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500-pound gorilla and an apology

By Joseph Mitchell
Member, Alabama House of Representatives
State Rep. Joseph Mitchell offered the following open letter Friday, Feb. 27 to Alabama citizens and the local and regional media:

Please accept this communication as one of apology. I feel fairly certain that your having not received such a statement from individual legislators from around the state is a regretful oversight on the part of their respective offices. In addition, their individual opinions may differ from mine, considerably.

After some limited research and reflection on nearly 15 years of public service in the Alabama State Legislature, I am of the opinion that matters of recent have been endemic in the state legislature since its founding. The ‘process’ of political service makes possible the events of malfeasance that have been witnessed in recent days. I offer this apology while circumstances are fresh on the minds of your readers. I offer this apology on the behalf of my colleagues, most of whom will not consider themselves responsible for an undermined trust.

This last week, in legislative sessions, in partisan caucuses, and in race caucuses, absolutely no word was said of the convictions of two fellow legislators on federal charges of corruption. Not a word. When members die, we typically stop legislative business to have a moment of silence in respect of their passing. When members are reported to be mortally ill, we will stop legislative business so that we collectively might offer a prayer or a thought for their comfort. Last week there was not a word. Not a single collective action regarding the circumstances of two serving members of the state legislature.

During my tenure in the Alabama House, I have experienced the death of six or seven House Members. Other members did nothing to contribute to the failed health and infirmary of their colleagues. As mortals, all we could do was pray before the fact of their mortal demise. There was nothing that we could have done to prevent their infirmary and there was nothing that we could have done regarding the inevitable end result of the process. We could only witness and give testimony. Such is not the case regarding the recent “deaths.”

Last week, the second of two members was convicted in federal court of mail fraud. The circumstances had been debated for months and a jury brought a verdict. For months preceding the verdict, legislative leaders in the Alabama House and Senate witnessed and gave testimony regarding the circumstances that would give impetus to the jury verdict. Last week, the fact of the second conviction of a legislator sat in the chamber of the Alabama State House of Representatives like a five hundred pound gorilla and no one said a word – no prayers, no acclamations, no resolutions of condolences and sympathy – no nothing.

This letter comes to you in apology because the members of the Alabama House and Senate created and passed the budget bills that contained the money that trailed from tax-payer trust to fraud conviction/s. When the conspiracy against tax-payers was planned and organized, most legislators did not know of it. Most of us could not have known, even as we voted in the affirmative on the budget/s that made a crime probable. Last week, it sat there in the House Chamber and no one said a word.

On the behalf of my contemporaries and our historic predecessors, I offer this apology.

(Joseph Mitchell represents House District 103 in the state Legislature.)

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