Alabama faces a barn-burner of a Republican primary for state attorney general next year, with at least four highly qualified candidates. The one perhaps the least well known to the general public is, oddly enough, the one who has almost certainly spent the most quality time with the biggest state and national Republican luminaries.
Meet Chess Bedsole, with whom I sat down for an hour-long interview on November 30.
(Note: Earlier this year I separately visited, off the record, with two other AG candidates, Alice Martin and incumbent Steve Marshall, but I was not writing for Yellowhammer then. I’ll circle back to them soon for on-the-record reports.)
First, understand that I never even attempted to ask Bedsole about policy or his campaign. That will come another time. Instead, I spent the whole hour learning his background, and listening to his remarkable political stories.
As a Mobile native just out of law school (and with a tax degree) in 1998, Bedsole found himself offered jobs by two of the all-time titans of the Senate: moderate Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, who chaired the Senate Finance Committee, and conservative Republican stalwart Jesse Helms of North Carolina, offering (in contrast to Moynihan’s nice offer) an absurdly low starting salary. The Moynihan post was much more of a plum job, but Bedsole, a conservative, chose Helms instead.
“I found Helms was a genuine gentleman, always going at his job with sort of a servant’s heart,” Bedsole said of the senator who in his younger days had been considered a conservative firebrand. “You could tell when he had decided he liked you: He started out just calling a new staffer ‘Fella,’ but you knew he was fond of you when he eventually started referring to you as ‘Son’.”
Helms rather quickly made Bedsole a chief legislative negotiator – but that job was interrupted by the Bush vs. Gore presidential recount in 2000. Bedsole, wanting to help, took temporary leave from Helm’s office and arrived in Florida as the youngest lawyer on Bush’s recount team, but found himself overseeing operations in Broward County – which soon, by luck, became ground zero for the fight. He impressed the right people, and somehow, with no prior ties to Bush-world, ended up (once Bush had been declared the victor) reviewing outgoing president Bill Clinton’s executive orders (seeing which ones might be revoked or reworked) for the presidential transition team. He reported to Scooter Libby, who of course was incoming Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.
Transition over, Bedsole returned to Helms’ staff – but by early 2002, returned home for family reasons, expecting to work in a Mobile law firm. Instead, he somehow found himself running Jo Bonner’s successful campaign for Congress. And then, since he was a legal recount expert, he was suddenly dispatched – at the urging of Jeff Sessions, no less – to take charge of the Republican side of the Baldwin County recount in the tight and contested governor’s race between Bob Riley and Don Siegelman.
Riley won, of course, but Bedsole – despite a meeting with just him and the Riley family, probing his interest for something more permanent – wanted to go into private practice rather than government, and moved to Birmingham to do it (and eventually to get married).
Government kept calling, though. While still in private practice doing complex business litigation, Bedsole somehow was persuaded to accept an appointment as a municipal criminal judge in Blount County. There, by his account, he started cracking down on worse offenders, rather than letting them skate – including with the help (secured via Sessions) of a federal Drug Enforcement Agency task force) – but also spearheading new programs to divert youthful non-violent offenders in to work and rehab programs.
And Sessions kept calling. At Sessions’ urging, Bedsole found himself in Trump Tower in the fall of 2015, meeting the billionaire himself – and suddenly became Alabama’s state director for the Trump campaign, and then one of Trump’s chief national delegate hunters.
And then, once the nomination was secured, he was assigned, directly by Trump Central, to be the Trump major domo assignee to V-P nominee Mike Pence’s traveling team, working directly with Pence (and usually in the seat right next to him) as they flew around the country campaigning.
Now he’s running for AG.
So, to review the employers, direct superiors, or major sponsors/mentors for Bedsole’s high-level jobs: Jesse Helms, Scooter Libby, Jo Bonner, Bob Riley, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump. Other than that, it sounds like a pretty boring existence, eh?
This, above, is just the Cliff’s Notes version of Bedsole’s résumé. Listening to him elaborate on these political adventures is a political junkie’s dream. (Alas, this column doesn’t have room for some of the war tales.)
Clearly, Chess Bedsole is not to be taken lightly. He impresses.
Again, his competitors in the Republican primary also impress. In particular, I’ve watched the career of Alice Martin for 17 years now, and she’s a no-nonsense legal star. This is gonna be a heckuva race, one in which Alabama voters for once should be thoroughly pleased with their options.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.