MONTGOMERY CO., AL (WSFA) - Hours after the House Legislative Black Caucus passed a resolution and held a press conference, encouraging Governor Robert Bentley to be forthwith and call an election for Alabama's US Senate Seat, Governor Bentley responded.
Late Tuesday, Bentley announced dates for a special election but the controversy lies in the timeline. The debate seems to be centered around the semantics of the term 'forthwith.'
According to Bentley, a special primary election will be held on June 5, 2018. If necessary, a primary runoff date is set for July 17, 2018, and the seat will be permanently filled by a special general election on Nov. 6, 2018.
Bentley indicating in his announcement that several factors were considered when setting these dates, including compliance with federal and state statues and saving unnecessary expense on a costly separate statewide special election.
Legislative Black Caucus members say they are simply asking Governor Bentley to follow the law.
Both Democrats and Republicans say Bentley's plan to hold a special election for Jeff Sessions' seat in late 2018 violates state law, which calls for special elections to be forthwith, which means as soon as possible or immediately.
"Not only is he misinterpreting forthwith but he's also just clearly ignoring the rest of the law that prohibits the use of the general election in 2018. So it's simple, you don't need to be Matlock to figure this out, it's very basic code interpretation. If you follow the law, we need to have an election forthwith," said Rep. Chris England.
England says the statute specifically says that the only time you can use the general election is when the vacancy occurs more than 60 days or less than four months away from that general election.
England says there are two code sections that deal with the appointment of a senator and although legal issues can seemingly be confusing or complicated, this issue is crystal clear to him.
"Every part of that code section suggests, not only suggests but it demands because it uses shall, that this shall happen. So if you use forthwith, and you interpret it correctly, that means you should have this election well before the end of the year," said England.
"The Governor's role is to follow the law, all of our roles, we make the law and we're supposed to follow it. We're not supposed to arbitrarily do something because we feel as though we have the power to do it. If laws were not important, then we wouldn't make them," said Representative Mary Moore.
Secretary of State John Merrill says the decision is strictly up to Bentley and only a court case could force a date change.