5 years ago

Top 20 potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates

Potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates
Potential 2018 Alabama gubernatorial candidates

The 2016 presidential race will be the next big battle on the national political scene, but Alabama’s 2018 gubernatorial contest looms just over the horizon.

Here is Yellowhammer’s way-too-early list of potential 2018 contenders, presented in alphabetical order.

Tommy Battle

The Huntsville mayor has made it abundantly clear that he’s interested in the big job. Battle openly said in 2013 he was considering challenging Bentley. He ultimately decided to pass, but not before testing the fundraising waters by forming a political action committee called “Moving Alabama Forward.”

Strength: People in North Alabama know who he is.
Weakness: No one outside of North Alabama has a clue who he is, and he’s a Democrat, whether he runs as one or not.

Scott Beason

The tea party firebrand most well known for sponsoring Alabama’s toughest-in-the-nation immigration law decided last year to leave the legislature after two terms in the house and two more in the senate, but he’s indicated he plans to stay engaged in the political debate.

“There are three primary issues I’m going to be focusing on: gun rights, school choice and energy,” Beason told Yellowhammer in a recent interview announcing he’s hitting the statewide speaking circuit.

After coming up short twice attempting to run for Congress, the question is whether Beason’s brand of conservatism can translate outside of his Gardendale legislative district.

Strength: Unquestioned conservative street cred.
Weakness: Has not shown an ability to raise the money needed to be a viable statewide candidate.

Slade Blackwell

The Mountain Brook state senator stayed mostly below the radar during his first term in the legislature, but recently made waves by being one of the first lawmakers to openly criticize Gov. Bentley for floating the idea of raising taxes.

Strength: Successful businessman from a wealthy family with a proven ability to raise big bucks. Money won’t be a problem.
Weakness: Low name recognition and uncertainty about how his Over the Mountain appeal will translate in rural areas.

Jo Bonner

The former south Alabama congressman is now running the University of Alabama System’s governmental affairs operation, but those close to him say he may not be done scratching his political itch. He decided not to run for governor in 2010, and after watching Bentley come out of nowhere, he may now regret it. Bonner has become a regular on the rotary and chamber of commerce speaking circuit.

Strength: His skills as a retail politician are borderline legendary, even Clinton-esque.
Weakness: By 2018, he will have been out of office and out of the minds of voters for over five years.

Young Boozer

The low-key, but well-liked state treasurer has the best accidental rapper’s name in Alabama political history. He raised some eyebrows at this year’s inauguration festivities by rattling off the names of all 67 Alabama counties in alphabetical order — by memory.

Strength: His name is unforgettable and he could self-finance his campaign.
Weakness: May have trouble connecting to average voters.

Will Brooke

The wildly successful Harbert executive ran a spirited but ultimately ill-fated campaign for Congress last year, and those close to him say the loss was particularly difficult because Brooke isn’t accustomed to losing at, well, anything. Don’t be surprised if the former Business Council of Alabama chairman returns for a statewide run in 2018.

Strength: Money, money, money.
Weakness: Congressional campaign was dogged by personal donations he made to Democrats in the past. That will be an issue in any GOP primary.

Rick Burgess

Burgess of Rick & Bubba fame has built an unparalleled level of trust with his army of loyal listeners over the years. He got more politically active in 2014 and was undefeated in the handful of races in which he made an endorsement. Most notably, Burgess is widely credited with playing a major role in Gary Palmer’s unexpected congressional victory. He hasn’t publicly indicated an interest in running for office, but has been a vocal advocate for Christians stepping up and getting more involved.

Strength: Huge trust among evangelicals, which make up a major chunk of Alabama voters.
Weakness: Completely unknown quantity as a candidate.

Bradley Byrne

The south Alabama congressman made a name for himself on the state level as the teachers’ union’s public enemy number one. It might have cost him the governorship, considering the AEA spent big in 2010 to take him out and usher Bentley in. He’s quickly proven himself to be an able lawmaker in D.C., and with recent revelations that Bentley plans to propose tax hikes, Byrne’s probably sitting down in south Alabama thinking, “I told you so.”

Strength: Been there, done that.
Weakness: There may be some lingering effects after he was massacred by negative ads in 2010.

David Carrington

The Jefferson County Commissioner and former Commission chairman would likely make the case to voters that he led Alabama’s most populous county out of bankruptcy and onto more stable financial footing.

Strength: Likable guy with a compelling personal, business and political story.
Weakness: It’s a long, long way from the Jefferson County Courthouse to the governor’s mansion.

Mike Hubbard

The State House Speaker has arguably been the most powerful politician in the state over the past four years, but recent legal troubles have at least temporarily sidetracked what was an almost certain 2018 gubernatorial run. If he beats the charges, he’ll be stronger than ever in Montgomery. If not, ballgame.

Strength: Unmatched ability to raise money.
Weakness: Even if he beats the charges against him, it’s too early to tell how the flow of negative press will effect him in in 2018.

Walt Maddox

Democrats’ bench is so shallow that Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, is about the only potential statewide candidate that regularly comes up in conversations about 2018.

Strength: By 2018 he’ll be a four-term mayor of Alabama’s fifth largest city.
Weakness: He’d have a “D” beside his name.

Del Marsh

The unquestioned leader of the Alabama Senate made the most daring state house maneuver in recent memory by pushing through Alabama’s first school choice bill in 2013. Since then he’s grown the Republican majority in the senate to an unprecedented level. He’s now arguably the state’s most powerful lawmaker. Those close to him say this is almost certainly his last term in the senate. The question is, does he want to exit the political scene, or just move on to a new challenge in the executive branch?

Strength: Staunchly anti-tax and can raise big bucks out of the business community.
Weakness: Lack of name recognition in the southern part of the state.

Roy Moore

Moore’s back on the national scene, getting name-dropped by the president, attacked by liberals and cheered on by social conservatives. He surprised a lot of political prognosticators by winning his current job without a runoff, but previous runs for governor suggest he may be bumping up against his ceiling in his role as Chief Justice.

Strength: Name recognition and intense support among the state’s most ardent social conservatives.
Weakness: Extremely polarizing, even among Republicans.

John Merrill

No one who’s spent more than five minutes with Alabama’s new secretary of state would deny that he is probably the most ambitious politician in the state. He recently tried to get out ahead of a quasi-sex scandal that has been rumored for months. The story hasn’t gained much traction outside of Montgomery, but would get a lot more scrutiny if he tries to climb up the next rung of the political ladder.

Strength: Relentless campaigner. He put hundreds of thousands of miles on his car in 2014.
Weakness: Personal integrity questions will be tough to shake with Alabama’s wide swath of values voters.

Arthur Orr

It looks like the Alabama Senate General Fund Budget Chairman is more likely to move up to Senate President Pro Tem than run statewide, but if he did take a crack at governor, he’d be able to raise a lot of money out of north Alabama.

Strength: Savvy political operator with serious governing experience.
Weakness: Totally unknown by most people outside of his Decatur-area state senate district.

Trip Pittman

The Senate Education Budget Chairman is a larger-than-life presence, both physically and as a political operator in the senate. He considered not running for re-election in 2014 so he could spend more time running his business, so it’s a reasonable bet that by 2018 he’ll be ready to move up or get out.

Strength: Libertarian streak (he was a Ron Paul delegate) would make him somewhat unique in the potential field.
Weakness: His refusal to take PAC money would make it more difficult to round up the cash needed for a statewide run.

Rob Riley

The Birmingham trial lawyer has taken a pass on every potential run for office since his dad left the governor’s mansion in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he’s not interested. He remains a player behind the scenes, and would immediately have the name recognition and network to be a contender.

Strength: Network of donors remains intact thanks to the Rileys’ continued involvement in legislative races even after the governor left office.
Weakness: Having a former governor for a dad comes with both advantages and baggage.

Martha Roby

In a crowded 2018 primary full of men, simply being a credible female candidate would instantly give Roby a big leg up, maybe even securing her place in an almost guaranteed runoff. It is unclear at this point if she’d be willing to give up her safe seat in congress to take a shot at governor, but she hasn’t actively shot down rumors that she’s considered it.

Strength: The only credible female candidate whose name frequently comes up in conversations about 2018.
Weakness: Lacks name recognition and fundraising ability outside of the 2nd Congressional District.

Sandy Stimpson

Mobile’s popular mayor ran an impressive campaign in 2013, culminating with an improbable victory over a two-term incumbent. Stimpson’s been a staple in the Alabama political scene for years, sitting on a number of influential boards. He’s frequently said he is focused on Mobile and has no desire to run for higher office, but if he changed his mind, he’d have the money to be a contender.

Strength: Serious personal wealth, unrivaled network in the business community.
Weakness: Totally unknown to voters outside of Mobile.

Luther Strange

It has long been assumed that Strange would run for U.S. Senate someday, but with Sessions in office until at least 2020 and Shelby running for another six-year term in 2016, he will have to either head to the sidelines for a couple of years or take a shot at governor.

Strength: The most statewide name recognition right out of the gate.
Weakness: The way his office has handled recent investigations has significantly damaged him with key members of the business community and major donors, and there has been some grumbling in the grassroots that he hasn’t been active enough in the gay marriage fight. It’s too early to tell if those issues will linger until 2018.

8 hours ago

Livingston, Whatley elected to lead Alabama Space Authority

The Alabama Space Authority this week held a meeting, respectively electing State Senators Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro) and Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) as chair and vice-chair of the body.

Both senators, who were appointed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) to the authority, plan to work diligently towards making Alabama a leader in the space industry, according to a joint release.

The Alabama Space Authority was created in 2017 to promote research and development of new space exploration and spaceport technology; to sponsor conference and business roundtables within the aerospace, aviation and related industries; and to promote activities and industries related to exploration.

The authority includes representatives of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the Alabama Department of Transportation, the governor, the State legislature and other stakeholders and experts.


Livingston, who recently played a leading role in the creation of the legislature’s Aerospace and Defense Caucus and serves as its chair, stated that the Alabama Space Authority will be looking into how the Yellowhammer State can further improve this industry.

“We are looking into the possibility of the Dream Chaser being able to land in Huntsville,” Livingston said. “This is going to be a great opportunity to look into how the legislature can aide in supporting the aerospace and defense industry in Alabama.”

Whatley added that he was honored to be selected as vice-chair and that space is a growing industry in Alabama.

“I’m proud to be a member … because this is a big deal for our entire state, from Huntsville to Auburn’s aerospace programs and to the robust aircraft manufacturing on the coast. Aerospace is a $12 billion industry and a key component to Alabama’s economy,” Whatley commented.

Livingston concluded by advising he expects to receive an update from the U.S. Space Command and is looking forward to bringing more space industry projects to Alabama.

RELATED: Ainsworth in Huntsville: Alabama is ‘the aerospace capital of the world’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Lewis touts McCutcheon; Brooks touts Trump, his record with space and defense

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) this week endorsed Chris Lewis in the GOP primary race in the Fifth Congressional District.

The surprise endorsement by McCutcheon caught many in the state off-guard because this race has flown under the radar and polling shows this race, like all of U.S. Representative Mo Brooks’ (R-Huntsville) previous primaries, handily in the bag.

But McCutcheon’s endorsement rightly got the attention of multiple media outlets and observers of Alabama politics with many wondering what this was really all about.


So when Brooks saw the endorsement and a hostage-style video promoting it by McCutcheon, Brooks responded by highlighting the most coveted endorsement a Republican candidate for any office could get: President Donald Trump.

Brooks told Yellowhammer News:

I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!

While speaking to WVNN on Friday, Brooks noted that the endorsement on the bounds of support from the space and defense industry is laughable.

“If Mac McCutcheon is saying that Chris Lewis has more support in Research Park, that is categorically false. We have received more support from the state and defense community, vastly, vastly, vastly, vastly more support from the state and defense community than Chris Lewis has,” he told “The Dale Jackson Show.”

Brooks also touted his seniority, and how that plays into serving his district in Washington, D.C.

“The people who engage in space and defense know that my growing seniority on science, space, and technology and on House Armed Services, coupled with more than a hundred occasions in which I’ve been able to get favorable language into legislation that they’ve wanted me to get for the benefit of our country and what we do in the Tennessee Valley,” he added. “They’re my primary support base in Congress: space and defense.”​

My takeaway:

This is all pretty interesting, but the idea that a McCutcheon endorsement on these grounds can overcome the booming North Alabama economy that Brooks has been a part of since being part of the Tea Party-wave in 2010 is false.

The Trump endorsement might make better television and radio spots, and it will definitely help Brooks, but the real issue is that Lewis and McCutcheon can’t point to how Brooks hasn’t served his district well — because he has.

Barring some massive bombshell to follow up this endorsement, a battle of endorsements between Trump and McCutcheon seems like a fight that was over before it started, much like the Brooks/Lewis race.


Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

11 hours ago

Human clinical study begins at UAB for groundbreaking brain tumor treatment

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) continues to evolve as a worldwide leader in biomedicine, research and innovation.

Incysus Therapeutics, Inc., a Birmingham-based biopharmaceutical company, has now announced the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical study of a novel Drug Resistant Immunotherapy (DRI) technology for the treatment of patients with newly-diagnosed glioblastoma.

This trial is being conducted at UAB and is now active and open for enrollment.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM or glioblastoma) is a devastating and fast-growing brain tumor that typically results in death within the first 15 months after diagnosis. GBM is inherently resistant to conventional therapy and accounts for approximately 52% of all primary brain tumors.


A release from the company outlined Incysus’ innovative DRI approach, which seeks to combine conventional chemotherapies with a γδ T cell-based immunotherapy to modify the tumor microenvironment and drive the immune system. By using alkylating agents such as temozolomide, chemotherapy can activate immunity through the upregulation of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway. A significant challenge is that such chemotherapies also kill the white blood cells needed to drive an immune response. Incysus’ technology “chemo-protects” immune cells to allow them to remain functional while DDR activation creates an immune signal that allows directed killing activity against cancer cells.

Incysus is the first company to use this type of therapy in patients, and the research marks a landmark moment for Incysus, the overall biotech industry in Birmingham and anti-cancer research across the globe.

Dr. L. Burt Nabors, MD, the co-head of neuro-oncology at UAB and the study’s principal investigator, stated, “The initiation of this clinical trial represents a significant milestone towards developing effective immune-based therapies for the treatment of GBM. We are pleased to work with … the team at Incysus to bring this innovative therapy to patients for the first time.”

Further information on the clinical trial is available here.

Incysus is a UAB spinoff company. Its success in the Magic City — and this kind of potentially revolutionary research spearheaded by UAB — is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

RELATED: Planned UAB genomics project could make Birmingham the ‘Silicon Valley of Biomedicine’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.


That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

11 hours ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.


“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.


“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.