By Dr. Henry C. Mabry
Much talk has swirled around Montgomery about impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley. It would be understandable if the Governor had engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors; however, this issue boils down to sordid innuendo for which the biggest of rumors may never have even happened. At least the person of interest looks more like Jennifer Flowers instead of plumpy Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones, a doppelganger for the Wicked Witch of the West.
This is not to brush off what has been reported in the press. Probably no one likes what has transpired, and most probably do not condone such activities. The families have suffered, and this is the real tragedy. What has been reported is not good and it is problematic for effective leadership; however, what has also been reported does not rise to the level of being removed from office by legislative impeachment. Maybe there is more to this, but if the Governor has really done something wrong that warrants removal from office, then federal or state prosecutors and grand juries will make such determinations. That is how it is done here and in the rest of the country. That is the accepted practice. Impeachment is not the accepted practice.
Alabama lawmakers have scratched their heads as to the mechanics of an impeachment process because it has never been done before in Alabama’s 198 years as a state. There is a reason for this even though Alabama has had its host of less than pristine governors and other office holders.
It has been noted on the Internet that 13 governors in the nation’s history have been impeached with only eight being found guilty of high crimes against the state. Since 1923, only two governors have been impeached. That is right, only two governors of the country’s 48 or 50 states since Calvin Coolidge was President have been impeached.
Both of those two governors were impeached for bribery-style allegations, and one was post indictment and one occurred just prior to federal indictment. Putting this matter further in perspective, in the past 93 years, there have been over 1,000 governors and only two of those, or one out of every 500, have been impeached. Gov. Robert Bentley has his faults, as we all do, but Gov. Robert Bentley does not deserve to be number three man etched onto such a dubious list in almost a century.
The man has not been indicted and charged with theft. The man did not give no-bid contracts to his buddies and rake money into his bank account. The man did not get paid or receive gifts for official action. This is no Gov. Evan Mecham of Arizona indicted for multiple counts regarding state business improprieties. This is no Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois found guilty of trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat.
This is about some planes, trains, and automobiles regarding a dollar-a-year woman, the likes of whom have been around since the term lobbyist was coined at the Willard Hotel in the late 1800s. And, King David might even say such operatives have been around well before this nation was created.
Yes, Governor Bentley had this woman on the state payroll, and then she migrated to the campaign payroll, and then she migrated to another payroll while she was still helping the governor. And, yes, this unpaid assistant (from a state payroll perspective) met with the governor, advised the governor, and occasionally ended up at the same place as the governor.
Presidents and governors have had “kitchen cabinets” since the creation of the Republic. President Richard Nixon had Bebe Rebozo, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton had Clark Clifford, Gov. George Wallace had Gerald Wallace and Charlie Snider, and Gov. Bob Riley had Rob and Minda Riley. Did these folks ever travel on government planes or in government vehicles? Have not campaign staffs travelled with presidents and governors? Have unpaid advisors or family members/friends had influence over governors past? We all can surmise the answers to these questions.
Who among the governor’s detractors can cast stones? This writer has been a detractor of the governor for many years; however, the process being used presumes guilt rather than seeks justice. Impeachment is just the wrong way to go, and this writer is saying it because no one else will step up to the plate and say so. Governor Bentley’s detractors calling for impeachment need to inspect their own glass houses before acting hastily.
Like Willie Stark, the protractor in All The King’s Men, said, “Jack, there’s something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.” No perfect human has lived since Jesus Christ, and na’er a one of those talking impeachment has been perfect as office holders or human beings. This is not being critical, this is just being factual.
Everybody makes mistakes, and the governor has admitted such and apologized. Granted, the governor has not handled the issue in an optimum fashion, but if one looks at the grounds for impeachment, many having been disparaging against the governor could be accused of similar real or perceived offenses.
As Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey most recently and rightfully said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” No governor in the nation has been impeached and removed from office for having a relationship outside of matrimony. Not one has been impeached and removed from office for having a relationship with an assistant. Not one has been impeached and removed from office for having an unpaid assistant travel with him. Only President Clinton was impeached (but not convicted) for “relationship” issues, but there are at least a dozen presidents having had “relationship” issues during their tenures as chief executive, including some of the most famous, and none were branded with impeachment.
In 1997, adultery was removed from the federal definition of moral turpitude, and only two people, and the Lord Himself, know if even such occurred. That, though, if true, is for the Governor and His Maker to reconcile, and not a Star Chamber committee, with its own misgivings and possible agendas, to determine. This looks like it has all of the makings of a Kenneth Starr witch hunt. If a Republican Congress did not remove President Bill Clinton, then this legislature certainly has no business removing this governor.
There has been rumbling that Governor Bentley should be removed for not telling the truth to the Alabama people. News flash, Goat Hill politicos: elected officials lie. Should those same detractors using that line be removed from office for promising voters “No new taxes,” and then voting to pass tax increases within a year of making such a misleading promise? That is for voters to decide the next time elections come around instead of by a select committee with select judgments.It is never right to mislead the electorate, and it is never right to bear false witness, but if Governor Bentley is to be held accountable for misleading voters, then other elected officials should be as well.
There is an old saying about some public officials coming to Montgomery. Once many cross the Alabama River bridge, they become invisible and bulletproof, like Superman. Those of us who have been around state government and the legislative process and swilled whiskey with the ironest of clad-chested lawmakers have seen wives, husbands, girlfriends, and boyfriends, but not always together in the same venue. Those of us who have travelled to legislative conferences have witnessed the same, along with much debauchery that would be frowned upon “back home.” If corruption, use of drugs/alcohol, and moral turpitude are the litmus test for whether an elected official should be impeached, then Governor Bentley should have much company.
The last time I checked, The Lord does not differentiate sin. Sin is sin and we are all guilty. Pointing the finger at the governor and trumping up charges when he is the maimed lonely man at the top may be fun sport for some, but impeachment is obviously over the top if 48 of the fifty states have not chosen to go the impeachment route when those states have had plenty of boneheaded, tone deaf governors over the past century.
It is obvious that Governor Bentley has made some mistakes. He should be allowed to correct his mistakes, make amends, and go about the business the voters elected him twice to do. If the people are not happy with him, then the people do not have to return him ever to office again after he leaves office.
For some, Governor Bentley should go because he has not expanded Medicaid. For others, Governor Bentley should go because he removed Confederate flags from the State Capitol grounds. These, too, are no reasons for impeachment.
We all want our leaders to be above reproach and without fault. We all are disappointed when our leaders do not meet our expectations, which are often unrealistic. Many are disappointed with the Governor for his real or perceived personal affairs, and many are disappointed with how the Governor has handled the situation. Every governor disappoints and every governor makes mistakes. This does not mean every governor should be tossed out of office just because they are human and makes mistakes.
If there has been true wrongdoing warranting removal from office, then those with the expertise and knowhow will root out such wrongdoing and such will be addressed. Impeachment is just the wrong route to take. It is the wrong route for 48 states, and it is the wrong route for Alabama.