By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
What are we to make of the fact that Alabama ranks in the top ten for being one of the most religious states, as well as being near the top in public corruption?
Alabama State government is like a sanctuary city for moral turpitude, a safe haven where the guilty are free from punishment; as long as you are in public office.
Mike Hubbard has been indicted on 23 felony counts of public corruption, but he still sits as Speaker of the House.
Sen. Tom Whatley was arrested after Auburn police witnessed him beating his girlfriend, but the charges were dropped.
Rep. Barry Moore was reelected after being charged with lying to a Grand Jury. He was later acquitted.
Sen. Cam Ward was arrested for a DUI, even admitting that he was over double the legal alcohol limit in the middle of the day, and yet, he will keep all of his committee chairmanships.
This is not to say that there should not be forgiveness, or that an appearance of wrong doing should always be harshly punished. But, if there are no negative consequences for one class and sometimes harsh consequences for another, it is a threat to everyone’s liberty and equality.
Today, our State officials are treated like little princes, especially if they are Republican.
Politicians ask for us to give them the power to represent us. They asked that we trust them to make decisions that affect our money, property, our liberty and happiness.
All members of the legislature, and all officers, executive and judicial make they following oath, “I, …, solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Alabama, so long as I continue a citizen thereof; and that I will faithfully and honestly discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter, to the best of my ability. So help me God.”
In exchange for the authority to represent us in all matters before our government they have promised to act responsibly on our behalf, following the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Alabama, to the best of their ability. When they fall short we have a right to hold them accountable to a higher standard because they have broken trust with us. But this is not the case with this current political class. There is a lack honor among some of our lawmakers, yet this is an especially vital element for those in public service.
Our country was founded by men who deemed honor a virtue, which meant freedom from corruption, and a devotion to public service. The Declaration of Independence concludes with these words: “We pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
They did not say their lives or fortunes were sacred, only their honor.
The West Point Cadet Honor Code is a simple, but powerful:
“A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
It would seem that our State government no longer follows a code of honor. And, if they still have one, it’s safe to assume that they do not understand what a code of honor means. This atmosphere, which is so lacking in personal integrity, is what has allowed public corruption to be tolerated and to thrive.
Former Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been quoted as saying,
“Undoubtedly, the most harmful consequence of endemic, public corruption in a community, is the apathy that it engenders – the culture of acceptance.”
Recently, Hubbard’s legal team signaled it will challenge the constitutionality of the State’s ethics laws, championed not only by Hubbard, but the entire Republican supermajority, and its party heads.
After learning that Hubbard will seek to have these ethics laws declared unconstitutional, I reached out to a number of lawmakers, and asked this question:
“Do you think the ethics laws passed in the 2010 Special Session were unconstitutional? Of those who replied, two answers distill the gamut of responses.
Sen. Jim McClendon (R-Springville), who, as a State Representative in 2010, helped shepherd the ethics laws through the Special Session, wrote in his reply, “For the record: I believe the procedure was exactly as prescribed by the Rules, and every bill will pass/survive judicial muster.”
Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), who has taken up the cause of ethics, and campaign finance reform, would say the following: “We have to see the specific arguments being made as to unconstitutionality.”
In 2004, the National Bureau of Economic Research commissioned studies on public corruption. In a working paper on Corruption in America, Edward L. Glaeser and Raven E. Saks found, using empirical data that, “More educated states, and to a less degree, richer states, have less corruption.” Looking at federal corruption convictions they found, “There is no empirical link between bigger government, or more regulation, and more corruption.”
Perhaps this is a chicken-and-egg situation. Alabama ranks high in poverty, and low in education. But, is this a result of public corruption, and not why corruption is rampant and tolerated?
Republicans who promised to clean-up the culture of corruption in Montgomery, now ignore it because members of their team are the ones accused of breaking the law. This is not simply apathy or the culture of acceptance, it is a willful disregard of facts in favor of faction.
Those who put the Republican Party before principle don’t deserve the badge of Republican, or to be labeled principled.
Perhaps, in their defense, they just do not understand what public corruption actually is?
Then, let me speak plainly: public corruption is when a public official breaks the rules.
If the rules says you can’t be paid to place 23 words in the Medicaid budget, and that you can’t vote on bills that personally profit you. When that occurs, the rules have been broken. When the perpetrator of such an act is indicted, it’s not political, they broke the rules. If the rules say you can’t beat your partner, drink and drive, or except lavish perks from lobbyists, then, when you break those rules, there should be consequence.
Where is the public shame that springs from personal honor?
In Montgomery, the rules are seen as malleable, honor subjugated to gain. In the Capitol, rules are easily twisted to gain advantage or to please a particular patron. The rules are also bent to control and consolidate power. We see this all too often, but frequency of abuse doesn’t make it right or acceptable.
Politicians should be held to a higher standard, because they have been elected to represent us. When they act, they act in our name.
Many in our State government proudly proclaim their Christian faith, and we have thousands of laws to make us keep the Ten Commandments. However, when is comes to our politicos, we offer a sanctuary for moral failings.
Of all the aforementioned politicos, only Ward has had the personal integrity to acknowledge his transgression and say he was sorry.
The rest… silence speaks of their honor.