Why Alabama’s governor resigned — and what’s next
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley resigned and pleaded guilty on the first day of a legislative hearing that could have led to his impeachment over allegations linked to his alleged affair with a longtime aide.
Booked at the county jail Monday, Bentley appeared first in court during a hearing and then at the Alabama Capitol to resign just three days after he said he wouldn’t quit.
Bentley’s resignation shelved a legislative report that accused him of stonewalling investigators in a bid to hide details of his relationship with former aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
Here’s a look at the key details:
Bentley’s aw-shucks image was shattered in 2016 when the fired director of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency publicly accused the dermatologist and one-time Baptist deacon of carrying on an affair with Mason. It was a stunning turn for a two-term state representative who unexpectedly won the governorship in 2010 after promising not to take a salary until Alabama reached full employment. He never took a paycheck as governor.
Bentley’s wife of 50 years, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce in 2015, months before the allegations of an affair became public. She also provided investigators with audio recordings plus text messages and other evidence that raised questions about the governor’s actions and truthfulness.
The Republican has since struggled to win support in the GOP-controlled Legislature, and Republican leaders called for his resignation.
Bentley, 74, steadfastly denied breaking any laws or having a sexual relationship with Mason, and he publicly questioned why people want to embarrass him and his family. He repeatedly said he wouldn’t quit, claiming there was no reason.
All that fell away in court, where Bentley looked sullen as he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign violations uncovered during his relationship with Mason, 45.
Thank you, Alabama. From the bottom of my heart. God Bless our Great State. pic.twitter.com/6vxQ5tlkRo
— Dr. Robert Bentley (@GovernorBentley) April 10, 2017
Here’s a look at what Bentley pleaded guilty to Monday:
- FAILURE TO REPORT CAMPAIGN DONATION ON TIME: Bentley in November loaned his campaign $50,000 to pay mounting legal bills in the face of various investigations. He did not report the loan to the secretary of state until he filed his 2016 campaign summary in January. Prosecutors said that was a violation of a state law requiring all donations larger than $20,000 to be reported within two business days.
- MISUSE OF CAMPAIGN FUNDS: The charge stemmed from Bentley’s use of campaign funds last year to pay nearly $9,000 in legal bills for his then-political adviser Rebekah Mason. State law says public officials can use their campaign funds to pay their own legal bills but does not explicitly say they can pay staff member’s legal bills. The former governor’s lawyers had said the money was for legal representation as the Alabama Ethics Commission considered the appropriateness of gubernatorial staffers, including Mason, being paid by outside sources instead of being on state payroll.
WHO BECOMES GOVERNOR NOW?
Bentley was replaced by Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, also a Republican, and the House Judiciary Committee adjourned the impeachment hearing after his resignation.
Ivey becomes the state’s second female governor and the first to rise through the political ranks on her own. She was the first Republican woman elected lieutenant governor of Alabama, was also the first Republican to hold that office for two straight terms.
“Today is both a dark day for Alabama, yet also one of opportunity,” Ivey said, adding that her “administration will be open, it will be transparent and it will be honest.”
The 72-year-old Ivey is from Wilcox County, the same rural area where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions grew up. First elected lieutenant governor in 2010, she was re-elected in 2014.
Ivey’s biography shows her as an accomplished stateswoman who got her start in Alabama politics as a House clerk and later became the first Republican elected treasurer since Reconstruction. Although her former position carried respect, it wielded little constitutional power besides being next in line to the executive office. Now, as governor, she has catapulted from a position of largely ceremonial duties to the highest elected seat in the state.
The Legislature remains in session; the normal work of state government will continue.
The former governor must perform 100 hours of community service as a physician, and he will spend a year on probation. Bentley also must surrender campaign funds totaling nearly $37,000 within a week.