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Inside the Statehouse: Looking forward to July 15 runoff

By Steve Flowers

The big news out of this week’s political primaries is that there was no news. The results of every race came down almost precisely as predicted.

The prevailing hypothesis among experts that there would be a low voter turnout was fulfilled. The turnout was around 20 percent statewide, as expected. The reason for the sparse voter participation was because there was very little reason to go vote. Most of the major statewide and constitutional races were decided before the first vote was cast.

Our junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions is running unopposed for his fourth six-year term in Washington. Attorney General Luther Strange, State Treasurer Young Boozer and Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan all ran unopposed. As is the practice now, none of these four aforementioned gentlemen’s names even appeared on the ballot.

Gov. Robert Bentley may as well have been running unopposed in his quest for the GOP nomination for a second term. Going into this year’s election cycle his polling numbers on re-electability, likeability and trustworthiness were stratospheric. Therefore, he received no significant opposition. He garnered an amazing 90 percent of the GOP primary vote. Those are pretty good numbers even against token opposition.

On the Democratic side Parker Griffith won his newfound party’s nomination for governor by a 63 percent to 37 percent margin. This sets the stage for a contest in the fall between two 72-year-old retired doctors.

Kay Ivey won an impressive victory in her bid for a second term as lieutenant governor. Her 62 percent to 38 percent victory over challenger Stan Cooke in the Republican primary should propel her to victory in the fall.

The lack of competition at the top of the ballot left the two inconsequential bureaucratic posts of secretary of state and state auditor as the best races to watch. It was expected that Tuscaloosa State Rep. John Merrill would lead the ticket in the three-man race for secretary of state. He was able to outspend his two older opponents, probate judges Reese McKinney and Jim Perdue, by a 2-1 advantage. However, McKinney, the former probate judge of Montgomery County, ran him neck and neck.

Merrill received 40 percent to McKinney’s 39 percent with Perdue receiving 21 percent. Merrill and McKinney will face off in a July 15 runoff, which should be the best statewide race on the ballot.

Perennial candidate Jim Ziegler parlayed his name recognition into almost winning the state auditor nomination without a runoff with four men on the ticket. He received 47 percent of the vote. Ziegler will face another zany character, Dale Peterson, in the July 15 runoff. Peterson garnered 24 percent of the vote.

Peterson’s wife, Kathy Peterson, ran a close race to Jeremy Oden for Place 1 on the Public Service Commission. Despite being outspent almost 10-1, she only lost to Oden by 53 percent to 47 percent. Oden was appointed by Bentley two years ago. His victory last Tuesday assures him four more years on the PSC. There are no Democrats running.

The same is true for Place 2 on the PSC. The winner of the runoff between Chip Beeker and Terry Dunn will be elected. Beeker led the ticket 39 percent to Dunn’s 33 percent. The other 28 percent went to challengers Jonathan Barbee and Phillip Brown. Their votes should gravitate to Beeker, since Dunn is the incumbent.

The best race on the ballot was for the GOP nomination for the Sixth District Congressional seat being vacated by the retirement of 20-year veteran Spencer Bachus. This suburban Birmingham-area seat is rated in Washington as one of the most Republican seats in America.

There were seven men vying for the seat in Washington. It was an expensive slugfest as is usually the case when there is an open congressional seat. State Rep. Paul DeMarco impressively led the ticket. He garnered 33 percent of the vote and will be favored to win in the July 15 runoff.

Surprisingly, longtime conservative think tank founder Gary Palmer finished second with 20 percent.

The winner of the July runoff between DeMarco and Palmer will go to Washington. The district will be the winner, whichever one wins. Both these guys are erudite gentlemen who are conservatives with class and dignity.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at

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