In Birmingham They Love The Governor
April 10, 2017 6:18 PM   Subscribe

After more than a year of saying he had nothing to resign for, embattled Alabama governor Robert Bentley resigned, pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of misusing campaign contributions as part of a coverup, and agreed never to hold office again. All of this stemmed from the reveal on March 22nd that Bentley was carrying on an affair with Rebekah Mason, his married senior political adviser.

The affair broke wide open in 2016 when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and Alabama's "top cop". Collier in turn reported the affair to AL.com. The news helped explain why Bentley's wife, Dianne Bentley, had filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage just a few months earlier.

As AL.com and others dug into the story, more information came to light, including how Bentley had bought burner phones at Best Buy to message Mason and used a state plane to take Mason to a Celine Dion concert. A defiant Bentley claimed he had nothing to hide, and openly took Mason and her husband to Trump's inauguration.

There's more, of course, including Bentley choosing Attorney General Luther Strange to replace Sessions as Alabama's second senator after Strange dragged his feet on investigating Bentley and asked the Alabama House committee investigating Bentley's alleged affair to suspend its proceedings. But after Strange became senator and the new state Attorney General appointed by Bentley recused herself from investigating Bentley, the House Judiciary Committee restarted its investigation.

That culminated last Friday in the release of the House committee's impeachment findings on a domain that the committee set up specifically for the purpose. The documents were a treasure trove of details, from the goofy (staffers called Mason "Flim-Flam") to the horrifying (Mason leaning on Bentley to close 31 driver's license offices in mostly black counties as part of a vote suppression effort). The pressure became too much, leading Bentley to make the deal and resign.

Bentley joins such illustrious former Alabama governors as Guy Hunt, the Republican governor forced to resign in 1993 when he was found guilty of a felony charge of violating a state ethics law; and Don Siegelman, the Democratic governor who was convicted of bribery and conspiracy in 2006.

Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was sworn in as governor by acting Chief Justice Lyn Stuart, since the Chief Justice, Roy Moore, is on suspension after telling probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
posted by sgranade (70 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
They've got the weight on their shoulders.
posted by stevil at 6:39 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Thank dog for all the family values assholes who are constantly showing us how intensely hypocritical they are.
posted by nevercalm at 6:43 PM on April 10 [48 favorites]


Thank you for compiling this post of things I really wanted to know after today's resignation but didn't want to do the research on.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:45 PM on April 10 [20 favorites]


I sure hope his wife gets everything. Ugh, him and his campaign manager - what a sleazy, cheap little tale.
posted by Frowner at 6:46 PM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Obligatory Frank Underwood quote.
posted by 4ster at 6:49 PM on April 10 [4 favorites]


To me, Rebekah Mason will always and only be the wife, untimely deceased, of Charles Mason (d. 1786), may He rest their souls in Slumber as deep as His ways how strange.
posted by Zerowensboring at 7:02 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


"Luther Strange" sounds like the name of a comic-book character; though I don't know whether he'd be a flawed antihero or a megalomaniacal villain.
posted by acb at 7:04 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Luther Strange is of course the love-child of Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch, you know.
posted by jfwlucy at 7:11 PM on April 10 [37 favorites]


The effing voter suppression should be a felony.
posted by gt2 at 7:12 PM on April 10 [79 favorites]


It's kind of great to read about a normal scandal for once. White male politician has affair, misuses office in a failed coverup, resigns. It's like an old sweatshirt.
posted by officer_fred at 7:13 PM on April 10 [65 favorites]




Luther Strange sounds like an alter-ego for Carlos Danger.
posted by 4ster at 7:16 PM on April 10 [6 favorites]


Since the Appalachian Trail wasn't involved, does that mean we can skip the political rebirth a few years from now?
posted by nat at 7:19 PM on April 10 [7 favorites]


Just finished reading through. Great post, S! (not sure what to use as an friendly nickname with you).

As far as those two go, I am pretty happy with letting them burn...
posted by Samizdata at 7:21 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


Some of the creepiest details of the report involve his efforts to use law enforcement officers to try to intimidate people he thought had the recording of him talking to Mason.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:22 PM on April 10 [14 favorites]


Is there anything more American than a Republican governor cheating on his wife and then bouncing ideas around with his mistress about the best way to disenfranchise minorities as some sick form of foreplay?
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:24 PM on April 10 [127 favorites]


Remember, all this is either 'misdemeanor' or still alleged" and will remain so, because the jerk won't ever see jail time. That is unlike the average Joe, who would be locked up and never see daylight. Well, being a typical cheating politician, he's going to come to Jesus and have his sins forgiven, in 3, 2, 1....
posted by BlueHorse at 7:27 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


State Treasurer Young Boozer?
posted by indubitable at 7:30 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Back before he got into politics at age 60, this is a guy who came home everyday to have lunch with his wife. They were always seen holding hands. His behavior seemed so out of character to his family that his kids thought he might have dementia. Now none of his kids speak to him and he hasn't seen his grandkids in at least a year.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:33 PM on April 10 [30 favorites]


I'm bitterly amused that, after Siegelman was convicted, the GOP said, hey, put us in control of the state and we'll clean things up. Republican Mike Hubbard led the charge in 2010, and became the House speaker. He's in in jail now for felony ethics violations. I didn't even get into Bentley essentially conspiring with Hubbard to line Hubbard's pockets. With Ten Commandments hugger Roy Moore suspended for not doing his job and obvious Marvel supervillain Luther Strange rewarded with a Senate seat for not doing his job, we're doing great.
posted by sgranade at 7:33 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


Mississippians: "Thank God for Alabama!"
posted by leotrotsky at 7:33 PM on April 10 [12 favorites]


Oh, one last comment: the documents turned up by the lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee include an email in which Mason, acting as the governor's adviser, I guess, forwarded a draft set of statements she wrote for the governor and Mrs. Bentley to make regarding their divorce. The proposed statement for Mrs. Bentley includes language about how hurtful the erroneous media reports had been for the Mason family.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:40 PM on April 10 [20 favorites]


Warning from one that knows: AL.com comments are a cesspool you do not want to wade into. You have been warned.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:43 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Mississippians: "Thank God for Alabama!"

all my life I have seen the outline of our two states as two angry old men back to back, Mississippi with its nose out of joint and Alabama with its back hunched
posted by Countess Elena at 7:56 PM on April 10 [9 favorites]


Sweet home.

Mississippians: "Thank God for Alabama!"

I mean, it works that way around in this context, but... well, ok, maybe 50/50 these days.
posted by supercres at 8:09 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


I liked the part about the phone chats with the mistress being synced with the iPad he gave his wife. That is a most excellent Doh!
posted by srboisvert at 8:18 PM on April 10 [13 favorites]


Give him a break; he's a product of the Alabama public school system.

(It's ok, me is too.)
posted by supercres at 8:27 PM on April 10 [5 favorites]


Coming soon to the Lifetime movie channel, starring Elizabeth Berkley as Rebekah Mason.
posted by invisible ink at 8:33 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


nat: "Since the Appalachian Trail wasn't involved, does that mean we can skip the political rebirth a few years from now?"

You're safe there - the plea deal precludes him from ever holding public office again.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:50 PM on April 10 [1 favorite]


Wow. The more you read, the funkier this gets. Like the wrongful dismissal suit against Bentley from his prior security chief (Having Javascript problems and link isn't working and I am too tired to do HTML) just keeps getting more and more sordid.

Not surprised, but a little disappointed. And I am not from the area.
posted by Samizdata at 10:07 PM on April 10


Oh man the best part of this was that he replied to a question about the affair with "I love all the members of my staff but I love some of my staff more than others". We literally lol'ed at work today reading that and now all inquiries and requests are met with "but will you love me more..??"
posted by fshgrl at 10:40 PM on April 10 [17 favorites]


Also it looks like part of his deal was to agree to never hold office again. That's a deal we need to use more.
posted by fshgrl at 10:43 PM on April 10 [12 favorites]


Countdown until he gets saved and reformed by accepting Christ into his heart in 10...9...8...
posted by happyroach at 11:32 PM on April 10 [3 favorites]


I always thought it was "In Birmingham there lives the Governor"
posted by thelonius at 12:28 AM on April 11


In Birmingham They Love The Governor

In Bentley's Birmingham, governor loves you
posted by chavenet at 1:41 AM on April 11 [25 favorites]


Speaking as someone born and raised in Illinois: Amateurs.
posted by kewb at 3:55 AM on April 11 [19 favorites]


At least I can look forward to the Coen brothers' movie version of this.
posted by sgranade at 4:56 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


> "I always thought it was 'In Birmingham there lives the Governor'"

It's actually "When burning ham, don't leave the oven door". The original song is entirely a recipe for glazed ham. Little known fact.
posted by kyrademon at 5:34 AM on April 11 [21 favorites]


Has the new governor pardoned him yet?
posted by dirigibleman at 5:38 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


A friend in Alabama says the new gov is just as bad.
posted by mareli at 6:06 AM on April 11


Mississippians: "Thank God for Alabama!"

Floridians: Thank God for Mississippi and Alabama!

(although the panhandle is basically AL)
posted by photoslob at 6:18 AM on April 11


Republicans: Thank God it wasn't little boys.
posted by sammyo at 6:22 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


The loss of your job should not be enough to escape felony charges.
posted by Flexagon at 6:45 AM on April 11 [19 favorites]


Remember, all this is either 'misdemeanor' or still alleged" and will remain so, because the jerk won't ever see jail time. That is unlike the average Joe, who would be locked up and never see daylight.

Well, to be fair, the average Joe having an affair with someone at work wouldn't be misusing state funds and sending the state police to intimidate people who know about it. If the average Joe had done what Bentley did, it probably wouldn't be criminal. Just stupid.

And for that matter, if he were just an average Joe, my guess is that a former Miss Alabama contestant thirty years his junior wouldn't have given him the time of day, and none of this would have happened. I blame society...
posted by Naberius at 6:49 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


Back in October, the Tuscaloosa News reported: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said he could no longer vote for Donald Trump in wake of the GOP presidential nominee’s sexually charged words about women.
posted by 445supermag at 6:56 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


And for that matter, if he were just an average Joe, my guess is that a former Miss Alabama contestant thirty years his junior wouldn't have given him the time of day, and none of this would have happened.

I think I find this story so interesting because if Bentley had never run for governor, he might well have lived out the rest of his life as a physician, husband, father, obscure state legislator, and church deacon. Not famous, but liked and respected by those who knew him, but he that wasn't enough for him and so he sought fame and power and exposed himself to the temptations they bring. He corrupted himself.

Actually, he did know Ms. Mason before he ran for governor. He was a deacon at the church she attended and it sounds like he taught an adult Sunday school class she and her husband attended. There is no indication she showed any interest in him during that period.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:31 AM on April 11 [4 favorites]


What a clown car. (With apologies to actual clowns.) Sooooo many people on the Bentley gravy train kept trying to help him manage his corruption better, but he resisted every one.

I feel like Heather Hannah (described as Ms. Bentley's former chief of staff) was level-headed the whole way through--e.g. she didn't sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement despite being leaned on by Bentley's personal law enforcement goon Lewis (who flipped on Bentley as soon as the money and status stopped rolling in). I also can't help but feel like she was at least a little bit lucky that the particular law enforcement goon Bentley chose to intimidate people wasn't more willing to be violent or acquire/hire others to be violent on Bentley's behalf. She got the death threat written on her car, and the rock through her window, which must have been upsetting but was in the end small potatoes compared to what another person might have set in motion.

Bentley's understanding of technology seems like a perfect illustration of 'a little learning is a dangerous thing'. Mason convinced him to buy the burner phones...which he bought openly and then didn't use consistently. He'd send more incriminating texts to Mason and she'd text back reminding him to use his other phone, and he'd be like oh I don't have it with me. All the while his heart-eye emojis to Mason were rolling in to his wife's iPad.

Or Bentley's obsession, while his ship was sinking, with "the tapes"--his word for the recordings Ms. Bentley had made of him talking sexy with Mason. Who has "the tapes", give us "the tapes". Bentley sends Lewis to talk to one of Bentley's own sons, to retrieve "the tapes". Like...dude just has not understood that this is a digital recording, everyone in the family has a copy on their devices, Heather Hannah has it burned to CD as well ("for her own protection", the impeachment investigation report says, which again seems to indicate a level-headed sense of forethought on her part), parts of it have been emailed around, it's everywhere, it's out there, there is no "retrieving" "the tapes".

(I did love the son's instant reaction to his dad's enforcer coming into his office and asking if he had "the tapes": "Yes, and you ain't getting it.")
posted by theatro at 7:32 AM on April 11 [18 favorites]


I also admire Heather Hannah. I like the part in the report where the governor threatens that she'll never work in Alabama again if she tells people about the affair and she testified that he was trying to intimidate her but she wasn't intimidated.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:40 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


Give him a break; he's a product of the Alabama public school system.

(It's ok, me is too.)


I spent four hours – FOUR HOURS – in the Alabama public school system as a first-grader whose parents had come from Oregon down to Alabama, for a short designer-drafter job my father was doing for Big Paper Mill Everyone Knows. It may contain the name of a southern state combined with that of an ocean. We were in Mobile.

FOUR HOURS was all it took for my six-year-old Oregonian self to tell my mother who came for lunch, as we sat with my new teacher, "I want to leave NOW and I will NOT come back" through sobs and tears. Once I'd finished telling her everything I'd been through – and keep in mind, this was a woman who herself was abusive – she pulled me out of the school then and there, and "home-schooled" me for the next few months we lived there. Scare quotes because in reality she just bought me a lot of books that I read on my own.

Thirty-six years later and I still remember the details of that day. What really struck me was how overtly racist the teachers were. It trickled into absolutely everything. The teacher literally grabbed the advanced level reading book out of my hand and put me in remedial level because of the student I agreed to partner with. Yes, that student was not white. What traumatized me that day was being told that skin color was the criterion. I had never encountered that in a public school; the Oregon school I was at taught that we were all different and as such, differences are normal. Get down to Mobile and good lord almighty WTF. (Not All Alabamians, of course. I had some neat friends there. I hope they grew up as kind and open-minded as they were when we were six.)
posted by fraula at 8:18 AM on April 11 [15 favorites]


In Birmingham They Love The Governor

We would also have accepted "sweat, piss, jizz, and blood."
posted by octobersurprise at 8:23 AM on April 11 [9 favorites]


Image of the iPad in question. "Bless our hearts... And other parts".

As fun as the sex scandal stuff is, I'm grateful to this post for putting it in the larger context. Some good ol' fashioned Republican voter suppression and corruption. The non-appearance by Roy Moore is the hate-mongering cherry on this particular shit sundae.
posted by Nelson at 8:25 AM on April 11 [5 favorites]


The effing voter suppression should be a felony.

In Alabama, voter suppression is just called Tuesday, or any other day of the week.
posted by e1c at 8:37 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


State Treasurer Young Boozer?

Young Boozer the Third, in point of fact, because nothing heals the stings of schoolyard taunts like inflicting them on your kid.
posted by Etrigan at 8:39 AM on April 11


Yo, I heard you got this sweet ringtone on your phone. Hand me the tape and noone needs to get hurt.
posted by benzenedream at 9:10 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Ah yes, the Luv Guv, the man who, upon assuming the office, delivered a stemwinder of a speech in which he made sure to point out that us non-Christian Alabamians were most definitely NOT his sisters and brothers; the man who sternly declaimed that despite what that meddling Supreme Court might say, marriage was a bond reserved for one man and one woman; the man who was so quick to claim God's forgiveness after being caught diddling his aide that the good lord himself sought medical attention for whiplash.

And now begins the Ivey Interregnum. As state treasurer, she presided over the collapse of the state college fund, because who could've ever anticipated that the stock market would go down.

In one year we've managed to impeach a governor, toss the head of the state GOP and House leader in jail for violating the ethics law which he himself had written, and unseat Jusge Roy Moore, who will no doubt bring Jesus back to make us all pay somehow. It's a banner year!

But don't worry, y'all, Coach Saban is opening a Mercedes-Benz dealership (when you're the highest-paid state employee in the nation, you still need a side hustle) that will create a whole dozen or so jobs.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:16 AM on April 11 [14 favorites]


Do any of the 892 amendments to the Alabama Constitution establish the circumstances under which Nick Sabah just takes over as governor?

Because if not, I've got a ballot initiative for y'all.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:21 AM on April 11 [3 favorites]


Young Boozer the Third

In the southern prep school I went to* this name, including its number, would not have raised a single eyebrow. "Black" given names catch all kinds of crap for being off in their own weird place, having unusual spellings, etc. But believe me, rich, southern white people of the old planter class have their own equally alien naming conventions that are every bit as weird. They just don't get as much crap about it because they're rich and white.


*My parents made many sacrifices for my education. I did not fit in. At all.
posted by Naberius at 9:23 AM on April 11 [8 favorites]


I thought the Siegelman case was a partisan witch hunt.
posted by kokaku at 9:37 AM on April 11 [1 favorite]


The Report from the Committee's lawyer notes that Ray Lewis, the guy who was head of the governor's security detail for a while, had previously served as Coach Saban's bodyguard for a football season. I was blown away by the idea of the state providing a bodyguard for a football coach.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 10:41 AM on April 11 [2 favorites]


So congrats to Roy Moore, next governor of Alabama?
posted by ghharr at 11:07 AM on April 11


> Do any of the 892 amendments to the Alabama Constitution establish the circumstances under which Nick Sabah just takes over as governor?

Because if not, I've got a ballot initiative for y'all.


holy shit I thought you were exaggerating for effect, but NOPE. The state constitution of Alabama really does have 892 amendments. What are you all doing down there?
posted by Old Kentucky Shark at 12:00 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


I believe that the Alabama constitution is the longest constitution actually in use.

It's been a long time since my Alabama History class, but I believe the main thing is that Alabama does amendments for things that most states would handle with a simple law or even local ordinance--there are amendments for very small things.

I grew up in Madison County, so let me give you an example--again, this is an amendment to the state constitution:

AMENDMENT 520 RATIFIED

Excavating Human Graves in Madison County.

The Madison county commission is hereby authorized with or without charge to provide for the excavating of human graves.

posted by Four Ds at 12:06 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


The state constitution of Alabama really does have 892 amendments. What are you all doing down there?

It's essentially a means to prevent home rule and keep the non-majority disenfranchised.
posted by Etrigan at 12:07 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


Alluring Mouthbreather: The Report from the Committee's lawyer notes that Ray Lewis, the guy who was head of the governor's security detail for a while, had previously served as Coach Saban's bodyguard for a football season. I was blown away by the idea of the state providing a bodyguard for a football coach.

Did a double-take on this, because 'football' and 'Ray Lewis' brings to mind this guy. The guy that worked for the governor is Wendell Ray Lewis.
posted by hanov3r at 12:11 PM on April 11


I remember voting on an amendment to somehow benefit the shrimp industry along the Gulf coast. I think it passed.

They did made sure to vote against the amendment granting children the right to a public education, though.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:13 PM on April 11 [2 favorites]


In general, if you're a Southern state operating under a constitution that was written in 1901, you're going to have some structural problems built-in that are going to be hard to change, even if you repeal the overtly-ugly parts.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:16 PM on April 11


I believe that the Alabama constitution is the longest constitution actually in use.

Yep, according to this Anniston Star piece from five years ago, it's four times longer than the Texas constitution, which is next up the list in length.
posted by ndfine at 12:49 PM on April 11


What are you all doing down there?

From the inaugural address of the President of the 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention, setting out the purpose and chief aims of the new constitution:
And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State. ... But if we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law
The Constitution of the state of Alabama is rotten to the core. Every aspect of it was explicitly created to perpetuate white supremacy and justified by an explicitly white supremacist ideology.
posted by jedicus at 1:44 PM on April 11 [8 favorites]


thought the Siegelman case was a partisan witch hunt.

Funny that the liberal justices of the Supreme Court didn't agree with that. That was always a canard. He took a bribe in exchange for giving a crony a public position.
posted by spitbull at 1:59 PM on April 11


"So congrats to Roy Moore, next governor of Alabama?"

Moore doesn't want to be governor. He's aiming more for Ayatolla..

There are a ton of good people here in Alabama and I'm not sure that I'll ever live anywhere else (because of family, and other reasons). However, it is certainly true that I've spent my entire adult life being embarrassed by my state's politicians.

As bitteroldpunk notes above, the new governor Kay Ivey, along with state treasurer George Wallace Jr (!), attempted to default on the state college tuition fund a few years back. I have two children in the program -- needless to say, she's been on my personal shitlist ever since. Fortunately, threats of class action suits were able to limit the damage they were trying to inflict.

By the way, that program is named the "Prepaid Affordable College Tuition" plan, or "PACT" for short -- when I was researching buying into it, the state's literature clearly promised to pay the entire college tuition at an in-state school for enrolled children. There was no mention of any possible way that they might back out of it later for any reason (like their investments weren't paying off as well as they had expected, for example.) When Ivey and Wallace were attempting to back out of the program and people essentially asked them to explain "what part of the word PACT do you not understand?", they just baldfaced replied that the state had never actually intended to imply any sort of actual "promise", or you know, "pact", really, and that the acronym by which the program was commonly known was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.

I've had occasion to hear Ivey speak to Republican Women's groups a couple of times (my presence there being work-related, as I am in fact neither Republican nor a woman). She came off as "Republican with a capital R -- party above all else", but I guess that should have been expected. By the way, you should have heard those ladies talking about Nancy Pelosi -- I remember thinking that if Pelosi happened to walk in, these people would rip her from limb to limb!

Here is a link to part one of an interview with her that kind of alternates between down-home charming and cringe-worthy. At one point in the interview it comes up that she was down-the-road neighbors and schoolmates with Jeff Sessions. See if you can sit through both parts, I dare you.
posted by TwoToneRow at 4:02 PM on April 11 [4 favorites]


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