From Ardmore, Alabama’s most northern settlement, to The Bayou in the south and all the way to state lines east and west, a giant flushing sound could be heard Monday afternoon as the tired, pathetic saga of the Luv Guv ended the way we all knew it had to — with him leaving office.
This unlikely, gawky, churchy dermatologist came out of nowhere to take the governor’s office six years ago and for the most part he delivered what can best be described as a slow-speed train full of kittens crashing into a school bus loaded with baby seals. We’ve had to endure the most stomach-turning affair in political history, replete with text messages and recorded conversations that made illicit sex about as racy as a mole removal. We the citizens were bludgeoned with more than a year of the most obvious lies from Gov. Robert Bentley and his indignant anger at being asked over and over about his affair with cherished adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
The “Flush Heard ‘Round the State” was as needed in Alabama as more book learnin’ and another football championship or two. The biggest disservice Bentley did — among the army of disservices he unloaded upon the people of this state — was to fight the inevitable for more than a year once the jig was up. His act was like a Monty Python routine where someone caught in the midst of a crime denies doing it even while continuing its commission. Sometimes over the past year it’s been soothing to think perhaps Bentley had “lost it” while in office and honestly couldn’t remember groping Mason’s boobies or sending his wife texts meant for his girlfriend.
He was not only the worst governor in America, he was the worst cheater in America and the worst liar. Maybe someone somewhere in this great state would be sorry to see him go if he’d just been any good at any of the three endeavors he clearly spent the most time in office pursuing. I lived in Louisiana when Edwin Edwards had his last run in office, and people there at least appreciated the skill with which Edwards lied, chased women and brokered illegal deals. The man had worked at his craft.
Bentley, by comparison, was out of his element. He was a bumbler pretending to be a slick, fully aware, insidiously corrupt politician — the kind who never has to face the music. In the pantheon of disgraced governors nationwide, he is certainly a joke. Edwards, Blagojevich and others of their ilk must be having a good laugh at Alabama’s would-be evil emperor.
They all know Bentley got his head turned by the grifter Rebekah Mason and her accomplice husband — people who played him for the rube he was. They soaked the love-starved Bentley for hundreds of thousands, got Jon a job he didn’t deserve and soon were essentially running the state. All she had to do was flirt a little and (guessing here) close her eyes and think of somewhere far away for five minutes every once in awhile.
I’m convinced one of the reasons Bentley hung on so long is because in his heart of hearts he feared Rebekah’s phone would start going straight to message about five minutes after he resigned or was impeached. She’s left him as little more than a smoldering pile of burned liver spots. He’s disgraced, his family is gone, his beloved beach house has been sold off and he’s had to admit to crimes. It’s too bad for Alabama Mason hadn’t just met Bentley as a rich doctor at the Tuscaloosa Country Club and quietly taken him for everything.
Please don’t take this as an effort to exonerate the Luv Guv in any way. He’s a grown man and clearly let the job get the best of his ego. In reality even his resignation was one more slap in the face for the people of Alabama. We deserve to see his hide hung on the wall and his head mounted above the prison gate as a lesson (which one no one will ever heed) to current and future officeholders about the dangers of hubris. But right now it looks like Bentley is going to be allowed to slink off into the sunset without ever having to really account.
The State Ethics Commission found cause to believe he had committed several felonies, but in cutting his deal to leave, Bentley’s lawyers seem to have gotten him a chance to avoid prison by just pleading to a couple of misdemeanors. He wasn’t even forced to stand up and tell the voters the truth before he left.
Some might think a forced resignation, probation and some time popping zits for public service is punishment enough. But some would be wrong. This man — whether led by his “Li’l Governor” or his girlfriend — grossly misused his power. He flouted campaign law, cooked up complex schemes by which to have third parties pay both Mason and his former chief of staff Seth Hammett, and, by all accounts, abused his staff.
Worst, though, is that he ordered law enforcement officials, including former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, to illegally engage in trying to cover up his affair. Why the state’s top cop jumped in a car and drove to Greenville in order to harass a state employee about whether she had a tape of the governor and Mason is a question Collier still hasn’t answered, but it is one of a few examples of Bentley’s misuse of law enforcement. That alone ought to net him some jail time. Personally, I’d place using state cops as a thug squad way ahead of the crimes that landed ex-Gov. Don Siegelman years in the slammer.
So Bentley’s tenure has swirled down the pipe, but it leaves behind an as-yet-unsanitized mess. There are the aforementioned actions of Collier and other law enforcement officers, possibly including current ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler, that need to be examined.
U.S. Sen. Luther Strange’s elevation to his current position deserves nothing less than a full-blown criminal investigation. As it appears evident the Attorney General’s office was investigating Bentley, it would seem to be a violation of ethical and criminal law for Strange to have interviewed with Bentley to be appointed senator. The Alabama Bar Association ought to look at it as well.
Despite the fact Jon Mason was fired by noon Tuesday and shortly afterward road crews were removing Robert Bentley’s name from welcome signs at the state line, it’s not going to be that easy to forget this debacle. More is bound to bob to the surface in the coming days. I imagine we’ll be wanting another flush soon.