Posted: Friday, March 25, 2016 12:05 am
Republicans stormed Montgomery in 2010, and it seemed an overdue siege. Democrats had held legislative power for 136 years, and the lack of relevant opposition had left them more accountable to special interests and old money than to the people. It was billed as more than just a partisan shift. Item 1 on the agenda was ethics reform. This new breed of politicians wasn’t just about family values, but about transparency and rigorous financial honesty. These were idealists, convinced that lean, accountable government would make Alabama a model for the nation’s conservative revolution.
By retaining the governorship and taking the Legislature, the GOP would be unimpeded by Democrats who had become synonymous with back-room deals and moral failings that increasingly brought embarrassment to Alabamians. Even skeptics figured the GOP couldn’t do worse.
But in just seven years, the GOP leaders have managed to confound both their fans and their skeptics.
The latest example, of course, is the most lurid. Whether physical or not, Gov. Robert Bentley, while married, had an inappropriate relationship with a married woman. It’s a relationship that makes a mockery of his endless harping on family values. It also raises serious questions about the influence his senior political adviser had on state policy and on state expenses.
It’s a lapse with repercussions that did not end two years ago, when Bentley claims his non-physical mistake began and ended. He since has fired one chief of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and hired another, and legitimate questions have been raised on whether both decisions had more to do with covering up his mistake than with making sure the best possible person is managing one of the state’s most important agencies.
While recordings of Bentley phone conversations generate public interest, more serious ethical lapses are suggested by exhibits filed in the prosecution of House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Whether or not Hubbard’s actions support the 23-county felony indictment, they show a revolting overlap between power bestowed by the people and the pursuit of personal riches. By pandering to the state’s wealthiest, he answered the question of why the Legislature — whether run by Republicans or Democrats — has been unwilling to implement the equitable taxation that would tap the rich rather than the poor and middle class. It is this form of low-level, usually legal corruption that has left Alabama incapable of generating the revenue necessary to competently operate the state.
It’s commonplace to say the people of Alabama deserve better, but do we? After all, we elected and re-elected these officials.
One thing is certain, though. We need better. Until we have ethical, bipartisan leadership in Montgomery, the humiliation will continue.