We in the Deep South have a unique history of political theatrics. The only northern states that rival our colorfulness are New Jersey and Illinois. In those two states, you are expected to be corrupt, especially Chicago.
Our most colorful southern state has always been Louisiana. The parishes and bayous of the Pelican State gave us Huey Long and other characters. No other states can hold a candle to Louisiana’s brazen corruption. They not only expect their politicians to steal and cavort, they frown on them if they do not. The environment of Louisiana politics is bred toward corruption and debauchery. They not only gave us the glamour of the King Fish, Huey Long, they are proud of their infamous reputation.
Well folks if you look at us here in the good old Heart of Dixie over the past few years we are probably giving Louisiana a run for its money. A cursory look at the record reveals that our Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mike Hubbard, was caught and convicted of taking bribes for sponsoring and passing legislation. Our 74-year-old doctor Governor Robert Bentley fell in love with his 44-year-old No. 1 adviser, lost all his wits, and has resigned from office in disgrace. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and agreed never to run for office again. The House of Representatives was poised to impeach him had he not resigned.
Ole Bentley had become an irrelevant clown and fodder for late night talk shows. The State is better off with Lt. Governor, Kay Ivey, serving out the remaining 20 months of Bentley’s term.
Bentley, in a charade promulgated by his desire to not be indicted for his shenanigans, gave the U.S. Senate Seat vacated by Jeff Sessions to the sitting Attorney General Luther Strange to avoid prosecution. Therefore, our new junior U.S. Senator is in Washington with the taint of Bentley’s scandal hovering over his head with the appearance that he is there due to audacious collusion.
We have an even richer novel that has transpired in Jefferson County, our most populous and supposedly urbane county. It made national news a year ago when the Mayor and President of the City Council got into a fistfight in the Birmingham City Hall. However, a new development is even more bizarre. During the fall elections, Democrats won all the Jefferson County judgeships. Along with the judgeships, Jefferson County voters elected a Democratic District Attorney. Democrat Charles Henderson beat incumbent Republican Brandon Falls by over 10,000 votes. Get this folks, the sitting DA trumps up a perjury charge against the new DA a few days before he was to take office. Falls convened a grand jury Jan. 12 and returned an indictment the next day Jan. 13. Henderson was to take office the following Monday.
As anybody knows, a prosecutor can indict a potato for anything at any time. This scenario proves that point. The loser, Falls, got the winner, Henderson, indicted for perjury.
This is so bizarre and corrupt a situation that it makes the aforementioned stories pale in comparison. It makes Jefferson County and Alabama look like a Third World banana republic. There are rampant rumors that the State’s top watchdog, Prosecutor Matt Hart, is camped out in Jefferson County and massive indictments are on the way. It has been over 70 years since Louisiana had a similar scenario. Nobody has been as brash in between.
The Louisiana King Fish Huey Long was assassinated on the steps of the capitol in Baton Rouge. Huey Long’s brother, Earl Long, followed his famous older brother as governor. Earl was one colorful character. His opponents decided to seize power from Earl. They took control of the state police and had Earl arrested and put in the state insane asylum. One of the best political movies ever is entitled “Blaze” starring Paul Newman and it illustrates this story of Louisiana political lore. I recommend it for entertainment.
These past two years in Alabama politics would make for a good movie. This latest Jefferson County fiasco would have to be a part of the plot. Look out Louisiana; we’ve got some good theater in the Heart of Dixie.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state Legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.