HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Gov. Robert Bentley has the job of picking a replacement if U.S. Sen Jeff Sessions is confirmed as the next U.S. Attorney General.
That selection process grew a bit more complicated this week with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange’s announcement that he would seek the Senate seat, should it become vacant. Gov. Bentley also has the power to replace statewide officeholders if there is a vacancy.
If he appoints Strange as attorney general, he would also name his replacement.
Strange has previously said his office has an ongoing investigation that may be covering the same areas as an impeachment investigation of Bentley.
Strange is probably the best known candidate statewide so far, in a field that could include U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-5th), U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-4th), and several Alabama House members.
The seat will be up for election in 2018, noted Dr. Jess Brown, WHNT News 19’s political analyst. He said Bentley decided to avoid the cost of a special election by including the Senate vote in the 2018 election cycle.
That means the person getting the appointment from Bentley may wind up serving up to two years, from taking office in early 2017 until the winner of the 2018 election takes office in early 2019.
The seat will be up for election again in 2020 for a full six-year term.
Strange’s interest in the Senate seat and Bentley’s appointment power converge at a charged time in Montgomery.
Bentley is under investigation by the Alabama House Judiciary Committee over impeachment articles approved by the House. The articles accuse the governor of neglect of duty and corruption in office. The charges appear to stem from allegations that Bentley used his office and state resources to further an extramarital relationship with his former top political adviser Rebekah Mason.
The judiciary committee halted its probe of Bentley – at least for now – after it received a letter from Strange in early November. The attorney general’s letter said it would be “prudent and beneficial” for the House committee to delay its work.
Strange asked the committee to cease interviews and the active investigation, “until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed.”
The letter doesn’t specifically say if the AG’s office is investigating Bentley.
But House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said he supported the House committee’s move to pause its investigation while a criminal probe is conducted.
“I believe that moving forward with the impeachment hearings while there is an active criminal investigation would put a number of parties in a difficult position,” McCutcheon said. “I support pausing the committee investigation and allowing the criminal proceedings to run their course.”
Strange didn’t give a timetable for the AG’s investigation.
It’s a unique position for the governor. If Sessions is confirmed, he could appoint Strange to the Senate seat and be in a position to appoint the next attorney general.
That replacement would serve until the end of 2018, the same term as Bentley has remaining.
Analyst Jess Brown said if Bentley appoints Strange it will appear he did the AG a favor. If he doesn’t appoint and there are charges brought against Bentley by Strange’s office, some will see it as a politically motivated prosecution.
“I think inevitably the Governor’s impeachment, and the work of the attorney general’s office, and Luther Strange’s political fortunes are all woven together,” Dr. Brown said.