Voters to Blame for Political Corruption in Alabama, Experts Say

Voters to Blame for Political Corruption in Alabama, Experts Say

[] –On Election Day, Alabama voters prioritize religious beliefs over moral integrity in their candidates, which experts argue is a key factor in the state's frequent political scandals.

“If you are a politician in Alabama, you oppose abortion, oppose same-sex marriage, are a practicing Evangelical Christian, and campaign on family values,” said historian Wayne Flynt, an expert on Alabama's history.

Flynt, a professor emeritus at Auburn University and author of 11 books including “Alabama in the Twentieth Century,” explained to NBC News that Alabama's political corruption persists because voters focus more on religious alignment than on ethical behavior. This was highlighted following Robert Bentley’s resignation in 2017, making him the third Alabama governor in recent years to leave office in disgrace.

“For many, it’s assumed that politicians will take advantage of their position,” Flynt said. “This applies to both Republicans and Democrats.”

Flynt noted that politicians who align with conservative religious values tend to secure the "Bible Belt vote." He likened this to how many Evangelicals justified voting for Donald Trump.

Bentley, a conservative and part-time Sunday School teacher, exemplifies this phenomenon. “When politicians fall from grace, there’s a rationalization of their hypocrisy,” Flynt said.

William Stewart, a retired University of Alabama political science professor and author of “Alabama Politics in the Twenty-First Century,” agreed with Flynt. He noted that Alabama’s low voter turnout and voters’ tendencies to support candidates who affirm their biases contribute to the state’s political issues.

“We have a passive citizenry that often doesn’t engage until things go seriously wrong,” Stewart told NBC News. This lack of engagement allows politicians to act with little oversight until scandals erupt.

Stewart emphasized the role of journalists and investigators in uncovering political misbehavior, which eventually brings the truth to light.

Alabama's history of political corruption includes several high-profile cases. Guy Hunt, a Baptist preacher and the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, was removed from office in 1993 for criminal convictions. Don Siegelman, a Democrat governor from 1999 to 2003, served five years in prison on federal corruption charges, though his supporters claim it was a politically motivated prosecution.

Bentley’s resignation over allegations of an affair cover-up followed the conviction of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard for breaking ethics laws he helped pass, and the removal of Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for defying the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Moore was the first of the Republican trinity to fall,” said Flynt, referencing Moore's defiance of federal rulings.

Numerous other Alabama politicians have been caught in scandals involving misuse of campaign funds, personal benefits from their positions, and attempts to conceal their actions through dubious methods.

While Alabama is notorious for political corruption, it is not alone. A 2015 FiveThirtyEight survey ranked Louisiana as the most corrupt state, with Alabama placing seventh, just behind Illinois. In fact, Alabama lawmakers used Illinois' procedures for impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich as a model when attempting to impeach Bentley.

“We're having to create this as we go because we haven't impeached anybody since 1915,” Alabama state House Judiciary Committee spokesman Clay Redden told NBC News. “They left no documentation behind. So the committee is using the Blagojevich rules Illinois used.”