2016: An "unforgettable" year in Alabama politics
“Unforgettable, historic for good and for bad,” former state Representative Paul DeMarco describes Alabama politics during 2016.
From a scandal that rocked Governor Robert Bentley’s office to Speaker Mike Hubbard’s removal from office, each branch of government faced its fair share of challenges.
The Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore from office without pay for the rest of his term. It happened after the Judicial Inquiry Commission accused Moore of directing Alabama’s probate judges to defy the federal courts when it came to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Moore is appealing the decision. He called the charges against him “ridiculous.”
Political Scientist Dr. Natalie Davis of Birmingham-Southern College says this could be Moore’s set up for the 2018 governor’s race, but she doesn’t believe the public will notice a major difference when it comes to the Alabama Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court will operate as it’s been operating,” said Davis. “It’s an all Republican supreme court. There really isn’t much difference of opinion we’ve seen in terms of decisions.”
An investigation continues into Governor Robert Bentley. Earlier this year, his former top cop accused him of having an affair with his senior advisor. The House filed articles of impeachment against him. The House Judiciary Committee later suspended its investigation while Attorney General Luther Strange’s office conducts its own.
Bentley has maintained he did not have an affair with his advisor and that he never improperly used any state resources.
Speaker Hubbard was removed from office after being convicted on 12 felony ethics charges relating to using his office for personal gain. Hubbard was sentenced to four years in prison but remains out on bond during the appeals process. Hubbard maintains his innocence.
DeMarco believes these issues overshadowed policy during 2016.
“Those issues were first and foremost maybe not in the public but at least in the policy makers, they were looking at where are we going, because we don’t know where we’re going with the investigations,” said DeMarco.
Davis says in Alabama, it’s a game of low expectations when it comes to elected officials.
“We have very low ethical standards,” said Davis. “The public has come to expect that and therefore if this person is convicted of such and such and other one is removed from office, for them it’s politics as usual.”
V. J. Graffeo is one voter who says the events that transpired in Alabama during 2016 lowered his trust in government.
“When you have elected officials who let you down, you being the state and me personally, your level of trust begins to chip away both in elected officials and in the system,” said Graffeo. “But in the bright side, there’s that glimmer of hope that both people locally and nationally will step up to the plate and serve our interests.”
Other Alabamians didn’t pay much attention to the headlines at all, like John Paul Dutton of Pelham.
“God’s going to put the right person in the right authority,” Dutton explains why he puts trust in his elected officials.
Davis says all that's transpired does affect policy and people.
“If you are poor, if you need healthcare, if you are in a nursing home, it can have a big effect,” said Davis. “One is the ethics issues have distracted the legislature from doing anything really. The budgetary issues remain with us. They've been with us many many years and to the extent the Medicaid crisis continues, folks are not going to get the healthcare they need.”
There were major positive headlines for Alabama too. Senator Jeff Sessions Is President- Elect Donald Trump's choice for attorney general, setting up an election for his seat expected to happen in 2018. Governor Bentley would name a replacement to fill the seat until the election takes place.
Alabama's Bill Pryor is on the short list to be a United States Supreme Court Justice.
DeMarco works to focus on the positives from 2016, while looking forward to turning the page.
“While in one since it has hurt us with some of the problems we had, I think we can also say look, nobody's above the law,” said DeMarco. “We take care of our issues in the state and that's one thing we can say about the state of Alabama. If we have problems, we take care of them.”