U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) might be planning to step down shortly after the November elections, allowing outgoing Governor Bob Riley to appoint himself to the seat, according to a report from Washington Update radio.
Bill Barnes, the Democratic candidate for Shelby's seat, raised the issue in an interview with D.C.-based lawyer and journalist Andrew Kreig. Barnes is a heavy underdog against the well-financed Shelby campaign, but he said the veteran senator has been unresponsive to the concerns of Alabamians affected by the BP oil spill.
Barnes also said the 76-year-old Shelby reportedly has health concerns and might have no intention of completing a six-year term, meaning Bob Riley could serve as a stealth candidate for the GOP. Reports Kreig:
In an exclusive interview on the Washington Update radio show. Barnes said his Republican opponent Richard Shelby has shown scant interest in the plight of Alabama’s victims of the oil tragedy. In response to a listener call, Barnes also raised for the first time in the campaign widespread suspicions among Alabama Democrats that Shelby’s own health might encourage him to resign shortly after the election to enable Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to name himself as successor before his term expires in January.
“It’s a strong possibility that Mr. Shelby, Sen. Shelby is suffering from some health issues,” Barnes said, noting that Shelby has made few campaign appearances. “Gov. Riley has been in the media quite regularly, drawing a lot of attention to himself, it appears. And I often wonder in my own mind, what’s the angle? Is he my true opponent?”
Alabama, like most states, allows a governor to appoint a replacement to a vacant Senate seat. Riley, who will leave office in January 2011, could appoint himself.
Barnes acknowledges that it has been tough to mount a serious challenge to the powerful Shelby:
It’s been difficult. . . . Word was for a long time that many didn’t know Shelby was running, let alone had a contender. . . . I didn’t have the funding to bring the public awareness to the 4.7 million citizens of Alabama, nor did I have the luxury of a $17 million war chest Richard Shelby enjoys or the media advertising that he has. So, I’ve been taking it on the road, meeting face to face with folks all over the state of Alabama.
The need to recover from the Gulf oil spill is a key issue in Barnes campaign:
Lifting the oil drilling ban is a necessity. . . . We still have a great thirst for oil. But I believe in the long term we really need to curtail that thirst for oil, we need to try to be innovative and un-tether ourselves from big oil.
This oil crisis, the Deep Horizon Well fiasco/disaster, has just been a warning shot over the bow as far as I’m concerned regarding what we need to do. As far as the damages are concerned, folks are really suffering down along the coast. It’s going to take a long, long time before the effects of that oil disaster are resolved. There is no question in my mind about that. We’re having people down there who are suddenly experiencing sicknesses that they’ve never had before, lesions, respiratory problems and so forth. And it’s of great concern to me. But it doesn’t seem to be of very much concern to Sen. Shelby or actually his counterpart, Sen. [Jeff] Sessions.
Barnes said he is concerned about the forces driving the recent gambling-related arrests in Alabama:
I’m not an elected official and I don’t have privileged information. . . . But since you ask, as an attorney, my instincts raise a lot of questions as to timing. Shelby putting the blanket hold on nominees, which prevented Obama from replacing [Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura] Canary. . . . It certainly makes me and others want to revisit, and look at the Don Siegelman case, and consider the focus on the Democrats.