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Opinion | HB317: A measure of just how stupid our government is

The most depressing thing about Alabama politics these days is just how stupid our scams are.

I think that’s a sign of a good, healthy government: the more well-planned and well-executed your scams, the better overall government you have. Because smart scams require smart people to carry them out. So, if nothing else, at least you’re getting your state’s smartest people into government.

But ours are just dumb.

We’ve had a House Speaker who detailed in emails all the ways he was skirting the ethics laws. We had a governor who couldn’t figure out that his texts were connected to his wife’s iPad. And we’ve had a state superintendent search scam that was so stupid the writers of “Scooby Doo” would have laughed it out of the room.

It’s sad.

Our scams used to be something in this state.

We had guys who concocted a scheme — sitting in the back of a Montgomery Italian joint — to get a governor tossed out of office and tossed into jail.

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We had a governor concoct an elaborate scheme to run his nemesis, a casino owner, out of business by gaining control of nearly every level of state government.

There were pork-filled highway projects and sweetheart carpool deals. There were mistress setups and more secret blackmails than you could imagine.

Those were the days.

Now … well, let me put it like this: A governor under investigation — an investigation the entire state was aware of — appointed the AG who was investigating him, and at the press conference they both tried to pretend that the investigation wasn’t happening.

You see what I mean?

There’s no effort. No smarts. No planning.

It’s just transparent, easy-to-spot, stupid corruption. Like a bunch of teenagers clumsily trying to hide beer from cops.

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And so, in such an atmosphere, it was no surprise that a stupidly corrupt ethics bill continues to be pushed by certain Alabama politicians.

HB317 is the bill’s official number, and it would, among other things, implant an exclusion within the state’s ethics laws for economic developers — a made-up word for a person who serves as the dealmaker between a company who wants free land and no taxes and a government body who will sell out constituents to give it all to the company.

When the idea for this bill was originally conceived, it would have made an exclusion for about 70 people — known as site-selectors — who work fulltime on economic development projects. The need for such an exception for these people arose when the state’s Ethics Commission issued an opinion that these folks were lobbyists.

(Quick aside: They are lobbyists. They go to these government bodies and they lobby them for better deals.)

Everyone was pretty much on board with that, since the exclusion would be small and easily identifiable.

But Alabama being in the business of stupid scams these days, the boys in charge simply couldn’t leave it at that. So, they attached the dumbest, most transparent sentence possible.

In addition to excluding these 70ish fulltime site-selectors, HB317 also allows for people who work “less than full time.”

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Now, I do believe that if you exclude all of the people who work full time in economic development and then also exclude all of the people who work less than full time in economic development, you’ve just excluded all of the people.

All in the name of getting a little more money flowing into the pockets of the boys in and around the State House.

Because not a soul who has pushed this bill has been able to describe why part-time “economic developers” should be excluded, which projects have been hampered by their lack of exclusion or why exclusion for any of these people would be beneficial to taxpayers.

And we all know why: Because there is no good and reasonable answer to any of that.

And it’s even worse than you know.

In closed-door meetings with lawmakers, the guys behind this stupid bill — led, of course, by AG Steve Marshall, who has apparently never met a sellout he’d turn down — have struggled to provide even the most basic definitions. At a meeting on Wednesday morning, they couldn’t even tell lawmakers what constituted “full time.”

In addition, the executive director of the state’s Ethics Commission has called it a terrible bill — an assessment he has not backed away from.  

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But because it’s Alabama, even as most of the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development committee (better known as the oxymoron committee) expressed grave concerns about the language in the bill, HB317 somehow managed to get committee approval. It is expected on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

A number of senators have promised to fight it. And hopefully they will.

But the fact that such a stupid scam has made it this far is an ominous sign.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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