On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of Alabama legislators led by Rep. Ed Henry (R-Cullman) announced their plans to begin the impeachment process of embattled Gov. Robert Bentley citing “neglect of duty, corruption in office, incompetency and moral turpitude.”
The process was initiated less than two weeks after an ousted cabinet member alleged Bentley used state resources to cover up an affair with his former political advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Mason resigned from the governor’s staff last Thursday.Bentley denied any “physical affair,” but acknowledged having “inappropriate” conversations with Mason, some of which were captured on audio recordings leaked to media in recent weeks.
Since then, Bentley has said repeatedly he has no plans to leave office. Tuesday, Henry said, if Bentley won’t “put his selfishness aside” and step down, the House will formally move to impeach him through submitting the articles of impeachment via resolution.
“I hope the best for him, but while we may — in a spiritual sense — find our forgiveness, our actions still have consequences, and those consequences are this process and his possible removal from office,” Henry said. “The governor has said repeatedly he loves the people of Alabama, and I believe that’s true. But if he does, it’s time to let them go.”
Henry said there is a “slew” of reasons why Bentley lost the trust of the people of Alabama beginning with his reelection in 2014. According to Henry, Bentley adopted a platform of “no new taxes” and “family values,” only to be re-elected and immediately push for substantial tax hikes, all while going through a very public divorce rumored to have been caused by infidelity.
“His wife leaves and then there are rumors of an affair, which he emphatically denies to the point that, now that we’ve heard the tapes, it’s hard to believe that hasn’t clouded his judgment or that he hasn’t used his office to cover up this affair,” Henry said. “It calls into question everything that the governor has done, and the ball doesn’t start (rolling) if we do not begin it in the House.”
Procedurally, the resolution goes to the House Rules Committee. The committee is chaired by Mac McCutcheon (R-Madison), who has already made public statements suggesting Bentley consider resigning. Locally, representatives Victor Gaston and James Buskey serve on the rules committee.If the rules committee moves quickly, Henry said it’s possible a vote on the resolution could make it on the calendar next week. However, he said he has no intention to see the resolution get “tied up in the quagmire of normal legislation,” but said voting on the bill out of the normal order could present a problem because it would require a four-fifths majority to suspend the rules.
“It’s not going to happen immediately. We’re not going to try to bring it up out of order because I do believe it would probably fail,” Henry said. “We’re going to work in it through the process.”
Despite concerns with getting that four-fifths majority, Henry said he does feel there is enough support to pass the resolution — saying of the roughly 100 legislators he’s spoken with, only “two or three” urged him not to move forward.
“Even the ones who said not to impeach, it’s not because they believe he’s innocent, it’s typically because they’re concerned this whole process will cause (some) legislation to be in jeopardy,” Henry said.
Henry also defended House members’ quick decision to begin impeachment proceedings against Bentley, despite the lack of action against House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), who has kept his chair even while facing 23-federal charges of using his office for personal gain.
“The Speaker is a representative from Auburn, and the people from Auburn chose to send him back, but the bigger (issue) is, he’s in process. He’s in the court system and the charges have been filed,” Henry said. “There are no indictments (against the governor). If law enforcement brings down indictments, we’ll step back, but if they don’t, this is the mechanism the people of Alabama have to move forward, and we’re going to give them that opportunity.”
Shortly after the announcement on Tuesday, Bentley released a statement calling the impeachment process a “political attack,” saying he would “vigorously defend” himself and his administration.
“Today’s press conference is nothing more than political grandstanding intended to grab headlines and take the focus away from the important issues the Legislature still has to address before the end of the session,” Bentley wrote. “There is a lot of work to do before I end my term in office in 2019. I have laid out a strategic plan for success, and I will continue to focus my efforts on making Alabama a great state.”
Bentley added, “that’s what the people of Alabama overwhelmingly elected and re-elected me to do.”