Steve Flowers: Two Open Congressional Seats in the Heart of Dixie in 2020

Steve Flowers: Two Open Congressional Seats in the Heart of Dixie in 2020

By Steve Flowers, political columnist

Governor Kay Ivey has had a very successful first year as governor. One of the coups she pulled off was getting the legislature to pass legislation granting the governor the power to appoint the Board of Pardons and Paroles.  The new law will give her all the new appointments to the Parole Board. Previously, the three-member Board picked the director.  

The new law went into effect on September 1, 2019 and Gov. Ivey wasted no time selecting the new director.  She appointed longtime political figure, former Attorney General and former Mobile County Circuit Judge Charlie Graddick.

Ivey also supported a measure that would make the state school board appointed rather than elected.  This proposal will have to be approved by Alabama voters in next year’s election. This one may have tougher sledding.  Alabamians are reluctant to give up their rights to vote for their public officials.

Agriculture Commissioner Rick Pate is continuing a great summer political tradition in Montgomery. Pate, who is Alabama’s 27th Commissioner of Agriculture, hosted the 9th Annual Tomato Sandwich luncheon.  The menu included homegrown Wiregrass tomatoes and corn on the cob. It also includes lots of politics.  Some of those in attendance were former Agriculture Commissioner and now State Treasurer John McMillan, Secretary of State John Merrill, State Auditor Jim Ziegler, and State Senators Will Barfoot and Tom Whatley.

Second District Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-Montgomery) made a surprise announcement in late July that she was not going to seek reelection to a sixth two-year term next year.  Roby was considered safe in the seat after withstanding a challenging election year in 2018. She drew significant opposition in the GOP Primary after her 2016 announcement that she was not supporting Donald Trump.  Even though she received less votes than most of the other Republican members of the Alabama House delegation, she did survive and would have had smooth sailing and a long tenure in the House. She was on good committees and was one of only 13 female Republican congresswomen in the U.S. House.  Therefore, she was a darling in the eyes of the House leadership and had a bright future in Congress.

My guess is that she simply burned out on the demanding life of Congress where you are constantly campaigning and raising money, flying back and forth to Washington and actually doing the job of voting your district’s wishes and handling constituents’ work.  She also has two young children and a husband who has a successful law career.

She made the right decision for herself.  She will have a much more enjoyable and rewarding life, and if, she practices law or lobbies, a much more lucrative lifestyle. 

This leaves two open Republican seats.  This second district seat, which encompasses all of the Wiregrass, parts of Montgomery and the burgeoning counties of Elmore and Autauga, will be a wide-open and very contested and interesting race.  It is a Republican district.

The early favorite to win the seat is Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman. He has been very involved civic wise in the Wiregrass and statewide for years. He will also have unlimited personal funds and will spend them. 

Whoever wins the second district seat will be subject to an alteration in the district.  We are expected to lose a seat after the 2020 census. Most observers expect this second district to merge into a portion of the third congressional district.  It will more than likely pick up the Auburn-Opelika-Lee County area.

In addition to the second district open seat, the first congressional district is a battle royale.  Bradley Byrne has vacated this congressional seat to make a race for the U.S. Senate. A trio of stellar candidates are vying to be the congressman from the Mobile-Baldwin area.  It will definitely remain a Republican seat. Vying for the GOP nomination are State Representative Chris Pringle, former State Senator Bill Hightower, and Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl. This one will probably be more interesting than the second district.  

2020 is shaping up to be a good political year in the Heart of Dixie.  The primaries are early on March 3, 2020.

See you next week.