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Featured Opinion

After the Storm: A Modest Proposal

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Jury selection in the State vs Michael G. Hubbard began Monday, with opening arguments to begin on May 24 or 25. The trial is expected to last approximately a month, according to statements made at the last hearing.

If Hubbard, who is charged with 23 felony counts of public corruption, is found innocent, the monster, who is Speaker Hubbard, will scorch the Earth with his vengeance and retribution, and our State will never be rid of his corrupting influence. If convicted, there will be a brief moment to change rules, institutions and policies, that will prevent men like Hubbard from harming our State by using government for craven, personal gain. If convicted, there will be an opening to stop the practices that have enabled Hubbard and his cronies to thrive.

That moment, after the storm, is our best chance to get it right.

In 2010, Hubbard claimed that he stormed the State House, taking it back from 136 years of corrupt Democrats. He replaced those Democrats with a tyrannical regime, which ushered in an unparalleled circus of bacchanal. Lawmakers, policy wonks and even lobbyists should be eager to come together to bring about change to our broken system.

With Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration out of control and under investigation, more tempests lie just over the horizon; but they are not so great as to thwart honest men and women from doing their duty.

While I do not pretend to have any absolute solutions, I will offer some suggestions.

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First, we must admit that our Ethics Commission is broken beyond repair. As an institution, its formal opinions have enabled public officials to skirt State Ethic laws, and its informal opinions have opened the door for widespread abuse.

Even now, lawmakers are employed by organizations whose sole purpose is to lobby the government. Even now, the ethics commission continues to offer secret opinions that hide lucrative contracts from the public. It has not only failed, but has institutionalized systematic lawlessness. They have not enforced the ethics code as intended, but have looked for every way to allow public officials to cheat and disobey the black letter of the law. The politically appointed and motivated Ethics Commission must be disbanded completely.

What is to be its replacement?

There are ethics laws on the books just as there are laws about theft. The State doesn’t have a special commission to issue opinions or free advice to those who want to steal. What we have are law enforcement officers, the Attorney General’s Office, district attorneys, and courts to investigate, indict and try criminals. That system has, for the most part, served our State well.
The job of policing, investigating and enforcing our ethics laws should be placed under the Special Prosecutions Divison of the Attorney General. A line item budget guarantee should be instituted as it is, with the current ethics commission, to prevent political meddling. A special unit with the division can be established to oversee and enforce the ethics laws. The current budget can be moved to the Attorney General’s Office where career prosecutors will carry out the duty of enforcing the laws unlike the the Ethics Commission who has refrained from doing.

It is a simple and straightforward solution.

Secondly, the State Legislature should pass a law that forbids public office holders, who are convicted of an ethics violation related to their office, from lobbying in any capacity. No politico should be allowed to make money as a lobbyist, if they were convicted of a crime related to their office.

Once again, a simple solution.

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Thirdly, a Blue Ribbon panel, comprised of judges, members of the Attorney General’s Special Prosecution Division, and lawmakers should be appointed to review current law. This will allow for real reformed not guided solely by politicos but everyone with a stake in the outcome.

If Hubbard is convicted, lawmakere must be resolved to make changes to rein in the corruption.

Hubbard stormed the State House and Hell followed. It is time to clean up the debris so our State can heal and prevent the next Hubbard-in-waiting.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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