Luther Strange and Robert Bentley show Alabama how much corruption costs
Senator Luther Strange speaks at Boy Scout Eagle Breakfast at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Thursday April 13, 2017. (Bob Gathany/bgathany@AL.com) (Bob Gathany)
Corrupt government is expensive government.
There are legal fees, of course, and the price of investigations, but the murkiest figure is the cost to public trust. How do you put a price tag on something like that?
But this time we have one, and it's going to be a nasty bill to pay -- $15 million, give or take a couple of million.
That's how much a special election for United States Senate will cost Alabama taxpayers, and no matter what some Alabama politicos say, holding an election later this year was optional.
At least until Robert Bentley and Luther Strange struck their deal.
Nearly a century ago, the Alabama Legislature wasn't careful where it put the word "forthwith" in a sentence. As a result, you can read the law for replacing a U.S. Senator two different ways.
The Grammatically Correct Interpretation holds that the governor must forthwith set a date for a special election, but not necessarily to hold an election forthwith.
This is the interpretation Gov. Robert Bentley used when he appointed Luther Strange and set a special election to be held almost two years later, in 2018. By holding the special election at the same time as the state's other elections, it wouldn't cost taxpayers any more money. Or so the argument goes.
So that's one interpretation.
The other -- let's call it the Contextually Correct Interpretation -- says that, since the rest of that section of the code talks about getting special elections done ASAP, then any messy grammar shouldn't get in the way of holding an election PDQ.
That's the interpretation Gov. Kay Ivey accepted this week when she reversed Bentley's decision, setting a series of primary elections, runoffs and general election to be held later this year.
In the end, we pay
The important point here is that the law is ambiguous enough that you can read it to mean whatever you want. But Alabama and its new governor chose the latter.
It's a matter of politics and public trust.
In short, Bentley's appointment of Strange stunk up Montgomery so bad that we now have to pay $15 million just to throw open the windows and clear the stench out.
As attorney general, Strange was overseeing an investigation of the governor at the same time he was soliciting the appointment from the governor. It's a clear conflict of interest, and to just about everybody looking from the outside in, it reeked of rotten politics.
When pushed on the matter, Strange tried to talk out both sides of this mouth, even suggesting that there never had been an investigation of the governor when, in fact, there was.
Let me be clear about something. Between the two of them, I don't think either Strange or Bentley could muster the guts to sit across a desk from the other and say, "Listen, here's how the thing is going to work ..." But in politics, that's what surrogates are for, right?
No matter if there was a quid pro quo, it is inappropriate for any prosecutor to seek a favor or thing of value from someone he's investigating. Period.
Regardless of how the appointment worked, Strange and Bentley both walked away from the deal looking like crooks.
In a better Alabama, we wouldn't have to worry about any of this, because in a better Alabama, our governor wouldn't have done anything wrong to start with and our attorney general wouldn't have anything to investigate.
In a better Alabama, we could trust our governor to make a good pick, and we could then wait patiently for the next election cycle to make a permanent replacement.
But this isn't that Alabama. Strange and Bentley were not those elected officials. And now, this Alabama will be $15 million lighter because of it.
At least now state has an AG who knows right from wrong
Don Siegelman never pulled anything this brazen
The conflicts are clear to everyone but the conflicted.
If the price is right, will Big Luther sell us out?
Bentley gave him two easy wins. Instead, he picked Door No. 3.
A US Senate appointment? This thing is golden.