A high-ranking American politician is at risk of losing everything over an alleged extramarital affair — and no, it’s not Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz.
It’s Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Like Cruz, Bentley is a Republican who has campaigned heavily on so-called “family values.” A God-fearing Christian, Bentley has spoken often about the “sanctity” of marriage, pledging to fight tooth-and-nail against same-sex couples who want to have marriages of their own.
Now, Bentley has found his own crumbling marriage under scrutiny (his wife, Dianne Bentley, filed for divorce last year). Last week, the 73-year-old governor admitted to having sexually suggestive conversations with his senior political advisor, 44-year old Rebekah Mason, who is also married. The conversations took place in 2014, before Bentley’s divorce proceedings began.
Both Bentley and Mason have denied actually having a physical affair. But the damage from the recordings seem to be enough.
On Wednesday, Alabama state Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) told WHNT News 19 that he would begin impeachment proceedings against Bentley next week, due to “incompetence and moral turpitude.” The Democratic minority leader of Alabama’s House said he believes a majority of his colleagues favor impeachment.
Bentley himself has rejected calls to resign. In fact, he has defended himself, saying his actions were not “all that egregious.” On Wednesday, he said that he would not voluntarily leave office, and would instead try to “work through all the difficulties.”
To top things off, Bentley is suspiciously no longer a member of his long-time church, which has lead to speculation that he was kicked out.
Still stunned Bentley says his actions weren't “all that egregious.” He's not just family values guv but personal responsibility guv too.
— John Archibald (@JohnArchibald) March 31, 2016
Before the sex scandal, Bentley’s governorship had its fair share of controversies.
He once claimed moral high ground due to his religious beliefs. In a 2011 speech, he said he only considers Christians to be his “brothers and sisters.”
“Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother,” he said at the time.
His policy positions have also faced some criticism. He once used money intended for recovery from the 2010 BP oil spill to finance a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast. Earlier this year, he falsely claimed that a Syrian refugee was responsible for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Bentley was also criticized last week for giving four of his cabinet members $73,405 raises — an 80 percent increase in each of their salaries — but refusing to raise the minimum wage for the state’s lowest-paid workers.
The sex scandal, however, is what has ultimately put Bentley in the cross-hairs of his fellow conservatives. On Wednesday, the Alabama Republican Assembly formally asked for Bentley’s resignation or impeachment. And a Republican state lawmaker is leading the effort to impeach him.
“From the beginning of his second term he has done nothing but lie and deceive the people of Alabama and now we are seeing basically the fruits of that,” state Rep. Ed Henry said. “If we are going to do anything for the next two years as far as economic development, bringing in industry, being effective if you will, we will have to do it without Robert Bentley as the governor.”
Henry’s reference to past deception may likely still be a reference to Bentley’s relationship with Rebekah Mason, who recently resigned from her position as Bentley’s top advisor.
Indeed, though the scandal just broke loose this week, questions have been raised over Mason’s role in the governor’s mansion since at least last year. Those questions have complicated the sex scandal, making it not just an example of a hypocritical “family values” politician, but a relationship that potentially resulted in the misuse of government funds.
— Connor Sheets (@ConnorASheets) March 31, 2016
Before her resignation, Mason had what AL.com called a “unique employment situation” in the governor’s office — though she served as Bentley’s top aide, she was not technically designated a state employee. This meant that she was not required to file financial disclosure forms with the Alabama Ethics Commission, AL.com reported.
Instead, Mason is paid through her own consulting firm, RCM Communications. Financial information released by Mason last week showed that RCM was paid $328,000 for providing various services to Bentley over the last three years.
Questions have also been raised about Mason’s husband’s finances. Jonathan Mason earned $91,000 a year serving as the executive director of Bentley’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives. An in-depth investigation by AL.com’s Connor Sheets showed that both Jonathan and Rebekah “have their hands in many pots of money via a complicated network of companies, political consultancy and government appointments.”
On Tuesday, the state Ethics Commission said it would be investigating Mason and Bentley due to “the opaque nature of Mason’s role, coupled with the recent allegations” of sexual impropriety.