(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) It’s not just Republicans getting caught up in scandals in Alabama’s state government. Now, after the ouster of the Republican governor, Republican chief justice, and Republican Speaker of the House, a Democratic state legislator is finally starting to balance the recent corruption score.
It wasn’t clear last November why state Rep. Oliver Robinson, a former college basketball standout, resigned from the legislature. But last week the al.com newspapers reported that both state and federal prosecutors are investigating him, apparently over financial arrangements among a non-profit he runs and donors who oppose a federal “Superfund” designation in his district – a designation Robinson used his legislative clout to oppose.
It’s a complicated tale, made murkier by the fact that Robinson’s fight against the Superfund designation was supported by the Republican then-governor and the Republican then-attorney general. The bipartisan opposition to the designation may give Robinson a little cover, even if both of his Republican compatriots themselves have had their ethics questioned on other fronts.
Let’s try to unpack all this. First, the Alabama corruption milieu: In 2010, Republicans finally took majorities in both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, in large part by promising to clean out the Democratic ethical mess exemplified by the federal corruption conviction of former Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman. But the man who led the takeover, new Speaker Mike Hubbard, himself was convicted last year for comingling his private financial affairs with legislative work.
Meanwhile, Republican Chief Justice Roy Moore effectively was removed from office for ethics violations for the second time in 15 years, and Gov. Robert Bentley resigned from office for abuses of power related to a sex scandal. But that was not before Bentley appointed attorney general Luther Strange to a vacant U.S. Senate seat at a time when the AG’s office was investigating Bentley’s scandals.
Enter the Democrat Robinson into this Republican train wreck.
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed naming entire neighborhoods around Robinson’s district as sites for massive “Superfund” cleanups. Left-leaning politicians tend to support federal environmental intervention, but Robinson came out four-square against this Superfund designation. His position was popular with Republicans in the state – Strange opposed it as well, as did Bentley. Robinson’s daughter, Amanda, worked as legislative liaison for Bentley, and also took payments from Robinson’s tax-exempt foundation while she tried to talk residents into opposing environmental testing in their neighborhoods.
It is that foundation which now is under investigation, apparently for accepting major donations from law firms and others working to oppose the EPA.
It bears stressing that designation as a Superfund site is not necessarily a desirable status. While it does bring funds for cleanup operations, it also can serve as a tremendous disincentive to businesses considering locating there and hiring local workers, and for obvious reasons acts as a depressant on property values. (Scott Hughes of the Alabama Department of Environmental Quality cited just those considerations as part of his explanation for why ADEM was opposing EPA.)
Robinson late last week told local radio reporters that the environmental issues in play were not terribly serious, and that residents in the affected areas “were living a fine quality of life.” He spoke on the record, but refused to be recorded electronically, on the advice of his attorney, Doug Jones.
To further complete the bizarrely inter-relating web of relationships involved in all of this, the attorney, Jones, just last week announced he would run as a Democrat in the special election for the U.S. Senate, for the seat to which Strange was appointed by Bentley. Jones is best known as the attorney who secured convictions, after decades, against the perpetrators of an infamous 1963 bombing of a black Birmingham church.
Republican congressman Mo Brooks on Monday became the seventh candidate to announce for the race.