- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Thursday that he is nearing a decision on a replacement for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for U.S. attorney general.

Bentley told reporters in Mobile that he expects to make a decision by the end of this week. But the governor said he won’t reveal his choice until Sessions resigns his seat to become attorney general under President-elect Donald Trump.

“In my mind, I will have that decision made by the end of this week. I will not announce it,” Bentley said. “I do want to put the one that I choose in place very quickly because there are some very important votes coming up.”

The governor said he intends to keep the appointment under wraps - even from the person he chooses - until Sessions has resigned and Bentley is ready to make the announcement.

Confirmation hearings for Sessions begin next week.

Bentley will name an interim replacement for Sessions until an election - which Bentley said will occur in 2018 - is held to fill the seat until Sessions’ term ends in January of 2021.

Bentley has interviewed 20 people as a potential replacement for Sessions. A spokeswoman said Thursday that Bentley won’t interview anyone else.

Some of the state’s most prominent political figures in the state are vying for the coveted appointment.

The list so far is composed entirely of Republican office holders, former Republican candidates and two of Bentley’s cabinet members, but they constitute different ideologies within the GOP. Those who have interviewed for the job include, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore, four of Alabama’s congressional representatives and Jim Byard, Bentley’s director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The governor said Thursday that the election for the seat will be held during the statewide election in 2018, instead of holding a special election this year. The governor said that will avoid the cost of a special election - which his office estimated at $6 million- and guarantee higher voter participation.

When the election should be held had been a question of debate. The century-old state law on Senate vacancies says that if the vacancy occurs more than four months before a general election, the governor of Alabama shall “forthwith order an election” but does not specify a time frame beyond “forthwith.”

The 20 people who have been interviewed by Bentley are:

-Attorney General Luther Strange

-Suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore

-U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt

-U.S. Rep. Martha Roby

-U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer

-U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks

-Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh

-Supreme Court Associate Justice Glenn Murdock

-Businessman Tim James

-State Sen. Greg Reed of Jasper

-Sen. Phil Williams of Rainbow City

-Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur

-Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster

- Sen. Bill Hightower of Mobile

- Sen. Trip Pittman of Montrose

-Rep. Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa

-Rep. Connie Rowe of Jasper

-Trump state campaign chairman and former legislator Perry Hooper of Montgomery

-Revenue Commissioner Julie P. Magee

- Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Jim Byard.

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