By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Former Gov. Robert Bentley said the decision to move up the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, which led to the election of Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, will be the reason for a close vote or the complete inability to approve Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.
“If we do not get the confirmation this year, say it’s a one vote margin, then that rests squarely on the shoulders of the people who changed this election in Alabama in 2017,” Bentley said in an interview with APTV Capitol Journal on Friday.
In February 2017, Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, leaving a vacancy that Bentley was charged with filling as governor. After interviewing several candidates, Bentley appointed then-state Attorney General Luther Strange, a move that raised eyebrows because Strange’s office had been investigating Bentley for misuse of state funds in the sex-tinged scandal that eventually led to the governor’s resignation from office.
Before he resigned, Bentley set the vote to permanently fill the seat for November 2018 during Alabama’s next general election. When Kay Ivey assumed the governor’s office in April 2017, she rescheduled the election to occur immediately to “remove any cloud of doubt” from the integrity of the process.
“In 2017, just days after taking office, Governor Ivey said that calling the special election would remove any cloud of doubt that might be associated with the previous process used by the former governor,” Ivey’s office said in a statement. “She said that it returned the authority back to the people and that the rule of law always must prevail. Today, Governor Ivey still stands firmly behind that decision.”
Bentley took issue with Ivey’s decision to change the date because he believes it helped Jones win a traditionally Republican seat.
“All I said was moving the election elected a Democrat in Alabama and so if that moving of the election had not taken place there’s no doubt that a Republican would have been elected,” Bentley said.
Strange would go on to lose the GOP Senate nomination to former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore after a primary election and runoff. Strange had the support of the national Republican establishment and President Donald Trump, who came to the state to rally voters, but he could never shake the cloud of controversy that lingered in voters minds after the Bentley appointment.
Moore then went on to lose the general election to Jones after a series of allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore plagued his campaign.
Jones became the first Alabama Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate since 1986.
Bentley said his office made the decision to hold the election in 2018 because of three main reasons: a statewide special election would be too costly for the state; Bentley was worried about getting the necessary overseas ballots to those in the military; and that a low voter turnout would not be a proper representation of the state.
The voter turnout for the special election in Dec. 2017 was 41% with 1.3 million ballots cast according to the Secretary of State’s records.
Jones has already said that he will not vote to approve any Supreme Court justice nominee before this year’s general election.
Two Republican senators, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have already said they oppose holding the vote before the election, and as of Sunday two Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, have tested positive for the coronavirus.
If one more Republican senator were to not be able to vote for the confirmation, Senate Republicans would likely not have enough votes to approve Barrett.