MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama lawmakers have ended a session of turmoil that saw a bipartisan impeachment push against a governor and a bitter partisan battle over redistricting.
A season of political scandals intersected at the Alabama Statehouse this year. Then-Gov. Robert Bentley resigned last month amid the push to impeach him in the fallout of an alleged affair with a former aide. A new speaker presided over the House, after his predecessor was convicted on ethics charges last year.
“The members of the House, and the legislative body as a whole, they’ve been under a lot of pressure this year. It’s been because of some of the circumstances we’ve had to deal with,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia.
The most significant action this session was arguably not legislation, but establishing an impeachment investigation process and then using it against Bentley. Bentley resigned on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee began hearings, the first step to a House vote on impeachment.
McCutcheon told The Associated Press earlier this year that he had cautioned Bentley three days prior to Bentley’s resignation that he believed that the votes were there to impeach him.
“The mood of the House was that he would be impeached when it came time for a vote,” McCutcheon said he told Bentley in a “friend-to-friend” meeting in Bentley’s Capitol office.
Bentley told the AP last month that he resigned to give himself, and the state, some relief from the constant drumbeat of the scandal. Bentley also struck a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations to end a state investigation as he left office.
Lawmakers ended the session with a partisan, and at times emotional, battle over redistricting. The GOP-controlled Legislature redrew legislative maps under court order to fix racial gerrymandering in 12 districts. The ruling came after black lawmakers filed a lawsuit challenging the maps as “stacking and packing” minority voters into designated districts to make neighboring districts whiter and more likely to elect conservative Republicans.
Republican legislators said they are confident the new lines will be approved by federal judges.
“It’s fair. It puts back counties and precincts like the court told us to do. It did not use race in any way to draw districts. It will go back to the three-judge panel and I think they will approve it,” said Sen. Gerald Dial, Republican chairman of the redistricting committee.
African-American Democrats opposed the new maps, arguing they did not make enough changes. They argued Republicans drew the plans largely without input from them. The Legislative Black Caucus used delaying tactics to protest the maps, including having the two redistricting bills read aloud. The readings took about 20 hours in each chamber.
“As you know, the Legislative Black Caucus filed the lawsuit. We won,” Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said. “The Legislative Black Caucus felt like we were not involved in the planning of how we were going to draw these district lines. … We got into committee and the maps were already drawn.”