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State Senate votes down term limits for state lawmakers

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama State Senate on Wednesday voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have imposed term limits on Alabama state legislators.

Senate Bill 127 was sponsored by Senator Bill Hightower, R-Mobile.

Under SB127 legislators would have been limited to just three 4 year terms in both the Alabama House of Representatives and Alabama Senate.

Polls indicate that most Americans support term limits; however, most incumbents win their party primaries even after decades in office.

Hightower has been a vocal proponent of term limits in his time in the Alabama Senate. Hightower is a 2018 Republican candidate for governor and he has made term limits part of his campaign.

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Most statewide constitutional offices are already term-limited but the Legislature is not.  Congressional term limits are very popular polls, but have been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Efforts to advance a congressional term limits measure in the Congress have been unsuccessful.  A 2013 Gallup poll showed 75 percent of Americans supportive of congressional term limits with only 21 percent opposed.

“We will not stop until we end the old boys’ network that is stopping real change!” Hightower said. “We will never change Montgomery if we continue to elect the same insiders, and that is why I am running for Governor, to shake up the establishment and bring positive change to Alabama.  As Governor, we will continue to push for term limits and many other reforms that the career politicians know will end their grip on power.”

The average tenure of those who opposed Hightower’s legislation was 12.3 years, more than the 12-year limit included in SB 127. Five of the Senators who opposed SB 127 have served over 20 years in the Alabama State Senate.

The longest-serving legislator is Rules Committee Chairman Senator James Waggoner, R-Vestavia. Waggoner served in the Alabama House of Representatives from 1966 to 1983, and then ran for Congress unsuccessfully. Waggoner has served in the State Senate since 1990 and is seeking another term this year. State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, was first elected in 1974. Rep. Holmes is also seeking another term in office.

SB127 was rejected on a 9-15 vote.  While this issue has been introduced several times, this was the first time that it actually received a vote on the floor by the Legislature.

If actually passed, SB127 would still have had to be on the ballot to be voted on by the people.

Critics of term limits suggest that Legislatures will be adversely affected without members have the institutional knowledge that a member gets by being in the same legislative body for decades.

The 2018 major party primaries are on June 5.

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Roberson and Gilbert both found guilty of federal corruption charges

Brandon Moseley

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Friday a federal jury today convicted prominent Birmingham attorney  Joel Iverson Gilbert and Drummond Coal executive David Lynn Roberson in a scheme to bribe a state legislator to use his office to lead efforts opposing proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions in north Birmingham.

The convictions in the federal corruption trial were announced by U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town, FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman.

The jury returned its verdicts after deliberating about 12 hours following more than three weeks of testimony before U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon. The jury found that Balch & Bingham partner Gilbert, age 67, and Drummond Company Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs Roberson, age 46, guilty of bribing then Alabama state Representative Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) to advocate for their employers’ opposition to EPA’s prioritization or expansion of the north Birmingham Superfund site. The indictment claims that the bribe came in the form of a lucrative consulting contract that paid Robinson $360,000 through his Oliver Robinson Foundation, a non-profit organization, between 2015 and 2016.
Drummond Company was a client of the Birmingham-based Balch & Bingham law firm.

The jury found Gilbert and Roberson guilty of bribery, honest services wire fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.

Rep. Robinson pleaded guilty in September to the conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and tax evasion.

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“This case was not about the EPA,” Town said. “This case was not about pollution. This was a case about greed at the expense of too many.  The findings of guilt for these three individuals, by trial or plea, should forewarn anyone who would be corruptly motivated to act in similar unlawful interest. Voters deserve public officials who seek to represent them honestly and fairly. When elected officials, corporate executives or their lawyers violate our federal laws, they should expect to suffer the fate of these three guilty defendants. We appreciate the dedication of the federal agencies that worked tirelessly on this case.”

“Public corruption continues to be the top criminal priority for the FBI and those who violate the public’s trust must be held accountable,” Sharp said. “As long as corruption and greed exists, the FBI will work to bring them to the bar of justice.”

EPA had designated an area of north Birmingham, including the neighborhoods of Harriman Park, Fairmont and Collegeville, as a Superfund site after finding elevated levels of arsenic, lead and benzo(a)pyrene during soil sampling. In September 2013, EPA notified five companies, including Drummond-owned ABC Coke, that they could potentially be responsible for the pollution. Such a finding could have cost the company tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs and fines.

EPA also proposed expanding the size of the Superfund site to include Tarrant and Inglenook.

In September 2014, EPA proposed adding the site, designated the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, to its National Priorities List, signaling that it required priority attention. Placement on the priorities list would have allowed EPA to use the federal Superfund Trust Fund to conduct long-term cleanup at the site, provided the State of Alabama agreed to pay 10 percent of the costs.

Roberson and Gilbert found powerful allies from both political parties in opposing EPA’s plans.

According to evidence at trial, Gilbert and Roberson were intent on protecting ABC Coke and Drummond from the tremendous potential costs associated with being held responsible for pollution in the 35th Avenue site. As part of their strategy to accomplish that goal, they began working to prevent expansion of the site or its placement on EPA’s priority list.

The defendants hired Robinson, whose legislative district adjoined the Superfund site, to persuade north Birmingham residents and governmental agencies to oppose EPA’s actions. According to documents and testimony, Balch made the payments to Robinson’s foundation, and then invoiced Drummond or the Alliance for Jobs and Economy, a tax-exempt organization whose account the defendant controlled, for reimbursement. At Gilbert’s and Roberson’s request, the invoices Balch sent to Drummond and to AJE were scrubbed of any reference to the Oliver Robinson Foundation.

One of Robinson’s first tasks was to appear before the Alabama Environmental Management Commission (AEMC) and the director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) in February 2015 to advance the opposition to EPA’s plan. Robinson urged the AEMC to “narrow the list” of parties potentially responsible for the pollution in north Birmingham and argued that the Superfund designation or placement of the NPL could harm property values of residents in the area.

Robinson went before the AEMC as a state legislator and concealed from its members that Balch & Bingham and Drummond were paying him to represent their interests, according to testimony and other evidence.  Rep. Robinson also failed to inform EPA officials in an earlier meeting that he was working for Drummond and Balch & Bingham. Gilbert provided Robinson with talking points for that meeting, which Robinson secretly recorded and then provided the recording to Gilbert, according to testimony.

Evidence also showed that, in June 2015, Robinson voted, as a member of the Alabama House Rules Committee, to send to the floor an anti-EPA resolution that Gilbert had drafted. Gilbert prepared the resolution for the Alabama legislature knowing that Robinson would have a vote on it, at a time when Robinson’s foundation was working on a retainer contract with Balch.

The case against a fourth defendant, Balch & Bingham attorney Steve McKinney was dismissed by Judge Kallon.

The jury found Roberson guilty even though Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and Birmingham businessman George Barber testified as character witnesses for the Drummond executive.

The decades old industrial pollution in the area was discovered by environmentalist with GASP.  GASP has been advocating for the residents of the area, many who claim that their health ailments are related to the pollution in the air and the soil.  GASP brought these concerns to the EPA who agreed.  Their advocacy however has largely fallen on deaf ears with state of Alabama officials.

GASP Executive Director Michael Hanson told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Today was a great day for the people of north Birmingham and all of Alabama. It is rare that corruption is held to account, and it’s even more rare that those who do the corrupting are held accountable. And while we are thrilled about the fact that justice was upheld for the people of north Birmingham, we are cognizant of the fact that this is not the end, but rather a beginning.”

According to testimony from the trial, then Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange (R) then Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R), Senate Rule Committee Chair Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia), other Balch & Bingham attorneys and partners, other Drummond executives, other area companies that donated to the Robinson charity, Birmingham head of the NAACP Hezekiah Jackson, and overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both Houses of the Alabama legislature were all involved with the three conspirators here in a greater effort to block EPA’s plans for the north Birmingham area, which tests high for the pollutants.  The political effort to limit EPA’s actions in North Birmingham, which has been widely reported on in the media, was not on trial here.

Town told APR that there was no wider criminal conspiracy and that only Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney (who has since been dismissed from this case) had any knowledge of the actual corruption conspiracy with Rep. Robinson and that even other partners at Balch & Bingham and the other executives at Drummond had no knowledge of that criminal conspiracy.  No further indictments are expected.

Robinson resigned from the legislature in 2016, citing a conflict of interest created by his daughter being hired by Gov. Bentley to advance the governor’s legislative agenda.  Robinson pled guilty in 2017 and agreed to work with federal prosecutors.  His testimony in this trial was critical in implicating Roberson and Gilbert.

Judge Kallon will set a date for Roberson and Gilbert’s sentencing.  At Roberson’s advanced age, he could potentially spend the rest of his life in prison.

GASP has pending civil litigation and the EPA is likely to also take administrative action based on Friday’s convictions.

The 35th Avenue Superfund site still has not been prioritized.

Hash Tags: Abdul Kallon, EPA, Joel Gilbert, GASP, Michael Hanson,  David Roberson, Oliver Robinson, superfund site, Steve McKinney, U.S. Attorney, 35th Avenue, pollution, Drummond Coal, ABC Coke, ADEM, Jay Town, Johnnie Sharp, bribery, corruption, money laundering

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Elections

Secretary of State’s Office begins voter fraud investigation in Wilcox and Perry Counties

Brandon Moseley

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Turnout in Tuesday’s primary runoff was just 12.7 percent across the state. That percentage, however, varied wildly across the state.

Many Democrats did not vote as there were not any statewide Democratic runoffs. Understandably then, the counties with the worst voter participation rates were Democratic dominated Black Belt Counties. Choctaw County was the worst in the state with an incredibly low .59 percent. It was followed by Hale with 1.53 percent. Third worst was Sumter with 1.6 percent followed by Bullock with 2.8 percent.

The Blackbelt had the worst voter turnout; but it also recorded by far the highest turnouts in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The Wilcox County probate judge’s race was apparently so exciting that 44.1 percent of voters turned out despite the heat and no statewide Democratic races.

Wilcox County has 11,058 people. 1,631 of those are under 18. There are only 9,423 voting age persons in the county, but an impressive 9,383 of them are registered voters. That is almost an impossible 99.59 percent voter registration rate. An incredible 4,167 of those voters made time in their day to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s runoff. 4,061 of those voted in the Wilcox County probate judge race, between Democrats Chris Stone and Britney Jones-Alexander. Alexander won the contest. The 44.41 percent voter turnout for the poor Black Belt county was three and a half times the state average.

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Perry County had a 36.35 percent turnout and they were followed by Dallas at 35.43 percent and Greene at 34.08 percent.

The Secretary of State’s office has some suspicions about the success of some of these rural community organizers ability to turn out their votes. Secretary of State John Merrill has launched an investigation into Wilcox and Perry Counties because the number of absentee ballots appears to be unbelievably high.

Sec. Merrill told the Alabama Media Group’s John Sharp that his office is “looking into to prospects of absentee broker operations, in which campaign workers or people with an unknown organization, exchange gifts or cash for absentee ballots.”

Secretary Merrill has said that he wants to make it easy to vote; but hard to cheat.

Below are voter participation rates for all 67 counties:
Wilcox – 44.41%
Perry – 36.35%
Dallas – 35.43%
Greene – 34.08%
Covington – 31.32%
Marion – 27.85%
Fayette – 27.71%
Lamar – 26.19%
Lowndes – 25.47%
Walker – 25.01%
Clay – 24.12%
Coosa – 23.8%
Macon – 21.95%
Crenshaw – 21.09%
Blount – 20.77%
Elmore – 18.92%
Geneva – 18.73%
Marshall – 18.72%
Chilton – 18.08%
Coffee – 18.07%
Autauga – 17.39%
Montgomery – 17.34%
Bibb – 17.02%
Pike – 16.61%
Tallapoosa – 16.42%
Henry – 16.4%
Dale – 15.67%
Baldwin – 15.57%
Houston – 15.03%
Jackson – 14.33%
Limestone – 13.16%
Jefferson – 12.6%
Winston – 12.27%
De Kalb – 11.68%
Chambers – 11.23%
Pickens – 11.18%
Cullman – 11.03%
Shelby – 10.99%
Colbert – 10.79%
Etowah – 10.77%
Franklin – 10.73%
Talladega – 10.3%
Calhoun – 10.22%
St. Clair – 10.08%
Butler – 9.97%
Cleburne – 9.72%
Mobile – 9.49%
Randolph – 9.44%
Lee – 9.41%
Morgan – 9.07%
Barbour – 8.45%
Cherokee – 8.45%
Marengo – 8.01%
Clarke – 7.79%
Madison – 7.66%
Lawrence – 7.43%
Escambia – 7.24%
Lauderdale – 6.88%
Washington – 6.7%
Monroe – 6.46%
Tuscaloosa – 5.94%
Russell – 4.95%
Conecuh – 3.68%
Bullock – 2.8%
Sumter – 1.6%
Hale – 1.53%
Choctaw – 0.59%

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Opinion | What in the world happened to Robert Bentley?

Josh Moon

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Being governor is hard.

It’s a tough, gruelling job that requires 24-hour attention and results in long, long days for the man or woman who holds the position. Such a job can wear on a person, grinding them down physically and mentally.

And if you doubt the negative effects that such a job can have on the mental stability of a person, consider former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Because somewhere between his first inauguration in 2011 and his stunning forced resignation in 2016, Bentley lost his mind.

And it’s still gone today.

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In a recent deposition in a wrongful termination civil suit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley provided some of the weirdest, most perplexing answers.

Like, for example, on the topic of his wife of 50 years, Dianne, discovering his relationship with his staffer, Rebekah Mason, Bentley was asked if Dianne found the relationship inappropriate.

“I’m sure that she did,” he responded.

“Do you consider the relationship inappropriate?” Bentley was asked by Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn.

“No,” the former governor said flatly.

Um, say what?

That also seemed to be the general reaction in the deposition room to this answer. Because Mendelsohn immediately followed up with questions about Bentley’s multiple press conferences in 2016, during which he spoke of his “inappropriate relationship” with Mason.

I know this to be true because I attended all of those press conferences. I heard him say these things, express remorse for his actions, apologize to his family.

As a matter of fact, that he ONLY had an inappropriate relationship — and not a sexual relationship — with Mason was his entire defense at those press conferences.  

By the way, he’s held on to that “we didn’t have sexual intercourse” claim, too. Doubled and tripled down on it during this deposition, claiming there was a lot of touching and kissing but no sex.

No intercourse. No oral sex.

But really, I’m just not sure how much faith we can put in the former governor’s statements about his relationship with Mason. And I say that because of one specific exchange between Bentley and Mendelsohn. One exchange that is so unbelievable, so off-the-wall bonkers that you have to wonder if Bentley has wandered into space cadet territory.

That exchange comes after his astounding assertion that the relationship with Mason — who now works for him, making $5,000 per month at his dermatology practice — wasn’t inappropriate.

Mendelsohn asks Bentley why — if the relationship with Mason wasn’t inappropriate — did Bentley hold multiple press conferences to apologize.

Bentley says he doesn’t know.

No. Not that he doesn’t recall why he did it. But he literally doesn’t know why he was apologizing.

“At that time, I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, because I didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Bentley insists. “You know, I apologized for inappropriate things that I may have said, but at that time I didn’t know what those things were. If I had to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have had a press conference that day.”

Bentley insists repeatedly that when he apologized during a press conference — a press conference specifically called to refute claims made by Collier, who had held his own press conference a few hours earlier — he had no idea why he was talking. He had never heard the tapes, Bentley says, of him describing how he loves to walk up behind Mason and put his hands on her breasts.

According Bentley, he didn’t watch Collier’s press conference. No one told him what was said.

He just grabbed a prepared statement and started talking.

Ohhhhh, and if you think that’s some insanity, try this on: Bentley claims he wasn’t sure it was Mason who was on the other end of those calls Diane Bentley secretly recorded.

“I’m not denying it was her, I’m just saying there’s no concrete evidence that it was her,” Bentley said. “But most likely it was.”

Mendelsohn, obviously flabbergasted by this, asks the obvious: “As we sit here today, I’m asking you, was it her?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember the tapes.”

Mendelsohn: “Is there anybody else that you would have been talking to about holding their breasts and pulling them up close to you, like what’s in the tapes?”

Bentley: “I don’t remember the tapes. I don’t remember doing what it says on the tapes.”

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about that.

But I can say this. When he was the upset winner in 2010 and became governor, Robert Bentley had a lot of people who believed in him, a lot of people who thought he was a good and decent guy who would try to do a good job.

Those same people have no idea what happened to that man.

And judging by this deposition, he’s still lost.

 

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State Senate votes down term limits for state lawmakers

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 2 min
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