By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Any dream that the administration of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) could be effective moving forward has been dashed against the rocks, when tapes, secretly recorded by former Alabama First Lady, Dianne Bentley were released, indicating that the Governor was having an inappropriate relationship with a married aide, thirty years his junior.
The scandal has become national news, appearing in a segment on the NBC Nightly News on Thursday night. CNN, the CBS Morning News, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show have also addressed the Bentley affair allegations. The 73 year-old Bentley told reporters with the New York Times that he acted inappropriately, but denied having done anything illegal, and continues to resist the growing calls for him to resign his office. The Governor’s top political advisor, and alleged mistress, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, resigned her position on Wednesday.
The FBI, the Alabama Attorney General’s office, and the Alabama Ethics Commission all have investigations active into allegations that Gov. Bentley may have committed crimes in the manner in which he covered up his alleged dalliance with the married Mrs. Mason, and his attempt, at the urging of Mrs. Mason, to prevent the corruption trial of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) from going forward.
Six top people at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), including Director Spencer Collier, have been fired or reassigned, allegedly for their roles in investigations into ethics violations by top government officials. Bentley, and his former bodyguard, Stan Stabler (now the acting head of ALEA), deny that version of events, and claim that the officers were reassigned after Stabler uncovered misappropriation of ALEA resources; a charge that Collier hotly denies. There are also questions about the dark money sources that funded Bentley’s charity, the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, which was funneling money to Mrs. Mason for her services helping the Governor.
Now, what can the people of Alabama do?
The legislature could impeach Gov. Bentley. Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) is expected to introduce impeachment proceedings. The legislature remains divided on impeachment. While Henry, Rep. Craig Ford, Senators Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), and Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), are all for impeaching the Governor, other legislators favor waiting to see what the federal and State investigations reveal. Others argue that an affair is not illegal, and that it would take proving of actual crimes for them to vote to impeach the Governor.
In many states, concerned citizens could make an effort to recall their Governor. A petition drive would begin, and if enough voters approved, the Governor would have to face a vote of the people. Alabama does not have a recall provision. State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) has introduced legislation that would give the people of Alabama that power.
Frank Dillman Sr. who has been a longtime advocate of recall, initiative, and reform legislation said, “Senator Clyde Chambliss’ Recall bill, SB371, is up and running. How fast and successful the run will be, depends on the citizens contacting legislators. Most important right now is to get the bill out of the Senate Constitution, Ethics, and Elections committee members with a favorable opinion….If we want Recall, all of your energies must be determined and focused squarely on these committee members immediately. If your senator sits on this committee he/she definitely needs to hear from you.”
According to the synopsis, SB371, “Would propose an amendment to the 9 Constitution of Alabama of 1901, authorizing the Legislature to provide by general law for recall of elected state officials.”
Recall would be a method of removal of elected State officers in addition to impeachment or any other procedure now provided by this Constitution or the laws of this State. The amendment authorizing the recall of elected State officials shall contain at a minimum the following provisions: (1) The qualified electors of the State or any judicial circuit or legislative district may petition for the recall of any incumbent elected officer after the first year of the term for which the incumbent was elected by filing a petition with the Secretary of State demanding the recall of the incumbent. (2) Within 90 days after filing with the Secretary of State, the recall petition shall be signed by electors equaling at least 40 percent of the vote cast for the office at the last preceding election in the State or district which the incumbent represents. (3) If the Secretary of State determines that a sufficient number of signatures have been obtained within the 90-day period, the Secretary of State shall call a recall election for the sixth Tuesday following the determination. (4) The incumbent shall continue to perform the duties of the office until the recall election results are officially declared.
If a majority of the electors fail to vote for a recall, the incumbent shall remain in office and complete the term of office for which he or she was initially elected. If a majority of electors vote in favor of a recall, the recall shall create a vacancy in the office. The vacancy shall be filled as provided by law for the office. After one petition and recall election, no further recall petition may be filed against the same officer during the term for which he or she was elected. The grounds for initiating a recall petition shall include one or more of the following during an incumbent’s term of office: Malfeasance or nonfeasance; Lack of physical or mental fitness; Incompetence; or Violation of an oath of office.
This legislation because it is an amendment would not need Governor Bentley’s signature; but it would have to pass both houses of the Alabama legislature and a vote of the people in the November election.
By that time, Bentley could already have been impeached and removed by the legislature or he could possibly be indicted and be facing trial.
State Representative Wil Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) is also looking at introducing recall legislation.