If everything goes according to plan, Gov. Rob Bentley could be the biggest winner of Sen. Jeff Session's confirmation. Not only will he name Alabama's next senator, Bentley has an opportunity to escape the consequences of a sex scandal that already destroyed his marriage and now threatens his office.
The greatest political temptation of 2016, the disgraced governor's decision could bring either redemption or additional corruption. That's because the leading candidate for Sessions' seat is named Luther Strange, a man who just so happens to be Alabama's attorney general.
As the southern state's top cop, Strange holds an axe above the governor's head. He's currently supervising the investigation into whether the 73-year-old executive cashed taxpayer checks to underwrite his love affair with a member of his staff. With taped phone calls, questions about hush money, and an indicted House speaker, the scandal rivals most Shonda Rimes scripts. But it has very real world consequences.
On paper, there are all the pieces for a quid pro quo payoff. Here's how it'd work: Bentley sends Strange to the Senate then picks a patsy for AG who would overlook his embarrassing, and perhaps illegal, indiscretions. The governor gets off, the attorney general gets a plum appointment, and Alabama citizens get hosed.
While Strange has been beyond reproach so far, it's no secret he wants the job. Standing 6 foot 9, the mountain of a man has a welcoming smile and already has two successful state-wide races under his belt. Before Thanksgiving, he told The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes that he plans on running to replace Sessions during a special election.
Campaigning to bring "accountability back to Washington," and citing his similarities with Sessions, Strange said he "thinks this is the right thing for me to do." Certain of his convictions, the lawman said he's open to an interim appointment even if it comes from the man he's supposed to be investigating.
No decision has been made public and Bentley's kept busy interviewing about 20 candidates at the governor's mansion in Montgomery. But it's not difficult to imagine Bentley loosening justice's blindfold and trying to tip the scales in his favor. Last week, he was talking about canceling the special election altogether. If that happens and Bentley picks Strange, the new senator wouldn't need to defend his seat until November of 2018.
But even competitors for the position say that'd be out of character for the straight laced attorney general. Though he's also interested in the seat, Rep. Gary Palmer doesn't expect Strange to pull any stunts.
"I've known Luther for over twenty years and I can't imagine he'd do that," Palmer told the Washington Examiner. "It'd be completely contradictory to the character of the individual I've known all these years. I would hope whoever gets the appointment, that there'd be none of that."
Still if Strange takes the appointment, he's not likely to shake speculation of wrongdoing. Waiting instead until 2018 to win the seat on his own seems most prudent. And if Bentley wants to avoid the apperance of additional impropriety, there's only thing to do: make the temporary appointment short and schedule a special election as soon as possible.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.