Most of us were taught in civics class that government comprises three separate and coequal branches: the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Each of these branches, our teachers explained to us, is equally important and equally powerful.
But what those teachers may not have mentioned is that in Alabama, the three branches of government aren’t just equal in prestige. In fact, it’s unclear whether they have prestige at all. Instead, here in the Yellowhammer State, all three branches of our government — and maybe even the whole governmental tree — are withering with incompetence and ineptitude, and it’s time to do some serious pruning.
For too long now, Alabamians have had to worry day in and day out about the improprieties of our state’s top executive — the “Luv Guv” himself, Robert Bentley. It seems like every news cycle we learn about another phone call recording, or another grand jury, or another top state official fired, all with no real explanation.
Now, after having his lawyers say he’s being denied due process in the proceedings, Bentley is considering completely refusing subpoenas just issued by an investigative committee of the Alabama House of Representatives. The governor may not even give the House the courtesy of pleading the Fifth in person.
When it was made clear that the committee would request the presence of the governor and have its counsel question him, Bentley’s legal team attacked the entire process as an effort to ignore the governor’s rights.
“[The Impeachment Committee’s lawyer] wants to railroad the committee into giving him the authority to command people to testify before him, a private citizen, in secret and to deprive the governor of his constitutional rights,” Bentley’s attorney, Ross Garber, said in an email. “But this lawyer does not get to rewrite the rules already adopted by the full House of Representatives or ignore Supreme Court authority, both of which clearly provide for due process.”
It’s time for the impeachment committee to double down, not lighten up, and bring to light what’s hidden in the coiling branches of the governor’s office. There’s pruning to be done.
Then there’s our other branch of government — the one that’s actually charged with representing our views in the halls of Montgomery: the legislative branch. Now, as ever, though, the Alabama Legislature isn’t the bastion of public service it could be. Its former de facto head, ex-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, is still gripping onto his innocence like never before, still appealing his handful of felony ethics convictions to higher and higher courts.
Several legislators have been arrested — and some convicted — over the last few years, of crimes ranging from domestic violence to driving under the influence, all while voting for the very laws they then proceed to break so haphazardly. The vast majority of members of both the House and the Senate are regularly wined and dined by donors, lobbyists, special interests and various combinations thereof. The Statehouse isn’t a quiet or quaint place: it’s a twisting, rotting, ancient tree, and it needs some serious pruning.
Justice no Moore
Finally, there’s the third branch: Alabama’s “justice” system, formerly led by a now twice-indefinitely suspended Roy Moore. Moore needed pruning, but voters weren’t even the ones to do it.
The Alabama Court of the Judiciary, the judges of judges, had to nip Moore in the bud, although they thought they’d done so in 2003 as well, when they formally removed Moore for precisely the same reason: defying a direct federal court order. They didn’t then, and I don’t know whether they have now.
Moore’s got that quality — the same grimy quality former Speaker Hubbard had while he campaigned for re-election while under indictment. A quality that, unfortunately for the state of Alabama, seems to compel people like Hubbard and Moore forward in public and political life, no matter the consequences. A quality that we don’t need in a branch of our government. A quality we should prune.
Alabama has serious questions to face in all three branches of our government. Our state agencies have had their funding cut year after year. Revenue growth in our state’s budgets is slow, and where it does exist, growing costs quickly disappear any fiscal head start.
Our state’s prisons are at double their capacity, endangering both the safety and security of not just inmates but corrections officers, who are overworked and underpaid. Our schools still haven’t gotten back to the level of funding they received before the Great Recession.
Because of all of these complex, varied issues we face, Alabamians need to focus in on what matters — the issues — and that means not having to focus on dead, overgrown distractions. It means not having to focus on the governor and which staff member he’s “loving” today. It means not having to focus on a convicted legislator itching to get his hands back into the political cookie jar. It means not having to deal with a judge who doesn’t understand the basic tenet of federalism: that federal law trumps state law. It means pruning a lot of twigs and brush, and cutting Alabama’s political elite down to size. It means some governmental gardening.
It took Democrats 136 years to make Alabama politics as corrupt as the GOP has made it in less than a decade. It’s time to admit it to ourselves, my fellow Alabamians: We’ve got some pruning to do.
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