Sunday, January 27, 2008

Focusing on Family Favors

A two-pronged Republican plan seems to be under way to take over the Alabama Legislature. Sadly, Democrats appear to be providing plenty of assistance on one part of the plan.

Prong No. 1 comes with news that Governor Bob Riley is chair of a campaign that is designed to raise $7 million for the 2010 elections. Riley and Republican Party chair Mike Hubbard say 68 people have pledged to contribute $10,000 each over four years. Democratic Party chair Joe Turnham wonders what these donors might expect from a sitting governor in exchange for their pledge. Regardless of the answer to that question, it's clear that the GOP is making a big financial push to take over the legislature.

Prong No. 2 of the GOP push is more complex, more familiar, and perhaps more disturbing (in several ways) than prong No. 1. It involves the ongoing two-year colleges scandal in Alabama, which has produced big news in recent days. Roy Johnson, former chancellor of the two-year system, has pled guilty to 15 federal counts of bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, obstruction and witness tampering.

As part of his plea deal, Johnson has agreed to assist prosecutors who apparently are targeting members of the state legislature and the Alabama Board of Education.

From the outset, the two-year colleges scandal has appeared to focus on Democrats. And it appears that future targets will be mostly Democrats. The central issue is this: A number of officials appear to have used the two-year system as a place to provide jobs for family members and friends.

The Schnauzer's take? Democrats who have been involved in such wrongdoing should be held accountable. And it looks like Johnson is going to be used to take a number of folks down with him. If this leads to a Republican takeover of the legislature, well Democrats have only themselves to blame.

But another side of this story is familiar and disturbing. We seem to have the state Republican hierarchy, the federal justice department, and Alabama's largest newspaper (The Birmingham News) joining forces to effect a takeover of a branch of state government. That already appears to have occurred with the executive branch, resulting in the federal prosecution of Democrat Don Siegelman and the elevation of Republican Bob Riley to the governor's office.

Is something similar happening with the legislative branch? Well, we seem to have some significant differences. Evidence is overwhelming that the Siegelman prosecution was politically motivated and he was not actually guilty of criminal behavior. In the two-year colleges story, we appear to have legitimate wrongdoing by Democrats. If a long string of Democrats wind up being convicted of true federal crimes, I would recommend that the party not bother trying to stand up for them. Democrats should stand for honest government, and if that means purging corrupt folks in the party, so be it.

But here is what I find disturbing: When evidence surfaces that Republicans are providing favors to family, friends, and constituents, where are the prosecutors and The Birmingham News then?

Where are the prosecutors and the News when:

* We have evidence that Bob Riley's children, Rob and Minda, have benefited from state contracts under their father's administration;

* We have evidence that Bob Riley forced a second law firm, one with ties to his son, to be used in the state's lawsuit against ExxonMobil;

* We have evidence, presented in detail on this blog, that the father of Riley campaign chair Dax Swatek has repeatedly received unlawfully favorable treatment by Republican judges in Alabama state court. In fact, William E. Swatek has been repeatedly protected from facing the consequences of filing a fraudulent lawsuit, and this is apparently due to his family connections to the Riley administration.

And speaking of the ExxonMobil decision, I couldn't help but think about that when I read the editorial in today's News by editor Tom Scarritt. The News' head honcho focuses on the financial cost of corruption, noting that prosecutors have identified $18.3 million in the corruption scheme involving Roy Johnson.

Where was Scarritt when Republicans on the Alabama Supreme Court unlawfully overturned a judgment against ExxonMobil, costing the state $3.6 billion? We will show in future posts that the Supreme Court's actions were every bit as corrupt as anything Roy Johnson did. And the damage to the state? Harm done by the ExxonMobil ruling far overshadows anything that might come from the two-year colleges investigation.

So while we all should say "good riddance" to any corrupt Democrats who might surface in the legislature--or elsewhere in state government--we should be deeply alarmed that a double standard remains firmly in place when it comes to justice in Alabama.

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