Most people who keep an eye on Washington politics are aware that Alabama is facing a special Senate election next month, on 12 December, to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he was appointed Attorney General. Most are also aware that the seat was considered a shoo-in for Judge Roy Moore, the “Ten Commandments Judge” who is the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. The party affiliation advantage for Republicans over Democrats in Alabama runs roughly 60 percent to 40 percent, judging by the last 7 presidential elections (Alabama does not register voters by party).
And even people who pay no attention at all to Washington know that Judge Roy Moore is in what professional political analysts call “a peck of trouble.” It’s a technical term. At least four credible accusers have stepped forward to describe behavior from 40 years ago, when he was single, that raises questions about his fitness for office. One of the accusations described criminal behavior, namely, that he made sexual advances toward a girl of 14, well below the Alabama age of consent, which is 16 both then and now.
It is a sad commentary on the partisan division evident in our time that the first thought most people in Washington had was not whether the accusations were true, but what effect the news would have on the prospects for passage of the tax reform bill, a potential Hail Mary attempt to repeal Obamacare, judicial confirmations, and other business before the Senate. The initial response of many Republicans was to call foul, and to charge that the Washington Post had played politics by saving a bombshell negative report until after the primary election, in a partisan attempt to toss the special election to a Democrat. The fact that the story did not come out until it was too late to remove Moore’s name from the ballot lent weight to that conspiracy theory.
Whether the Post manipulated the timing of the revelations or not, the fact remains that the charges have been leveled, and many voters and politicians find them credible.
Whether the Post manipulated the timing of the revelations or not, the fact remains that the charges have been leveled, and many voters and politicians find them credible. Full disclosure: although I have long appreciated Judge Moore’s public defense of common sense and old-fashioned American tradition, I find the accusations credible, and disqualifying.
Senate Republicans have made it clear that they too find the accusations credible, and that they do not want their party tarred with the brush of ephebophilia (a word we all are learning this week), and they are examining their options for distancing themselves from Mr. Moore. One option is to expel him immediately after seating him if he wins, a move for which there is precedent in Senate history.
Another is to recruit a high-profile write-in candidate to run in a 3-way race against him. That could be Luther Strange, of course; and there were reports yesterday that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, had a conversation with Vice President Pence in which he raised the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step down and run for his old seat as the write-in candidate.
Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt has suggested that Senator Luther Strange resign from the Senate, which would give Alabama Governor Kay Ivey a chance to appoint another temporary replacement, and call another special election. This would open up the opportunity for other candidates, but it is unclear whether it would offer Luther Strange the opportunity to run again.
The trouble with those options is that they all are fraught with uncertainty, and they also ignore the will of the voters. Roy Moore did win the primary election. Many people will argue, as I do, that had voters known about the accusations against him, they may not have voted for him. But they didn’t know it, and they did vote for him, and in a democratic society that still matters. And any maneuver that elects the Democrat party candidate is not likely to reflect the will of the majority of Alabama voters: Republicans hold every single state-wide office, including the seven executive branch positions, the nine Supreme Court justices, and all ten of the appellate court judges. It is clear that they wanted the Republican to represent them.
But according to Alabama secretary of state John H. Merrill, Alabama law allows a candidate to withdraw his name before the election, even after the ballots have been printed. If that candidate wins in spite of the withdrawal, then the election is considered legally null and void, and the Governor will have to call another special election.
This option allows Senator Strange to stay in office, so the Senate would not be missing a member, and the narrow Republican majority would not shrink by one. Alabama will not lose its voice in the Senate, and will not have a Democrat voice representing a largely Republican electorate. Judge Moore should do the honorable thing, and put state and country before personal ambition. Even if he is not expelled, he will be completely ineffective and unable to advance the agenda he ran on. Ironically, only his resignation will enable his voters to get the representation they voted for.