By Bernie Woodall
(Reuters) - Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Tuesday moved up to December the election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions after he was named attorney general, saying that the original plan to hold the election in late 2018 was not soon enough to meet state law.
Ivey last week replaced fellow Republican Robert Bentley as governor after he resigned amid impeachment proceedings in the legislature.
Bentley had appointed Republican Luther Strange in February to fill the seat Sessions held before joining President Donald Trump's cabinet. Citing concerns about the cost of a special election, Bentley opted to wait until the 2018 general election for voters to elect Sessions' replacement.
The state's new governor said Alabama law required a speedier timetable. The primary election will now be held on Aug. 15 and the general vote will be on Dec. 12, Ivey's office said.
“I promised to steady our ship of state. This means following the law, which clearly states the people should vote for a replacement U.S. senator as soon as possible,” Ivey said in an emailed statement.
"Following the law trumps the expense of a special election," she said.
Strange, who was previously Alabama's attorney general, said he would have run for the Senate seat even if he had not been appointed by Bentley.
“As I’ve said for months, I’m a candidate and I’m ready to run whether the election is next month or next year," Strange said in an emailed statement.
The new date pleased Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Republican who filed suit against Bentley last month seeking to force a quicker special election.
Zeigler told Reuters he considered Bentley's appointment of Strange "questionable." As Alabama's attorney general, Strange in November had put a hold on the state legislature's impeachment proceedings against Bentley.
"We need a people-elected senator, not a senator appointed by a failed, disgraced former governor," Zeigler said.
In his statement, Strange said he agreed that the people of Alabama should decide who represents them in the U.S. Senate.
In an interview with local media last week, after Bentley resigned, Strange said he had asked the legislature to put the impeachment process on hold last November before the presidential election because his office was conducting an investigation of Bentley similar to the legislators' efforts.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Leslie Adler)