There always seems to be something rotten in the state of Alabama.
Even when we seemingly rid ourselves of such moral decay, a more aggressive and virulent form replaces it.
Gov. Guy Hunt was convicted of buying marble showers and riding lawnmowers with campaign funds. Gov. Don Siegelman just got out of jail for trading government favors for campaign donations. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard will soon be heading to the pokey for using his office for personal gain.
And after the revelation that our lovesick septuagenarian governor was having an “inappropriate relationship” with his top adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, it looked like he may be the next person in the long line of Alabama politicos to face removal from office, criminal or ethics charges and/or jail time.
After Bentley axed his top law enforcement officer, Spencer Collier, last year over alleged financial misappropriations, Collier spilled the beans on the man he said was like a father to him by confirming Montgomery’s worst-kept secret — the governor was madly in love and his lady had a whole lotta influence over him.
Though Bentley viagra-ously, I mean vigorously, denied having a physical relationship with her, a mysterious recording soon came out where we got to hear about the wonders of his mistress’ 50-something-year-old boobs. Apparently, they’re fabulous things to behold!
More and more details and accusations would continue to emerge, from the sad to the sordid. The sad being how this ended the governor’s marriage of 50 years and tore his family apart, with secret tapes, alleged interrogations and shipments of Viagra being delivered to the governor’s mansion among the sordid.
After everyone in our state finished collectively saying, “EEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW,” we wanted answers. Had he used taxpayer funds to facilitate or cover up this affair? And after it was revealed some sort of “dark money” campaign fund was paying her salary, we wanted to know who was pulling the strings of the woman who was pulling the governor’s, well, you-know-what. (I meant heartstrings. Get your minds out of the gutter!)
The Alabama Legislature moved to investigate but stopped when Attorney General Luther Strange stepped in asked them to hold off, saying his office “was conducting related work.”
Even though it was hard to see the Lover-nor continue to govern in light of this scandal, we tolerated it because we thought the wheels of justice were moving … slowly, but moving nonetheless.
After all, a man who campaigned on cleaning up Montgomery and putting an end to those who were “abusing the public trust” was in charge of this mess. Bentley’s horndog head on a platter would fulfill this promise and certainly help the ambitious Big Luther move up another rung on the political ladder. And it was no secret Big Luther had even Bigger dreams of his own.
But then it all changed with Trump’s surprise victory in November. This would unexpectedly shift the tectonic plates of Alabama politics as Trump’s first big supporter, Sen. Jeff Sessions, would be nominated and ultimately confirmed as U.S. Attorney General.
Suddenly, Bentley would be able to name his replacement. The ground began shaking.
Speculation immediately began about to whom Bentley would give his unexpected golden ticket. Almost jokingly, talking heads said the good governor would be able to exchange that ticket for a get-out-of-jail-free card if he appointed Strange, which would allow him to also appoint the next state attorney, who was allegedly investigating him.
But surely the embattled governor wouldn’t have the cajones to do such a thing, knowing it would absolutely reek of corruption. But it didn’t really matter, because even if he did offer the gig to Big Luther, the man who vowed to clean up “Montgomery corruption” and put an end to “insider deals” certainly wouldn’t accept. How could he?
Such a scenario would be as crazy as the governor taking his mistress and her husband with him to Trump’s inauguration on the state plane. Oh wait, that happened. Talk about cajones.
And obviously so did the Strange appointment to Sessions’ seat. A political earthquake registering 8.9 on the Ridiculous Scale.
Can you say “conflict of interest?” Wouldn’t this be the textbook example of an “insider deal?”
Remember, Ol’ Large Lu, you told the Legislature your office was investigating him so they didn’t really need to bother. Well you did at least until the moments right after Bentley announced your appointment.
“We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor,” the new senator said. “And I think it’s somewhat actually unfair to him and unfair to the process that that has been reported out there.”
Say what? Yes, you did! And they still are!
Strange has since said he and the governor never discussed the investigation during the interview for his new gig, but even if that is the case, he had to have known how this would look and that most people would see this as yet another “abuse of public trust” and “insider deal” that would surely derail the inquiry into the governor.
It just looks Big Shady, Big Lu.
But perhaps, in a Strange way, this shadiness will end up being a good thing.
If the governor had picked any of the other names that were floating out there, the investigation may have lost steam.
But with renewed public outrage over this, all eyes are focused now more than ever on the office of the new Alabama Attorney General Bentley appointed, Steven Marshall.
Marshall has recused himself, as he should have, and appointed former Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks.
There is no political upside for any of the remaining players to sweep this under the rug for Bentley as a reward for appointments. His career is over. He has nothing else of value that could benefit them, except his aforementioned horndog head on a platter.
Even though Ellen Brooks is retired, the manner in which she conducts this investigation will still reflect on Marshall, despite his recusal.
And Big Luther now has to be hoping the man who just gave him his new job (and all this new criticism) will get put under the microscope and through the wringer. Voters next year would most likely be a lot more forgiving of Strange’s own ethical faux pas here if Bentley is investigated in the appropriate manner.
It’s easy to imagine the governor chuckling at his good fortune and how this appointment must have been a gift from the love gods. But this move that he thinks saved him may be exactly the one that finally sinks him.