Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley thinks he’s gotten off easy. After his admitted “inappropriate” relationship with former top aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason and all the fallout it brought — a divorce from his wife of 50 years, a sordid tape of he and Mason aired on national news outlets and much more — Bentley has been able to hang onto something he should’ve lost long ago, something that’s protected him from accountability for his actions: his job as Alabama’s top politician.
And although some of the state’s top political forces seem bent on letting his malfeasances go, they shouldn’t. Gov. Bentley has used his office and its benefits not to further Alabama’s interests, but to further his own love interests, and it’s time for the governor to go.
Much of the governor’s public problems began with his divorce from former First Lady Dianne Bentley. Following the split, rumors began to swirl about an affair, fueled by whisperings of a tape of Bentley and his alleged mistress. Eventually, the audio recording of a phone conversation between Mason and the governor, made by a Bentley family member, was leaked.
“You’d kiss me? I love that,” Bentley can be heard saying in the recording. “You know I do love that. You know what? When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands on you and pull you in real close. Hey, I love that, too.”
That explicit part of the tape, describing Bentley’s actual actions (although the governor still denies a “physical” relationship), already seems to rise to an impeachable offense — one of “moral turpitude.” But it is other parts of the tape that bring the real issues with the governor’s affair into focus.
“But, baby,” he tells Mason, “let me tell you what we’re gonna have to do, we’re gon’ have to start locking the door. If we’re gonna do what we did the other day we’re gonna have to start locking the door … You know what, it is kinda scary. Somebody open that door? Mmm…”
Bentley’s actions — as he explains himself — involve manipulating state property to facilitate his affair:
“I love when you come to see me,” the governor continues. “You know, I’ve been thinking … I am going to rearrange the office if Wanda retires. She’s not gon’ retire, she’s going to work part-time, but I think that would be a good time to do it. I don’t want ‘em right there. Honestly, I really don’t. And it doesn’t have anything to do with you and me — well, part of it does — but really and truly I don’t think somebody needs to be right there listening to every word that is said in that office; I just really don’t.”
And it didn’t stop there — that’s just what’s on tape. According to flight logs and Bentley’s own recounting, after an argument with the former First Lady at their residence in Tuscaloosa, the governor accidentally left his wallet. Realizing this once he reached the Gulf Coast for an event, Bentley had law enforcement officials fetch the wallet. ALEA officials later confirmed that the wallet — and no other passengers — were flown from Tuscaloosa to Baldwin County on the taxpayers’ dime.
In another incident, Gov. Bentley brought Rebekah Mason to a Celine Dion concert in Las Vegas while in town for a Republican Governors Association meeting, even naming Dion an honorary Alabamian. According to several sources, during the trip Bentley shed his security detail to gain more privacy. The trip was originally billed to taxpayers, but the RGA eventually reimbursed Bentley for the costs — after media had inquired about the expenses and Mason’s involvement.
All of this — and enough to fill dozens more articles — should have quickly led to the governor’s impeachment, or at least to a lengthy, thorough hearing considering it — but it didn’t. Instead, once Rep. Ed Henry, a staunch conservative, garnered enough votes to start impeachment proceedings, the state’s political leadership flipped the script. Attorney General Luther Strange sent a letter to the head of the impeachment committee, Rep. Mike Jones, saying it would be “prudent and beneficial to delay the work of the House Judiciary Committee.”
“I respectfully request that the committee cease active interviews and investigation until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed,” Strange wrote to Jones.
Rep. Jones complied, and halted the impeachment hearings. What’s happened since has been nothing if not an undeniable political farce. AG Strange — self-proclaimed prosecutor of all things unethical — is now not so intent on seeking justice when it comes to the governor’s misdeeds. Instead, he’s claiming the governor was never being investigated, a move sure to curry favor with the man who now has the power to appoint Strange to his dream job of U.S. Senator.
At a recent Mobile GOP event, Strange told Lagniappe he doesn’t have any comment on a potential impeachment and that his asking for a halt to the proceedings had nothing to do with the governor.
“The Legislature has their job to do; we have our job to do. Beyond that, I don’t really want to comment on anything that might be pending out there. The Legislature has to make their own decisions,” Strange told members of the media, including Lagniappe. “I think I’ve made this clear before — with some of the articles that are written — we’ve never said that we’re investigating the governor. We asked the Legislature to hold off because they were involved in a very public matter. We felt there were some common issues we needed to address. Beyond that I haven’t commented, and I don’t plan to comment.”
The truth is, though, Strange did comment — not just to the public but to the head of the impeachment committee — and in doing so obstructed justice for us all. Gov. Bentley abused his office, and it’s time our attorney general let the Legislature do something about it. It’s a Strange case for impeachment, but it’s what Alabama deserves.