Speaking at the reopening of a state park yesterday, Alabama state auditor Jim Zeigler called Bentley “a tumor” after the governor brushed off his demand for documents and testimony related to a sex scandal.
“If he doesn’t have anything to hide, and he says he doesn’t, it looks bad but it’s not illegal, why would he not provide records and come to the meeting and answer the questions,” Zeigler said.
Alabama is enduring national embarrassment for a government-wide state of fiasco. Bentley recently fired his top law enforcement agent the day before a salacious audio recording of the governor talking to his political adviser and alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, emerged in the press.
Impeachment rumblings are underway in the state House of Representatives, but the legislature also lacks subpoena powers and remains paralyzed by the corruption trial of Speaker Mike Hubbard.
On Thursday, Zeigler demanded that Bentley produce records of all his communications with Mason and answer questions about the use of state aircraft or other resources to conduct a relationship with her.
Gov. Robert Bentley replied with a terse press release on Friday.
The appropriate legal process is through the Alabama Ethics Commission where the Auditor has already filed a complaint, and we are fully cooperating in every way. I do not intend to respond further to Mr. Zeigler.
State laws do not actually grant the auditor powers of subpoena and law enforcement. Nevertheless, when informed of the governor’s response on Friday, Zeigler insisted the matter is not closed.
“That’s the juvenile way the Bentley administration operates,” the auditor said. “That’s a funny way to do business.”
Asked what the consequences would be for the governor, Zeigler said, “We are studying the options to enforce the auditor’s order.” When asked what those options are, he said, “We are studying them now.”
Of course, there will not be any consequences for the governor’s refusal to cooperate — because whatever Alabama may think of Bentley, Zeigler has no constitutional ‘options’ to enforce his order. There’s nothing to ‘study.’
Zeigler seems to hold an expansive view of his powers. He doesn’t just want to be an auditor, but a kind of super-auditor who pen-whips state agency reports and then spends the rest of his tenure crusading on other issues.
For example, Zeigler has campaigned to return portraits of George and Lurleen Wallace to the Statehouse rotunda. It’s a cause very popular with neoconfederate white supremacists, but not actually part of his job.
After a United Nations fact-finding team was horrified to see the rampant gender inequality in Alabama for themselves, Zeigler defended the Heart of Dixie from a sinister conspiracy he saw subverting state laws.
“The U.N. is preparing to try to dictate to Alabama what we must do on abortion, contraceptives given to youth, sex education in schools, tolerance of alternative sexual orientation and other ‘progressive’ issues,” Zeigler said, reflecting long-held views he received from the John Birch Society.
Forcing women to birth unwanted babies is a pet cause for Zeigler, who campaigned on the issue despite the fact that Alabama’s state auditor does not regulate health care providers.
Over the last several months, Zeigler has criticized the governor for closing state parks to resolve budget woes, called his administration “dysfunctional” for problems in the state’s payroll system, and is now lobbying against Bentley’s efforts to make the state auditor an appointed position.
Long known as ‘Mr. 49 Percent’ for losing many close races in his long quest for political relevance, Zeigler may end up being historically significant as the last state auditor to ever be elected by voters.
Potentially, the change could professionalize the office. Jim Zeigler, after all, is an elder care attorney who doesn’t have an accounting degree — just a strongly-developed sense of self-righteousness. He may be living proof that an election is not the best way to choose the state’s bookkeeper.