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Opinion | Ethics are dying and you don’t care

Josh Moon

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Alabamians don’t care about ethics. 

Just admit it. Or, actually, don’t even bother admitting it, because the evidence is quite clear. 

You don’t really care that much. 

Oh, sure, you say you do. Each election, when the pollsters start making calls asking you to rank what’s most important to you, you list ethics right up at the top. In most cases, it’s the No. 1 issue for voters, according to the polls. 

But that’s BS.  

Your supposed love of ethics is a facade. It’s something you say because you think you’re supposed to say it. But deep down, it’s like bottom five on your list. 

And I know this because I see who you vote for. 

I see how you fail to punish those who abuse ethics laws, who skirt the rules of campaign finance, who seek to constantly roll back the protections put in place to ensure your government operates fairly and plays favorites as little as possible. 

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Not a single person who has attacked Alabama ethics laws or who has been accused of violating campaign finance laws or ethics laws has lost an election in this state in recent years. 

Some have gone to jail and been forced to resign, but conservative voters in Alabama have sent exactly zero bad actors packing. And if we’re honest, I think we all know that Mike Hubbard — the face of political corruption in this state — would likely win his old House seat back if he ran in the next election.

Because you care more about the R beside the name of a candidate than you do about the quality of the candidate. 

Don’t dispute this. 

In 2018, when Republicans in the state legislature carved out massive loopholes in the ethics laws, despite corruption prosecutors raising red flags, not a single person who voted for that monstrosity paid a political price. In fact, Republicans who were thought to be vulnerable won easily, despite their support of a bill that went against what was allegedly voters’ top priority. 

In that same election cycle, Attorney General Steve Marshall, who clearly seemed to have accepted campaign funds that violated Alabama laws, won easily. In the primary, when GOP voters could have chosen another Republican — one with a history of fighting public corruption — they still chose the establishment Republican, and turned a blind eye to sketchy ethical behavior. 

The sketchy ethical behavior of the state’s top law enforcement officer.

If you don’t care about that, there’s not much left. 

And so, here we are now, with one GOP hack after another whittling away at the ethics laws each and every year. 

A couple of years ago, we made broad exceptions for “economic developers.” Even as the most sensible and independent members of the ALGOP screamed bloody murder over the extra large loopholes. 

Last year, Sen. Greg Albritton tried to essentially remove ethics altogether, with a rewrite bill that was so shockingly brazen that even the party leadership had to turn its back on it. 

And this year, there are two more attempts to weaken the laws. 

One is from Rep. Mike Ball, who is one of Hubbard’s oldest and bestest pals, and a guy who has wanted to rewrite the ethics laws ever since his good buddy was sent to rich-white-guy’s prison in Alabama. Which is to say Hubbard is out on bond on appeal forever. 

Ball’s latest bill might just challenge Albritton’s for the most shamefully obvious attempt to undermine ethics laws. Except, instead of rewriting the laws, he just removes the portions that allow district attorneys and the AG’s office to prosecute them. Unless the charges go through the Ethics Commission first. 

So, the commission that is appointed by the legislature would be the only group that could bring ethics charges against the legislature.

A fox appointed by other foxes to guard the hen house. 

But we don’t stop there. 

In addition to Ball’s bill, there’s also one from Sen. Garlan Gudger that would get the revolving door swinging again. 

As part of the 2010 ethics reform package, lawmakers were prohibited from leaving their elected positions and accepting lobbying work for a period of two years. Gudger’s bill would carve out an extensive exception, allowing for former public employees to return to their old job — or ANY OTHER public position — and immediately start lobbying. 

Because, you know, just the other day, I passed by a group of people talking on the street about the things that really need fixing around this state, and their top issue was how unfair it was that these folks couldn’t work as lobbyists immediately. 

This is pathetic. 

These are people carving out exceptions for themselves and their buddies — working to rig the game so they can keep sucking up public dollars and making sure hefty contracts go to their pals. It’s government handouts for the wealthy and crooked. 

And you’d be outraged about it. If you cared at all.

 

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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Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Three workers at ADOC headquarters among latest to test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sixteen more Alabama Department of Corrections employees, including three at the department’s headquarters in Montgomery, have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The department’s latest update, released Monday evening, puts the total of confirmed cases among employees at 99, with 73 cases still active. 

Five more inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as well, including inmates at the Donaldson Correctional Facility, the Easterling Correctional Facility, the Kilby Correctional Facility, the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women and the St. Clair Correctional Facility.

18 of 27 confirmed cases among inmates remained active as of Monday, according to ADOC. 

Of the department’s 28 facilities, there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or inmates in 21. Of the state’s approximately 22,000 inmates, 214 had been tested as of Friday. 

Areas inside numerous state prisons are under quarantine, with ADOC staff either limiting inmate movements to those areas or checking for symptoms regularly and conducting twice daily temperature checks, according to the department.

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Still work to be done on an Alabama gambling deal

Josh Moon

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A grand deal on gambling is possible in Alabama, but there’s still a long way to go. 

That was essentially the message that representatives from the Poarch Creek Indians and owners of non-Indian casinos around the state gave Friday to Gov. Kay Ivey’s Study Group on Gambling Policy. The 12-member group heard presentations, via Zoom, from representatives from all the tracks and casinos in the state, as it continues in its quest to put together a proposal that Ivey and state lawmakers can use to hopefully craft future gambling legislation. 

To move forward with almost any legislation will require an agreement of some sort between PCI, Lewis Benefield, who operates VictoryLand and the Birmingham Race Course, and Nat Winn, the CEO of GreeneTrack. The owners of smaller electronic bingo halls in Greene and Lowndes Counties will also have some input. 

The tug of war between these various entities has, over the last several years, prevented an expansion of gambling. It also has left the state in a weird situation in which casinos are operating on a daily basis but there are numerous legal questions and the state is making very little in the way of tax dollars from any of them. 

But with public support for lotteries, sportsbooks and even full casino gambling at all-time highs (even a majority of Republican voters surveyed said they support full casinos in the state), and with neighboring states rapidly expanding offerings, state lawmakers seem ready to push through legislation to make it happen. 

And now, it seems, the two sides in this fight — PCI and the track owners — are ready to make a deal. 

“I feel like there’s a plan out there that would benefit all of us,” said Benefield, who is the son-in-law of Milton McGregor, who passed away in 2018. “I’d like to see us put together something that gets these customers back from surrounding states. I just really feel like we can work together.”

Benefield wasn’t alone in those feelings. 

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“We stand ready to sit down and talk (about a grand deal) with anyone,” said Arthur Mothershed, who, as vice president of business development for PCI, handled the tribe’s presentation on Friday. 

Mothershed and Benefield have each said previously, and APR has reported, that the tribe and the non-Indian entities have held several discussions over the last few months in a quest to work out a deal. 

There is a new, old player involved, however. 

Former Gov. Jim Folsom, now a lobbyist, represented several Greene County electronic bingo entities, including GreeneTrack, during the conference. Folsom and others representing the bingo casinos told the group that bingo is essentially the financial lifeblood for their county, and that without it multiple county services could go unfunded. 

Ivey’s study group has met four times with the goal of providing state lawmakers with clear answers on questions of revenue, risks and options for gaming types. Any legislation approved by lawmakers would have to be approved by voters.

 

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