Byrne-ing to go
Juco Chancellor Bradley Byrne to seek
GOP nomination for governor in 2010
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
His hair now more salt than pepper, Bradley Byrne Wednesday made official a desire that was born probably long ago -- he wants to be governor of Alabama.
With Rebecca, his wife of 28 years, and their four children at his side before more than 100 supporters and media in a packed, 90-seat auditorium at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center on the Causeway, Byrne announced his GOP campaign to follow Gov. Bob Riley in 2010. It came almost two years to the day that he stepped down as Baldwin County's state senator to accept Riley's challenge to reverse the sagging fortunes of the state's ethically suspect junior college system.
Byrne has scoffed at any suggestion that the junior college chancellorship was part of a plan to advance his gubernatorial ambitions. Such a
strategy might be compared to an
Olympic swimming hopeful training
in shark-infested waters to increase
his speed. There's got to be a
better way to get a gold medal,
just as there's got to be a better
way to get to the Governor's
mansion than through the juco
posting, Byrne suggested.
There was political risk in taking a job whose agenda would clash with the state's most powerful political forces. In those treacherous waters, Byrne could well have been chewed up and spit out. Even so, Byrne arrived at the other shore with few nicks and largely unbloodied. He dove in promising reform and came out a reformer still, giving himself an 'A' for his stint especially considering the limited tools at hand, he said.
The chancellorship did a few things to elevate his gubernatorial potential:
- For two years, he has traveled all over the state, visiting the various junior college facilities and becoming better known to the public, the local politicos and the press, speaking to civic clubs, meeting editorial boards and getting valuable face time on television.
- He has gained executive experience that seemingly would translate well into other dialects of Alabama's political world.
- Perhaps most of all, the Republican benefits by the old adage: "Let me be known by my enemies." To be the bete noire of the Alabama Education Association and its leaders Paul Hubbert and Joe Reed is a political blessing beyond compare for a GOP prospect for governor. When almost immediately Reed referred to Byrne as "the führer," the veteran Alabama Democratic leader gassed up the car for Byrne's GOP governor's campaign.
With Reed's pejorative, the "line was drawn in the sand," so to speak, and Byrne did so speak, using exactly those words in defining his campaign for governor along with a pledge (cue Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) that "I won't back down." Us and them. Get on our ethical side of the line or stay on the other side, but Byrne's campaign will be about drawing that line clearly and identifying who is on which side, he said.
"Ethics will be the key to our campaign," said Byrne. "Up and down the ballot. We will shine the light of day on them. We will make it clear who is for ethical government and who isn't. Which side of the line do you want to be on?"
The era of cronyism and
hypocrisy in state
government is nearing an
end in Alabama, said
"They will say bad things
about me and do things
to block me," said Byrne.
"It's time to beat them. The line will be drawn. It's not a geographical or racial line. If you favor the status quo, if you want to block reform, stand on the other side of the line and we will beat you."
Of course, in those sentiments, Byrne is hardly alone in the GOP field, all of whom will be AEA/legislative power structure adversaries to some degree. Greenville businessman Tim James has been crisscrossing the state for months, gaining endorsements and sounding his message of the virtues of conservative government and a free market economy. Other likely candidates include state Treasurer Kay Ivey, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, Bill Johnson, director of the Alabama Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs (ADECA) and state Rep. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa.
But as a state senator from Montrose and especially as chancellor, the 54-year-old Mobile native and attorney seems to provoke a genuine scorn among AEA factions and Democratic powers-that-be in Montgomery.
With his work in revamping the junior college system and weeding out legislative feather-bedding, Byrne bills himself as "a proven, conservative reformer ... ready to take our fight for reform to the next level."
With almost every breath, Byrne threatens the status quo from advocating a reworking of teacher tenure laws, to a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers, to an end on "double dipping" by legislator/state employees and ethics reform. Of course, it's nothing Riley hasn't already said. If the electorate wants to see Byrne as Riley redux, that appears to be fine with Byrne who said that he and probably a majority of the state's voters wish Riley could serve a third four-year term. Under a banner of the three E's -- education, economic development and ethics reform -- Byrne cast his campaign in the vein of taking the baton from Riley and continuing the race for reform.
Byrne has said he doesn't expect Riley's endorsement which is just as well, according to Byrne, because Alabama voters sometimes resent an inference that their minds can be made up for them.
Riley is unlikely to endorse any candidate in the Republican primary, according to his allies who didn't have to mention his spotty record in that regard. However, Mobile real estate executive Richard Weavil, ex-Cong. Jack Edwards' son-in-law and one of Riley's closest Mobile area confidantes, attended Byrne's south Alabama announcement and Byrne is seen by many GOP sources as the present candidate with whom Riley is most comfortable.
Byrne is a sixth generation Alabamian of Irish descent. His ancestors were active in public service here including Baldwin County's first probate judge, the county's first postmaster and a Mobile County sheriff elected in 1926 to oust "The Ring, a corrupt cabal that then ruled Mobile public life."
Fellow Mobile attorney and Republican Doug Anderson recalls Byrne as universally recognized as a leader by classmates and faculty as far back as his days as a schoolboy at University Military School on Mobile Street here.
"I remember him as a leader all the way back to our high school days at UMS," said Anderson. "He was two years ahead of me, and was looked upon as a leader by both the student body and the faculty. He was involved in student organizations, and usually elected as an officer. Of course, we were a military school back then and the school administration chose Bradley as one of the top officers in the military program.
"I am not at all surprised he has risen to this level in State politics. Even when we were in different political parties, I respected him for his passion for doing what he thought was best."
Among those on hand for Byrne's announcement included longtime GOP leaders Jerry and Terry Lathan, state Senate District 22 nominee Greg Albritton and his political adviser Ray Lapierre, state GOP committeeman George Williams of Bay Minette, Scott Hunter, Mobile County Circuit Judge Rosie deJuan Chambers, state Reps. Jamie Ison, Victor Gaston, Jim Barton, Chad Fincher and Randy Davis, Alabama Power's Bernie Fogarty, University of Alabama trustee Marietta Urquhart, retired Navy officers Pete Riehm and Hal Pierce and local attorneys Ferrell Anders, Barre Dumas, Paul Myrick and Mac McCafferty.
Estimates place the costs of primary and general election campaigns at $6 million, give or take, and probably give.
Byrne will have to spend some of his time and money deflecting charges that he is a "carpetbagger," in reference to his Democratic past.
Out of law school, Byrne took a job with the Mobile firm of Miller Hamilton, headed by Jack Miller, a former state Democratic Party chairman. Byrne played leading roles in the Democratic campaigns of Frank McRight (now a Republican, too) for Congress and later Herman Thomas for a state judgeship. Before he was elected to the state School Board as a Democrat, Byrne was a contender for appointment by President Bill Clinton as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Byrne jumped to Baldwin County and the GOP, won election as the state Senator from the hottest of the Republican hotbeds in Alabama, along with Shelby County.
If his Democratic past is the biggest knock on him in the Republican primary, said Byrne, he likes his chances.
Former Republican Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, a Byrne supporter and also a former Democrat -- a Clinton presidential delegate no less -- agrees.
"I think the Dem 'labeling' will be difficult (to use against Byrne) ... Fob has run and been governor as both," Windom noted.
Byrne won election once at a Democrat in 1994 and subsequent to switching parties in 1997 has won election as a Republican in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006, Windom pointed out.
"There was a rumor that Bradley was a Clinton delegate, but that is not true," said Windom. "They were probably thinking of me — I was a Clinton delegate."
The political woods are full of Democrats turned Republican -- the late Ronald Reagan, Jack Edwards, Sonny Callahan, Charlie Graddick, Ferrill McRae, Marilyn Wood, Mike McMaken, Robert Smith, George Wallace Jr., Richard Shelby, Fob James and Windom.
"... I think most folks, particularly in this day and time, are looking for candidates with a plan and with a record of performance, particularly the kind of reform Bradley has accomplished in the two-year system," he continued. "The days of arguing who is the 'real' Republican are long gone."