An audio recording of Gov. Robert Bentley engaging in a sexually explicit conversation with his chief advisor Rebekah Mason was released March 23.
While the recording is difficult to understand due to either poor sound quality, or an issue on Bentley’s part, there is little mistaking the subject matter of the conversation. The recording seems to have been made by Bentley’s family in order to get to the bottom of his relationship with Mason, though the exact details of its release are not yet clear.
Bentley has since admitted it is him in the recording, but denies that the relationship ever entered a physical level. Whatever the particulars of the relationship, the audio seems to confirm that Bentley’s divorce was related to his relationship with Mason as had been rumored.
The story quickly went viral and was lampooned on MSNBC as well as numerous news outlets. While one might be tempted to laugh at this, it is a serious issue for the state.
Alabama now has the dubious distinction of having both a Governor and Speaker of the House at risk of being removed from office. With this scandal, Bentley has also become the next in a series of recent Alabama governors to have their administrations bogged down by scandal.
In fact, while former Gov. Don Siegelman has his defenders, one has to go back about 18 years to the administration of Republican Gov. Fob James to find a Governor whose record was not blemished by a troubling scandal.
Since the audio was released, it has been questioned as to whether Bentley will be forced to resign— like Gov. Guy Hunt in 1993 — or perhaps impeached on a charge such as abusing state funds in order to facilitate his relationship with Mason.
Calls for Bentley’s resignation have been bipartisan, from Democratic leader Craig Ford to Republican State Sen. Bill Holtzclaw. Any Democrats who view Bentley’s potential resignation as a cause for celebration however, are mistaken.
From endorsing Gov. John Kasich for his party’s presidential nomination over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, to insisting that the state obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s same sex marriage ruling, Bentley has at times practiced a relatively moderate brand of Republican politics.
If he resigns, Democrats may see less such moderation from Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, who has been more closely affiliated with the tea party. Given the Republican Party’s dominance at almost all levels of the state, this scandal is also unlikely to make Democrats odds of reclaiming the governor’s mansion much better.
As the state gears up for another round of budget disputes to deal with insufficient funding, the black cloud being cast over Bentley is also unlikely to make negotiations any more productive. This is particularly true since Bentley had broken ranks with the majority of his own party by insisting tax increases are needed to deal with the state’s deficit.
Lastly, we should all be able to sympathize with an individual whose private life has been dragged out for public ridicule; this should be no cause for celebration.