Anyone who has been around politics as long as I have knows that it is often better to be lucky than good. Try as we might, the fate of candidates is often determined by things they have no control over–does it rain on election day, did an unexpected runoff on the other party’s ticket hamper turnout in your primary (that’s one I can certainly relate to), etc.
Of course Guy Hunt was lucky this way. In his second run for governor (his first crashed and burned) he was fortunate to be the lone Republican standing for governor when the Democrats took their party’s nominee for governor, Charlie Graddick, out of the general election. Voters rebelled and voted for the only other choice, Guy Hunt.
In many ways, the same thing happened to Robert Bentley in 2010. A totally unknown two term House member from Tuscaloosa, he and Tim James were the only two to oppose Bradley Byrne in the Republican primary. Byrne, who once got elected as a Democrat to the state board of education with the support of the Alabama Education Association, came out swinging from the opening bell against AEA.
At this point, longtime head of AEA, Paul Hubbert declared ABB. (Anyone But Byrne)
So the race was on between James and Bentley to see who could make a runoff against Byrne. This is where luck surely played a role as Bentley edged James by only 166 votes to come in second. Bentley got 123,958 and James got 123,792. That’s 166 out of 385,201 cast that day in the Republican primary.
Bentley went on to get 56 percent of the runoff vote and 58 percent of the general election vote against Ron Sparks.
There is no doubt in my mind that had Tim James gotten another 167 votes in the 2010 Republican primary, he would have been governor.
Instead, we got six plus years of Robert Bentley that ended in disgrace Monday. Ended with a statement of resignation that lacked humility, contrition or a real acknowledgement of wrong doing. To the very end he seemed to be in an alternate universe, totally unable to see what everyone else saw.
My own memory of Robert Bentley goes back to a day in May 2009 when I was sitting in my office and the phone rang. It was someone saying he was State Representative Robert Bentley. Someone I’d never heard of.
This was shortly after some colleagues and I completed our study of ten rural schools we called Lessons Learned from Rural Schools. We sent all 140 members of the legislature a copy of the publication. Robert Bentley was the only one who followed up. We talked for nearly an hour. We had a good conversation and I was impressed that he called.
My second memory is from March 2010. By this time Bentley was a declared candidate for governor and I happened upon him at the annual rattlesnake rodeo in Opp. He and his wife were working the crowd. (Actually, she looked as if she would have rather been anywhere else in the world that day other than Opp.)
I introduced myself and we chatted for a moment. Not once as I walked away did I think I had just met a future governor. But then I failed to think of the strange twists and turns politics often makes and how it is better to be lucky than good.
Unfortunately Robert Bentley will never be seen as a friend of public schools. Instead he will be remembered as a governor who signed every bill that came before him public education considered harmful. The Alabama Accountability Act, the charter school bill, the A-F school report cards. Like too many politicians he was always looking for the quick fix and spent little time looking at the realities our schools face every day.
And in the end, it was this lack of coming to grips with reality that caused his downfall.