As a politician, I could blame the mountain of unfinished business before the Alabama Legislature in 2021 on the COVID pandemic. There’s some truth to it, but well-crafted propaganda combines a grain of truth with a convenient scapegoat. If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then propaganda is the baby itself.
The pandemic is not the primary reason we fail to make progress on difficult and complex issues year after year. The main culprit remains the same as always: pure politics and its never-ending struggle for power over one another.
Politics is a necessary evil. Our fears make it necessary and arrogance makes it evil. The founders of our country must have known this when they cleverly devised a process of governance that distributes political power among various branches and levels of government. They recognized that the greatest danger to a republic is the conceit that drives certain people to accumulate power and the vanity that causes them to abuse it.
Our deliberately cumbersome political system was designed to limit the ability of politicians to abuse their power by playing the arrogance of politicians against one another. Those who engage in politics would do well to recognize their own ego as their greatest adversary. But they seldom, if ever, do.
I entered the political arena several decades ago with the perception that most of the problems within our state government existed because those in control were self-centered and self-righteous. I was hopeful that a regime change would make our political process in Alabama more transparent, effective and trustworthy.
While we proudly took our victory laps when we swept the old guard out of power in the Alabama State House a decade ago, our newly elected Republican supermajority quickly hammered through major changes to the state ethics law. To our credit, some of the hastily passed changes were successful steps toward imposing limitations upon public officials who would improperly utilize the powers of their office for personal gain.
But I was oblivious to the inherent danger of our failure to include safeguards in the enforcement mechanism of our ethics law to help deter the politicization of these investigations. The result was the flagrant abuse of investigative powers in collusion with political operatives during the 2014 election season.
Without humility, power invariably corrupts the human soul. We did not eliminate corruption, we just shifted it around. I saw what happened to House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and it is well and good that he has been and is continuing to be held accountable for his actions. My issue is not, nor has it ever been, that Speaker Hubbard was investigated or prosecuted.
But others who abused their authority have been largely ignored. Truth is supposed to cut both ways, like a two-edged sword. I saw how the lead prosecutor repeatedly used the Hubbard investigation to illegally influence multiple political actions that included illicitly colluding with political operatives to orchestrate an ambush of then-State Rep. Barry Moore with a grand jury that resulted in an arrest weeks before his primary election, followed by an apparent attempt to taint the jury pool by timing the arrest of Speaker Hubbard one week before Rep. Moore’s trial.
When I spoke out about it, I witnessed the machinations of an arrogant bully trying to keep his unethical behavior hidden. It was followed by years of being methodically protected by an apparently corrupt political system.
I saw how the obsession of certain members of the media with Hubbard’s shortcomings and Gov. Bentley’s titillating peccadillo was also used to obscure the corruption that did not match the narrative they wanted to promote. It is hard to resist the temptation to portray the one who is taking on your favorite villain as a hero, regardless of what they do or how they do it.
That is what politics does to people, and it has driven me to the same conclusion about politics that the computer in the 1983 movie “War Games” reached about nuclear war: my only winning move is to stop playing.
Those most responsible for the ethical collapses during that sordid chapter in Alabama history have moved on to other things and managed to avoid being held accountable for their misdeeds. But the systemic flaws that allowed the investigative power of our Attorney General’s Office to be turned into a political weapon have yet to be addressed.
Since joining the Marine Corps in 1973, followed by 25 years in law enforcement and nearly 20 years in the legislature, I have reached the point in my life at which it seems all that is left for me to give are some songs and a few nuggets of wisdom to those who care to listen. But my conscience will not allow me to quietly ease out of office during the remaining two years of my current term.
I am working on an ethics bill that could go a long way toward exposing and correcting some of the flaws in our system that resulted in the flagrant abuse of investigative power for political purposes and the continuing abuse of authority to keep that corruption concealed.
If it does not pass, I will know the culprit was not COVID.
State Rep. Mike Ball is a retired major crimes investigator for the Alabama Bureau of Investigation and has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2002. He chairs both the Ethics and Campaign Finance and Madison County Legislation committees and holds a seat on the Judiciary and State Government committees.