Gubernatorial Derby countdown down to 7

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

This week, we will continue our analysis of the potential horses in the 2018 Alabama Gubernatorial Derby. So far, we have counted down from 18-8. In descending order, the list includes, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (18), Supreme Court Justice Jim Main (17), Sen. Greg Reed (16), Sen. Arthur Orr (15), Mayor Vaughn Stewart (14), Mayor Walt Maddox (13), Mayor Sandy Stimpson (12), Congressman Bradley Byrne (11), Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (10), Sen. Del Marsh (9) and State Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan (8). The next four horses will be revealed today and we will conclude the series next week when we reveal the top three horses.

We begin this week with the No. 7 horse, Attorney General Luther Strange. Of the known candidates, Strange will have served eight years in a job that is the best stepping stone to governor. At 6-foot-9, Big Luther will be the tallest horse in the race. He is a proven fundraiser with close personal ties to the Birmingham business community. However, he has had a somewhat controversial tenure. His continuation of the Bob Riley era gambling circus demagoguery is a tar baby.

The No. 6 horse, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, is going to be a player and will make it to the gate. Mayor Battle will most likely be in the 2018 Governor’s Race. Being the popular mayor of the Rocket City makes him a contender in the contest. Huntsville is the crown jewel city of the state. It is as though it really does not belong in Alabama. It is like the Silicon Valley of California or the Research Triangle of North Carolina was placed in North Alabama. Huntsville has more PhDs per capita than any city in the southeast.

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Huntsville is the heart of the vote rich Tennessee Valley. Battle will be the hometown candidate from the area. He will benefit from his name recognition and popularity in his region. He won reelection as mayor of Huntsville with 81 percent of the vote. He will do well in North Alabama. The key will be if he can become more than a regional candidate. Our sixth ranked horse will benefit from the fact that he is dedicated to running and has been committed to the 2018 Governor’s Race for a while.

Contrary to Battle’s dedication to the race, our No. 5 horse, State Treasurer Young Boozer, seems ambivalent about his political future. Boozer has been in banking for his career. He is not a natural politician. He was perfect for the state treasurer post. Probably when he ran for that job he thought that would be his tenure in politics, and he would cap off his career with that experience. Therefore, he is probably wrestling with the decision of whether he should go any further at age 65.

He has a great name. He is not the first Young Boozer. His grandfather, Young Boozer, was a successful businessman and mayor of Samson. His father, Young Boozer II, was an ultra-successful businessman who starred in football at the University of Alabama with Bear Bryant. He was the hero of a famous Rose Bowl victory over Stanford in the 1920s. This Young Boozer graduated from Stanford.

That leads us to our No. 4 horse, who is a real thoroughbred. Secretary of State John Merrill is the best retail politician on the state stage today. He is the only one on the scene that reminds me of the master politicians of bygone days in Alabama. He is meticulously organized and built a grassroots statewide organization in his victorious race for Secretary of State in 2014. He won the old fashioned way by getting out and meeting people, and working from sunup to sundown. His victory illuminated the old friends and neighbors tradition in Alabama politics. He ran like a scolded dog in his hometown of Tuscaloosa and his boyhood family stomping grounds of Cleburne County. He will have to make a tough choice whether to keep his safe Secretary of State post or roll the dice in 2018.

We will conclude our handicapping of the horses in the 2018 Alabama Derby next week when we reveal the top three potential horses in the race.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at