by Steve Flowers
In all my years of following Alabama politics, I have never seen as dull an election year as we just witnessed. It stems from the fact that we had an uneventful and noncompetitive governor’s race.
Historically, Alabamians have turned out more for the governor’s race every four years than for a presidential race. This is dissimilar to the rest of the nation. Most Americans are more excited about who sits in the White House than who sits in the Statehouse.
Actually a good many states elect their governors in the same year as president. However, we are different politically than the average state in a number of ways. In addition to this being a gubernatorial election year, we elect our sheriffs this election cycle. Alabamians are much more interested in who is sheriff than who is president.
We are basically now a one party state when it comes to statewide elections. There are 28 elected statewide officers in the Heart of Dixie when you include the 19 judicial posts, and all 28 are held by Republicans. One could say that winning the Republican primary in Alabama is tantamount to election. Thus, Gov. Dr. Robert Bentley essentially was reelected in the June GOP Primary when he trounced two unknown opponents garnering 90 percent of the vote in the primary.
The general rule of thumb is that a Democratic candidate can max out at about 40 percent of the vote. In the November 4th balloting, Parker Griffith received 36 percent against Governor Bentley, thus, falling short of the mark and possibly lowering the Democratic threshold for future Democratic gubernatorial nominees. However, that probably is not the case. In 2018, there will not be a popular incumbent governor and Barrack Obama will not be in the White House, which has been an insufferable albatross for all Democratic candidates in the state.
Robert Bentley would have bested any candidate this year in his reelection bid. His re-electability numbers were daunting from the get- go. Initial polling indicated that Bentley was unbeatable. Polls revealed that Alabamians trust and like him. He is not a show horse but a plow horse. He’s like an old shoe. He makes you feel good.
Bentley started out with a 20 point lead over his Democratic challenger and the numbers never wavered. He wound up beating Democratic nominee, Parker Griffith, by 26 points. By the way, both Griffith and Bentley are 72-year-old retired physicians. It is doubtful this will ever occur again in Alabama politics.
Another reason Bentley won so handily was that he was an incumbent. Three more constitutional officeholders easily won reelection. Lt. Governor Kay Ivey received 63 percent of the vote. State treasurer Young Boozer won without opposition. Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan received 65 percent. Newcomers, John Merrill and Jim Ziegler, both received over 60 percent of the vote to win the Secretary of State post and the open State Auditor position, respectively.
Two Republicans, Jeremy Oden and Chip Beeker, won seats on the three member Public Service Commission with no Democratic opposition. They were both victorious in the June Republican primaries, which guaranteed them four years on the utility rate setting panel.
Bill Thompson was reelected to the Court of Civil Appeals without opposition. There were also three Republican judges reelected to the Court of Criminal Appeals with no Democratic challengers. Scott Donaldson, Beth Kellum, and Mary Windham were all unopposed. It appears no Democrats are brave enough, or should I say foolish enough, to run statewide for a judgeship in Alabama.
The Democrats also took it on the chin in all of the so-called “close” State Senate races. The GOP reapportionment plan was designed to take out two of the remaining white Democrats in the State Senate and they succeeded. District 1 in Northwest Alabama was held by Tammy Irons. District 22 in Southwest Alabama was occupied by Marc Keahey. Both Keahey and Irons saw the writing on the wall and chose to not run, Republicans captured both seats.
Democrats hoped to pick up a Senate seat in the Gadsden area but former Sen. Larry Means lost to incumbent Sen. Phil Williams. Independent, Harri Ann Smith won reelection in her Wiregrass district.
The most impressive victor on November 4th was Attorney General Luther Strange. “Big Luther” was challenged by 33-year-old Joe Hubbard of Montgomery. Young Mr. Hubbard’s challenge to Strange was financed by a whopping $2 million of gambling money from the Poarch Creek Indian Casinos. The Indian gambling money allowed the Democrat Hubbard to actually outspend Republican Strange. Luther turned the challenge back with a landslide 59 to 41 victory.
Also impressive was the fact that Dr. Bentley won with 64 percent of the vote without running one negative ad.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.