Gov. Robert Bentley will have to defend his decision to set the special election to fill Jeff Sessions’ vacated U.S. Senate seat for 2018 in a hearing next month.
Bentley’s decision is being challenged in court by Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler and retired District Attorney Tommy Chapman, a Democrat, who contend the governor set the election so far in the future in order to give sitting Senator and former Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange two years of incumbency as payment to halt an investigation.
A state House committee investigating Bentley but was told to stop Nov. 3 after Strange said his office was doing “related work.”
Strange had announced he would run for the vacant U.S. Senate seat but would not apply for appointment by Bentley. He then proceeded to interview with Bentley for the job, which he was appointed to Feb. 9.
After his appointment, Strange said in a news conference that he never claimed he was investigating Bentley.
“The whole thing stinks,” Zeigler said. “We’ve got a Bentley appointed senator instead of a peoples’ elected senator.”
The pair, joined by attorney Doyle Fuller, are asking for a declaratory judgment that Bentley’s decision to push the election back to 2018 is illegal.
Alabama law says, in part, that the governor must set a special election “forthwith” in the case of a vacancy, but only specifically addresses when a vacancy occurs within the four months preceding a general election, however the Ziegler team is citing a Feb. 13 finding by the Legislative Reference Service that the governor is required to set the special election immediately.
“Bentley and Strange think they have gotten away with this illegal election. They have not gotten away with it yet, and the people of Alabama will remember this at election time,” Zeigler said.
The case will go before Judge J.R. Gaines of the Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Zeigler released a statement Tuesday telling Alabamans not to buy in to rumors that Bentley is resigning, calling the rumors a “devious way” to get the state House to adjourn without impeaching Bentley.
“The rumors that Gov. Bentley will resign are just a diversion to get citizens to stop contacting their State Representatives urging impeachment – and to get the state House to back off,” he said. “If people think Bentley may resign, they will not be pushing for impeachment.”