Alabama Scene

A mulligan for the governor

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com

“Anyone here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”

Those were the words of our new governor, speaking soon after taking office at the King Memorial Baptist Church a block from the Capitol.

I know what he meant. Most Alabamians know what he meant. He just forgot to say “in Christ” after the words “brother” and “sister.” Yes, our new governor was proselytizing. True, he shouldn’t have said those words, but I do not believe he had any intention of demeaning anyone, their race or religion, particularly anyone of the Jewish faith.

And so what … Most historians agree Jesus Christ was a Jew, that he was regarded as a teacher and healer, and that he was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified in Jerusalem on the orders of Pontius Pilate.

But this is Alabama … this is the Bible Belt and most of us grew up in a religious atmosphere dominated by those of the Christian faith. My father, a Methodist preacher, believed Jesus was the nexus between Judaism and Christianity. The term “minister” had not entered the lexicon when he was serving churches in the North Alabama Conference and he proudly referred to himself as a “preacher” of the gospel. He once said the closest he came to the hereafter was while he was baptizing a 400-pound man in the Tennessee River. As a Christian minister, he had great respect for those of the Jewish faith and taught that by example.

One of my closest friends in high school at Sheffield was Jewish. So was my mentor when I was being initiated in the “S” Club at school. I have many friends of the Jewish faith but, you know, I don’t categorize my friends with a religious test.

One comment I read about Dr. Bentley’s words summed it up like this: “Almost assuredly, he meant no ill will to anyone. He was guilty not of evil, nor of bias, nor even of anything remotely suggesting looming injustice toward any constituent. He was guilty only of religious and cultural insulation. That can be overcome.”

I’m giving Dr. Bentley a mulligan on his faux pas. I believe most Alabamians will do the same. With all the difficulties that lie ahead, I hold out great hope that our new governor will lead Alabama on a positive note. Riley aids political contributors on the coast

In one of his final acts as governor, Bob Riley had a hand in the negotiation of a $37.2-million payment from BP to a south Alabama development company operated by heavy donors to his last campaign.

In early December, the Riley administration, along with BP and the Brett/Robinson Gulf Corp., announced the deal to settle claims that the Gulf oil spill damaged the massive Phoenix West II condo project in Orange Beach.

In exchange for the $37.2-million settlement, individuals who prepaid hundreds of thousands of dollars for condos in the massive complex were required to sign waivers agreeing not to sue BP or any other entity involved in the spill.

The Brett/Robinson firm and its subsidiary companies have three partners: Thomas E. “Gene” Brett, his brother Tillis Brett, and Thomas “Tommy” Robinson. The three gave a combined $150,000 to Riley’s 2006 re-election campaign. The Brett brothers and Robinson each wrote checks for $50,000 to the Riley campaign on Dec. 16, 2005.

The Brett/Robinson company was also a defendant – along with BP – in a federal class action lawsuit brought by a condo owner who alleged the developer and BP conspired to illegally persuade condo investors to allow Brett/Robinson to determine the condo investors’ losses and damages, and to file claims with BP on the investors’ behalf. The investors’ complaint states that Gene Brett met personally with a BP senior vice president and an unnamed member of Riley’s administration this past summer. A federal court judge dismissed the development firm from the case in August.

In a similar case, condo investors alleged the company practiced law without a license by attempting to convince investors to allow the developer to assess and file claims with BP on the investors’ behalf. A circuit court judge issued a cease-and-desist order ordering the developers to stop sending the letters to condo investors.