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Opinion | Bentley left office one year ago today. Still, rogues and scoundrels remain

Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley.

Today marks one year since Alabama’s 53rd governor, Robert Bentley, left office in disgrace.

In just the last two decades, two Republican and one Democrat governor of Alabama were proven crooks. Many more were no doubt rogues and scoundrels, but unlike Bentley, Guy Hunt or Don Siegelman, they never were convicted of their crimes.

Of course, the legacy of most of the state’s chief executives is one of hopelessly abandoning the people for self-interest.

There is a reason Alabama is at or near the bottom in every metric of measurable success. This failure is primarily linked to the lack of leadership and character of its top elected officials.

According to a recent grand jury’s findings in Alabama, a governor can keep a mistress, facilitate the affair using government resources, may also use law-enforcement to investigate their optical enemies, intimidate their family, friends and other state officials without running afoul of the laws, as was the case of Bentley’s administration.

Bentley, through his aids and advisors, was able to select Attorney General Steve Marshall, who agreed to investigate the team that prosecuted former Speaker of the House and convicted felon Mike Hubbard. It was always a goal of Hubbard and his allies to have Special Divisions Chief Matt Hart and Acting Attorney General Van Davis investigated to at least have a public record of possible prosecutorial misconduct.

Hubbard’s cronies and Bentley enablers no longer care about these two useful tools, but they do want to clear their names in any way possible. Will Brooke, Jimmy Rane, Billy Canary and others who owned Hubbard by way of case payments want to find a way to make their complicity in Hubbard’s crimes disappear. Even now, AG Marshall and even Gov. Kay Ivey are welcoming large cash donations from many of the same individuals who bought and paid for Hubbard’s office.

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For all the work that went into having HB317 scrubbed of all its loopholes, the so-call Jobs Enhancement Act does not prevent principals from becoming an economic development professional free to purchase the next Hubbard without fear of ever being prosecuted.

But if anyone is laboring under the illusion that HB317 will be the last effort to weaken the state’s ethics laws in favor of cheaters, look no further than the rhetoric coming from the mouths of Republican leadership.

There is a march toward undoing the reforms of 2010, by saying the present laws are discouraging individuals from public service because they can make a living and serve as part-time legislators. She meme is being used as a smokescreen to decide the public and lawmakers, alike. In a recent interview, Gov. Ivey was asked if she found the current statutes prohibitive. Since she has never been tainted by scandal, APR asked how she had been able to serve as Lt. Gov successfully and governor without running afoul of the laws. She replied simply saying, “I read the laws and follow them. If I don’t understand them, then I ask an attorney and do what they advise.”

Gov. Ivey and hundreds of others covered by the state’s ethics laws have never found them a hindrance to service or a means not to seek public office.

The spurious notion that true public servants worry about stringent ethics laws is a lie masquerading as a problem. Like HB317, tell a lie long enough, and people will actually believe it’s a good idea.

Bentley exited the governor’s office one year ago today – that was a good day for the state.

However, far too many budding Bentleys remain to block the road for enduring success for the people of Alabama.

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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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