Alabama Governor Faces Calls To Resign Amid Affair Allegations
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is facing calls for him to resign. Things blew up after allegations that the Republican had an affair with his top adviser, something he denies. Andrew Yeager of member station WBHM reports.
ANDREW YEAGER, BYLINE: The whirlwind started last week when the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency sat behind a desk in a Montgomery law firm one day after being fired. Spencer Collier told the packed room of reporters that two years ago, he saw sexually charged texts and heard secret recordings that showed the governor was having an affair.
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SPENCER COLLIER: At that point, I explained to Governor Bentley it would be a crime if he has used state resources to facilitate a relationship or if he used campaign funds to facilitate the relationship.
YEAGER: Collier says he has no knowledge of illegal conduct, but Bentley had faced persistent rumors of an affair. Last year, his wife of 50 years filed for divorce, saying their marriage suffered an irretrievable breakdown. Collier's allegation brought all that to the forefront, and within hours, Bentley appeared at his own press conference.
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ROBERT BENTLEY: Well, first, let me say, I have stated emphatically today that I have not had a physical relationship with Mrs. Mason.
YEAGER: Rebekah Mason was his longtime political adviser. She's married. While Bentley and Mason deny an affair, he did admit to making inappropriate comments to her. He says he apologized to her family and his and asked the people of Alabama to forgive him. Bentley adds he did nothing illegal.
That's done little to put the issue to rest. Several media organizations released the secret recordings purportedly of Bentley on the phone, having a sexual conversation with Mason. The alleged affair still dominates, such as at a media appearance Tuesday intended to promote Bentley's broadband Internet proposal.
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BENTLEY: OK, who else has a question on broadband?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Governor, this question isn't related to broadband.
BENTLEY: Well, I - let's take a broadband...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Taking broadband questions...
YEAGER: The allegations tarnished the second-term governor's political image as a trustworthy grandfather, a deacon at his Baptist church. They also draw attention to Rebekah Mason, who the former law enforcement director called the de facto governor because of her influence.
There are money questions, too. She wasn't on the state payroll. Instead, she was paid by a private nonprofit which doesn't have to disclose donors. Mason resigned Wednesday. Bentley faces his own calls to resign, including one from Birmingham Democratic State Representative Patricia Todd.
PATRICIA TODD: The issue of the affair is not an impeachable offense to me. He can do whatever he wants. I mean, you know, but tell the truth.
YEAGER: Even state lawmakers from his own Republican party say they'll draft recall or impeachment measures. Bentley says he won't resign, and so far, no Republican leaders are publicly pushing him. Alabama Media Group columnist John Archibald says that’s changing fast.
JOHN ARCHIBALD: More and more people are starting to say this is not a tenable situation. It's starting to affect our ability to recruit businesses. It's hurting the state not just as an embarrassment but in a matter of practice.
YEAGER: People at a coffee shop Homewood, Ala., near Birmingham have been paying attention to the unfolding scandal. Sam Price is most concerned with the questions of improper use of money.
SAM PRICE: You know whether or not he did something wrong, I don’t know, but I think the way he is acting, the way he is handling the alleged affair - I think that, seemingly, he's covering something up.
YEAGER: Alabama's Ethics Commission will investigate following a complaint about Mason's pay and relationship with the governor. Impeachment efforts could move beyond just talk next week as the state legislature returns from spring break. For NPR News, I'm Andrew Yeager in Birmingham. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.