Scandals are a fact of life in Alabama politics. And while our state doesn’t have a monopoly on government corruption, the expanding list of scandals in recent years has left indelible black marks that have soured the political reputation of the “Sweet Home” state.
Three of the state’s high-profile scandals have involved the governor’s office.
Alabama has had two governors since the 1990s – Republican Guy Hunt and Democrat Don Siegelman – involved in criminal convictions. Hunt was forced to resign in 1993 after being found guilty of using funds inappropriately. Siegelman, elected to a single term in 1999, was convicted of bribery in 2009 and sentenced in 2012 to almost seven years in federal prison.
The most recent gubernatorial embarrassment centered on scandal involving inappropriate remarks between Robert Bentley and his top political aide, Rebekah Mason. Bentley resigned in April of this year, about a year after details of the relationships first surfaced.
The latest legislative political black-eye involves former House Majority Leader Micky Hammon.
Last month, Hammon, R-Decatur, pleaded guilty to felony mail fraud charges involving ethics violations for misuse of campaign contributions. He was removed from office.
Hammon was the second high-ranking member of the Alabama House of Representatives to come under scrutiny in the past 15 months.
Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard was found guilty in June 2016 of violating 12 ethics charges and was removed from office.
Also in 2016, Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended from the bench for multiple ethics code violations, including telling probate judges to defy federal orders regarding gay marriage.
These high-profile cases were just the tip of the corruption iceberg that has sent a chill through Alabama government in recent years.
In 2011, a lobbyist, a casino developer and a state representative pleaded guilty in a case that alleged legislators were bribed to vote for a bill to legalize electronic bingo. Four legislators were found not guilty after a federal trial.
And between 2009 and 2012, an investigation into corruption in the state’s two-year college system netted more than a dozen guilty pleas and convictions, including three legislators, the college chancellor and other state officials.
Given all of the above, it’s no surprise that in 2015, the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity gave Alabama a D-plus rating in its State Integrity Investigation, an assessment of accountability and transparency in state government.
Leadership at the state level in Alabama remains at a crossroads. Our lawmakers and state leaders need to understand their constituents expect better from their elected representatives.
We need visionaries who can analyze the state’s growing list of financial problems, and find real solutions. We need government leaders committed to ethical principles — not profiting from the system.
Alabama needs some true statesmen, politicians who genuinely believe that public service, not personal benefit, matters the most.