As Alabama Senator Greg Albritton was preparing Monday to return to Montgomery for the first day of the legislative session on Tuesday, he was not sure what he and fellow legislators would be walking into.
“The impeachment cloud has been over us for some time,” Albritton said. “I’m not sure if we can accomplish anything with that difficulty still there.”
He was referring, of course, to the possible impeachment of Governor Robert Bentley for inappropriate behavior with his former adviser Rebekah Mason. The governor said he has done nothing illegal, nothing that would be grounds for impeachment.
The state Constitution authorizes impeachment of the governor and other elected officials by the House of Representatives and a trial in the Senate. However, the House hasn’t considered an impeachment case since 1915, so what are the rules?
“It becomes more and more complicated with little guidance on the proper way to proceed,” Albritton said. “We’ve got to be fair to Bentley and to the public. The leadership may say do this, this and this, but we don’t know. And who will have the spheres of influence – the Speaker, committee chairmen, others? I won’t know until I get there. We seem to be like a ship in a storm. The rudders and propellers are useless. We’re tossed about by events.”
Albritton said the legislature does not judge legality and doesn’t put anyone in jail, but does act whether or not to remove the governor from office.
Albritton said whether the governor is in or out, that position will not have any political capital.
“When political leadership is weak, lobbyists rule the roost, and that’s not good for the public,” Albritton said.
If Bentley is removed, Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey will become the acting governor.
Aside from the impeachment cloud, other issues are hanging over the legislature.
Governor Bentley’s prison bill was dead on arrival in both houses, Albritton said. Bentley called for three large buildings but wouldn’t say where they would be built. Under his plan, the state would borrow $800 million to pay for the buildings, with plans to save money on operations. Last year, the Senate passed a compromise – two prisons at $500 million – but it failed in the House, and the governor came back with his same bill.
Albritton and Senator Clyde Chambliss put together a package which no one took seriously at first. But they got leadership on board and put it in committee. The Senate passed it and sent it to the House.
Their plan is to build three major buildings but allow locals to float the bond, build the prisons and lease them to the state. If Escambia County chooses to build, the jobs stay here and could even increase. The bill is still in the House but Albritton is hopeful it will pass.
“I have two concerns,” he said. “One is the safety of the people working there. These are my friends, neighbors, constituents. They need to be able to go to work and come home from work. The second concern is our judgeships in Escambia County. We have two circuit judges – one of the positions exists because of the location of prisons in the county. If we lost the prisons here, we might face judge reallocation.”
Albritton represents District 22 which includes Baldwin, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Mobile, Monroe, and Washington counties.
Albritton and his wife Debbie moved to Atmore recently. It was as Albritton said a move “home.”