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What can we learn on the Plains of Weehawken?

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

“If we had an Attorney General, there’d be a Grand Jury,” said a retired judge referring to revelations in APR’s exit interview with Ethics Commissioner, Dr. Stewart Tankersley.

Examples of collusion, questionable opinions, and other suspect activity, he said, “should be before a Grand Jury, and we should ask them: ‘What do you want us to do with this?'”

Speaking truth to power or shining a light on a brood of vipers undoubtedly has consequences both negative and positive. At the moment, Tankersley is feeling the wrath of those he has criticized.

It is, perhaps, expected that fixer attorney J. Mark White would bully Tankersley with a lawsuit claiming Tankersley had defamed him, but the fact that Ethics Commission Chair Jerry Fielding would also threaten legal action against Tankersley is shameful. Tankersley is being coerced to recant his statements to APR, but so far he is holding firm to his principled stand to expose the failures of the Ethics Commission.

There are days when I long for a time when the Codes Duello would settle such matters. It is doubtful that White or Fielding would meet a man on the “field of honour,” as the dueling grounds were called. Frivolous law suits are the dull swords of cowards.

Words like honor, duty and justice seem to have slipped from the heart of so many, that it’s like they were part of distant America that no longer exists except in yearning memories.

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Sophocles’ admonishment that it is preferred to fail with honor than win by cheating is now an arcane notion.  But the high places of government are often inhabited by men of low character, who manipulate the levers of power to wicked ends.

What Tankersley has done is to stand in the midst of public heretics and cry “repent,” and his call should be heard by lawmakers who can reform the Ethics Commission before it’s too late.

Lawmakers are usually reluctant to champion controversial issues before an election, but are there no leaders in State government willing to stand for principles while running for office?

At the State’s Attorney General’s Office sits an Ethics bill that was crafted with care listening to all the stakeholders while preserving the nation’s tight Ethics code.

Will someone call and ask for a copy?

Attorney General Steve Marshall would not let the bill come before the Legislature at the last Session, saying he needed to get up to speed and make it his own. Marshall, by all accounts, is a smart guy; he had plenty of time to understand the Legislation and give it his imprint, but he chose to play politics.

Heaven forbid he should anger his newly found donor base. Marshall’s campaign has signaled its willingness to play footsies with the very groups who would undermine our State’s Ethics code. Marshall it seems is willing to trade his integrity for political office.

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The most famous American duel was between Vice President Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. On the plains of Weehawken, New Jersey, in July 1804, Burr’s deadly shot mortally wounded Hamilton. Revisionist history, courtesy of a Broadway play, has made Hamilton a loin of the liberal left. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hamilton was a monarchist and perhaps the inventor of crony capitalism.

It was Burr who was a “disciple of the Enlightenment, but also an advocate for criminal justice reform, freedom of the press, women’s rights, and the rights of immigrants,” as noted by Nancy Isenberg in The Washington Post.

Burr killed Hamilton for a number of reasons, but primarily for, as Isenberg points out, “Burr’s villainy is actually the result of a smear campaign invented by his political enemies centuries ago, and then disseminated in newspapers, pamphlets, and personal letters during and after his lifetime.”

So if Dr. Tankersley is being vilified by lesser men, so be it. Many times a man’s detractors are a sign of his true character. Jokers may be nipping at his heels but honest people know it’s Tankersley who is right.

I have stood on the plains of Weehawken, high above the Hudson River and it felt good.

Let’s pray that someone takes a cue from the good doctor and champions the reform he is advocating.

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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