Tag: kevin spann

How likely is Governor Bentley’s impeachment?

Since the release of the audio tapes involving Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason, action has been fairly swift.

Bentley spent no time stonewalling or trying to argue that the tape is fake, or that the male voice is not his own. Bipartisan calls for his resignation have been issued.

Even articles for impeachment have been written. Despite these moves, the odds of Bentley being formally impeached remain slim. Just one day after authoring the articles of impeachment, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, had to withdraw the articles following criticism from his colleagues.

It was decided that the charges need to be vetted by a new committee rather than the House rules committee that Henry belongs to. Thus, new articles are to be written and a framework for impeachment must be decided upon.

Because it has been over 100 years since Alabama impeached an executive official, lawmakers have little clarity on how to proceed. In fact, the state has never impeached a Governor — only a Secretary of State who ended up surviving the effort to unsuccessfully run for governor himself.

If a framework is eventually agreed upon, a theoretic impeachment trial would be quite the media spectacle. The impeachment trial would be presented by Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who is awaiting a trial for ethics violations; it would also cast Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — who was once removed from office himself — as the judge.

Given the lack of precedent and the negative attention the state would receive, the likelihood of this occurring is not high. As Bentley has over two years left in his term, it is much more likely that he will simply resign.

Despite figures such as George Wallace or Jim Folsom once wielding so much political power, Alabama operates under a weak Governor system. Not even the Governor’s power to veto legislation amounts to much, as it can be overridden by a simple majority vote.

As a result, Bentley’s vetoes have regularly been overridden. For example, last week the Governor demanded a budget that fully funded the state’s Medicaid program.

Because fully funding the program would have necessitated tax increases, or major cuts elsewhere, the legislature ignored his demand and overturned the subsequent veto of their budget. As such, Bentley’s only recourse is to call a special session and hope that he may charm the legislature.

With the scandal hanging over him and his persuasion ability now at an all time low, the state’s already weak governor has become weaker still. As such, Alabama is now at an impasse because formal impeachment is unlikely.

Bentley will either be shamed into resigning on his own terms, or a means by which he may be indicted on criminal charges will have to be found.

The state constitution does not allow for convicted felons to hold the office of Governor, meaning he would have to resign if criminal charges stuck.

This would require proof that he purposely misappropriated funds to enable his likely affair, or engaged in some form of criminal corruption. More general charges, such as exercising poor judgment or harming the state’s reputation through his conduct, would not suffice for criminal proceedings to be carried out.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

Bentley scandal is no laughing matter

An audio recording of Gov. Robert Bentley engaging in a sexually explicit conversation with his chief advisor Rebekah Mason was released March 23.

While the recording is difficult to understand due to either poor sound quality, or an issue on Bentley’s part, there is little mistaking the subject matter of the conversation. The recording seems to have been made by Bentley’s family in order to get to the bottom of his relationship with Mason, though the exact details of its release are not yet clear.

Bentley has since admitted it is him in the recording, but denies that the relationship ever entered a physical level. Whatever the particulars of the relationship, the audio seems to confirm that Bentley’s divorce was related to his relationship with Mason as had been rumored.

The story quickly went viral and was lampooned on MSNBC as well as numerous news outlets. While one might be tempted to laugh at this, it is a serious issue for the state.

Alabama now has the dubious distinction of having both a Governor and Speaker of the House at risk of being removed from office. With this scandal, Bentley has also become the next in a series of recent Alabama governors to have their administrations bogged down by scandal.

In fact, while former Gov. Don Siegelman has his defenders, one has to go back about 18 years to the administration of Republican Gov. Fob James to find a Governor whose record was not blemished by a troubling scandal.

Since the audio was released, it has been questioned as to whether Bentley will be forced to resign— like Gov. Guy Hunt in 1993 — or perhaps impeached on a charge such as abusing state funds in order to facilitate his relationship with Mason.

Calls for Bentley’s resignation have been bipartisan, from Democratic leader Craig Ford to Republican State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw. Any Democrats who view Bentley’s potential resignation as a cause for celebration however, are mistaken.

From endorsing Gov. John Kasich for his party’s presidential nomination over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, to insisting that the state obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s same sex marriage ruling, Bentley has at times practiced a relatively moderate brand of Republican politics.

If he resigns, Democrats may see less such moderation from Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, who has been more closely affiliated with the tea party. Given the Republican Party’s dominance at almost all levels of the state, this scandal is also unlikely to make Democrats odds of reclaiming the governor’s mansion much better.

As the state gears up for another round of budget disputes to deal with insufficient funding, the black cloud being cast over Bentley is also unlikely to make negotiations any more productive. This is particularly true since Bentley had broken ranks with the majority of his own party by insisting tax increases are needed to deal with the state’s deficit.

Lastly, we should all be able to sympathize with an individual whose private life has been dragged out for public ridicule; this should be no cause for celebration.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

Alabama voters mostly favor non-traditional candidates

On Super Tuesday, Alabama Republicans certainly had little use for the more establishment friendly candidates.

Donald Trump took 36 of the state’s Republican delegates, and the firebrand first-term Sen. Ted Cruz took all but one of the remainder.

On the down ballot however, Republican voters were far more sympathetic toward incumbents, some of whom have been in Washington too long to make an easy case that they are not establishment figures themselves.

Every single Republican incumbent won re-nomination, which due to Alabama’s conservative streak, is tantamount to re-election in most cases.

This disconnect is far from surprising. It is not uncommon to hear it said that when an incumbent is beaten, it is usually their own fault.

In recent years, politicians on both sides of the aisle in Alabama have pulled off successful primaries from the right.

Parker Griffith, who represented Alabama’s 5th Congressional District, was defeated in 2010 by the district’s current representative, Mo Brooks, after he tried to switch parties and rebrand himself as a Tea Party Republican. However, it seems 2016 was not destined to have any such upsets.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, won by almost 300,000 votes, despite his leading challenger, Jonathan McConnell, managing to create a bit of a stir with his provocative ads against Shelby.

Congresswoman Martha Roby, whose challenger was a minor Tea Party star, was also re-elected by a wide margin. In fact, only Congressman Bradley Byrne suffered a slight scare, winning by a margin of about 20 percent.

It seems that, despite Alabama Republicans backing outsiders like Trump and Cruz this year, these voters were either relatively happy with their own representatives, or the primary challengers were unable to attract the money and media to become viable.

The state’s Democratic Primary was something of the reverse. Alabama Democrats backed Hillary Clinton by a margin of nearly 60 percent over the more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders.

However, these voters seemed to have been in a more rebellious mood when it came to their nominees for Senate, since Ron Crumpton pulled off a modest victory over the more moderate Charles Nanna.

While Crumpton’s odds of beating Shelby in November are long, it is noteworthy that he emerged victorious, running a much more liberal and colorful campaign than Alabama Democrats are used to. Crumpton, who has identified both former President Bill Clinton and libertarian Republican Ron Paul as political influences, ran to the left of Nanna on both women’s reproductive issues and the issue of marijuana reform.

In contrast to Nanna, who took a much more skeptical view toward reform, Crumpton has made a name for himself, lobbying for the state legislature to seriously consider medical marijuana.

Perhaps Alabama Democrats want more liberal candidates, along with significant changes to the state’s status quo on several controversial issues.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

Recent elections narrow presidential primary contenders

Super Tuesday and the handful of subsequent contests seem to have provided some indication of how the Republican and Democratic primaries will play out.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s exit has narrowed the Republican field to four candidates. However, if things do not change quickly, only two of the four are viable contenders.

While Donald Trump has failed to live up to the hype that he would sweep the field with relative ease, he enjoys a solid lead, carrying 12 states and nearly 400 delegates. Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Cruz has outperformed a number of pundits’ projections, winning six states and a little over 300 delegates.

Sen. Marco Rubio has dramatically underperformed, carrying only the state of Minnesota. Meanwhile, Gov. John Kasich has garnered more votes than expected, but has failed to win a single state.

As such, the field seems to be narrowing to a Trump versus Cruz matchup, with recent states like Kentucky being settled by a margin of only 10,000 votes. For the momentum to change, Rubio desperately needs to win a major state.

Kasich needs to hope that after watching the other three candidates pound away at each other, voters will warm up to his gentlemanly style of politics. If things continue on their current trajectory, Rubio and Kasich may soon finds themselves finished, and Trump may well pull out a modest victory over Cruz.

As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton has done quite a bit to silence her doomsayers. Clinton has currently secured the most popular votes of any candidate of either party, and has also won 11 states.

She has dominated the Southern states and Massachusetts, giving her a comfortable delegate lead. Clinton supporters, who hoped to end Sen. Bernie Sanders candidacy early in the cycle, have been severely disappointed as Sanders has carried eight states.

Although, these eight states have almost all voted via caucuses, which due to their often convoluted nature, ensure modest to extremely low turnouts. With the exception of Minnesota, Sanders has been left with relatively few delegates.

However, these victories have kept him very much in the race. Sanders’ strength in the Midwest and the New England states gives him time to perhaps shift the field in his favor in states like Florida, which offer more significant prizes.

The Midwest—where Clinton tended to do poorly in the 2008 Democratic primary as well—is not a very viable path to the nomination, given the region’s low share of delegates. Thus, if momentum does not shift elsewhere for the Sanders campaign, he is still likely to fall short of victory.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

 

Senate halts Birmingham minimum wage increase

Last week, the Birmingham City Council voted to incrementally raise the minimum wage within city limits from the federal rate of $7.25 to $10.10.

Within about 24 hours, or the speed of light when it comes to government action, the Alabama Senate passed a law voiding the hike, which was soon after signed into effect by Gov. Robert Bentley.

The Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act was passed virtually along party lines and fast tracked through by the Republican supermajority.

The law’s expressed intent is to ensure that business interests will not be burdened with keeping track of a patchwork of varying local minimum wage laws.

The minimum wage debate has been a long running one among both parties. Republicans argue that hikes kill jobs and slow economic growth.

Pundits on both sides of the political aisle have been engaged in a spirited back and forth regarding the issue in light of recent restaurant closures in Seattle, Wash.

Seattle will soon begin implementing a gradual minimum wage increase with the goal of raising the rate to $15.

Conservatives have pointed to the looming hike as the culprit behind the city’s recent restaurant closures, while Democrats have countered by referring to the simply risky boom and bust nature of the industry.

Hopefully, the most credible argument will reveal itself as the nation studies the issue. Alabama, however, will gain no first hand insight on the issue since the new law prohibits any such local experimentation.

The legislation has also given the late-night comedy circuit and liberal-leaning media another opportunity to engage in their favorite pastime of Alabama bashing.

While this is a major setback for Democrats who favor a minimum wage hike, Republicans may have inadvertently given their opponents a political gift.

With the exception of the lottery and gambling debate, Alabama Democrats have been at a loss for any sort of wedge issue to draw additional voters their way.

While it is far too soon to tell, state Democrats may have found a kitchen table issue with which they can, if not score some victories with, at least breathe some life into their dying party.

In addition to the economic angle, Alabama Republicans will also have to deal with charges that they have violated their expressed ideology.

As the major party which most champions limited government, Alabama Republicans may have some difficulty explaining how the state going over the heads of local government is compatible with their ideology.

Critics, who charge that it is actually Republicans who are acting as the big government boogeyman in this situation, may not be silenced as easily as the legislation was passed.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist