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Political scandals and drought: A look at 2016’s top stories

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – It was a year of political upheaval in all three branches of Alabama’s government: Gov. Robert Bentley was engulfed in a scandal over his relationship with a top aide, and two other top Republicans, House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Chief Justice Roy Moore, were removed from their duties. The year also brought record drought, more troubles for the state’s crowded prison system and the choice of U.S. Sen Jeff Sessions to be President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general. The Associated Press looks back at the year’s biggest stories:

– BENTLEY SCANDAL: The governor spent much of the year engulfed in scandal after being accused of having an affair with a top staffer before his divorce. Recordings quickly surfaced of Bentley’s side of a telephone conversations making romantic and sexual remarks to a woman with the same name. Bentley held an awkward press conference, admitting to inappropriate behavior but denying a sexual affair. The revelation was a blow to the Baptist deacon, whose reputation for honesty had been his chief piece of political capital. Twenty-three lawmakers signed impeachment articles against Bentley. The legislative investigation was placed on hold last month at the request of Attorney General Luther Strange, who said his office was pursuing related work.

– HUBBARD CONVICTED: House Speaker Mike Hubbard was removed from office in June after being convicted of ethical violations. A jury found Hubbard improperly used his speakership to solicit business clients, investments and financial favors from lobbyists and company executives. It was a tremendous fall for the Republican politician, who in 2010 led the GOP to its first legislative majority since Reconstruction and was expected to be a contender for higher office. A judge sentenced Hubbard to four years in prison. He remains free on bond as he appeals his conviction.

– CHIEF JUSTICE SUSPENDED: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended for the rest of his term by a judicial discipline panel, which ruled that Moore urged 68 probate judges to defy the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying gays and lesbians have a fundamental right to marry. Moore had told judges in January that a state order remained in effect to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The same panel removed Moore as chief justice in 2003 for defying a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.

– SESSIONS NAMED ATTORNEY GENERAL: There was one Alabama politician who had a very good year: Sen. Jeff Sessions. President-elect Donald Trump tapped Sessions to be his attorney general. Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump, lending conservative policy credentials to the billionaire businessman’s populist campaign. Confirmation hearings for Sessions will begin next month. Sessions’ rise set off a political chain reaction with a number of contenders hoping to take his place in the U.S. Senate.

– HARPER LEE: “To Kill a Mockingbird” author and literary icon Harper Lee died in February at 89. Lee had stunned the world a year earlier when her publisher announced that a second novel, “Go Set a Watchman” would be published. Lee was buried in a quiet service in Monroeville with only a few select friends and family present, a reflection of how the famously private author had lived her life.

– PRISON WOES: The Department of Justice in October announced an investigation into conditions at state prisons for men, one of several setbacks for Alabama’s troubled prisons, which hold nearly twice the inmates they were originally designed to house. Corrections officer Kenneth Bettis was fatally stabbed by an inmate at Atmore prison, the site of two uprisings. Inmates seized control of a dormitory, lit fires and wounded the warden.

– DEVASTATING DROUGHT: A choking drought ravaged agriculture, dried out creeks and fueled wildfires. The lack of rain caused some farmers to sell off much of their herds. A no-burn order was put in effect as fires spread over hundreds of acres. Even with year-end rains, much of the state remained classified as suffering an extreme or exceptional drought.

– OFFICER CHARGED: A police officer in Montgomery was indicted on murder charges in a fatal shooting. Officer Aaron Smith shot 58-year-old Greg Gunn in February. The fatal encounter began when Smith, who is white, stopped Gunn, who is black, as Gunn, as he was walking home late at night. Smith told investigators that Gunn disobeyed instructions, ran and fought with him. However, a state investigator said in a hearing that Smith gave inconsistent statements about the shooting and questioned the need to chase after Gunn. The shooting came amid simmering national tensions over black people who died in police encounters. Smith’s defense lawyer argues that Smith was charged to appease those tensions.

– ASTRONAUT CRASH: A former space shuttle commander and pilot, James Halsell Jr., was charged with murder after two young sisters died in a fiery car crash. Authorities suspected alcohol was a factor, but Halsell declined to take a breathalyzer. Halsell’s lawyers filed a document in a civil lawsuit blaming the other driver for failing to yield. Halsell has entered a plea of not guilty. He also faces wrongful death lawsuits filed by the girls’ family members.

– ABORTION LAW BLOCKED: A federal judge blocked new Alabama laws banning abortion clinics near schools and outlawing the most common second-trimester abortion procedure. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson said the laws would have dramatically curtailed access by closing the two clinics that perform 70 percent of the state’s abortions. Thompson said abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy would become almost wholly unavailable. Supporters of the 2016 measures said abortion clinics don’t belong near schools, and called the second-trimester procedure “barbaric.”

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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