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Ala. congressman to resign, setting up competitive primary

Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) will resign from Congress later this summer to take a position with the University of Alabama system, according to two Republican sources, setting up a likely competitive primary to replace him in the safe GOP seat.

Bonner’s retirement was first reported by the Mobile Press-Register.

A former House Ethics committee chairman, Bonner was first elected to Congress from the Mobile district in 2002. Bonner had worked his way up to chief of staff for his predecessor, Rep. Sonny Callahan, and was easily elected to replace him when he retired.

Bonner will step down Aug. 15 for a newly created job as vice chancellor of government relations and economic development at the University of Alabama system.

"I trust you know that serving as your congressman this past decade has truly been one of the highest honors of my life," Bonner said in a statement to constituents. 

The first district is solidly Republican, and voted 62 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012 and just 37 percent for President Obama. Bonner didn’t even face a Democratic challenger last year, and this isn’t a race the national party would look to play in.

Republican Gov. Robert Bentley has a wide purview to set the special election to replace Bonner. According to state election law, “all special elections shall be held on such day as the Governor may direct.”

A crowded GOP primary and subsequent runoff is expected. Potential candidates, according to Republican sources, could include former state Sen. Bradley Byrne, who lost the 2010 gubernatorial primary to Bentley; businessman Dean Young, who got 25% against Bonner in last year’s primary; and state Sens. Trip Pittman, Bill Hightower and Rusty Glover

Bonner said he "was not looking for another job" and that the opportunity "was both unexpected and certainly unsolicited."

"I also firmly believe there are many ways you can serve your state and nation without having your name on a ballot," Bonner continued. "That said, while I had every intention of completing this term, sometimes opportunities come along that are so rare – and so special – that it forces you to alter even your best-made plans."

In 2011, the head of government relations at Alabama made $217,016. As a congressman, Bonner makes $174,000.