May 28, 2013
Best Wishes and Farewell, Congressman Jo Bonner
I read with interest the announcement that Congressman Jo Bonner (R-AL) is retiring from Congress in August 2013. I first read the announcement via the Mobile Bay Times. This created both a sense of shock and awe within me. Shock because I believed Rep. Bonner would spend at least another three terms in Congress. He was on a local radio show in Mobile (the Uncle Henry Show) about a month ago talking like a person continuing to shore up his strength so as to scare off serious challengers. The seat he holds has only been held by 3 individuals (Jack Edwards, Sonny Callahan, and Jo Bonner) over the course of these past 4 decades. And each individual holding the seat since 1965 has been a Republican. The 1st District went Republican before being a Republican from Alabama was cool, ie before the Reagan revolution of the 1980s. I was excited by the announcement because I do enjoy following elections and I enjoy local talk radio. Based on the number of seriously interested candidates to replace Bonner, according to an article I read by Mobile Press Register reporter George Talbot (http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/05/first_district_congressional_r.html#incart_river), local talk radio will actually be filled with more discussions about this election than about President Obama and national issues. Local talk radio just might sound like local talk radio between now and the Special Election (there is a Mobile mayoral election also underway).
My interest in Congressman Bonner’s announcement goes beyond the longevity of Jo Bonner as a representative for AL-01 or local talk radio developing a local favor; rather, my interests is in Congressman Bonner and in the possibility that a Democrat, yes, a Democrat, can be competitive in that district (this may be the subject of my next blog). I developed a deep level of respect for Bonner when he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Sonny Callahan. In 1995, I headed to Washington, DC to attend graduate school. I needed a job so that I could survive. Because I was a political junkie, I went to my member of Congress for assistance. I met with Jo Bonner and I recall how friendly and supportive he was; he never asked me which political party I belonged to or whether I supported Callahan. He actually took interest in me as a person. Our first meeting didn’t end with a “well, thank you for coming by.” Rather, he asked me to give him my resume and, to my surprise, he revamped it and made copies of it for me. Let me tell you, I truly admired Jo Bonner for doing that, I still respect him today. At the time, my resume consisted of my work at the USA (University of South Alabama) polling group, my work at local radio stations and my college education. But Jo Bonner’s providing me with copies of my resume didn’t end there. He actually kept searching for employment for me. Just months after my visit to Congressman Sonny Callahan’s office, I received a call from Congressman Browder’s Chief of Staff stating that he understood that I was looking for a job on Capitol Hill. I almost said no as I had found employment at a law firm as a file clerk and was focused on my graduate education. Long story short, I interviewed for the job and I got the job. It was a remarkable introduction to Capitol Hill and I can say that I knew Robert Gibbs before he helped to bring about the historic victory of President Obama. My relationship, such as it was, was good with Jo Bonner. As I had leadership roles in Congressional Staff Organizations, I met some people who came into contact with me via Jo Bonner. I believe that only time I publicly criticized Congressman Jo Bonner was during the discussion of President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act. There was massive resistance to the legislation by the T.E.A. Party and local TEA Party members were challenging Bonner. I thought he went too far to cater to the group when he said on a local (Mobile) radio station that there would be civil unrest if Obama’s health care bill passed. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard, from Jo Bonner, someone I didn’t see as a reactionary legislator.
Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerated
My later official correspondences with Congressman Jo Bonner had to do with my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who is currently in his 17th year in prison for crimes he did not commit (http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.2/beth_schwartzapfel_valerie_finley_innocent_convictions.php). I asked Bonner to inquire about his case and was given the typical response about it being a local matter and a judiciary matter. One of the letters I sent was about this WKRG TV report about Rodney’s case. Same response. I’ve worked in Congress, so I am familiar with the response, but after conservatives made convicted Border Patrol Agents a cause, I sent Congressman Bonner a letter essentially asking why he can recognize and insert himself into a judicial matter, where a jury convicted the two agents, and not take an interest in a local case. No response.
Below are a couple of letters I’ve sent to Jo Bonner-several were sent to him over the years from me and Rodney’s father. I was often asked if I contacted Bonner’s office. For example, in 2004, following this WKRG report about Rodney’s case- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI , I was asked if I’d talked to Bonner, by people who knew I worked on the Hill and specifically suggested setting up a meeting. I never did set up a face to face meeting with him.
Letters to Congressman Bonner
February 10, 2008
Congressman Jo Bonner
422 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
11 North Water Street, Suite 15290
Mobile, AL 36602
Dear Congressman Jo Bonner:
It seems that each year, only token opposition is put up against you and your predecessor. The people of the 1st District of Alabama, I suppose, are resigned to the idea of having one-party rule at the congressional level. With that being the case, you should feel comfortable in your position to support those in your very own congressional district who have experienced prosecutorial misconduct as you have given to Ramos and Campean. Your co-sponsoring of legislation to assist these individuals in obtaining their freedom is admirable. However, when your own constituents send you similar incidents about their loved ones, they are given a form letter about the matter being outside of your jurisdiction as it is a judiciary matter. I’m sure you’ve attempted to rationalize the differences in your stance, but what I believe is that you can take the lead in spearheading reforms in your own congressional districts.
I have been listening to Pat Gray and Ed Hendie, two individuals who used their radio show in Houston, Texas to persuade members of Congress, the media, and their listeners that the two border agents were prosecuted unfairly and unjustly by DA Sutton. Their underlying motivation has been a strong dislike of U.S. immigration policy. Your motivation to help those wrongfully convicted in your congressional district can and should be an honest desire to ensure that innocent people are not languishing away in jail. I don’t have a radio show, but if I did, I would engage in the same sort of activities as Gray and Hendie has to highlight the plight of Rodney K. Stanberry, an individual who has already served 10 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He is from your congressional district. His aging father and ailing mother continue to reside in your district. By the time you receive this letter, his father would have celebrated his 73rd birthday. It is bittersweet as he has had to live with the living nightmare of an innocent son being incarcerated. The taxpayers have already spent over $130,000 on Rodney Stanberry’s incarceration and the victim (who is no longer living) has yet to receive justice. Rodney Stanberry has an open and shut case. Someone else confessed to the crimes, his former employees testified and continues to testify that he was at work when the crimes were committed, he’s passed a lie-detector test, he had no motive, and no criminal record. He worked hard, had a stable family background, and was a personal friend of the victim and her husband. I invite you to investigate fully—meaning an objective look at this case for yourself as opposed to what the DA’s office tells you or even I tell you—to get to the bottom of this case that has gone on for far too long. I invite anyone to dig as deep into this case as possible. Rodney and his family have the truth on their side and hopefully the truth will set him free. Just as Ramos and Campean and so many like them deserve fair and just treatment and freedom, if they have been wronged by the system, so do individuals in your congressional district.
Your congressional seat is safe. You can afford to do what so many other politicians, including district attorneys, won’t do, and that is to pursue fairness and justice for all. It is the humane thing to do. As you may remember, we’ve met on numerous occasions. In fact, as you may recall, you were responsible for helping me obtain my first job on Capitol Hill. I often use you as an example to my students as someone who was willing to help an unknown constituent. I remember coming to Congressman Callahan’s office straight from Alabama. I needed a job so I actually went to my member of Congress. As Chief of Staff, you did not ask my party affiliation or whether I supported Congressman Callahan. You simply offered your assistance. I was impressed that you took my resume, revised it, and recommended potential employers, including our mutual acquaintance. As you know, I ended up getting a job on Capitol Hill and over the course of the next several years, became pretty well established on Capitol Hill. I completed graduate school several years ago and am now teaching political science. I have respect for you, which is why I actually become disappointed when people from your congressional district who are in situations where they have been wrongfully convicted do not get your attention while federal border agents dually convicted by a court of law do. Pat Gray and Ed Hendee have done a remarkable job at providing a voice for Ramos and Campean. Someone that we both respect spoke with you at my request but reported essentially what you would write in a letter, that there is nothing that you can do. You can explain publicly why you’re supporting the effort to vacate Ramos and Campean’s sentence in the hopes that the culture of keeping innocent people in jail simply for the sake of upholding a conviction will end. My biggest fear is that Rodney’s mother and father will not live to see their son vindicated. If that happens, it will truly be a poor commentary on our system and on those with the power to do something, but remain silent.
June 18, 2009
Congressman Jo Bonner
11 North Water Street
Mobile , AL 36602
Dear Congressman Bonner:
Enclosed please find an article about Rodney K. Stanberry, an individual who is serving time in prison for crimes he did not commit. I am sending this message to you because Rodney’s parents reside in your district. His father’s name is Earsell Stanberry and his mother is Mrs. Janet Stanberry. Mr. Stanberry has been incarcerated since March 1997. The cost of his incarceration has already been well over 100,000 (I read where it costs approximately 13,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in Alabama ) and continues to cost taxpayers of Alabama .
It is always important to keep in mind the victim in this situation. The late Ms. Finley was severely violated and brutalized by the crimes. Mr. Rodney Stanberry feels extremely bad for what happened to her as she was a friend of his. However, he should not have to serve time in prison for these crimes against her. She, nor her family, have ever received justice and never will as long as an innocent man is paying the price for crimes committed against her.
It should not be a political liability to support an innocent man’s quest for freedom. It should be a political liability to keep an innocent man incarcerated just for the sake of upholding a conviction. Rodney’s father is 75 years old and his ailing mother continues to lose her memory. His parents have suffered throughout this ordeal. I am pleading with you to look into this matter and to request an investigation so that all information about this case can be open and made public. The Mobile DA’s office got this one wrong and they would rather let an innocent mad and his family suffer rather than pursue true justice. They are misleading the victim’s family and cheating the Alabama taxpayers out of thousands of dollars.
Should you require any additional information from me, I may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at
PO Box 13321
Durham , NC 27709
November 13, 2010
Congressman Jo Bonner
11 N. Water Street, Suite 15290
Mobile , AL 36602
Dear Congressman Bonner:
First of all, congratulations on another successful reelection.
Secondly, I have written you on numerous occasions about Rodney K. Stanberry, an individual who was wrongfully convicted. Mr. Stanberry is in his 14th year of incarceration. I am sending you a letter that I sent to DA-Elect Ashley Rich. Just as you and your representatives got involved with the Jose Compean and Ignacios Ramos case when it was perceived that a district attorney engaged in misconduct, you could also intervene in Rodney K. Stanberry’s case. Justice is important whether it deals with federal border patrol agents or a middle-class, taxpaying citizen in your district who is wrongfully convicted.
Rodney K. Stanberry has a parole hearing in July of this year and were I to write another letter to Congressman Bonner, I am sure, if it is answered, I would get the same response. Quin Hillyer, a conservative columnist who was one of the first to announce to seek the seat vacated by Bonner, became an advocate, of sorts, on behalf of former Mobile County Commissioner Steve Nodine who was accused of murdering his mistress. In three interviews I’ve seen and/or heard regarding his candidacy, not one has mentioned his support of Nodine (there was a mistrial) meaning that it is likely not to be an issue. Republicans can acknowledge prosecutorial overreach and misconduct and it would almost never be a political liability. If a Democratic candidate running in the 1st congressional district took up the cause of Clarence Aaron, for example, it would be asked about by the media, but Republicans get a bye when it comes to these matters.
As such, if I were to speak with Congressman Jo Bonner once more before he leaves office, I would literally beg him to review this article (http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.2/beth_schwartzapfel_valerie_finley_innocent_convictions.php) and to send a letter to the Alabama Board of Pardon and Paroles recommending Rodney’s parole. I don’t see it as being much different than his co-sponsoring legislation and supporting the overturning of a jury’s decision in the case of the two Border Patrol Agents. A wrongful conviction where an innocent man languishes in prison because he won’t admit to being guilty for crimes he did not commit should be a concern for us all. Because of advocacy on behalf of conservative talk radio personalities and members of Congress, Campean and Ramos were released from prison and had a sentence commutation by President George W. Bush (http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/17/border.pardons/) Congressman Bonner, I do wish you luck in your future endeavors. But I hope you can understand that the pursuit of justice should extend to the people in your district. Rodney K. Stanberry has a parole hearing and unless he says he is guilty for crimes he did not commit, he will likely be denied parole again. This is a travesty of justice that should be addressed; people shouldn’t be punished for being innocent.
PS There is also another elected official who was very helpful when I arrived in DC for the first time. This person wasn’t an elected official at the time, but also appreciated.
I mentioned earlier that Rep. Jo Bonner introduced me to Congressman Browder’s office. Years later I would write a book with Glen Browder entitled Stealth Reconstruction: An Untold Story of Racial Politics in Recent Southern History.