How likely is Governor Bentley’s impeachment?

Since the release of the audio tapes involving Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason, action has been fairly swift.

Bentley spent no time stonewalling or trying to argue that the tape is fake, or that the male voice is not his own. Bipartisan calls for his resignation have been issued.

Even articles for impeachment have been written. Despite these moves, the odds of Bentley being formally impeached remain slim. Just one day after authoring the articles of impeachment, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, had to withdraw the articles following criticism from his colleagues.

It was decided that the charges need to be vetted by a new committee rather than the House rules committee that Henry belongs to. Thus, new articles are to be written and a framework for impeachment must be decided upon.

Because it has been over 100 years since Alabama impeached an executive official, lawmakers have little clarity on how to proceed. In fact, the state has never impeached a Governor — only a Secretary of State who ended up surviving the effort to unsuccessfully run for governor himself.

If a framework is eventually agreed upon, a theoretic impeachment trial would be quite the media spectacle. The impeachment trial would be presented by Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, who is awaiting a trial for ethics violations; it would also cast Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore — who was once removed from office himself — as the judge.

Given the lack of precedent and the negative attention the state would receive, the likelihood of this occurring is not high. As Bentley has over two years left in his term, it is much more likely that he will simply resign.

Despite figures such as George Wallace or Jim Folsom once wielding so much political power, Alabama operates under a weak Governor system. Not even the Governor’s power to veto legislation amounts to much, as it can be overridden by a simple majority vote.

As a result, Bentley’s vetoes have regularly been overridden. For example, last week the Governor demanded a budget that fully funded the state’s Medicaid program.

Because fully funding the program would have necessitated tax increases, or major cuts elsewhere, the legislature ignored his demand and overturned the subsequent veto of their budget. As such, Bentley’s only recourse is to call a special session and hope that he may charm the legislature.

With the scandal hanging over him and his persuasion ability now at an all time low, the state’s already weak governor has become weaker still. As such, Alabama is now at an impasse because formal impeachment is unlikely.

Bentley will either be shamed into resigning on his own terms, or a means by which he may be indicted on criminal charges will have to be found.

The state constitution does not allow for convicted felons to hold the office of Governor, meaning he would have to resign if criminal charges stuck.

This would require proof that he purposely misappropriated funds to enable his likely affair, or engaged in some form of criminal corruption. More general charges, such as exercising poor judgment or harming the state’s reputation through his conduct, would not suffice for criminal proceedings to be carried out.

Kevin Spann
Political Columnist

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