By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
State Representative Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) has joined State Auditor Jim Zeigler’s call to restart the halted impeachment of embattled Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.
“I believe the committee needs to restart its work and resolve this issue already,” Beckman told Inside Alabama Politics. “I feel like the Governor, possibly with help from the attorney general, is trying to run out the clock on this thing.”
Rather than deal with impeachment during the 2016 Regular Legislative Session, the Alabama House of Representatives delayed and postponed any action on determining whether or not Bentley had conducted himself in a criminal, unethical or incompetent matter until the end of the Regular Session. The House then tasked the House Judiciary Committee with giving a recommendation on whether or not the full House should act to impeach Bentley.
The committee has not held any hearings to consider evidence on the matter, making it increasingly unlikely that it will be in any position to make that recommendation when the Regular Session begins on February 7.
Zeigler has been a vocal critic of Bentley’s policies and conduct during this second term and has both formally and publicly requested that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), restart the investigation. Zeigler has gone so far as to refer to the delay “an obstruction” by Attorney General Luther Strange.
“It is obvious that the session will start without a report from your committee on impeachment,” Zeigler wrote to Jones. “That failure was caused by the obstruction of the impeachment investigation by Attorney General Luther Strange… The only way that obstruction can be corrected is for this committee to restart the impeachment proceedings.”
Impeachment would not automatically remove Gov. Bentley from office, and it is not the job of the House to determine whether or not a public official is guilty. Instead, if the House votes to impeach an official, the State Senate would then hold a formal trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to determine guilt or innocence. The senate cannot act, however, unless the House brings impeachment charges.
Last year, when Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was under indictment for 23 counts of felony ethics violations, the House did nothing. During the first “bingogate” trial, two sitting state senators were under federal indictment and stood trial on bribery charges, but the House never acted. Former Governor Guy Hunt (R) was put on trial during his second term and found guilty of misusing funds raised to pay for his second inauguration, and still the House did not bring charges of impeachment. In fact, the House has not actually impeached an official in over 100 years.
On November 3, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange requested that the Judiciary committee pause their proceedings, as his office had “necessary related work” to complete. Over two months have passed since Strange’s statement, and there has been no word about the case from either his office or the parallel federal investigation, nor the special prosecutor appointed by the Obama Justice Department.
Strange was recently interviewed by Bentley as a candidate to replace US Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) if he is confirmed as US Attorney General. Some have suggested that Strange has a conflict of interest in investigating a Governor who is considering appointing him to higher office. Strange has already announced that he will run for Sessions’ seat in the next election, whether Bentley appoints him or not.
“If the Attorney General is not conducting an active criminal investigation,” Beckman said, “then I believe the committee needs to restart its work and resolve this issue already.”