How Has Coronavirus
Affected Alabama Politics?
As we end the first half of 2020, there is no doubt that the coronavirus is the story of the year. The coronavirus saga of 2020 and its devastation of the nation’s and state’s economic well-being may be the story of the decade.
How has the coronavirus affected Alabama politics? The answer is negligibly, if at all. The Republican Primary runoff to hold the Junior U.S. Senate seat was postponed by the virus epidemic. It is set for July 14, which is right around the corner. The race between Tommy Tuberville and Jeff Sessions should be close and interesting.
The virus delay did affect this race in one regard; if the vote had been held on March 31 as planned, Coach Tuberville had the advantage and the momentum. The almost four-month delay may have stymied that train. To what degree we will not know until the votes are counted in three weeks. Tuberville’s campaign has been totally based on his being loyal to Donald Trump.
Both Sessions and Tuberville were given a golden opportunity to use the four-month hiatus to do some good old fashioned one-on-one campaigning, if only by phone. If one of them did it, it could make the difference. We will soon see. People still like to be asked personally for their vote.
The next elections will not be until 2022. It will be a big year. It is a gubernatorial year and there may very well be an open U.S. Senate Seat. Sen. Richard Shelby will be 88. It would be a blessing beyond measure if he ran again. However, at that age he may choose to retire. Gov. Kay Ivey will be 78 in 2022. She will more than likely not run for a second term.
The one development that has occurred during the virus saga is that Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, has made it clear that he will be running for governor in 2022. If it were not apparent before, it is obvious now. He inserted himself into the coronavirus episode. In many instances he appeared to usurp the center stage from Ivey.
The young lieutenant governor first urged aggressive public health response, differing from Ivey’s. She made a comment about his out-of-nowhere position. She then forgave him and gave him a position on one of her many meaningless task force bodies.
Ainsworth then changed course and tweeted that the state’s businesses should reopen prior to the governor’s recommended date. She seemed neither deterred nor miffed by his second assertion of his policy position. Having been around Alabama politics a lot longer than Ainsworth, she may be savvy enough to know that she is giving him just enough rope to hang himself.
Ivey cut her political teeth campaigning for Lurleen Wallace for governor in 1966. That was 15 years before Ainsworth was born in 1981. I doubt he knows of a similar scenario that played out 50 years ago where a lieutenant governor got too big for his britches and overly and overtly tried to play governor.
George Wallace had won his second term as governor in 1970. If you count Lurleen’s 1966 victory, it would be his third straight gubernatorial victory. He was running for president in 1972 and was gunned down by a crazed assassin in a Maryland parking lot. He was near death from the multiple wounds and had to be hospitalized in Maryland for three to four months. It was a miracle he survived.
Another young lieutenant governor, Jere Beasley, had been elected to the post in 1970, primarily because the Wallace people had supported him. Beasley seemed to insert himself overtly as governor during Wallace’s bedridden absence. The governor’s people actually had to fly him back home from his recovery for a day so that he could remain governor.
Folks never seemed to forgive Beasley for this ambitious assertion of power. In his next race for reelection as lieutenant governor, Beasley trailed Charles Woods in the first primary and barely won the runoff. Four years later, in the monumental 1978 governor’s race – which Fob James ultimately won – Beasley finished in fifth place, even though he spent the most money.
Speaking of money, losing the 1978 governor’s race was the best thing that ever happened to Beasley. He began practicing law in Montgomery and became one of the most prominent plaintiff lawyers in America. He and his wife, Sarah, have had a much happier and prosperous life out of politics.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.