With former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s (R) formal entry into the 2006 gubernatorial primary last week, the state’s Congressional delegation is split between supporting Gov. Bob Riley (R) and staying out of the fray for now.
Four of the Yellowhammer State’s five Republican House Members are backing Riley, a former colleague, while Rep. Robert Aderholt (R) and the state’s two GOP Senators are keeping their power dry.
Riley was expected to announce his campaign for a second term Saturday at his 61st birthday celebration in Birmingham, Ala. Moore, a national conservative icon ever since being ousted from the bench in 2003 for defying a federal judge’s order to remove a display of the Ten Commandments, announced his candidacy on Oct. 3.
“He’s got my vote,” Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) said of Riley, who served in the House for six years before winning the governorship in 2002.
Bonner noted that while most Members traditionally like to stay out of primary fights, there are special circumstances in this particular contest.
“Bob is a former colleague, and more importantly, he’s a friend,” he said.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said he plans to announce his endorsement of Riley Saturday, assuming he says he’s running, while Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) released a statement last week praising the governor.
“Gov. Riley has proved he deserves to remain at the helm of our state for another term,” Bachus said.
While praising Riley, none of the Members mentioned Moore by name. In fact, Bonner was the only one to allude to the schism within the party that the Riley versus Moore showdown is expected to showcase.
Although Moore’s support is firmly rooted in the religious community, Bonner argued that the ousted Supreme Court judge would not have the morality mantle all to himself.
“No one is going to be able to say they have more morals or courage of conviction than anyone else in the race,” he said, adding that while Riley may not “wear his religion on his sleeve, he is certainly a man of principle.”
Moore garnered national attention and became a hero among religious conservatives when he refused to remove a 5,300-pound granite monument of the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state judicial building. In November 2003, he was booted from office by a state judicial court for defying the federal order.
The monument now sits at a church in Moore’s hometown of Gadsden and he has traveled across the country since, speaking to packed audiences and promoting his book about the controversy, “So Help Me God.”
Riley’s first term has not been free from controversy either. In 2003, he proposed the largest tax increase in state history, $1.2 billion, although the measure ultimately failed when it was put to voters as a referendum. Riley, who used religious imagery in his push for the referendum, arguing that spending more to help the poor was the Christian thing to do, saw his popularity dip dramatically in the wake of the tax debate.
Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) said that while he wishes Riley had never put forth the tax proposal, he believes the governor has since “recovered in the eyes of the public.” Specifically, he noted what he characterized as Riley’s strong response to the damaging hurricanes that have hit the state during his tenure, Katrina this year and Ivan in 2004.
Still, Everett acknowledged the likelihood that a nasty battle will take shape.
“Family fights are never nice,” he said.
For his part, Aderholt said that as a general rule he stays out of primaries and he doesn’t anticipate circumstances changing that this time.
Aderholt stressed his past history with both men — Moore is one of his constituents and he served in the House with Riley — would make it difficult for him to take sides.
“I’ve got a close relationship with both individuals,” Aderholt said. “Unless something changes I think I’ll just wait and see who wins the primary and then work hard to help him in the fall.”
On the Senate side, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) echoed that comment and said he, too, will stay out of the intraparty battle.
“I look forward to supporting the winner of the Republican primary,” he said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) also appears poised to sit on the sidelines, although his recent comments were less clear.
“It’s a free country,” Sessions was quoted as saying in a story that appeared last week in the Tuscaloosa News. “If you were a candidate in the race, you’d prefer not to have an opponent. But that’s the nature of politics in America.”
Two Democrats, Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley and former Gov. Don Siegleman, are vying for their party’s nomination in next year’s primary. Siegleman was defeated by Riley in 2002.
The primary is scheduled for June 6, 2006.