They just can’t help themselves

Art Parker

By Art Parker

By the time you read this I will probably be sleeping on the sofa in the den, and sent there without supper. In other words, my wife will be furious with this column once she reads this. Mrs. Parker taught history in a public school for thirty years and has been retired a while.
   Last week a bill was floated before a Senate committee down in the State House. The bill basically provides for a special $400 one-time bonus to retired school teachers. The sponsor is Senator Gerald Dial of Lineville. Dial said we need to show appreciation and gratitude to the people that have educated us.
   I don’t disagree that my wife, and other teachers, deserve the utmost respect, praise and appreciation. There is no way I would do that job and put up with the stuff they put up with mostly because of irresponsible parents who can’t raise their kids to behave and act responsibly.
    But why now? Why all of a sudden do we need to show this love? Because somebody needs to get elected and it’s an election year.    That’s why.
   Senator Dial is currently serving his tenth (10th) term. He went to the State House when I was a senior in college. The 80-year old Dial is no longer seeking his Senate seat but he is running for the job of Alabama’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries.
   In other words, the well-aged politician has now decided to run for statewide office instead of limiting his campaign to a Senate district. Being the crafty politico he is, Dial knows he needs to increase his name recognition outside his home district and he needs to be able to run around the State and tell people what he has done for them. There are thousands upon thousands of retired teachers and that makes for a good block of votes. I know $400 doesn’t seem like a bunch of money to some, but most retired teachers are like my wife and they will love the idea of some extra cash.
   Now you know why I will be exiled to the den sofa.
    I find Dial’s pandering to be a typical move by an Alabama politician. They will do anything to hang around. They will make us pay any price for their re-election. They will do anything to keep power, after all, that usually translates into money.
   Further evidence of such selfishness has already been seen this year, notably in HB 317 and HB 93 and SB110. Within these bills you will find nothing but schemes to help current legislators either stay in office or be able to interact with legislators after they leave office without fear of breaking the law. These schemes include one for legislation to create the “Association of Former Members of the Alabama Legislature.” We also see within HB 317 that current members of the legislature can dodge the law under the guise of economic development. It should be named the “How to avoid indictment bill.”
   Van Davis, the special prosecutor that prosecuted former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, said “The way they are going about it would change the definition to make it legal or OK to do the thing Hubbard got convicted of: lobbying for money,” according to al.com.
   These recent considerations are proof that a disease hits members of the legislature once elected. It’s called “Shameless Officitis.”
Why can’t they be true statesman and work for the people without the goodies and then go home and let someone else serve? I guess they just can’t help themselves.
   To further validate my suspicion about them hanging around too long one must look no further than this year’s HJR 23 – a joint resolution the State lawmakers wish to pass that require term limits on Federal office holders. These hypocrites and crooks wish for a restriction in Washington D.C. that they intentionally will not apply in Montgomery, AL. Wonder why?
    Alabama is a great example of why tenure limits are needed. I say tenure instead of term because those elected already serve a pre-determined term. We must limit how long these guys can hang around and when their time is done severely restricted their efforts to remain influential and active within the legislative body. If we don’t then the corruption will never stop and we will never solve problems that we have with prisons, schools, the Medicaid program or mental health.

A matter of trust

Art Parker

By Art Parker

The dictionary defines ethics as “The moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.” That definition would lead one to believe that unethical behavior comes from a person without moral principles, or one that possess immoral principles.
   When it comes to government and elected officials, especially here in Alabama, it is much easier to say that few know the difference between right and wrong. If they do know the difference they still opt for the latter instead of the former, usually motivated by things such as power, ego and of course, money.
   For some reason in our state we have an ongoing problem with ethics in government. We have talked about this extensively for years. We passed legislation that was spearheaded by those who said the people deserved better, but then they proved to be as unethical as their predecessors.
   You may have heard by now that the Attorney General’s office has begun to investigate elected officials that seem to have irregularities or questionable transactions in their campaign accounts. There were no
shocking headlines when this news came about and little has been said since. The first I heard the news through the political winds and the word was that about twenty five subpoenas were being sent to  current and former members of the legislature. Then I hear there was about fifty. When it comes to campaign money and ethics I’m surprised that there has not been about one hundred thirty subpoenas, which would leave about ten members of the Legislature whose honesty holds up to scrutiny.
   Yep. That number sounds about right.
   I must admit that I am glad to see this but I also must question the Attorney General’s Office, and the Ethics Commission, by asking what the hell has taken you so long? Unethical, inappropriate and questionable things have been going on with campaign accounts for years.
   Brian Hodge, our News Editor, came to work for me in Millbrook almost fourteen years ago. I told him to start making himself familiar with campaign reports filed with the Secretary of State office. Despite
having no reporting experience, it didn’t take long for Hodge to question a ton of things.
   If you wish to see poor management of information that should be available to the public, you can go to most any Probate Judge’s office, where campaign information is supposedly managed for local  elections, and you will probably find that many documents are lost, tossed into a box in the basement of the court house or even thrown away. Many workers in these offices probably don’t even know the
procedure for filing these documents. And what is most disturbing is the extraordinarily high number of local candidates that don’t even file campaign reports. If a candidate files reports there is virtually no  probability that it will be examined by someone in government that should be doing that in order to protect the people from unethical and unscrupulous politicians. I can’t help but ask, why make them file at
all?
   I understand from various sources that the Attorney General‘s office has particular interest in expenses revealed on campaign reports that are not itemized. Spending campaign money on legitimate campaign needs is perfectly legal, plus the law allows an elected official to use excess campaign funds for charitable contributions, transfers to the General Fund of the State of Alabama, or, and this is the big one, use for expenses related to duties of the their office.
     For years Hodge and I have seen so many improperly filed expenses it will make your head spin. It is common, not uncommon, to see questionable items especially when a credit card is used. The most  common of these is to write the expense item as “Visa” instead of the actual expenses and recipient of the campaign funds. We have seen just about everything including one lawmaker that had four different  cell phone bills. I’m sure his two daughters in college were at least half of the phone expenses. By the way, he couldn’t tell us why he had so many cell phone bills when we asked.
   When I went to high school my dad told me life would be different and he would trust me to govern myself…until I proved to be untrustworthy. Today I hear lawmakers screaming and complaining about the tightening ethic laws. Well you guys get no sympathy from me. You have proven to be untrustworthy and should be treated as such.

A reasonable effort that falls short

Art Parker

By Art Parker

Most people who possess an inkling of the famous “Fifth Amendment“ know nothing more than the fact that one cannot be forced to give information or testify against himself. The Fifth Amendment embraces another procedural requirement that helps to assure the rights of the people. The Fifth Amendment begins as follows: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger…”
   The idea is to provide a check against law enforcement and prosecutors from running all over the people, putting them in jail and doing other horrible things.
   This marks the third time this year I have talked about one of those “horrible things” government does. It is called asset forfeiture and it is an unacceptable diabolical practice.
   Asset forfeiture is theft on the grandest scale and without the thief being held accountable. The thief is government. A few months ago I pointed out some disturbing facts, for example, in 2014 the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did. In fiscal 2014, the total value of such assets seized by law enforcement in the State of Alabama was just a touch shy of $5 million. Since 2008, police agencies around the country have seized property more than 50,000 times with total seizures exceeding $3 billion. These seizures allow local and state police to profit and share with federal agencies.
   A law enforcement unit can raise cash by simply seizing money or property from a citizen on the mere suspicion of a crime. The action originates from suspicion not conviction. In other words guilty until proven innocent. And even if you are proven innocent you will probably never see your assets again.
   Don’t you think it is strange and tyrannical to steal a citizens assets yet require a grand jury to allow prosecutors to try you before a jury of your peers? There is something terribly wrong here.
   Asset forfeiture was brought to light within the past year by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is extremely gung ho on re-instating the civil asset forfeiture practice after the Obama Administration and many congressional leaders said enough is enough. Well, it is never enough for little Jeffy, who, in my opinion, wants to put damn near everybody in jail for something, unless of course they subscribe to a life acceptable to him. Law enforcement has nothing to lose by continuing asset forfeiture. Government law enforcement officials like Sessions want to play cop, judge, jury and hangman when they want to and steal the people’s property and do so without being questioned. (I suggest you read John Archibald’s column for more details and additional insight).
   But good news came to us in Alabama this year when State Senator Arthur Orr introduced SB-213, which, if enacted, may curtail the wicked practice of asset forfeiture, at least on the state level. It seems like this has a chance to pass because our lawmakers in Alabama have finally realized how wrong this practice is.
  I know it is hard to believe, but the legislators may actually do the right thing for a change.
   While I praise Orr and the others for making the attempt to right this horrible wrong I feel the bill falls short of what is needed. Despite the wording in the bill there seems to lack government accountability when someone’s property is improperly and illegally seized. There needs to be punishment for those in law enforcement, both individually and by agency, when they mistreat a citizen. Despite the efforts of Orr and others the bill falls short of stopping law enforcement from taking your property with the luxury of later saying, “Oh sorry. Here is your money.” I believe that a warrant or conviction must be required in ALL cases before any property, of any kind, can be seized.
   I will be glad to see this bill pass but I will be equally anxious to see future enactments that will provide greater protection for citizens and their rights.
   I know I have used the following Thomas Jefferson quote a lot over the years, but it always bears repeating and remembering: “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”