Leaders of all three branches of the Alabama state government are under fire and facing calls for their removal. The House speaker is facing the possibility of 20 years in prison for ethics violations. The chief justice was just suspended for defying a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. And the governor, whose campaign pitch centered on returning morality to the office, was involved in a highly publicized sex scandal involving his married aide.
“Keep clear of Alabama. It’s a mess,” political analyst Liz Peek told FoxNews.com’s “Strategy Room.” “I don’t really know what other conclusion you can draw except, obviously this is like New York state and like Illinois where there’s just a pretty profound corruption problem.”
Although Alabama has seen its fair share of elected officials being hauled off in handcuffs – former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman was found guilty in 2006 of bribery and other charges and sentenced to 88 months in prison, though he’s seeking a pardon — having so many leaders under scrutiny at once is a rarity that some say is hurting the state’s reputation.
“It’s definitely a traumatic time,” Bill Stewart, a retired political scientist from the University of Alabama, told the Los Angeles Times.
On Monday, jury selection began in the case against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
Hubbard, a Republican, was a key player in pushing through some of the toughest ethics laws in state history. The problem, prosecutors say, is that he broke them.
Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges that he used his office to benefit his own business. If he’s found guilty, he could be kicked out of office, fined up to $30,000 for each count and spend 20 years behind bars. He’s maintained his innocence.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended from his job — and could be kicked out entirely — for trying to block same-sex marriage in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission accused the chief justice of violating judicial ethics in his opposition to gay marriage. Despite rulings by both a federal judge in Alabama and the U.S. Supreme Court, Moore instructed probate judges throughout Alabama to ignore the higher court rulings and refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen told Al.com that Moore disgraced his office and should be removed.
“For the sake of our state, he should be kicked out of office,” Cohen said.
Moore reportedly said the commission “has no authority over the administrative orders of the chief justice of Alabama.”
If Moore’s removed, it would be the second time in 13 years.
In 2003, the Court of the Judiciary pulled him from his post after he installed a monument of the Ten Commandments in the state judicial building in Montgomery. He refused a federal court order to remove it – and so, the state removed him.
He was re-elected in 2012 and on Jan. 11, 2013, Moore was sworn in for a second time as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Finally there’s Robert Bentley – the Republican governor and father of four who had campaigned as an honest, moral conservative. Bentley, who taught Sunday School, is under investigation and recently faced an impeachment push by members of his own party following allegations of a tawdry – and very public – sex scandal involving him and his senior political adviser Rebekah Mason. Mason has since resigned. Bentley’s wife filed for divorce.
The governor’s affair was outed by the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Spencer Collier, who in turn was fired by the governor. Collier maintains he was unceremoniously kicked out for not covering up Bentley’s affair.
But Bentley said Collier was fired over possible misuse of state funds related to surgery.
“After placing Spencer on medical leave a few weeks ago to allow him to recover from back surgery, Acting ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler identified several areas of concern in the operations, policies and procedures at ALEA,” Bentley said in a written statement. “After an internal review, the ALEA Integrity Unit found a number of issues, including possible misuse of state funds.”
Democratic strategist Stephen Sigmund told “Strategy Room” he believes the fallout from so many cases of corruption is that “Americans no longer believe that politics is a place where you can get positive things done.”