Ken Hare In Depth: Wayward politicians a bipartisan problem - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

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Ken Hare In Depth: Wayward politicians a bipartisan problem

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

In the interest of bipartisanship, I'll focus on two news stories of the past week that are a reminder that neither Alabama Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on wayward elected officials.

First came the news that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear former Democratic governor Don Siegelman's latest appeal in his criminal conviction that landed him in prison.

Then came the story that the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee wants House Speaker Mike Hubbard to temporarily step aside from his House leadership role while his criminal trial on ethics-related charges goes forward.

SIEGELMAN APPEAL STALLS

The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear the Siegelman appeal may end any realistic hopes on the part of the former governor for an early release through the legal process. He is currently scheduled to leave federal prison in August 2017, so it is unlikely he could mount any new appeal in time to affect that release date.

However, that does not necessarily mean an end to Siegelman's parade of appeals. 

Siegelman has vehemently and consistently -- well, almost consistently -- denied he broke the law. From my conversations with the former governor since his initial conviction, I doubt that he will ever completely abandon his attempts to clear his name.

Why almost consistently? When he was making his plea for leniency in sentencing, Siegelman did apologize for his actions and say that while he did not intentionally break the law, he respected the judgment of the jury in his case.

"If I had known I was coming close to the line where a campaign contribution becomes a bribe and a crime, I would have stopped," Siegelman said. 

But Siegelman is far from being the first convicted person to apologize for the errors of his ways while pleading for leniency in sentencing, then later deny any guilt.

Interestingly, Siegelman already would be a free man if not for the time he spent out of prison pending an earlier appeal. 

Siegelman first entered prison in 2007, but was released in 2008 pending an appeal. An appeals court tossed out his convictions on two charges but upheld the rest. He was resentenced in 2012. 

A couple of years ago I predicted that if President Obama were re-elected in 2014, he would soon afterward commute Siegelman's remaining sentence, and perhaps even pardon him. But I was wrong. 

Now that it appears Siegelman won't get out of prison early because of appeals, it's possible Obama still might commute his sentence or pardon him. But having been wrong once, I'll pass on predicting if that will happen.

HUBBARD EMBARRASSES GOP

Unlike Siegelman, Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard has not been convicted of any crime. It remains to be seen if he will be convicted. 

But even if a jury eventually finds that Hubbard's actions do not rise to the level of criminality, what has been revealed during the pre-trial process has proved to be embarrassing to Hubbard and to his fellow Republicans. 

An exchange of emails revealed by the prosecution especially shows Hubbard as a politician focused on money rather than service. His attempt as part of his defense to undermine the very ethics law improvements that he and fellow House Republicans had claimed as one of their top accomplishments also was an embarrassment.

But that has not kept Hubbard from clinging to office despite calls for him to step aside.

The latest came from the state GOP executive committee, but Hubbard flatly rejected any notion of leaving the speakership, even temporarily. Even though the 2016 legislative session starts in February, Hubbard fired back that the calls for him to step down as speaker were "ill-advised and premature."

The disagreements over Hubbard's future is creating a split among state Republicans. But that turmoil is a party issue, and not necessarily something the public should be troubled by. 

What should concern the public is that there is no way that Hubbard can focus both on mounting a defense in his criminal trial and in running the Alabama House of Representatives, which faces some really tough choices in the coming session.

For Hubbard to maintain he can do both is at the very least self-centered and egotistical, and at worst delusional.

Meanwhile, the ongoing legal problems of Democrat Siegelman and Republican Hubbard are just the latest of many examples that could be given to show that when it comes to elected officials who prove to be an embarrassment, both parties have their troubles.

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Ken Hare is a veteran newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for wsfa.com. Feedback appreciated.

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