robert Bentley brouhaha rub off on U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

Strange’s candor about Bentley investigation, timing of special election being questioned

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Now that the sex and cover-up scandal that has transfixed Alabama for nearly a year has claimed the political scalp of ex-Governor Robert Bentley, state political circles are fixating on another question: Will the Bentley imbroglio also ensnare U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Bentley punched Strange’s ticket to Washington in February, tapping him to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general. The governor also handed Strange another generous gift — he delayed a special election for the Senate vacancy until 2018, even though state law mandates that the governor call an election “forthwith.” That meant that Strange’s supposedly temporary appointment would last nearly two years.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and the resolution of the case against Bentley–in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and resigned–has raised questions about not only the timing of the special election, but also Strange’s push first to delay Bentley’s impeachment and then downplay an investigation into his conduct. Both men are Republicans.

In November 2016, just before the presidential election, Strange asked leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to suspend their work on possible impeachment charges against Bentley because it might impact “related work” by the attorney general’s office.

But after being appointed by Bentley to the Senate, Strange tried to tamp down speculation that the governor was under investigation, telling reporters, “We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor. I think it’s actually somewhat unfair to him and unfair to the process.”

But just days later, Strange’s successor as attorney general, Steve Marshall, confirmed that Bentley was indeed under investigation. And because he, too, had been appointed by Bentley, he recused himself and named a special prosecutor, who negotiated the plea deal that pried the former governor from office.

Strange has insisted that his actions as attorney general regarding the Bentley investigation were above board. However, Bessemer attorney Sam McClure has filed a complaint with the Alabama State Bar Association, asking for Strange to be disbarred for accepting the Senate appointment after delaying the impeachment proceedings, which he said violated legal ethics.

McClure has indicated he will file a similar complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission, which could also investigate Strange.

However, a strong argument against any quid quo pro between Bentley and Strange is the fact that at the time he asked the Judiciary Committee to suspend its process, Donald Trump had not been elected. So Strange had no way of knowing that Sessions would be appointed as attorney general and a Senate vacancy would open.

In another twist, a legislator who pushed for Bentley’s impeachment, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, now says he met with Bentley shortly after Strange’s appointment, and the then-governor told Henry that he sent Strange to the Senate not to impede the investigation into his own conduct but because Bentley thought Strange was corrupt and wanted to get him out of the state.

Henry has now told this story in both national and state media outlets, prompting strong denials from Bentley’s attorney. Two other state legislators have now gone on the record saying that Henry told them the details of what Bentley said in that meeting, although they were not privy to the conversation.

Also up in the air is the possibility that Strange might have to face a special election to hang on to his seat. Saying Bentley’s appointment of Strange “smells to high heaven,” Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler, has gone to court to overturn Bentley’s decision to delay the special election until 2018.

New Governor Kay Ivey, also a Republican, might also reverse course and order an earlier vote, although she has so far given no indication that she’s considering doing so.

Jeff Sessions confirmed as U.S. attorney general; Luther Strange picked for Sessions Senate seat

Governor Robert Bentley appoints Strange amid investigation into purported affair

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor

alabama mugMONTGOMERY (CFP) — A day after U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed to be U.S. attorney general on a mostly party-line vote, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was picked to fill Sessions’s vacant Senate seat.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

However, Strange’s elevation to the Senate post by Governor Robert Bentley on February 9 is already generating controversy because of the outgoing attorney general’s involvement in an investigation into Bentley’s relationship with a former staffer.

Strange has not confirmed if his office has been investigating Bentley’s conduct with Rebekah Mason, who served as one of the governor’s top aides and to whom he has been linked romantically. However, the attorney general had asked a state House committee considering Bentley’s impeachment to suspend its proceedings while his office conducted “necessary related work.”

By sending Strange to Washington, Bentley will now get to pick his replacement as attorney general.

State law also calls for a temporary appointment to fill a Senate vacancy, followed by a special election. But the law leaves the specific timetable for the special election in hand of the governor, and Bentley decided to hold it during the general election in 2018 to avoid the costs of a special election in 2017.

Strange had already announced that he would run in 2018 for the final two years of Session’s current term.

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Sessions, who had represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, was confirmed as attorney general after a contentious debate during which Democrats questioned his commitment to upholding civil rights. In the end, only one Democrat–Joe Manchin of West Virginia–voted for his confirmation.

Three other Southern Democrats–Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia–voted against confirming Sessions.

Strange, 63, is in his second term as attorney general. He is known in Alabama as “Big Luther,” a reference to the new senator’s height of 6-feet 9-inches. He was a basketball standout at Tulane University in the 1970s.

In a statement, Strange said he was “greatly honored and humbled” by his appointment to the Senate.

“I pledge to the people of Alabama to continue the same level of leadership as Jeff Sessions in consistently fighting to protect and advance the conservative values we all care about,” he said.

As attorney general, he developed a reputation for rooting out official corruption, including his office’s successful prosecution of Mike Hubbard, the Republican speaker of the Alabama House who was sentenced to four years in prison.

The extent of his investigation of Bentley remains unclear, although his request to stop impeachment proceedings has been widely interpreted as an indication that such an investigation is underway.

In March 2016, an audio tape surfaced in which the governor expresses “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talks about how much he enjoys touching her breasts. Bentley denied having an affair, although he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments to Mason, who resigned from his staff a short time later.

The controversy escalated when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who said he warned the governor that using state resources to carry on an affair would violate state law.

Collier claimed Mason exhibited so much influence over Bentley that she was “the de facto governor.” He said he had received complaints about Mason from other law enforcement officials, as well as members of Bentley’s cabinet and members of his family.

Bentley has resisted calls for his resignation, despite an ethics complaint and a federal grand jury investigation into his relationship with Mason.

Bentley. now in his second term, is barred from seeking re-election in 2018.

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