By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
It was a nice, quiet opening week in the Alabama Legislature.
Ha. Just kidding. It was mass chaos, like usual, and right out of the gate. From the governor’s mistress weeping from her balcony seat over words she (likely) wrote, to arguments over Civil War monuments, to an only-in-Alabama Senate appointment, the 2017 Legislative Session started like all the grace of a roller derby.
So, without a further ado, here’s your weekly recap:
State of the State: Tears
As far as I know, no one has ever mentioned Robert Bentley’s name among the great orators of our time. Yet, by the time the governor had wrapped up, for no discernable reason, his second Olympics analogy in one speech – a speech given some six months after the last Olympic games – his inappropriate relationship partner, Rebekah Mason was wiping away tears. (I’ve seen the video.)
Maybe it was the vivid imagery Bentley painted at the end of his tenure as governor coming to an end. The Governor used the story of an injured and broken runner needing help from his father to drag himself across the finish line. Not sure it was tear-worthy, but the way his governorship is going, the analogy certainly fit.
Inside the speech, there wasn’t much new, other than Bentley seems to suddenly realize after six years that people shouldn’t pay a tax on food, that poor people are having trouble finding health care and that the health of students plays a role in their scholastic performance.
But the primary focus was none of that. Instead, it was prison reform, and by “reform,” Bentley meant building bigger prisons – at a cost of $800 million. Let’s raise our tattooed hands to God – only the Christian God, mind you – and pray that this money falls from the sky, because that’s the only way we’ll have it.
A Strange Appointment
Last week, during a chat with a Montgomery civic organization, I told the group that there was no chance Luther Strange wouldn’t be appointed to the US Senate this week.
That wasn’t some bit of brilliance on my part. It was simple common sense.
Strange has been investigating the Governor. The Governor wants that stopped. The Governor appoints Strange to an out-of-town job. The Governor appoints the State’s new AG. And poof, investigation gone.
Why did anyone ever believe it would happen any other way?
What, you thought an Alabama politician would put ethics and voter interests above personal gain? Did you just move here?
The question now turns to who will be Strange’s replacement in the AG’s office. A few popular names have surfaced and been repeated, but if I had to lay down money on a trifecta of candidates, I’d go in this order:
- Troy King
- David Byrne
- Cooper Shattuck
Don’t ask me why or to explain any of the picks. I have my reasons and my sources. The order could change along the way, but that’s where it stands now.
Monuments and street names. A couple of legislative committees took up bills dealing with those, under the guise of protecting Alabama’s history. In reality, the two bills – one from Rep. Kyle South and companion from Sen. Gerald Allen — served only to make it harder to rename schools and streets named in honor of the racists who pushed the South into the Civil War.
This is what we’re fighting about in Alabama in 2017. On the second day of the session.
Those bills were power grabs by the legislature – a means of taking power away from local officials and hoarding it all in Montgomery. Apparently, despite massive problems on every front, state lawmakers seem to believe that they know best – about everything.
In addition to all of that, there were bills that would limit adoptions to gay couples, because apparently some Republicans believe a parent-less child bouncing around foster care is preferable to a stable, loving, same-sex couple, despite all science disagreeing with them. But then, science, pfft, what is that?
A bill that would remove the permit requirement for concealed carry is also moving swiftly towards the floor. I’m sure it will be followed by a bill to make it easier for toddlers to carry automatic weapons.
A bill from Sen. Dick Brewbaker that would remove judicial override of jury verdicts also saw its first light. It made sense, so I’m certain it will be beaten to a pulp.
And finally, at Thursday’s contract review committee, Bentley’s favorite attorney Cooper Shattuck, the man responsible for the pay scheme that allowed Rebekah Mason to work off the books for the governor, was the subject of a brief debate about a big payday heading his way. The committee delayed approving two contracts for Shattuck totaling $325,000 for what appears to be fairly inconsequential legal work. It appears inconsequential because at the committee meeting, no one could explain why he was being hired or why he was being paid that much.
Week One, Alabama. Week one.
(EDIT: Story was updated to reflect that the contracts for Shattuck were delayed by the Contract Review Committee)