Thursday, June 2, 2016

Don't worry, your state has been a national embarrassment for years

OPELIKA, Ala. — The excitement began outside the courtroom here on Wednesday morning when Gov. Robert Bentley arrived to testify at the trial of the speaker of the state House of Representatives. . . . .
During the governor’s testimony, lawyers asked him to recount meetings with Mr. Hubbard that focused on certain economic development projects, initiatives that were supported by a company that had hired the speaker as a consultant.

“Did you understand you were meeting with him in his capacity as speaker of the House?” a prosecutor, John Gibbs, asked.

“I did,” Mr. Bentley replied. “He is the speaker of the House.”

. . . .

Mr. Bentley’s appearance was part of a gripping day of testimony here in east Alabama, where jurors began to hear evidence last week in the case against Mr. Hubbard, a Republican who many people believe is the most powerful man in the state.

But in a sweltering courtroom, prosecutors called witnesses who portrayed Mr. Hubbard as a man whose public influence masked his increasing desperation about his personal finances.

In emails that were displayed in court, for instance, the speaker beseeched William Brooke, then a senior figure in the Business Council of Alabama, an interest group, to help him find work.

Mr. Hubbard’s pleas were not immediately successful, in part, Mr. Brooke testified, because companies were often unenthusiastic about hiring a sitting speaker of the House who could face complex questions about conflicts of interest.

“Can we find a solution that would leave him independent yet provide him some income?” Mr. Brooke said, explaining the mind-sets of some executives. “And there were no solutions that surfaced.”

Such reluctance, the emails showed, deepened the frustrations of Mr. Hubbard, who lamented that companies hesitated to hire him, even though he had helped strengthen Alabama’s reputation as a business-friendly state. Eventually, Mr. Brooke and others agreed to invest in Mr. Hubbard’s struggling printing company.
 . . . .

Mr. Hubbard faces 20 years in prison on each of the 23 counts against him. Testimony will continue Thursday.

But in many respects, the most sensational component of the trial may have passed by 9:25 a.m. on Wednesday, when Mr. Bentley’s sport utility vehicle began to pull away from a trial that has taken center stage among Alabama’s striking medley of political scandals, including one about the governor’s relationship with a top aide.

Many people here had wondered whether that relationship, which has spurred federal and state inquiries as well as calls for Mr. Bentley’s impeachment, would become a subject of testimony. It did not, but it was difficult to escape the matter: Spencer Collier, who first publicly accused the governor of misconduct, was sitting in the courtroom’s gallery. And for many people, it was difficult to ignore the spectacle of a sitting governor testifying at a sitting House speaker’s trial. “It’s amazing,” said Mr. Collier, whom the governor fired as Alabama’s law enforcement secretary, “and I’m embarrassed for the state.”

The New York Times, June 3, 2016

Update, June 11:  Of course, the crooked grifter was convicted.

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