Many of you liked last week’s column detailing our senior Sen. Richard Shelby’s ascent to the U.S. Senate in 1986.
Sen. Shelby has represented us admirably for close to three decades now and he has no plans to retire any time soon. Shelby will tell you straight away that he is running for reelection to his sixth, six-year term in 2016. Shelby turned 80 last May but he looks 65 and is in good health. Plus, he loves being a senator and will be easily re-elected if indeed he runs again in 2016.
However, what if Shelby changed his mind and retired in 2016? The big question mark in Alabama politics is who all would run to succeed Shelby. The answer is everybody and their brother – U.S. Senate seats do not come open every day. Therefore, everybody who is in political office plus everybody who ever won a 4H speaking contest would enter the fray.
Who would be the favorite to follow Shelby and try to fill those big shoes? If history is any indication, the usual route to an open senate seat over the years and throughout the country is to buy the seat. Those seats are bought by wealthy individuals. The U.S. Senate is often referred to as a millionaire’s club. It costs a lot to run statewide for an open senate seat and lobbyists and special interest groups spend most of their campaign largesse on protecting a known quantity of proven friendly incumbents.
A cursory look around the senate will reveal the names of very wealthy individuals, some who own professional sports teams, there is a Rockefeller and even movie stars. This scenario could very well play out in Alabama. We love our college football so much you could very well see a famous former Alabama or Auburn football star emerge. For example, Bart Starr in his prime would have been a formidable senate candidate. What if Nick Saban decided he wanted to go to the U.S. Senate? It appears that being from Tuscaloosa is a prerequisite to being elected to high political office these days.
What about our current political officeholders? First on most lists is Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. It is no secret among Big Luther’s friends that his ultimate ambition is to run for the U.S. Senate. He spent the first 20 years of his career in Washington as a corporate lobbyist and would love to return as a U.S. Senator.
The congressional ranks would also be an evident spawning pool for U.S. Senate candidates. However, I recall something Congressman Bill Dickinson told me in my younger years when I worked for him. Bill served 28 years in Congress and I would periodically ask him if he would ever run for the senate. He would always reply,“Steverino, the political graveyard is full of congressmen who have tried to move to the Senate.”
You see, congressmen run every two years and if they pull the trigger and gamble on a Senate race they lose their congressional seat.
One who would probably take that plunge is newly elected congressman, Bradley Byrne. Bradley has probably looked around his environment as a freshman 60-year-old congressman and realized his limitations in the U.S. House. He would be a formidable candidate for the Senate in 2016. He has run a strong race for governor and built significant statewide name identification. He is attractive and a proven fundraiser and campaigner.
Congressman Robert Aderholt would be expected to look seriously at an open Senate seat. He is young and has close to 20 years seniority built up in Congress. It is because of his seniority that he may give pause to taking the risk. He has a lot to lose in congressional power.
PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh is also young and would have to consider a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to the U.S. Senate.
Even though he is in his late 60s, former Gov. Bob Riley might make the race.
Even though he looks older than his 73 years, Gov. Robert Bentley may be spryer than he appears. He could make the plunge. After all, he is from Tuscaloosa.
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.