Yes, he really said that. No, he wasn’t kidding.
When I spoke with state Rep. Jimmy Martin this week, he didn’t hide his displeasure with Alabama’s ethics laws.
“Somebody’s conscience got to bothering them and they thought everybody down here was a bunch of crooks like they are,” he said. “Whoever was the mastermind of this ethics bill totally screwed up the camaraderie and fun in the Alabama Legislature.”
I want to make it clear that Martin wasn’t trying to be cute. He wasn’t saying any of this tongue-in-cheek. He was mad. He was mad because Alabama law doesn’t let lawmakers eat, drink and party with lobbyists picking up the tabs the way they used to.
Martin, a Republican from Clanton, lost reelection in 2010, but in 2014 he won his old seat back. While he was gone, the Alabama Legislature passed what it boasted as being the toughest-in-the-nation ethics laws.
A steak dinner, Martin said, can’t buy his vote.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the steak, and he misses those dinners.
“We don’t draw a big salary and we spend a lot of time away from work and our families,” he said. “It helps to have some perks now and then.”
Now moves underway to go back to those ethics laws passed in 2010 and tweak them.
Last week, Rep. Mike Ball held a press conference in Montgomery where he announced his plan to put together a commission to reform the state’s ethics laws. In the press conference, Ball was short on specifics. Mostly he said he wanted the process to be open and public.
“One of the big mistakes we made was Gov. [Bob] Riley, before he went out, wanted to get it done in a special session,” Ball said about the 2010 ethics reforms when I talked to him this week. “None of it was well thought-out.”
Ball says some of the right things. Yes, if there are going to be changes to Alabama’s ethics laws, then the process needs to be open and easy to follow.
“I don’t care if I’m the point man or if I’m on the committee,” Ball said. “I just want it out in the open.”