Remember when there used to be this thing called “political baggage”? At one point in American politics there were certain past indiscretions that would destroy just about any politician’s chances of winning office — things such as adultery, criminal convictions, huge conflicts of interest and cooking meth.
Admittedly we’re in a different era. Last week “60 Minutes” had a big story about President Trump’s alleged extramarital affair with a porn star, and his approval rating is still hovering around 50 percent. Maybe sex with a porn star isn’t the political “third rail” anymore.
Of course there have always been politicians who flout conventions. The Kennedys jump immediately to mind, especially as there is renewed interest in both JFK’s pervy behavior in the Oval Office, as well as in little brother Teddy’s Chappaquiddick scandal, which left a woman dead but him still a viable U.S. Senate candidate.
We may not have anyone who swam away from a dead car passenger, but the 2018 elections do offer a number of local candidates who when deciding to run had a few “issues” to consider.
The elephant in the living room in this category is the dis-honorable Herman “Spanky” Thomas, who has thrown not only caution, but reason and probably just plain human decency to the wind in making a play to fill the District 99 Alabama House seat being vacated by James Buskey.
In a nutshell we know for a fact Herman moved scores of cases off of other judges’ dockets, spanked young men on their bare butts with a wooden paddle and that a prisoner’s semen was found in his secret second office in Government Plaza. We also know he was disbarred, with the Bar Association saying they believed he spanked prisoners for his own sexual gratification.
All of those things might generally be considered negatives when running for public office, but Herman was also accused of using his position to force prisoners to have sex with him, and he barely escaped conviction on several of those charges. Shortly after his trial, Herman ran against Sen. Vivian Figures, the mother of one of the young men he was accused of spanking and sexually assaulting, which is a little like rubbing salt in the wound.
In Baldwin County, Chris Elliott is running for State Senate District 32, to replace the retiring Trip Pittman. Elliott is currently a county commissioner, which is a natural springboard from which to launch an extended stay on Goat Hill, but Chris has one particularly big problem — his 2016 DUI.
I know, getting a DUI isn’t that big a deal politically, but it’s the way Elliott handled his that turned into political Samsonite. He initially issued a press release apologizing and saying, “There are consequences for my decisions and I will face these consequences.” His story was that he’d had a couple of drinks at a charity event, ran a light and then refused the breath test, but he’d be taking his lumps and not trying to fight the consequences.
But it turned out Elliott actually did petition the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for a hearing on his license suspension for refusing a Breathalyzer, and then ended up taking the matter to court. Elliott’s lawyer even argued that Chris shouldn’t lose his license because he would suffer “irreparable harm and damage by the suspension of his driving privileges. He will be unable to work and serve in his elected capacity as a Baldwin County commissioner.”
In other words, his elected position made him too important to be hammered with the usual 90-day suspension every other Joe Blow would get. ALEA apparently felt the same way and cut his suspension to 45 days for no particular reason they would explain. Making matters even more bizarre, Elliott really ended up only having a 29-day period when he couldn’t legally drive.
Elliott never dealt with reports he had lied about where and how much he was drinking the night of his DUI, and despite it being Fairhope Police Department policy, none of the on-duty officers assisting in Elliott’s arrest had their body cameras on at the time. In the end it sure looks like Chris Elliott sought and received special treatment. That attitude probably makes him perfect for Goat Hill.
Another strange one is Victor Crawford, who is running for the District 33 Senate seat. While Crawford has worked in the bowels of county government for decades, earning a fortune as an IT guy, his career ended as a result of getting tied up in Revenue Commissioner Kim Hastie’s public corruption trial.
Crawford, a contractor for the License Commission at the time, was used to hide payments from Hastie to political consultants regarding her efforts to have the Revenue and License commissions combined. Crawford ended up wearing a recording device for the FBI and ultimately was fired after Hastie beat most of the charges against her. He filed suit against Mobile County last year, claiming his dismissal was retaliation for testifying against Hastie.
But during Hastie’s trial it was also discovered Crawford had overbilled the county $82,000 and paid it back through a secret agreement designed by former County Engineer Joe Ruffer.
The super-secretive Crawford has never spoken publicly about these issues. Making it even odder, he is running against Vivian Figures, whose late husband was a law partner of Crawford’s father.
Although there’s nothing illegal about it, the ethics of Citronelle Call News publisher Willie Gray running for House seat 102 is another head-scratcher. Generally those of us in the news business avoid getting personally mixed up in politics since it makes it harder to maintain an unbiased position. But Gray is running ads in his own paper giving himself credit for schools being built in the district. It’s hard to imagine how the Call News reporters are objectively covering their boss and his two opponents.
And statewide, Troy King has crawled back out of the muck to try to recapture the state attorney general’s office he left after a tenure that included obvious efforts to use his power to prosecute political opponents. For instance, King falsely accused one of his own investigators of perjury after that investigator didn’t gin up a case against a judge King wanted to take down. The investigator beat King’s made-up charges.
Troy also has had some rather questionable personal behavior, not least of which was recording a “duet” with the already-dead Johnny Cash and sending it around for the public to endure. Thank God Johnny didn’t have to hear it.
The year is still young, but it promises to be an exciting political mess in 2018.