Our View: Hiring of two Bonners is a strange coincidence
Alabama’s Fifth District Congressman, Republican Jo Bonner from Mobile, raised eyebrows across the nation two weeks ago when he announced plans to quit Congress in August to take a newly created job in the University of Alabama system. After five terms in Congress, he was so popular he ran unopposed for his sixth term last November in a district that has a history of reelecting its Congressman. Bonner is just the fifth person to represent that district since 1918. Six months after that election, he says it’s time to go.

But the fact that the Congressman’s older sister, Judy Bonner, was hired as the president of the University of Alabama six months ago made the Congressman’s announcement doubly curious.

System Chancellor Robert Witt takes responsibility for nominating both Bonners for their jobs.

"Jo’s extensive government experience and outstanding economic development record make him ideally suited for this important new position," Witt said through a press release.

That much is certainly true.

By all accounts, Congressman Bonner has been instrumental in helping bring jobs to south Alabama, such as the ThyssenKrupp steel mill and Airbus aircraft assembly plant. He worked with other government leaders to secure contracts for Austal to build some 20 ships for the U.S. Navy. And he worked to help get aid for recovery after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. He also chaired the House Ethics Committee when New York Congressman Charles Rangel was censured, probably his most high-profile job in his decade on the hill.

The loss of his seniority in Congress could be costly to Alabama and to his district.

The new job, vice chancellor for government relations and economic development for the University of Alabama System, seems to be an expansion of the director of government relations branch of the system. Bonner’s predecessor in that position, Bill Jones, was reportedly paid $222,487 last year. As Congressman, Bonner made $174,000. Presumably, he’ll get a raise.

A system statement says the new vice chancellor will harness “the diverse strengths of the three campuses (Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville) for the economic betterment of the state and nation,” and improve “the state’s ability to financially support higher education.” Exactly what that means is unclear.

Independently, both Bonners have the experience and track records to serve the state well in their respective positions. Taken together, their hirings raise the question of whether nepotism exists in the system’s hiring practices.

There’s nothing to suggest that either Bonner used their position to influence the hiring of the other, and we’re not aware of any hint of scandal, but it’s certainly a strange coincidence.

At the very least, it is that.

© 2013