By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Calls for Gov. Robert Bentley to resign have now reached the upper echelons of the Alabama Senate with Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh giving Bentley some stark advice: For the good of the State, step down.
“I hope at the end of the day that the Governor do what’s best for the people of Alabama,” Marsh said. “If it means that these things are pressings, that it’s going to continue to put the State under a cloud if that’s where we’re headed, I hope the governor does what’s best for the State and seriously considers stepping down.”
Marsh, who leads the Alabama Senate, said the Senate would be ready for an impeachment trial if it comes to that, but he would prefer not to have to put the State through such a drawn out process.
“This has gone on long enough,” Marsh said.
For the second time in a month, the Governor has had to put to rest rumors of and calls for his resignation. In a short statement issued after Marsh’s calls, Bentley made it clear he would not quit.
“I have no intentions of resigning and I am looking forward to continuing to work on important issues facing the state,” Bentley said.
Those important issues were the reason why Marsh asked him to step down. Marsh said he believed the Governor has become ineffective and dead weight on the State government.
“The Governor is not being effective,” Marsh said. “He’s not been able to lead on the important issues in this state from education, to infrastructure, to prisons. So I hope the Governor will do what’s right for the people of Alabama.”
Marsh’s call came only a day after the Alabama Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley may have violated the Alabama Ethics Act and the Fair Campaign Practices Act. In a meeting Wednesday, the Commission referred four charges on to the Montgomery County District attorney for an independent investigation.
They also came a day before the Alabama House Judiciary Committee’s special counsel is expected to publish a written report on his investigation into Bentley. The report — which will likely detail Bentley’s relationship with his former top political aide, Rebekah Mason — will serve as the basis for impeachment articles from the House.
Downstairs in the Alabama State House, the House Speaker, Mac McCutcheon, took a more measured approach in reaction to the ethics complaints.
“That’s Governor Bentley’s decision,” McCutcheon said. “I can make suggestions all day long, but that’s his decision.”
Current plans in the House would set a full-chamber vote on impeachment for early May. In that case, the timing would match earlier promises to resolve the question of impeachment before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session in late May.
But resolving the impeachment question before the end of the session could put other issues in peril, as Marsh noted. McCutcheon, who leads the lower chamber, echoed concerns that the Legislature could run out of time on several important issues including redistricting, the General and Education Trust Fund Budgets and prison construction.
Impeachment seems to be taking precedent above all other matters in Montgomery. Next week, three days will be devoted almost solely to impeachment hearings. The House will meet late in the day, at 4:30 p.m., to address regular business.
If the House chooses to vote affirmatively on an impeachment, the Governor would immediately be suspended from his office, leaving Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey as the State’s temporary Chief Magistrate.
Bentley would remain suspended until he is found guilty and removed or acquitted by the Senate, which would convene to hold a trial. The trial may be held during this regular legislative session, further burning days, or it could be possibly be held in a special session, depending on if and when the House returns an impeachment.
“We’ve got to move on,” Marsh said. “The budgets have not been passed. We’ve got prison bills we’re talking about. We’ve got infrastructure we’re talking about. If we go into this posture of an impeachment posture or a trial, then we could run out of time.”
“The whole session is in jeopardy,” he continued.
Under an amendment passed in November 2016, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to remove the Governor; otherwise, he would return to his job.
Bentley has denied any legal wrongdoing, calling the effort to impeach him “political grandstanding.”
Calls for the Governor to step down and impeachment hearings in the House are occurring simultaneously with parallel criminal investigations being conducted by the Attorney General’s Office and, now, possibly the Montgomery District Attorney’s Office.