By Steve Flowers
This year may very well be the year of the woman in Alabama politics. In the state’s 200-year history, only one woman has been elected governor. Lurleen Wallace won in 1966. She is one of only two women who have served as governor, the other being our current governor, Kay Ivey. It may be a historic year.
Sue Bell Cobb, the former Alabama Chief Justice, and the first woman to hold that position, hopes to be the Democratic standard-bearer. She was elected chief justice in 2006, in a very expensive, high-profile battle with Republican Drayton Nabors. She had been a district court judge in her native Conecuh County for a long time before running statewide. She was elected to a six-year term in 2006, but quit after four years, inexplicably.
Cobb, 61, is predicting that it will be an all-female gubernatorial showdown. She believes that she will be the Democratic nominee and that Ivey will carry the Republican banner into battle. “That’s never happened and my prediction is that is what it will exactly be,” she says.
First things first, however. Cobb has to win the Democratic primary and she is not the favorite. Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is the early favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
Most political insiders suggest that Maddox is expected to get the overwhelming support of African-American voters. The black vote makes up the majority of Democratic primary voters in the state. This is no longer a monolithic vote, although it tends to gravitate to one candidate in a primary. The few white voters who participate in the Democratic primary are young and they can more readily identify with Maddox, who is 45.
In addition, there is some disillusionment among Democratic voters that Cobb quit her term midway as chief justice and allowed Republican Gov. Robert Bentley to appoint a replacement. He, of course, appointed a Republican. She was the only Democrat on the Supreme Court. Roy Moore won the seat of chief justice in 2012.
Other Democratic partisans were dismayed that Cobb said she supported Donald Trump’s selection of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General. It may be perceived that her day has passed.
Ivey’s day appeared to have passed when out of the blue Bentley resigned and she was plucked from the obscurity of the lieutenant governor’s office and thrust into the governorship. She seems like a grandmother who sticks to her knitting and steadies the ship of state, which has gone through stormy waters the past four years. Now she is in the catbird’s seat and may indeed make it to the dance as the Republican nominee in November.
She is favored to win the GOP primary, although she created a couple of stumbling blocks during the special Senate election last year that may thwart her bid. Some GOP establishment stalwarts say that her changing the Senate election from 2018 to 2017 threw Luther Strange, their candidate, under the bus and gave the nomination to Roy Moore, which led to losing the U.S. Senate seat to a Democrat. That move also cost the state’s beleaguered General Fund $10 to $15 million. Some suburban women also became disenchanted with her with she said she had no reason to not believe the women who accused Roy Moore of assaulting them as teenagers, yet she was still going to vote for him because he was a Republican. These are only political stumbling blocks, however, not roadblocks.
What I see as a possibility is not an all-female race for governor, but a possible triumvirate of females being sworn into the top three constitutional offices next January. You could see Ivey sworn as governor, Twinkle Cavanaugh as lieutenant governor and Alice Martin as attorney general. All three are Republicans and all are favored, with Troy King a co-favorite for AG. The Republican nominee goes into the general election with a 60/40 probability of winning.
Right now, I would bet that Alabama would at least have a governor and lieutenant governor who are women. That may be the story of the year in Alabama politics.