By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 5, 2017, was not the end of the Bentley Administration; but it likely was the beginning of the last chapter of the Bentley era in Alabama. Wednesday’s ruling by the Alabama Ethics Commission means that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is much more likely to be ithe first Governor impeached and removed under the 1901 Constitution.
On Wednesday the Ethics Commission voted that Bentley likely committed four separate ethical and campaign law violations.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked renowned State political commentator, former State Representative Steve Flowers (R) if Bentley can survive Wednesday’s decision by the Ethics Commission to refer four charges against the scandal plagued Gov. Bentley, the coming report by Special Counsel Jack Sharman on Friday recommending that Bentley be impeached, then three or four days of hearings next week.
Flowers said “No” that at the point he needs to pick up his tent and go home rather than put himself through the impeachment process in the Legislature.
The Ethics commission says that its investigation has found evidence that Bentley probably used State resources to facilitate his admitted “inappropriate relationship” with his married former top political advisor Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The Ethics Commission also found that Bentley probably accepted a campaign contribution improperly and also gave himself a campaign loan when he was not running for anything. These are all class B felonies under existing law and carry possible prison time.
APR asked Bentley’s 2014 primary opponent Stacy George, Bentley was probably going to beat you anyway because he had millions of dollars to spend and the people of Alabama like to reelect incumbents, but what does it say about the Governor that he still felt the need to cheat and break campaign finance law to beat you?
Former Morgan Commissioner George said he knew Bentley was corrupt and knew that it was strange that Mrs. Bentley was flying home alone to Tuscaloosa each week, “But we never could wrap our arms around what was happening.”
The move also vindicates Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) who has waged a lonely struggle to expose what he believed were unethical and illegal conduct by Robert Bentley. Zeigler said in a statement to reporters, “I am pleased that the Governor is going to finally face accountability and sad for the State of Alabama that we’ve had to go through this the last year and a half.”
APR has repeatedly published Zeigler’s criticisms of the Bentley Administration as well as his allegations about possible ethical issues. Zeigler was the only statewide office holder to take a stand when confronted with a Republican Governor who appeared to lack personal restraint and any moral compass.
The decision to forward the cases to the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office also pushes Bentley closer to impeachment.
The Chairman of the House Rural Caucus state Representative David Standridge (R-Hayden) issued a statement in response to the Commission’s decision. Standridge said, “This is a sad day for our State, but today’s decision by the Ethics Commission confirms what I have been saying for nearly a year now: Governor Bentley has lost his way and needs to step aside. Government ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ requires the highest of ethics and integrity from our elected officials. Unfortunately, Governor Bentley has not lived up to this expectation.”
Chairman Standridge added, “I fully support the Commission’s decision to forward the governor’s indiscretions to prosecutors and I expect those prosecutors and our court system to fully apply the law. However, the Commission’s decision should not impede the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of Articles of Impeachment against the Governor, of which I am an original signatory. Just as the Judicial Branch has a job to do in this situation, so too does the Legislative Branch. I look forward to seeing both processes come to speedy conclusions, with the result of both being the restoration of honesty and integrity in the governor’s office and in all of State government.”
One of Bentley’s defense team told reporters afterwards that the decision by the Alabama Ethics Commission was unfortunate but refused to say that it was a “setback” for the Governor when pressed by reporters.
If Bentley does not resign he will next face the Sharman report on Friday, with lengthy hearings before the House Judiciary Committee next week as they mull whether or not Gov. Bentley’s alleged misconduct rises to the level of impeachment.