Is he in or is he out? Political observers are waiting to see whether Ala. Rep. Scott Beason will oppose Rep. Spencer Bachus in the Republican primary. Beason could announce a run Thursday morning at the GOP headquarters. He has until a Friday deadline to make up his mind.
If Beason does jump into the race, it would create an interesting match-up between two candidates with peculiar strengths and weaknesses. Bachus would have the advantages typical of an incumbent congressman. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, he would have easy access to campaign cash and already has almost $1 million on hand for a campaign. However, some of those ties to powerful Wall Street banks could make it easy for Beason to paint Bachus as a Washington insider, especially in the wake of allegations he traded on non-public information.
In a take-no-prisoners screed, Throw Them All Out, Peter Schweizer accused Bachus among others of using non-public information he had access to as a congressman to influence his personal investments. Those investments proved lucrative, reaping Bachus a return when many in the country were losing their shirts. Bachus has decried the book as an inaccurate smear piece. The CBS news magazine show, 60 Minutes, duplicated much of Schweizer’s reporting.
Meanwhile, Beason would come to the primary with challenges of his own. As the Alabama Senate sponsor of the state’s toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, HB56, Beason is a polarizing figure. While many social conservatives support the immigration law fully, many business conservatives do not. The Birmingham Business Alliance, among others, has come out against HB56, and arrests of out-of-state businessmen have called into question whether the bill negates years of marketing Alabama to international business prospects.
Also, Beason could again take the stand in the retrial of Milton McGregor and nine others on public corruption charges. Beason was supposed to be the prosecution’s star witness in the first trial last summer, but prosecutors were left scrambling after the defense revealed that, while wearing a wire, Beason had recorded himself referring to Greene County blacks as “aborigines.” Even before the cross examination of Beason, one juror asked the judge whether what the senator had done constituted entrapment. Beason later apologized for the remark, but he has not explained why he made it in the first place.
After the bingo trial ended in mistrials for most of the defendants, the Alabama Senate Republican caucus removed Beason as chair of the powerful Rules Committee, which sets the senate’s legislative agenda. Republican leaders said they were removing Beason because of the time constraints of a bingo case retrial, but other recordings Beason made while cooperating with prosecutors revealed that he was trying to undermine other Republican office holders, including Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner.
Taking the stand in the bingo retrial could help or hurt Beason, perhaps both. While the aborigines remark will come to the surface again, it will give Beason a free opportunity to portray himself as a corruption-fighter.
Also during the early days of the legislative session, Jefferson County will ask lawmakers again to replace at least some of the taxes lost when its occupational tax was ruled by the courts to have been illegal. Beason has been a staunch opponent of new Jefferson County revenue and last year killed a bill which would have authorized the county commission to reinstate part of those taxes. If Jefferson County cuts services or lays off employees, Beason could take the blame. But the occupational tax is incredibly unpopular. Beason will get some credit from conservative voters for killing it once. If he kills it twice, he could redouble that popularity.
With the Republican primary only two months out, both candidates would face a short race, which makes any prognostication difficult. Beason is certain to receive a lot of media attention — what politicos like to call “free media,” — but it will be all that more difficult for him to raise the kind of money he needs for an air campaign on Alabama airwaves. Also, his duties in the Alabama Legislature and his participation in the bingo retrial might eat into time Beason could spend going to community events and shaking hands door-to-door.
The winner of the March 13 primary would face a Democratic challenger in November.