Sessions, Strange earn support

Published 3:00 am Friday, February 10, 2017

Less than a day after Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., was confirmed as Attorney General of the United States, Gov. Robert Bentley has appointed Luther Strange to take his place on the Senate.

Strange was promptly sworn into office on Thursday afternoon.

Rep. Marta Roby, R-Troy, congratulated Strange on his appointment and praised the pick. “I offer my sincere congratulations to Attorney General Strange on his appointment to the Senate,” Roby said. “Alabama’s congressional delegation has a long history of working together to promote our state’s interests – from supporting our significant military footprint to looking out for Alabama farmers. I welcome Luther to the delegation, and I look forward to working with him.”

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Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also congratulated his new partner in the Senate on Thursday.

“The opportunity to serve the people of Alabama is a tremendous honor and privilege, and I am pleased that Governor Bentley took this appointment very seriously,” Shelby said. “Jeff Sessions leaves behind big shoes to fill in the Senate.  I am confident that Luther will step in to this position seamlessly.  Luther Strange is known for his unwavering commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law, which will continue to be critical in this new role.  I have always known Luther to have the best interest of the state of Alabama in the forefront of his mind.”

Speculation on who would fill Sessions’s spot has gone on for months since then-President-elect Donald Trump named Sessions as his pick for the cabinet seat.

The governor’s pick isn’t without controversy.

The appointment comes two months after Strange asked the Alabama House Judiciary Committee to pause an impeachment probe of Bentley, who was accused last year of having an affair with a onetime top political adviser. Bentley has acknowledged making personal mistakes, but denied doing anything illegal.

Donna Horn, chair of the Pike County Republican Party, said that the decision shouldn’t be a concern.

“I would assume that if the Attorney General’s office had anything going on, it would continue regardless of who is involved in the process,” Horn said. “I would believe that any investigations going on wouldn’t just stop because they got a new leader.”

The lawmaker who spearheaded the legislative impeachment effort against Bentley, state Rep. Ed Henry, said Strange’s appointment to the Senate seat “looks bad.” He said he didn’t understand how Strange could stop an impeachment proceeding and then petition for an appointment from Bentley. “The air of corruption is thick,” Henry said.

On Thursday, Strange defended his decision to pause the impeachment investigation, saying a Nov. 3 letter to the Alabama House committee was sent “before there was even a presidential election.” It was Trump’s victory that led to the Senate vacancy.

At the time he sent the letter, Strange said his office was doing “related work,” though he never publicly elaborated on what it involved or when the work would be completed. The letter raised questions about what role Strange’s office had in the investigation.

“We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor,” Strange said Thursday.

Strange will serve in the position until the general election in 2018,.

The appointment of Strange does not end the session of musical chairs for Alabama politicians, as Bentley must now find a replacement for the State’s attorney general seat.

Horn said that Bentley should already have his plan in place. “I hope that the governor already has plans made to fill Luther Strange’s position,” Horn said.

Bentley said he’ll begin interviewing candidates for the position on Thursday evening, but did not release the names of any potential candidates.

Alice Martin, who was Strange’s chief deputy, will serve as acting attorney general until Bentley names a replacement. She is the first woman to hold that position.

Horn said that following up Sessions will be tough for Strange, but that Pike County Republicans are wishing him luck. “He’s got some big footsteps to follow in.”