Meet the Alabama lawmaker quietly promising to save Bentley from impeachment
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) is poised to bury articles of impeachment against Governor Robert Bentley if the House continues on its current track toward sending the articles to the Judiciary Committee, which Jones chairs.
According to multiples sources in the House, Jones has told colleagues he will “protect” members of his committee from having to take a vote on the issue and effectively kill the effort before it gains any more traction.
Jones’ efforts may come as a surprise to casual political observers who have heard so much in the media from impeachment advocates in recent weeks, but behind closed doors Republican lawmakers are much less inclined to push forward with a high-profile effort to boot the state’s embattled governor out of office.
“He is not alone,” one Republican lawmaker said on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal GOP caucus business. “Basically it’s like all the attorneys in the House have banded together and Jones is the lead lawyer since he’s chairman of Judiciary. I am honestly not sure yet how I would vote on impeachment, but I think we need to go ahead and get the process started, investigate, and see where it takes us. That is not where we’re headed right now.”
Section 173 of the Alabama Constitution lays out the grounds on which a constitutional officer can be impeached:
The governor… may be removed from office for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency, or intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquors or narcotics to such an extent, in view of the dignity of the office and importance of its duties, as unfits the officer for the discharge of such duties, or for any offense involving moral turpitude while in office, or committed under color thereof, or connected therewith, by the senate sitting as a court of impeachment, under oath or affirmation, on articles or charges preferred by the house of representatives.
State Rep. Ed Henry’s articles of impeachment charge Bentley with neglecting his duties as governor, corruption in office, incompetence and moral turpitude. In response to the threat of impeachment, Bentley released a statement calling it “a political attack.”
Multiple sources say Jones and his allies argue that incompetence is only grounds for impeachment if Bentley is found to be mentally incompetent by physicians. They also say moral turpitude is not grounds for impeachment, in spite of it being listed in the Constitution. In short, many of the lawmakers who are against impeaching the governor have said they do not plan to take action unless they see clear evidence he has broken the law.
Rep. Henry, who sponsored the initial impeachment petition, expressed frustration on the House floor Tuesday, saying he was “starting to feel at some level there are some shenanigans at play” to “set (impeachment) aside.”
Henry’s remarks were in response to State Rep. Mac McCutcheon’s (R-Huntsville) effort to increase the number of signatures needed to start impeachment proceedings from 10 to 21. McCutcheon explained that he believes the higher threshold would give the articles of impeachment more weight.
“The more signatures we have, the more credible it will be,” he said on the House floor.
Rep. Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) agreed.
“I would rather see the number a lot higher, because of the gravity of the situation,” he said.
State Rep. Matt Fridy (R-Montevallo) attempted to pass a resolution creating a 15-member committee to investigate whether Bentley should be impeached, but concerns were raised that selecting the committee after articles of impeachment had already been introduced would inject politics into the process. As a result, impeachment-related efforts will likely be sent to Jones’ Judiciary Committee for a quiet death.
“With the exception of a few of the guys on the far-right, everyone else talking about impeaching Bentley is just blowing smoke,” said one lobbyist. “It’s dead, whether everyone knows it yet or not.”
Rep. Jones did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: The Alabama House on Tuesday approved rules changes that now require a three-fifths vote (63 votes in 105-member House) for impeachment to be brought up for consideration.