Bentley suprises everyone by making runoff
As the Republican field for governor began to formulate almost two years ago, the players crystallized early in the game. They all figured that the winner of the primary would have a cakewalk to governor because they assumed that an African American congressman named Artur Davis, who had been Barack Obama’s campaign manager in Alabama, would be their Democratic opponent. Therefore, winning the Republican nomination would be tantamount to election.
From the onset the elephant in the field was former Chief Justice Roy Moore. Early polling revealed the book on Moore. He was relegated to being a one issue candidate. He would be the darling of the religious right. These folks constitute about 25 percent of the Republican primary electorate. Moore’s famous stance as the Ten Commandments Judge endeared him to these folks. Therefore, early reliable polling revealed that Moore was going to get about 25 percent of the vote. However, it also revealed that he would be hard pressed to get more than that amount. So the book was written on Moore from the beginning.
Bradley Byrne, the 55 year old Fairhope lawyer and former State School Board member, State Senator, and Secondary College Chancellor, became the anointed candidate of the big business community. It was also known that he was Bob Riley’s choice for governor.
Tim James, the son of former Gov. Fob James, had made a halfhearted run for governor in 2002 when
Riley was first elected. He ran poorly but really did not put a lot of effort into it.
Dr. Robert Bentley and State Treasurer Kay Ivey were expected to make respectable showings but were relegated to being also rans. Ivey opted to change course and move to the lieutenant governor’s race, which proved to be a wise move on her part. She is now the GOP lieutenant governor nominee. As you know, Dr. Bentley decided to stay the course and his decision was also a wise one.
As the race began in earnest a year ago, most so-called experts projected a Bradley Byrne and Tim James runoff simply because these two had the money. Money generally talks in politics. The business community put their money where their mouth was. They endorsed Byrne and loaded him up with money. He raised and spent $4.8 million. James spent $4.4 million, $3.1 million of which was his own money. Bentley spent $1.4 million, most of which was his own money. Moore raised and spent about $600,000.
The race appeared to be Byrne’s to lose. However, as is the case in politics, funny things happen on the way to a coronation. Byrne’s career has been built around not only opposing but openly lambasting Dr. Paul Hubbert and the AEA. He threw down the gauntlet at Hubbert’s feet by making it clear that his mission as governor would be to take down Paul Hubbert, the perennial King of Goat Hill. Byrne picked on the wrong enemy.
Eight governors have come and gone since Dr. Hubbert’s famous David vs. Goliath victory over George Wallace in the 1970’s. Hubbert has remained more powerful than all of these governors when it comes to education dollars. He has rendered every governor hapless and irrelevant in the budget process.
Most people assumed that Hubbert would simply ignore Byrne’s rhetoric and simply bestow his political action committee largesse onto the legislative battles. However, Byrne’s bold attack on Hubbert and his herd of teachers angered the king. He figured a governor could be allowed to play in his sandbox because after all that person is the governor.
However, he is not going to allow someone to kick sand on him in his own sandbox. This was like waving a red flag in front of a raging bull.
We will continue with the Republican race next week.
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.