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Measure for measure: The politics of 2017

By Bill Britt
Alabama Poltical Reporter

From Aesop, we learn that, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” And Oscar Wilde teaches us that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

So it is in politics that we experience both measures for measure as a darkly divine comedy where misunderstandings and hidden actors cloud the morality play. God laughs at us because He knows the day of judgment is coming as the palmist surmised.

What feverish mind could have imagined the winding insanity that was Alabama politics in 2017?

Perhaps the sad irony underlying the political turmoil of 2017 is rooted in a powerful man’s lust for younger women and her willingness to use him for her personal gain.

At a time when the #MeToo movement offers hope for a national conversation about how older, more powerful men manipulate and prey on younger, less powerful women and men, it is Bentley’s alleged sexual liaison with his former senior adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, that is the genesis of the political storms that roiled Alabama.

Bentley’s affair with Mason, a married mother of two, cost him his wife of 50 years, his family and the governor’s office. Far from joining the #MeToo movement, which is leading a national debate on influential men’s predatory behavior towards women, Mason is still standing by Bentley.

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It should have been an easy task to fill the vacancy left behind when President Donald Trump tapped Alabama’s junior U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to be U.S. attorney general, but as it turned out, the appointment created chaos with far-reaching ramifications in not only Alabama but the nation and even the world.

It is widely believed that then-Gov. Robert Bentley appointed Alabama’s Attorney General Luther Strange to the U.S. Senate in an effort to stop the attorney general’s investigation into possible criminal activities by Bentley and Mason.

The public may never know for sure if Bentley and Strange made a deal to protect himself and Mason, or if Strange’s replacement, Bentley appointee Attorney General Steve Marshall, was part of the bargain. But so far, Marshall let Bentley off with a slap on the wrist, and Mason roams Tuscaloosa – a free bird.

And as always, an invisible hand of mischief stirs the winds of political chaos.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration is a welcome calm after the Bentley affair, but even now, there are those in her offices that do the bidding of men like former Gov. Bob Riley and BCA Chieftain Billy Canary. Ivey’s staff has been negligent in rooting out the Fifth Column in their ranks, and their presence is not without notice by her political rivals.

At the Attorney General’s Office, Marshall has all but abandoned the Special Prosecution Unit that effectively convicted former Speaker Mike Hubbard. The ethics reforms championed by Strange, Alice Martin and Matt Hart have long ago been relegated to the trash bin to save Marshall’s political career. And now lawmakers, lobbyists and powerful business interests await some covering of darkness to remove the major provisions of state ethics laws that saw Hubbard convicted on 12 felony counts of public corruption.

And then there’s the state Ethics Commission that has become law unto itself, regularly applying the ethics statutes in an uneven and, perhaps, illegal manner. Far from a court of Solomons, the ethics commissioner divides the baby as many times as needed to please its constituency of lawyers, lobbyist and Birmingham power brokers.

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If these were all of 2017’s political dramas, it would be enough to fill an unsellable novel, but it’s not.

Many yet unanswered questions await us in 2018.

  • Will BCA President Perry Hand find the will to rid the state of Canary?
  • Will State Senator Gerald Dial make his final act one to right or abolish the Ethics Commission he helped to create?
  • Can Alice Martin or Troy King defeat the weak and ineffectual Marshall?
  • Will the #MeToo movement visit the State House?
  • And will Gov. Ivey’s staff bring her low in 2018?

So much more lies ahead in 2018 that we must hope for a few good women and men to step forward with kindness to serve and the endurance for the punishment that will inevitably follow.

“Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win.”
― William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

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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