By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — Alabama, a state marred by political turmoil, has a new governor, marking the third major turnover of power in the State’s top three political offices over the course of one year.
Gov. Kay Ivey, who previously served as the State’s lieutenant governor, took the oath of in the Old Senate Chambers in front of a packed room of reporters, lawmakers and members of the public, becoming the 54th governor of the State of Alabama — only the second female governor in its history.
Acting Chief Justice Lynn Stewart — holding the Alabama State Bible, which has been used to swear in governors since 1853 — led Ivey in delivering the Oath of Office, officially marking the beginning of Ivey’s term as governor.
Ivey’s ascension follows a day of back-and-forth over the resignation of Gov. Robert Bentley, who has been the subject of a spiraling sex scandal that brought an end to his six-year term as governor and led to an all-out political war in Montgomery over the future of the Governor’s Office.
“Today is both a dark day for Alabama, yet also one of opportunity,” Ivey said after being sworn in. “I ask for your help and patience as we, together, steady the Ship of State and improve Alabama’s image. Those are my first priorities as your 54th Governor.”
Ivey made few controversial remarks and spoke for less than five minutes, but promised no delay in transitioning into her new administration. She said she would meet with cabinet members and legislative leadership to ensure a smooth transition.
“Despite the challenges we face, today’s transition should be viewed as a positive opportunity. It is a demonstration of our successful practice of the rule of law and the principles of democracy,” she said. “I pledge to each of you that I will do my best. The Ivey Administration will be open, it will be transparent, and it will be honest.”
The day began with the start of what was expected to be a week full of impeachment hearings but ended with Bentley accepting a plea deal on two misdemeanor campaign finance charges. He later announced his resignation after a week of fallout over accusations that the 74-year-old misused State resources to facilitate an affair with his former top staff, Rebekah Mason.
Bentley’s resignation was effective at about 5 p.m.
“The time has come for me to look at new ways to serve the good people of our great state,” Bentley said in a resignation announcement at the State Capitol. “I have decided it time for me to step down as Alabama’s governor. I leave this office that I have held, that I have respected, that I have loved for seven years to focus on other and possibly more effective areas of service.
“I love the people of this state. I love this office.”
Bentley agreed to a plea deal in the courtroom of District Court Judge Troy Massey at the Montgomery County Courthouse. He is unlikely to serve any jail time but was sentenced to 12 months unsupervised probation and fined more than $7,000. He will also never run for public office again and has forfeited any retirement benefits.
He has also promised to perform 100 hours of community service.
Bentley’s resignation Monday came after support from his Republican colleagues in the Alabama Legislature and the State Republican Party leadership collapsed last week.
The Speaker of the House, the Senate President Pro Tempore and the Alabama Republican Party Steering Committee, as of Sunday night, had all called on the beleaguered Bentley to resign. All of the parties, in combination with attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office, were pivotal in urging the Governor to resign and accept a plea deal.
“I’m grateful that Governor Bentley has seen the writing on the wall and made what must have been a difficult decision,” McCutcheon said. “When I met with him on Friday, I told him I would be praying for him. I will continue praying for him as he adjusts to the next chapter in his life and reflects upon the legacy he leaves behind.”
The salacious scandal was a slow-developing one and played out over the course of the last year, culminating last week with the State’s Ethics Commission recommending four criminal charges against Bentley and the House impeachment committee’s special counsel releasing a damning 130-page report detailing his relationship and alleged affair with Rebekah Mason, his longtime political adviser.
Bentley’s resignation means that Ivey, the 72-year-old Republican lieutenant governor, will now be the state’s second female governor. The only other female governor was former Gov. Lurleen Wallace, who served two years at the State Capitol before losing a battle with cancer.
Ivey has been the lieutenant governor since 2011 and previously served as the state treasurer from 2003-2011 — the first Republican treasurer in the State since Reconstruction. In 2002, she defeated Stephen Black, the son of former US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, to become State Treasurer.
In 2010, Ivey initially announced her candidacy for governor, pitting her against Bentley, Bradley Byrne and Roy Moore, but later swapped her candidacy to run for lieutenant governor instead. She then defeated former incumbent Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. to become the State’s second female lieutenant governor.
Bentley, a longtime Tuscaloosa dermatologist and Baptist deacon turned governor, had been under fire from state lawmakers since March 2016 when his alleged affair became public thanks to the release of a lewd recording of Bentley making suggestive comments to Mason over a phone call.
In April 2016, several Alabama House members filed articles of impeachment against Bentley, launching a year-long process that was set to result in impeachment hearings this week. But it didn’t get that far. Bentley’s resignation put an end to the impeachment investigation but not before a salacious 130-page report was released detailing Bentley’s affair with Mason and her effects on the Governor’s Office.
With Bentley’s ouster as governor, that marks three top Alabama officials that have been removed from office in the past year.
Political turmoil and investigations have ended the careers of Alabama’s top three political officials: former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, Chief Justice Roy Moore and, now, Bentley. Hubbard was convicted of 12 felony ethics violation and faces four years in prison. Moore was suspended from the Alabama Supreme Court last year and is appealing his suspension to a Special Supreme Court later this year.