Gov. Robert Bentley appointed former Secretary of State Jim Bennett to return as the state’s chief election official to serve the remaining 17 months of Beth Chapman’s term after she steps down at the end of the month.
Chapman, who is stepping down to work in political consulting for the Alabama Farmers Federation and other organizations, is resigning July 31.
Bennett, who served as labor commissioner under Gov. Bob Riley and for Bentley until that department was consolidated with the Department of Industrial Relations in 2012, was appointed secretary of state in 1993 and was elected in 1994 and 1998. He had registered as a lobbyist and worked for, among others, the city of Irondale after leaving the administration, according to the Alabama Ethics Commission.Bennett, who is chairman of the Jacksonville State University Board of Trustees, will serve until the 2014 election and will not run for the office, according to Bentley’s office.
Chapman was elected to two consecutive terms as secretary of state and, because of state law, could not be elected to a third consecutive term.
Bentley had said he would not appoint one of the three announced Republican candidates for the position and obviously decided not to appoint any members of Chapman’s longtime staff, who have worked with her on implementing military voting and on updating technology and disclosure in the office.
“Jim certainly has the experience and will do a good job in that office,” Chapman said.
Chapman said she talked to Bennett as soon as the governor informed her about the appointment and said she has a meeting set up with Bennett on Wednesday.
“We will be very quick on bringing him up to speed and updating him on all the changes that have occurred,” Chapman said when asked about changes in the office since Bennett’s last term ended a decade ago.
When asked if she would have preferred Bentley appoint a top member of her staff who has worked on those issues with her since she took office in 2007, Chapman said as a former appointments secretary for a governor she understands and appreciates the appointments process.
“That was the governor’s decision,” she said.
Bentley said in a statement that Bennett was a trusted member of his cabinet until his retirement.
“Having previously served as secretary of state, Jim is uniquely qualified to lead the secretary of state’s office through the 2014 election cycle,” the governor said.
Bennett said “It is a distinct honor to return to the secretary of state’s office.”
“I appreciate Governor Bentley’s confidence in my ability to continue to lead the effort for honest elections and to support the opportunity for all citizens to actively participate in government through the voting process,” Bennett said. “This is especially important with the 2014 election cycle a short time ahead. To those who would seek to manipulate our most basic right to decide issues and elections fairly and honestly at the ballot box, my appointment will not come as good news.”
Bennett has served in state government for more than 30 years as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives from 1978 to 1983 and a member of the state Senate from 1983 to 1993. Riley first appointed him labor commissioner in 2003. Bentley reappointed him when he took office in January 2011.
Bennett served as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State from 1999 to 2000.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen