Alabama Scene

Here’s how we should fix the Legislature

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. Email him at:

I’ve watched our Legislature operate up close for more years than I would ever have wished. Many have paid lip service toward reforming its practices and mores, but little has been accomplished.

Basically it operates about the same as it did when my centenarian friend, Mr. Fuller Kimbrell of Fayette, who celebrated birthday number 102 with friends in Montgomery last week, served there in the 1940s. “Mr. Fuller,” my moniker for him in respect of his seniority, was also the finance director later on for two governors.

There’s only one way to fix our lawmaking body and it must start with a governor who has a majority of his party in the two chambers and who has the chutzpah to push and lead them to change the system.

Here’s what I believe must be done.

1. Create a full-time Legislature. This is, after all, one of the three branches of our government, but it requires the smallest number of officials and employees. Why shouldn’t we require them all to work full time on the people’s business?

2. We already pay their employees well, so pay them a decent salary, at least what the highest paid state workers in that branch of government earn, including state retirement, a travel allowance, and health care.

3. Don’t require them to live in Montgomery. They need to be in their districts and available to their constituents.

4. But do require them to be full time and prohibit them, their spouses, or children from earning any outside income from any entity which has a significant interest in matters that come before the lawmaking body. Investment income would be permitted with required reporting and close monitoring of where it is invested.

The last item is crucial to having a Legislature that cannot be influenced by outside money. Since their creation in the 1960s, the state’s junior colleges and trade schools have been the butt of many jokes. I used to say that if you needed a job, get elected to the Legislature, and you would soon be working at a junior college.

That scenario has been a practice, not only of the junior colleges, but the four-year institutions, and in a much larger way of big business. We have fixed the junior college problem, but a much larger fix in the area of big business would take place through the prohibitions I suggested above. Numerous parttime legislators over the past decades have been paid as consultants and employees of financial institutions, utility companies, and various other business and professional sectors to protect their interests in the Legislature. The junior college problem was penny-ante compared to business-professional related employment of lawmakers.

Recent testimony at the bingo-related trial in Montgomery has shown that Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, and former Rep. Terry Spicer, D-Elba, received such fees for years.

A lobbyist for the Country Crossing bingo establishment testified that he was paying $1000 to $2000 in cash monthly for six or seven years to Spicer while he was in the Legislature. The money supposedly was for referring clients to the lobbyist.

Mask was receiving "between $10,000 and $50,000" per year from former-lieutenantgovernor turned-lobbyist Steve Windom. Mask, who told the same “referring clients” story, has said those fees started before he became a legislator but he continued taking the money after he was elected.

Hope you read this, Gov. Bentley. Perhaps you could start the process to slam this revolving door shut. Beck finally cleared to be U.S. attorney

After two years, five months, and 12 days of delay, mainly caused by the laggardly actions of the President of the United States, the position of U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery has been filled. Last Thursday the Senate cleared the appointment of Montgomery lawyer and Elmore County resident George Beck.

Beck is a former deputy attorney general for the state. He’s most recently worked as an attorney at the Capell-Howard law firm in Montgomery, handling several high-profile cases as a defense lawyer.

I suggest the delay was a political deal cut at the behest of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to keep the previous U.S. attorney, Leura Canary, in office in return for Sessions’s help with other higher profile Obama appointments. The Alabama senator is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Judiciary Committee which must pass on judicial and U.S. attorney nominees of the President.

Obama waited for over two years to submit the name of a replacement for Canary. She is the wife of Business Council of Alabama President Bill Canary, an ally of former Gov. Bob Riley.