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Alabama’s top 5 political new stories of 2018

As usual, 2018 was a busy year for state political news in Alabama.

From indictments and scandals to big election wins and controversial legislation, here are the top five political stories of the past year.

5. Superfund convictions

 After months of embarrassing stories for Alabama politicians, a federal grand jury finally brought some closure to one of the most disgusting public corruption scandals in state history with the convictions of a former Drummond Coal executive and a high-ranking lawyer from the powerful Balch & Bingham law firm.

Joel Gilbert, a former Balch partner, and David Roberson, a former VP at Drummond, were convicted on numerous charges stemming from their bribery of former state Rep. Oliver Robinson.

The scandal involved Gilbert and Roberson — and others — working through Robinson — and other entities — to block the cleanup of a major pollution site in north Birmingham.  

4. The Ethics Sheriff gets the boot

In the least politically ethical state in the country, it’s hard to find good guys — the guys who take on corruption and who aren’t scared of the arrows coming back their way. Matt Hart was probably Alabama’s best good guy in the fight for an ethical government.

Now, he’s gone. Done in by Steve Marshall who owed a favor to the big-money donors who helped get Marshall elected AG and who despise Hart.

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There is no fear in Montgomery now, as lawmakers slowly rewrite and blow up ethics laws meant to prevent them from misusing their offices. And without Hart to crack down on at least a few of them, it’s open season for corruption.

3. Hubbard denied

Only in Alabama could a guy convicted of 12 felonies be out of prison more than two years after those convictions as he awaits appeal. But that’s the story of Mike Hubbard, the former Speaker of the House.

Hubbard STILL isn’t in jail, despite the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upholding his convictions on all but one charge. That decision came down in August, and the court declined to reconsider that decision in September. Hubbard was convicted in June 2016.

He remains free as the Alabama Supreme Court considers his appeal.  

2. Still corrupt

While Hubbard and Robinson garnered most of the headlines over the last year, with their high-profile cases, that didn’t mean other Alabama lawmakers weren’t being indicted. They were.

In the last year, Republicans Ed Henry, Randy Davis and Jack Williams were all indicted for various crimes. All were sitting lawmakers at the time of their indictments. In addition, former GOP chairman Marty Connors was also indicted.

And the corruption didn’t stop there. The head of the EPA in the Southeastern District and the former chairman of the environmental regulatory agency were also indicted on charges of misusing their offices. And several local politicians and sheriffs were also indicted for various misdeeds.  

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1. The Red Wave

This year was supposed to be different for Democrats in Alabama. With a national blue wave that saw Democrats pick up an astonishing 40 House seats and earn about 9 million more votes than Republicans across the country, Alabama went the other way.

In statewide races, Republicans earned roughly 60 percent of the vote in every race. And they increased their already-supermajority advantage in the state Legislature. That was mainly due to the straight-ticket voting option on Alabama ballots. (The state is one of just six with such an option.)

That option allowed voters to check a single box and vote for the party of choice instead of individual candidates.

The result: A gubernatorial candidate, Walt Maddox, who traveled thousands of miles across the state and was generally well liked and well received, still lost by 20 points — the same basic result as previous, weaker Democratic candidates for governor — to a Republican, Kay Ivey, who was uninspiring and absent for long stretches during the campaign.

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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