Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Impeachment Proceedings in AL Could Take Down Governor and Senator

Alabama Republican Gov. Robert Bentley is termed out of office in two years, but it’s anyone’s guess if his career will survive that long, or if his long-running sex scandal will take down the man he just appointed to the Senate, former State Attorney General Luther Strange. Bentley has been accused of using State Resources to cover up an affair with a top Staffer, Rebekah Mason, and Republican Legislators have been talking about Impeachment for some time.

Alabama’s 300,000-word-long Constitution is not clear on how Impeachment should proceed. Indeed, the Legislature hasn't even considered Impeaching anyone in over 100 years. If the State House does vote to Impeach Bentley, he’d be immediately suspended from office unless and until the State Senate, which is like the lower Chamber, is dominated by the GOP, acquits him.

That means Bentley’s Governorship could effectively be over by around Memorial Day. House Judiciary Committee Chair Mike Jones recently said that he expects Impeachment proceedings, which had been paused at Strange’s request, to restart in time for the Legislature to complete its investigation before it adjourns in mid-to-late May. A panel of Lawmakers will then issue a recommendation on whether or not to Impeach Bentley.

Things can get very complicated after that. A 60% Super-Majority of the 105-member House would then have to vote in favor of permitting a vote on the underlying recommendation. If that were to pass, only a simply majority would then have to actually approve an Impeachment recommendation. It gets even trickier, though, if the Impeachment panel issues a dissenting Minority report, or if the investigation drags on past the end of the planned Legislative session, though Lawmakers can call themselves back to the Capitol if they so desire.

The State Attorney General is also investigating Bentley, which could also slow things: Jones said last week he's waiting for the Attorney General's office to give Lawmakers permission before they restart their own Investigation. Adding a further layer to all this, the new attorney General, Steve Marshall, has appointed a Special Prosecutor on account of the fact that Marshall owes his new job to none other than Bentley.

Here’s another wrinkle: If Bentley were to get stripped of his powers, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey would presumably inherit them, and if he’s removed from office, Ivey would become Governor. But Ivey is one of many potential Republican Candidates for Governor, and some Legislators may balk at giving her a leg up over potential rivals. They might therefore be inclined to oppose Impeachment and just wait Bentley out.

However, this whole mess is unlikely to be forgotten by the June 2018 Senate Primary, and that’s not good news for Strange, the man Bentley just tapped for the Senate. In a New York Times piece discussing how unhappy some Republicans are with Strange’s sketchy-looking appoint, there’s news of an unreleased internal poll conducted for GOP officeholders has Bentley’s approval rating “at an abysmally low level.” That taint could rub off on Strange, who did much more than simply accept a job from the scandal-tarred Governor.

Strange asked the GOP-dominated Legislature to halt its Impeachment proceedings against Bentley last year while Strange’s office did “necessary related work.” But after Trump picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. Attorney General, it was up to Bentley to appoint Sessions’ successor, and Strange coveted the job. In a transparent effort to try to make it seem as though there was no Conflict of Interest, Strange belatedly argued that he never said he was investigating the Governor. But after Bentley sent Strange to the Senate, Marshall confirmed that his office was in fact investigating Bentley.

That’s cast a dark cloud over Strange, and has encouraged several Republicans to make noises about challenging him in next year’s Special Election for the final two years of Sessions’ term. State Senate President Pro Temp Del Marsh, a spurned finalist for the Senate appointment, has expressed interest in facing Strange, though he’s also talked about running for Governor that year. Twice-disgraced Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore also has talked about running for Senate, as well as for Governor and attorney General.

And ex-State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., who was also a finalist for the Senate gig, says he’s considering running against Strange. Hooper doesn’t look like an especially strong candidate, though. He lost renomination for his State House seat in 2002, and he lost the General Election for the State Public Service Commission four years later. However, he was the Co-Chair of Trump’s State Campaign, so maybe he can pick up some support from Trump fanatics.

However, it’s possible that Bentley’s problems will make Strange toxic enough that even a fairly unimpressive candidate could beat him in a Primary. It also doesn’t help the incumbent that under Alabama law, there will be a Primary Runoff if no one takes a Majority of the Vote in the first round, so Strange can’t just coast to victory with a plurality.

There are a lot of twists and turns left in this long, sordid saga, and it’s very possible that both Bentley and Strange will survive it. Strange’s position in the Senate gives him access to plenty of money, and his geographic distance from Bentley, as well as the benefits of incumbency, could help insulate him from the Governor’s problems. But if Bentley does end up collapsing, he very well could take his appointed Senator down with him.

Why does "Conflict of Interest" seem always to be part of a current Republican story?

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