By Minority Leader Craig Ford
I’m not a lawyer, but I believe it’s important for those of us calling for the governor’s impeachment to make our case to the public and the legislature.
The first point being that the governor doesn’t have to break the law to be impeached. Impeachment is about whether he is fit to continue in office, regardless of whether he broke the law. The questions we have to answer are: Can the governor still govern effectively? Has he damaged the state to the point that removing him from office is the only responsible solution?
The governor has lost the trust of the people. Gov. Bentley campaigned on a pledge of no new taxes, then turned around and raised taxes. He told the legislature that he would not call us into special session last year until August, but he called us back in June before any solution to the budget crisis had been reached. He called it “using the element of surprise,” but that decision was costly. It cost the taxpayers more than $400,000 for a special session that accomplished nothing, and it cost the governor his credibility and Legislators’ trust.
Let’s not forget that for months the governor denied having an inappropriate relationship with Rebekah Mason before finally admitting it; he claimed the relationship was not “physical,” but the audio recordings clearly refer to physical acts that had taken place. If that wasn’t enough, his allegations against Spencer Collier have been proven false by an independent audit from the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, and the governor’s spokesperson admitted the governor never even saw the report he claimed showed financial mismanagement.
The governor has lost his credibility, and you cannot govern when no one—not the taxpayers and not legislators—can believe you.
Is the damage so bad that removing the governor is the only reasonable solution? I believe it is.
Our state is mired in the image of corruption with Gov. Bentley at the center of that image. He has embarrassed us in the national media, damaging our ability to compete for business and jobs. The only way we can move past this negative image and regain the trust of the people, the legislature and the business community is to send a message by removing the governor from office.
Now let’s look at the articles of impeachment.
The first article cites “Willful neglect of duty.” We can start with Sec. Collier’s testimony that the governor ordered him not to cooperate with an Attorney General’s investigation, then fired or transferred him and other officers who refused to follow the governor’s illegal order.
Other allegations include the governor disappearing from his protective detail for “several hours.” What if a state emergency had happened? What if something had happened to him? The governor can’t do his job if no one can find him.
The second article cites “Corruption in office.”
Did the governor use state resources to facilitate his relationship with Rebekah Mason? What policy decisions did he make as a result of his personal relationship with her? Did the governor break the law when he used state resources to take Rebekah Mason to a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas? Why was Rebekah Mason paid by a dark money organization?
This lack of transparency is a betrayal of the public’s trust, and certainly warrants investigating these questions.
Article three alleges “incompetency.”
This can include the governor having state law enforcement fly his wallet across the state after he disappeared from his protective detail. The governor cited “security reasons.” What was so important in that wallet that the governor couldn’t overnight it through the mail like everyone else, but not so important that he didn’t feel the need to keep it on his person or think to grab it before he left the house? The article also alleges dishonesty, unprincipled and immoral behavior.
Lastly, article four cites “moral turpitude.”
Moral turpitude has been defined by the state Supreme Court as an act that is “immoral in and of itself, regardless of the fact that it is punishable by law….” The admitted extramarital relationship could be enough to be considered an act of moral turpitude. However, I personally oppose this article because it’s too open-ended and could be used for political prosecutions rather than legitimate ones.
Impeachment is serious business. There are serious questions that need to be answered. But even if the governor didn’t break the law, he has still lost the ability to govern effectively and has put the state in a position where the only responsible thing to do is for him to resign or for the legislature to remove him from office.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.