US Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, was confirmed this week to be the next Attorney General of the United States. To full the role at the Department of Justice, Sen. Sessions had to vacate his senatorial seat in Washington.
In such cases, a state’s governor is empowered to appoint a worthy successor to fill the seat for the remainder of a senator’s term. Governor Robert Bentley thus had the authority to appoint Jeff Sessions’ replacement. Bentley’s choice was Alabama State Attorney General Luther Strange.
Luther Strange’s War on VictoryLand
During his time in Alabama, Luther Strange has been the chief opponent of private brick-and-mortar gambling venues in the state. Leading the Governor’s Illegal Gambling Task Force, Luther strange worked to close down the slot machine gambling at VictoryLand, Greene Charity in Eutaw, Southern Star Casino in the White Hall community of Lowndes Count, Center Stage (known as Country Crossing at the time), and Frontier Bingo and River’s Edge in Knoxville.
Law enforcement raided Greenetrack in Eutaw, but Greenetrack had voluntarily stopped operations before the raid. Birgmingham Greyhound Racing in Birmingham and Mobile Greyhound Park in Theodore languish as old-style dog racing tracks without the ability to offer casino-style gambling.
With Luther Strange gone from the attorney general’s office, Milton McGregor and the remainder of the private gaming operators might see a chance to reverse decisions of the previous few years. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians, who were the beneficiaries of Luther Strange’s war on private slot machines, will need to lobby the next Alabama attorney general to maintain the strict no-slots policy Strange forwarded.
Bentley Makes a Controversial Decision
Robert Bentley might be happy to see Luther Strange go, too. By appointing Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate, Gov. Bentley rids himself of a sometime headache and political opponent. Bentley appointed Strange to be Alabama attorney general in January 2011, so one would expect the two men to have been political allies. It was not always so.
For instance, when Luther Strange raided VictoryLand and accused Milton McGregor’s racetrack of running an illegal gambling operation, Gov. Bentley did not agree with the actions. Strange’s raid, which led to the confiscation of over 1,800 slot machines and several hundred thousand dollars in cash, also led to years of lawsuits.
William Shashy Ruled against Luther Strange
Eventually, a district judge in Alabama ruled on behalf of VictoryLand. When Luther Strange defied a court order, Gov. Bentley publicly criticized his attorney general. Eventually, he stripped AG Strange of the ability to use state troopers in gambling raids.
Alabama Impeachment Probe
Luther Strange’s role in an impeachment probe of the Alabama governor is more nebulous. Robert Bentley has been plagued by scandal since late-2015, when it was learned that he carried on a two-year relationship with a former staffer. The House Judiciary Committee opened up an impeachment investigation into Bentley’s wrongdoing, a committee which continued its work through much of 2016.
In November 2016, the committee shut down its activities, because Luther Strange asked them to do so. He said his office needed time, because it was involved in “related work”. By that time, Luther Strange was one of 20 different Alabama notables who had applied to take Jeff Sessions’ seat in the U.S. Senate.
Rumors of a Bentley-Strange Deal
With the power to greenlight or block an ongoing impeachment investigation, it raised eyebrows when Luther Strange was asking for Robert Bentley to give Strange a massive new promotion. When Strange was chosen to succeed Jeff Sessions, it sparked a great deal of outrage among both Republicans and Democrats in Alabama.
Republican State Representative Ed Henry told USNews.com, “There’s going to be such an air of conspiracy hanging over our state and our new senator.”
State Auditor Jim Zeigler, another Republican, told CNN.com, “The whole thing stinks. It is outrageous. We have the potential for a Gov. Blagojevich situation.”
Those were the reactions from members of Luther Strange’s own party, so one can imagine what the opposition reaction was.
Luther Strange Goes to Washington
As readers can see, Washington D.C. is about to receive a controversial new senator. Luther Strange replaces one of the most conservative senators in the country on issues such as immigration, foreign policy, crime and security, social issues, higher education and scientific research, and economic issues. Since Sessions won reelection in 2014, Luther Strange will be able to serve out the final 4 years of Sessions’ term.
Jeff Sessions was himself a controversial choice for attorney general, as he was a rejected by a Republican-led senate committee for a federal judgeship when nomination by Ronald Reagan in 1986. Old charges of racism accompanished Jeff Sessions in his recent confirmation hearings. With Sessions voting “present” at the confirmation vote, the final tally was 51-48. The vote went almost as a straight party-line vote, though Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia voted to confirm Sessions. Manchin kept an eye on his reelection in a traditionally conservative state like West Virginia.
Whatever the implications for national politics and Luther Strange’s political career, Milton McGregor and VictoryLand have to take the appointment as good news. They lose their No. 1 opponent in the administration.