The political underground is simply swirling in anticipation of what may be the final fate of our beleaguered Luv Guv.
The worst-kept secret in Montgomery is that the Ethics Commission is supposed to meet in early April and vote to turn Robert Bentley over to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution on a number of offenses. How do we know that? Well, we don’t, but people sure are talking about it and writing about it, so it must be true.
Forgive me if I cast my most jaundiced eye upon the Alabama Ethics Commission as an enforcer of legal or ethical behavior by our elected officials. Most communications with them go something along the lines of “It’s OK for them to do something that looks really unethical as long as they don’t actually do anything illegal in the process.” The commission’s traditional lack of intellectual curiosity about the many perplexing things that happen in this Wild West state don’t give me great hope they’ll call out Bentley’s rather obvious transgressions. But hey, as Mel Brooks’ goofy governor pointed out in the film “Blazing Saddles,” sometimes you’ve gotta protect your “phony-baloney jobs.”
Maybe after all this time the pressure has gotten great enough for even the Ethics Commission to feel it. If the EC does push the AG’s office to prosecute Bentley for his alleged misuse of state funds and personnel in his quest to keep his relationship with former chief adviser Rebekah Mason on the DL, the thinking goes, the House of Representatives will drop that into the gumbo they’ve been cooking up and it’ll be enough to get impeachment through the House. At that point, Bentley is suspended from office pending the outcome of his trial in the Senate and Kay Ivey takes over as governor.
It’s a nice theory, but that’s all it is at this point. Guess we’ll have to stay tuned.
Or maybe we won’t, because the other poorly kept Montgomery secret is that Bentley is supposed to be working behind the scenes to get himself a “deal” — a way to leave office without stepping straight into an orange jumpsuit. As the scuttlebutt goes, that will happen prior to the Ethics Commission having to do its thing. Again, that’s just what some politically connected people THINK will happen.
The only thing we know for sure is the House Judiciary Committee has gotten a little more fire in its belly to impeach Bentley, voting unanimously last week to further the investigation into matters relating to the governor, Ms. Mason, Wanda’s desk, etc. ….
Perhaps some of that new intensity is driven by the scuttlebutt about the coming Ethics Commission meeting or potential deals. But one has to also believe the way now-U.S. Senator Luther Strange head-faked the Judiciary Committee plays some role in its wanting to move forward with an investigation. Then-AG Strange got a commitment from the committee to stop its investigation, claiming there to be some overlap with work his office was doing, while carefully not calling that work an investigation.
While the House dutifully complied, Big Luther sauntered over to see the Luv Guv and ask him for an appointment to fill Jeff Sessions’ seat once the senator joined the Trump cabinet. Yes, it’s not typical for a law enforcement official investigating someone to go and ask the person he/she is investigating for a job, but why should that get in the way of political ambition?
Strange has lamely tried claiming he never said his office was investigating Bentley, so it was OK for him to ask for the job. Let’s dissect that for a moment. The statement is more or less a tacit admission by Strange that if he were conducting an investigation, asking Bentley for a job would have been unethical. Otherwise he would have come up with another excuse.
So, IF Big Luther asked the House to stop the investigation, but his office wasn’t investigating Bentley, it would be fine for him to ask Bentley for the job he really wanted, is his logic. But he never said there wasn’t an investigation, he just never said there was. Somehow Strange stood there in his bathroom mirror and convinced himself this was a logical answer. There are two problems, though:
The first is that his successor, Steve Marshall, quickly recused himself from any involvement in an investigation of Bentley, something he’d told the press he would do if such an investigation existed. So it’s safe to say there is/was an investigation when Big Luther went on his job interview.
The second problem with Strange’s excuse is that IF his office wasn’t investigating Bentley after the boatload of highly questionable activities we know to have occurred, then wouldn’t Strange be guilty of gross ineptitude in his job as AG? “I wasn’t doing my job!! Make me senator!”
The pulse seems to be quickening a bit on all of this for sure, but we’ve seen it before. When the Luv Guv’s amorous behavior first became public the thought was he wouldn’t be long for this political world. But he’s hung in there, petulantly refusing to accept any real blame for his behavior and thumbing his nose at those who have the power to drag him kicking and screaming from the Governor’s Mansion.
Maybe the political wags are right and the hi-jinx of our dermatologist governor are about to come to a head like a big nasty analogous zit on the face of Alabama politics. If so, it’s high time. But if the gang down at the Ethics Commission truly wants to break out the Clearasil for once, Luther Strange, Rebekah Mason and former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency head Spencer Collier all deserve a dab or two. How the commission could pass over taking a hard look at Strange’s meetings with Bentley and handling of the investigation would be a head-shaker for sure.
But predicting the outcome of this bizarre political theater has been a loser for any who’ve chosen to try it. All I can say is if the political buzz turns out to be right, it would be a good day for Alabama.