On Wednesday, Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) admitted he had made “inappropriate” remarks to his senior political adviser and long-time confidante Rebekah Mason at a press conference.
However, he denied it went any further than those remarks, including a physical relationship.
“At times in the past, have I said things that I should not have said?” Bentley said. “Absolutely, that’s what I’m saying today.”
Bentley’s remarks at that press conference confirmed what had long been rumored in Montgomery going back over the last two years, which was a romantic relationship between Bentley and Mason. The rumor mill heated up last August after Dianne Bentley filed for divorce after their marriage of 50 years. Their settlement of their divorce included $750 in monthly alimony, reimbursement of $20,000 in legal fees, a one-time payment of $92,000 and a beach home for Dianne Bentley.
It was the state’s now-former top law enforcement official Spencer Collier that brought it back to the forefront. Collier had revealed evidence of the affair in press conference just hours before Gov. Bentley took to his press conference to acknowledge the misdeed. Collier had laid out proof of the relationship between Bentley and Mason, which Collier claimed had allegedly gone back to 2014.
“I told Gov. Bentley that I loved him like a father and that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for him except lie to a grand jury,” Collier said. “I made Gov. Bentley aware of the recording that I heard. I told Gov. Bentley there was no need to try and explain it for anything other than it was. It was very obvious that it was sexual in nature.”
In his perceived role as whistleblower, Collier referred to a text message a member of Bentley’s security team had accidentally intercepted by picking up the governor’s cell phone, which Collier claimed was sexual in nature. Collier also referred to an audio recording initially reported by Yellowhammer News that proved the existence of the affair.
Following Bentley’s denial of an actual physical relationship, AL.com released the actual audio, which included Bentley describing how he liked the come up behind Mason and touch her breasts.
The relationship between Collier and Bentley goes back to 2010, when Bentley was a long-shot for the governorship in a crowded field. At the time, the two were serving in the Alabama legislature together and although most the high-ranking elected officials in the Alabama Republican Party at the time threw their support behind now-Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), Collier had supported Bentley.
By a margin of 200 votes, Bentley had managed to earn a spot in a runoff against Byrne in the so-called Tea Party election cycle. In the runoff, Bentley was able to build a coalition of Democratic voters acting at the behest of the Alabama Education Association teachers’ union to defeat Byrne at all cost and Tea Party voters looking to score a win against the state’s GOP establishment by defeating Byrne.
In the end, the bet Collier, a former Alabama State Trooper, had placed on the political viability of Bentley paid off and that earned him the top spot at Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
Initially Bentley was a very popular governor. Despite making a controversial statement shortly before being sworn in as governor with regards to Christians being only his “brothers and sisters” and having initially resisted sending a state flag to a soldier in Afghanistan, a policy he later reversed, Bentley easily won reelection in 2014 by a landslide 64-36 percent margin over the Democratic Party nominee, former Democrat-turned-Republican U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith.
However, Bentley fell out of favor with many Alabamians early in his second term when he proposed a myriad of tax increases totaling $700 million. In 2015, Bentley surprised a lot of political watchers when he endorsed Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), who was identified as a moderate in the crowded GOP presidential field, for president.
Where Bentley goes from here is less clear. In the last 24 hours, the speculation that he would be resigning from his office has died down. But Bentley’s troubles come at a time when the Republican Party is facing turmoil in all corners.
Aside from the scandal Bentley is currently having to answer for, Republican Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard is headed to trial next month for his 2014 indictment for 23 counts of felony ethics violations, four of which include charges of using his office as House speaker for personal gain.
Following Bentley’s press conference, Bentley’s alleged mistress Rebekah Mason fired back at Collier and suggested the allegations made by Collier were rooted in sexism.
— ABC 33/40 News (@abc3340) March 23, 2016
“There is no way that man would have said what he did today about another man,” Mason said in her statement. “He only said what he said about my professional abilities because I am a Woman. His comments were clear, demonstrated gender bias. Since 2010, I have proudly served as Governor Robert Bentley’s Campaign Press Secretary, Communications Director, Advisor, Campaign Communications Director and now Senior Political Advisor. It is an honor to serve our Governor and the people of this state. As a wife and working mother, I commute four hours a day to serve on a team alongside some of the most dedicated and talented people in the state, who are committed to helping our people. Unfortunately there are still some people who are set on hindering the ability of women to work in the political arena. I am proud of what I have accomplished in my professional career. And I’m grateful for the opportunity God has given me to serve our state.”
Collier’s future is also unclear. Earlier in the week, Chuck Dean, a reporter for AL.com first reported the former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency chief was being probed for potential misuse of the agencies funds. Collier immediately denied the allegations in a statement to Dean, which was reveled in its entirety to Alabama Political Reporter, accusing the Dean of being a “sounding board” for Mason and warned at the time there was “much more to come.”
“I will be damned if I will let you, Rebekah Mason, Stan Stabler (an outright racist), Gene Wiggins or Anna Morris drag my name through the mud and hurt my family,” he said in the statement. “I promise, there is much more to come.”
Collier reiterated that claim in press conference. Also during that press conference, Collier had claimed Bentley had asked him to lie to Alabama Assistant AG Matt Hart, the prosecutor in the aforementioned Hubbard case, that an investigation into Baron Coleman, a former political opponent of Hubbard was on-going, when apparently it was not.
Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor