- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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April 10

The Gadsden Times on Gov. Robert Bentley’s resignation:

Robert Bentley materialized practically from nowhere to become governor of Alabama. His departure from that office will be in large type on future time lines of this state’s history.

Bentley on Monday finally accepted the inevitable - we were beginning to wonder if he was as oblivious to reality as the limbless Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” - and resigned after pleading guilty to a couple of misdemeanor charges, one step ahead of impeachment and potential ethics prosecution that could’ve sent him to jail for years.

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey was promptly sworn in as the state’s 54th governor, and the second woman to hold the office.

Resigning certainly was the right thing for Bentley to do, although we’re not going to spike everyone’s collective sugar levels by magnanimously praising him for that decision. The taint of disgrace cannot be erased from this situation, even though he left voluntarily. The events of the last year, and particularly the last week, preclude that.

Bentley was an unknown (outside his district) state legislator who in 2010 took advantage of the same desire by voters for something new and against the grain that was manifested in the 2016 presidential election. He was a folksy doctor who pledged not to take a salary until the state reached a certain employment level, and the spiel worked as he defeated better-known and -heeled opponents to become governor.

We’ve been displeased with his performance in that role for a while. He’s been ineffectual, inflexible and stubborn. He stepped in P.R. goo on his inauguration day with a clumsy remark about “Christian brothers and sisters,” and never really mastered the bully pulpit that is the only true political clout possessed by someone holding his office. He’s flailed away for six years at the massive problems facing this state without any real cohesion and with the aura of someone badly over his head.

Those significant issues have been overshadowed by salaciousness for a year, however, after reports surfaced of Bentley’s purported “improper relationship” with adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

It was difficult to suppress giggles at audio recordings on which the elected governor of Alabama sounded like an old lech. The real issue, however, were the additional accusations that Bentley used state resources and the power of his office to further and mask his relationship with Mason, and to wreak havoc on anyone who tried to reveal or impede it.

We’ve called for Bentley’s resignation more than once, but we hesitated to support impeachment efforts against him until we were convinced that this was about more than punishing him for having an affair (we’ll stop being coy and use that word). A septuagenarian having a late-life, marriage-destroying crisis may be a queasiness-inducing prospect, but it’s not illegal.

However, the state Ethics Commission last week recommended that ethics and campaign finance charges be pursued against Bentley, finding probable cause that he violated state ethics laws. The House Judiciary Committee a couple of days later released a 131-page report from its special counsel detailing why Bentley should be impeached.

You can judge for yourselves - the Judiciary Committee placed everything it has online at www.bentleyinvestigation.com - but we think the evidence was both damning and revolting. We add the latter not because we were repulsed by the elected governor of Alabama supposedly opening the door to his hotel room in Washington clad in his boxer shorts, thinking Mason was knocking, or the text message “… Bless our hearts/And other parts” that has provoked so much national ridicule. Politicians have been doing such things for 200 years; getting prudish about it now would be silly.

No, we’re revolted by the notion of Bentley telling his ex-wife’s chief of staff that she’d never work in Alabama again if she revealed the affair, and that Alabamians “bow to his throne.”

That was sheer megalomania, a sign of someone out of control and willing to do desperate things to keep what he had, without a lick of concern for what’s best for Alabama.

It’s no surprise that Bentley’s lawyers tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the release of the Judiciary Committee report. They also tried, and again failed, to halt the impeachment proceedings.

It’s also not a cliché, but the truth, to point out that with the state attorney general’s office also investigating Bentley, he was cornered with his back literally against the wall.

The Republican leaders of the state House and Senate called for his resignation; so too did the state Republican Steering Committee. His support on Goat Hill probably was at “Nixon in August 1974” levels.

Bentley’s situation was terminal. The only question was whether it would end the easy way or the hard way.

He chose the former, which is the best thing for Alabama, which badly needs to move forward from this mess. Our only concern is that it seems like Bentley received a deal to go away.

It’s not that we want a pound of his flesh, or to hound a man who’s lost everything like Javert in “Les Miserables.” We just fear that with Bentley gone, the investigation of his and others’ actions will either cease or become a low priority.

The people of Alabama need to know what happened; it’s the only way to keep it from happening again.

Online:

https://www.gadsdentimes.com

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April 6

The Cullman Times on decreased K-12 funding:

Cullman State Sen. Paul Bussman this week expressed his displeasure with the education budget, calling it a continuation of depleting funds for grades K-12.

After pulling a dry erase board into the chamber to show calculations of the last five years’ budgets amounting to nearly $43 million taken away from public grade schools, his Senate colleagues voted 29-2 to pass the $6.4 billion budget. Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, cast the other no vote.

While Bussman is right to challenge a budget that snips away at K-12 funding, the problem of establishing and passing budgets in Alabama is largely a symptom of deeply ingrained failure of leadership. Relying on the same old formulas to generate money for public education is essentially an Antebellum-era mentality where taxes, revenue and services are concerned.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored the education bill, and commented the budget was not much of a departure from previous years and that it reflects evolving needs in Alabama’s education system. He went on to say Bussman’s prolonged resistance to the budget was a “soliloquy.”

Such is the attitude of too many lawmakers. Orr may cast Bussman as a voice in the wilderness or one who speaks to an empty room, but past budgets, both education and General Fund, have done little to advance Alabama.

The education budget gobbles up large chunks of state sales tax collections. Sales taxes are the cradle of state funding, but when those collections fluctuate with the economy, everyone suffers. The General Fund is stagnant and carries the weight of every valuable service outside of education.

The magnified problem in Alabama is that lawmakers generally adhere to the old plantation leadership: protect the landowners from taxation and tax the working class. Everyone paying some taxes is fair, but continually pressuring people who struggle to make ends meet by weighty sales taxes and fees is not leadership that will successfully carry the state forward.

Alabama has a Republican super-majority body of lawmakers. They could solve many of the state’s problems by developing long-term funding solutions. Gradually raising property taxes will impact people who can afford to pay a little more, while relieving pressure on vastly low-income population. In the meantime, the reliable nature of property taxes will boost the effectiveness of education funding and the realm of the General Fund. People want great schools across the state. They also want well-funded law enforcement, judicial systems and better infrastructure. We cannot achieve wider progress in Alabama without funding at the state level that is reliable and in the hands of responsible leadership.

Bussman’s soliloquy perhaps will one day be heard by a larger audience. Surely, by election time, someone will rise up to take a leadership stance. Granted, there are Senate and House members who mean well and push for positive changes, but with Orr’s budget, it looks like education in Alabama will once again keep grades K-12 scrabbling to find funds to aggressively propel our children toward tomorrow.

It’s our belief that when more lawmakers stand up and demand change, similar to Bussman’s action, the old ways in Montgomery may finally fade away - that time cannot come soon enough.

Online:

https://www.cullmantimes.com

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April 6

The TimesDaily on judicial overrides in capital murder cases:

Alabama lawmakers voted Tuesday to end the state’s practice of allowing judicial overrides in capital murder cases.

It was a decision that was long overdue as Alabama is the last state to allow judges to hand down death sentences, even when juries have recommended life in prison.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley, who has indicated he will sign the legislation.

The judicial override process is fraught with problems.

Foremost, it undermines the role of jurors, who often deliberate for hours, even days, to make the right decisions in capital murder cases.

“Judicial override runs contrary to the spirit of common law on which our laws are based,” said Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, who sponsored the Senate bill. “The jury is supposed to determine innocence or guilt. And if they make a recommendation on a sentence, it should be honored and not just overridden by a judge.”

Critics have contended the process injects politics into life and death decisions. Alabama has a reputation as a state that’s tough on crime. Opponents of judicial overrides claim that’s why the rate of overrides tends to go up during election years - judges facing election races don’t want to be viewed as being soft on crime.

Brewbaker said the numbers speak for themselves. Research has shown that more than half of the overrides take place in election years.

According to the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), in 92 percent of judicial overrides in Alabama, “elected judges have overruled jury verdicts of life to impose the death penalty.”

Continuation of the practice could have landed the state in court.

In Florida, one of the three last holdouts of judicial override, lawmakers ended the practice after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that Florida sentencing guidelines, which were similar to Alabama’s, were unconstitutional.

Pure and simple, there were just too many instances where judicial overrides were taking place. EJI research found that since 1976, Alabama judges have overridden jury recommendations 112 times. In 101 of those cases, the judges gave a death sentence. EJI concludes overrides are a major reason why Alabama has the nation’s highest per capita execution rate

Ending judicial overrides is the right thing to do because all defendants should have a constitutional right to have a jury of their peers - not a prejudiced or politically motivated judge - decide their fate.

“It is morally wrong to allow this practice to continue in our state,” said Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.

Online:

https://www.timesdaily.com


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