Death, Taxes, and Sen. Doug Jones losing in 2020. That’s about all that’s certain anymore. The only question is which Republican will beat him 60/40 in November 2020.
Robert J. Bentley could be that Republican.
The conventional wisdom is that Governor Bentley is licked. He is a twice-elected governor who at the height of his popularity was considered the gold standard for building a brand. Some polls had him north of a 75% approval rating, which is basically the same approval rating Jesus of Nazareth carries in Alabama.
Robert of Tuscaloosa was highly regarded.
Then came the rumors. And the tapes. And the fall.
But before that, came taxes.
Few remember through the sultry smoke of sensationalist history, but Bentley’s fall didn’t start with rumors of a girlfriend. The fall started with rumors of a tax increase. And it didn’t end with confirmation of a girlfriend. It ended with confirmation of a misdemeanor campaign violation and a loan outside of the time limits allowed for term-limited officials.
That rule has been applied sparingly and unevenly, at best.
The best thing to happen to Bentley for Senate 2020 is unfolding in real time. The same Republican elected officials and blogs who ate Bentley alive for proposing a tax increase are themselves pushing a tax increase. The new tax increase will pass this week. And Bentley’s original tax-raising sin will be washed from the political book of life.
With Governor Kay Ivey’s signature of the largest tax increase in recent Alabama memory, Bentley the tax raiser is put to death. Rising from the dead is Bentley the visionary, the man who saw four years earlier the need for new revenue and had the courage to try to do what would take the rest of the state’s leaders four years to realize they needed.
History has a funny way of vindicating those who put the people ahead of their own political careers.
The second best thing to happen to Bentley for Senate 2020 is President Donald J. Trump.
If Governor Ivey absolved the sins of proposing tax increases, President Trump showed Republicans are more interested in hiring a man who can get the job done than worrying about whether he is morally pristine. If Trump can survive the Access Hollywood tape and Stormy Daniels with Republican support at record highs, Bentley can survive Wanda’s desk and an ex-wife.
And Bentley’s success as governor is hard to ignore. He inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and maybe since Reconstruction. Three months into his first term, whole cities were wiped off the map, as were large portions of others, by a series of tornadoes that would have left the people of Sodom and Gomorrah feeling bad for Tuscaloosa and Phil Campbell. The auto industry, once the Promised Land for Alabama’s emergence into relevance on the national economic stage, looked stagnant or worse. Fears of losing Hyundai or Mercedes or Honda weren’t unreasonable.
But there was Robert Bentley. Relentlessly recruiting industry. Relentlessly promoting the state. Relentlessly assuring us he would see us through the rough times, and that he would be by our side as we walked through the valley of the shadow of recession.
And things turned around. Massively.
In fact, by the time Bentley left office, he could have started collecting those paychecks he promised not to take until Alabama reached full employment.
Alabama’s not perfect. But it’s better than it would have been without Bentley.
And that’s the reason he could win. Most people realize Bentley did a pretty good job as governor. He’s a known quantity. And Bentley’s two biggest sins have been washed away by Trump and Ivey.
Does that make former Governor Robert J. Bentley also future US Senator Robert J. Bentley?
Baron Coleman is a lawyer, radio talk show host on News & Views on 93.1 FM, and political consultant based out of Montgomery, Ala.