Ronda M. Walker: Beyond the Jeff Sessions’ nomination — the trickle down effect

Jeff Sessions
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions

For the past eight years conservatives in Alabama have balked at the policies of the Barack Obama Administration. Now it’s the Republicans turn to govern. The Democrats had a few years, now the Republicans will have a few years.

Americans, we are a pendulum people. We sway back and forth between conservative and liberal leadership every few years. A quick glance at contemporary Presidential history proves my point:

  • Harry S. Truman (D)
  • Dwight Eisenhower (R)
  • John Fitzgerald Kennedy (D), assassinated and replaced by Lyndon Baines Johnson (D)
  • Richard Nixon (R), resigned and replaced by Gerald Ford (R)
  • Jimmy Carter (D)
  • Ronald Reagan (R)
  • George H.W. Bush (R)
  • Bill Clinton (D)
  • George W. Bush (R)
  • Barack Obama (D)
  • Donald Trump (R)

I assume you see the pattern. The Republicans will soon control the White House and both Chambers of Congress. However, the same swing pattern is found in Congressional elections, specifically in a midterm, which likely means the 2018 Congressional midterms will likely not bode well for Republicans.

But for now we have a Republican at the top making cabinet selections and an Alabamian has been nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney General. Several Alabamians have held cabinet-level positions including a few Surgeon Generals – Regina Benjamin of Mobile and David Satcher of Anniston. Condoleezza Rice of Birmingham is most definitely a favorite daughter and she served as the National Security Advisor and the Secretary of State. Winton M. Blount, born in Union Springs and settled in Montgomery, was Postmaster General for Richard Nixon back when Postmaster General was still a cabinet level position.

So while this level of power is nothing new to Alabama, the nomination of Jeff Sessions is different. Sessions is a current statewide elected official. We know him. Personally. We’ve shaken his hand at barbecues in rural Alabama, we’ve bumped in to him on our visits to DC and he’s taken the time to say hello and ask about the family. Born in Selma and raised in Wilcox County Sessions attended Huntingdon College in Montgomery and the University of Alabama School of Law. He and his wife Mary now live in Mobile. Senator Sessions, while being one of the most powerful men in the world, is definitely one of us.

And now one of us has been nominated by President-elect Donald Trump as the next Attorney General of the United States. Assuming Sessions’ confirmation by the U.S. Senate, Alabama will need a new U.S. Senator and the speculation is dizzying. But before we jump into the political what-ifs and maybes, I think it is important that we take a collective pause and enjoy the moment. The moment when our very own United States Senator, our highly respected native son, will likely transition from being a champion for Alabama to being a champion for America.

That is a very big deal.

But now let’s look beyond the Sessions’ nomination and consider the trickle down effect.

Assuming Sessions’ confirmation to U.S. Attorney General, the Governor of Alabama has an appointment to make. As an appointee of Governor Robert Bentley myself, I will jump into the speculation fray and consider the route the Governor might take when making his nomination.

In the summer of 2013 Jay Love announced he was leaving the Alabama House of Representatives, thus creating a vacancy in the House to be filled in a special election. Montgomery County Commissioner Dimitri Polizos was elected in that special election thus creating a vacancy on the County Commission. When a vacancy occurs on a County Commission, the Governor appoints an individual to fill the position until the next regular election.

In December of 2013 I was interviewed by the Governor’s staff and subsequently asked to fill the remainder of Polizos’ Commission term. I was sworn in February 10, 2014 and had two years to serve before facing election to a full four-year term.

So while the offices are vastly different, I would argue the Governor’s method of making an appointment will be somewhat similar in the case of Jeff Sessions.

At the time the vacancy occurred on the Montgomery County Commission approximately twenty individuals reached out to the Governor and asked to be considered for the appointment. The same thing is happening now as individuals, both directly and through proxy, are making it clear to Governor Bentley they would like to receive the Senate appointment. While I was not privy to the internal deliberations, I can speculate on the scope of the conversations.

First, the Governor wanted to appoint someone who knew Montgomery County, someone who understood the constituents they would represent. It was important that the appointee was knowledgeable of the issues facing the county. The Governor wanted someone who understood the strengths and weaknesses of local education, law enforcement, and economic development. Also, he wanted someone with a first-hand knowledge of the local personalities and flavor. And of course someone who had enough intelligence to differentiate between fact and fiction. That last consideration alone should keep several out of the running for Senate.

I was raised in Montgomery County, educated in the public school system, and I made the decision to settle in Montgomery to raise my family. I know Montgomery; moreover I love Montgomery and want to see her succeed.

Second, the Governor wanted an appointee who was willing to work with the current County Commission. The Governor had no interest in appointing someone who would cause trouble for the sake of causing trouble. Divisiveness and lines in the sand, he made clear, were counterproductive to progress. Governor Bentley wanted someone who was thoughtful and reasonable and willing to listen to all sides of an argument before making a decision. I believe my willingness to reach beyond partisan, racial, and ideological lines and do what was best appealed to the Governor.

However, it was also important for the Governor that his appointee reflect the values and beliefs of the majority of the constituents of the district. The third commission district of Montgomery County is remarkably conservative. I am a hard line fiscal conservative and a values-driven leader with a Christian worldview, my core reflects the core of the vast majority of the district and that was an important factor in the decision-making process.

Lastly, it was important to the Governor that if I received the appointment, I would run in the next election cycle and seek to maintain the seat. On this point there could be a difference with his strategy. As with the appointment of Jim Bennett as Secretary of State in the wake of Beth Chapman’s resigning the position the Governor sought a temporary place filler until a statewide election could be held. Bennett made it clear he would not seek election.

The question remains if the Governor will appoint a strong individual likely to win outright in the next election. Or will he appoint a place filler. I hope and believe he will do the former however that decision will likely hinge on the timing of the special election, which is anybody’s guess at this point.

With all of that said, it is interesting to point out that although I matched up to the Governor’s general search criteria I was an appointee totally and completely out of left field. I was not on any short list. I was not a usual suspect. I was not the decision anyone thought the Governor would make. And for this Governor, that is actually the pattern. Whether he does it to buck the system or to demonstrate his independence of thought, he often defies convention.

The Governor’s appointment to the U.S. Senate will be the most significant appointment of his term of office. He should select someone who has the intelligence to lead, has proven grassroots support, and someone who is willing to learn from and collaborate with the current Alabama delegation. He should appoint someone with impeccable ethics and conservative values. Someone who loves Alabama and will fight for her for many years to come. There are several names floating around, including members of the state legislature past and present, members of the Alabama congressional delegation, and various elected officials.

Whomever the Governor appoints, I imagine his actions of the past will be reflected in his future decision.


Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother of four and member of the Montgomery County Commission.


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