Gov. Robert Bentley’s sex-scandal woes could bring new attention to a little-noticed amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Voters this fall will be asked to approve a rewrite of the Alabama Constitution’s article on impeachments. It’s part of a years-long effort to clean up and modernize the wording of the Constitution – an effort that many voters considered pretty ho-hum.
Until this week.
At least two lawmakers — one Democrat and one Republican — said earlier this week they intend to seek Bentley’s impeachment after the governor admitted to inappropriate sexual comments to his top aide.
The admission was just part of the scandal. Recently fired Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Director Spencer Collier alleged late last month that Bentley and senior political advisor Rebekah Mason were involved in affair. Bentley and Mason have denied that allegation. The state auditor brought an ethics complaint over Mason’s pay, which comes not from state coffers but from campaign funds and a nonprofit whose donors are unknown.
Mason resigned on Wednesday, but the governor says he has no plan to step down.
If articles of impeachment are introduced next week, it will likely be the first test of the impeachments article written in 1901, said Kari Frederickson, a history professor at the University of Alabama.
“We’re willing to forgive a lot,” Frederickson said.
She said she wasn’t aware of any case in which a governor was impeached since 1901, despite a long list of scandals, such as Big Jim Folsom’s drinking and womanizing (that’s the older Folsom, from the middle of the last century) or numerous ethics allegations brought against sitting governors.
Gov. Guy Hunt was disqualified for office in 1993 after a conviction on ethics charges – not an impeachment. Gov. Don Siegelman went to prison on federal corruption charges after his term ended.
The impeachments article was a backwater of constitutional reform in 2011 when the state’s Constitutional Revision Commission sat down to review and rewrite the 1901 Constitution article-by-article.
Clocking in at well over 300,000 words, the Alabama Constitution is the by far the longest state constitution and may well be the longest constitution in the world. Critics have long hoped to trash it and start over; the 2011 Revision Commission largely suggested tweaks to various articles, rather than major changes.
Advocates for the November impeachments amendment say most of their proposed changes are just that – tweaks.
“This is one not-insignificant change,” said Craig Baab, director of Alabama Appleseed, a group that supports the amendment.
Baab said the amendment would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to impeach a governor. How many votes does it take to impeach now? The constitution doesn’t explicitly say.
“It’s implied that it’s a majority vote, but is it a majority of the body or a majority of members present?” Baab said.
Baab said it’s likely to be a topic of debate if impeachment proceedings actually start.
Lawmakers return to Montgomery on Tuesday. Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, and Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, have said they want to file resolutions demanding impeachment.
As of Friday, according to House records, neither lawmaker had filed a resolution.