Dirty old man. He needs to resign. Governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, Says He Won’t Quit
By ALAN BLINDER
MARCH 30, 2016
Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama held a news conference on Wednesday in Russellville, intending to talk about broadband. Credit Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times
RUSSELLVILLE, Ala. — The governor of Alabama wanted to talk about broadband.
But because the governor was Robert Bentley, who is confronting a deepening political morass after acknowledging last week that he had sexually charged conversations with a top aide, that was hardly how a news conference could unfold in this northwest Alabama city. Instead, he had to start by discussing whether he would be able to keep his job.
“I have no intentions of resigning,” said Mr. Bentley, a Republican in his second term. “My intentions are to try to make this state better. My intentions are to try to work through all the difficulties that we’re going through.”
Within hours, Rebekah C. Mason, the governor’s senior political adviser and the woman with whom he engaged in suggestive conversations, captured on tape, said she had quit. And by day’s end, it was uncertain whether it would be politically feasible for Mr. Bentley, 73, to remain in office in this state, which has a gaudy history of scandal but has been in something of a morals-driven meltdown since the governor’s admission last Wednesday.
Some lawmakers are talking of impeaching Mr. Bentley. The governor’s former pastor spoke of “church discipline” and said that Mr. Bentley was no longer a member of the Tuscaloosa congregation where he was once a deacon. And as audio recordings of the governor’s conversations with Ms. Mason were replayed and dissected across the Internet, even Mr. Bentley’s proficiency at phone sex has been a subject of conversation.
“As far as my situation is concerned, it is really just a shock to people, and, you know, I understand that,” Mr. Bentley said on Wednesday in an interview, his first since he acknowledged the nature of his behavior with Ms. Mason. Mr. Bentley, who complained about “a lot of errors and misconceptions and opinions” on social media, said a fuller account would someday put his behavior in a better light. “I still feel that, in time, all of this will come out, and everything will be exposed.”
Mr. Bentley, who was elected statewide in part because of his reputation as a churchgoing, squeaky-clean public official, said that his conduct had not been “all that egregious,” but also said, “All I can say is that I think I let people down, and that disturbs me more than anything else.”
People here have been hearing plenty about what happened.
According to the monitoring service TV Eyes, Alabama television stations have mentioned Mr. Bentley, whose wife of 50 years filed for divorce last year, more than 700 times since last Wednesday. In the entire month leading to Mr. Bentley’s news conference, the stations had referred to him on fewer than 650 occasions.
“It’s totally humiliating,” said State Representative Allen Farley, a Republican who last year spoke with Mr. Bentley about rumors of sexual impropriety. “This man has got to understand that every day he’s in the governor’s office, this circus will go on.”
Alabama was mired in scandal well before Ms. Mason became a household name. A former governor is serving a prison term for corruption, and the speaker of the State House of Representatives is to stand trial this year on charges of ethics violations.
“We’ve bottomed out,” Mr. Farley said. “We’ve got a speaker of the House that’s got 23 felony violations for using his office for personal gain, and now we’ve got a governor who’s using his office for God knows what.”
The State Ethics Commission said this week that it would investigate whether Mr. Bentley and Ms. Mason had committed wrongdoing. The state attorney general’s office has declined to say whether it has opened an inquiry.
Mr. Bentley has denied a physical relationship with Ms. Mason, despite recordings in which the governor refers to “when I stand behind you and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts.” In an excerpt published by the Alabama Media Group, he also said, “If we’re going to do what we did the other day, we’re going to have to start locking the door.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Bentley has not said how long the inappropriate phase of his relationship with Ms. Mason lasted. Referring to that controversial period, he said, “We understood at that time the boundaries, I should say, and we still do.”
It was not clear whether Ms. Mason’s resignation would help Mr. Bentley to regain his political footing and whether a scheduled appearance at a prison in Wetumpka on Thursday might carry a semblance of normalcy. In a statement released by Mr. Bentley’s office, Ms. Mason said, “My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly.”
Before Ms. Mason’s departure, speculation about Mr. Bentley rained down on the governor’s office.
In the interview, when he referred to last week’s news conference as “a firing squad,” Mr. Bentley confirmed some details of a report by Yellowhammer News, which said Tuesday that he and Ms. Mason had shared a safe deposit box at a bank in Montgomery.
He denied that Ms. Mason owned the box, but said that she was designated to have access to it if he died.
“I couldn’t ask my attorney to come down and sign for it,” said Mr. Bentley, who added he would release a video message in the coming days to “get my message out unfiltered.”
“I want them to hear from my lips because when I was in the press conference the other day, that’s kind of a shock thing,” he said. “I can’t answer everything, and in fact, I couldn’t answer everything that day because I didn’t know what was coming out. I really didn’t. I had never heard any of this stuff. I didn’t know.”
But there are doubts that the scandal will fade from view anytime soon. “It’s not football season,” said Paul DeMarco, a Republican former member of the Legislature.
And around the state, there are questions of what more might come — or, as State Senator Dick Brewbaker put it, whether “this gets any weirder.”
“I really hate that this happened to the governor, but he did it to himself,” Mr. Brewbaker, a Republican, said. “It just shows that any governor who serves two terms and can leave office without scandal has really accomplished something in Alabama.”http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/31/us/governor-of-alabama-robert-bentley-says-he-wont-quit.html?_r=0