Obviously there are times that isn’t possible. Long-term health issues can rob office holders of their ability to perform their duties, and resignation can be the best option in the public’s interest. On the national scene, we’ve seen several office holders resign after personal scandals overshadowed their ability to effectively carry out the public’s business.
But in Alabama, the exodus appears to be driven by bigger paychecks. The “Revolving Door” that moves lawmakers and regulators into new roles as lobbyists, consultants and strategists is getting quite a workout.
Former Secretary of State Beth Chapman left her office, saying she had another opportunity that would help her get her two sons through college after the death of her husband two years ago. The other opportunity turned out to be as a political consultant for the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Former State Rep. Jay Love, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, resigned to become a lobbyist for the Business Education Alliance.
U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner resigned to take a newly restructured position as vice chancellor of government relations and economic development for the University of Alabama System. That sounds a lot like lobbying, too, and, by the way, his sister is the president of the University of Alabama.
Former state Rep. Jim Barton, former chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee, left for a lobbying job with Kinney Capital Group.
And just last week, state Rep. Barry Mask said he’s quitting at the end of the month to become CEO of the Alabama Realtors Association, which is a lobbying group.
Former state Rep. Elwyn Thomas resigned to become director of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission, the state agency that regulates manufactured homes in the state.
And three other lawmakers left office to serve in Gov. Robert Bentley’s administration, former Reps. Spencer Collier, Greg Canfield and Blaine Galliher.
Bentley appointed Jim Bennett to fill out the remaining 17 months of Chapman’s term, but it takes special elections to fill the other offices, and those aren’t cheap. It will cost about $100,000 for each state race, and about $1.5 million for Bonner’s congressional seat according to one published estimate. The added expense of those elections is ironic, considering all the hype about trimming the cost of government.
State ethics laws have been written specifically to cover cases of people moving from government to lobbying jobs. In Alabama law, the “Revolving Door” section states “No public official shall serve for a fee as a lobbyist or otherwise represent clients, including his or her employer before the board, agency, commission, department, or legislative body, of which he or she is a former member for a period of two years after he or she leaves such membership. …”
Apparently that does not prohibit a former House member from lobbying in the Senate, or vice versa. That’s something likely to get attention in the next session.
It’s understandable that office-holders would be tempted by offers to become lobbyists or work full-time in other government posts. Alabama lawmakers don’t get rich from their legislative paychecks.
But they knew what the job required, how much it paid, and how long their terms lasted before they got their names on the ballot. It’s really disheartening to see so many of them turning their backs on the public they said they wanted to serve.