Sessions’ nomination caps year of bizarre state politics

Published 9:00 pm Friday, November 18, 2016

MONTGOMERY (AP) — President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general sets off jockeying for his seat in Alabama, leaving the state’s embattled Republican governor — who faced an impeachment push after affair allegations — to choose a successor.

The rush to fill Sessions’ Senate term comes in a year that saw the state House speaker removed from office after being convicted of corruption. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore — best known for his refusal to take down the Ten Commandments at the courthouse — also got the boot for his defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

The senator’s replacement would be appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley, who denied having an affair with a top aide but admitted making inappropriate remarks to her.

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“Whoever I choose, there are certain criteria. No. 1 is whoever I choose has to support the agenda for the new president,” Bentley said Friday. “I want the next senator to be as conservative as Senator Sessions, to be very much like him.”

Sessions, a former state attorney general, was elected to the Senate in 1996. His selection by President-elect Donald Trump was disclosed Friday by a senior Trump official who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about it. The official wouldn’t say whether Sessions had accepted the job, leaving open the possibility that the appointment wasn’t final.

Two of the highest-ranking Republicans in state office — Attorney General Luther Strange and Senate President Del Marsh — are among those thought to be interested in the job. The state’s congressional representatives, such as Rep. Mike Rogers and Rep. Robert Aderholt, and numerous legislators are also potential contenders.

A potential wrinkle for Strange, though: His office called off a House committee investigating whether the governor should be impeached. Strange, in a letter this month to the committee chairman, said his office was doing “related work” but did not elaborate.

Bentley said he will ask the Alabama Republican Party executive committee to submit suggestions to him for filling the seat. But guessing whom he might choose quickly became a favorite parlor game in the capital of Montgomery that some joked needed a flow chart because of the complex political relationships and potential reverberations for each pick. Bentley joked this week about his sudden influx of new friends.

“You will have a crush of people talking to his office about multiple good candidates,” Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said.

Bill Stewart, a former chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama, said Bentley is known for his unpredictability.

“There may be somebody he would name that we are not even thinking about at this point,” Stewart said.