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Governor’s resignation brings Alabama politics into question

Joel Goode, Opinion Editor

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With an ever-growing pattern of scandal in Alabama’s government, it is time to question the fundamental interests of our political system.

Last Monday saw the resignation of now-former Governor Robert Bentley.

Bentley left office amid accusations detailed in a 3,000-page report by the Alabama Ethics Committee that Bentley misappropriated state funds to conduct an affair with top-level staffer Rebekah Caldwell Mason, according to Al.com.

Bentley was accused of taxpayer dollars to pay for private trips with his mistress, as well as using state property to conduct the affair. Mason had worked for Bentley for six years, first as a campaign organizer in 2010, then as a senior political adviser, as reported by Al.com.

What is most difficult to process in the scandal is not just the abuse of taxpayers through the misappropriation of state funds, but the way in which Mason and Bentley abused their significant others and staffers who suspected misconduct.

Mrs. Dianne Bentley first suspected the affair in early 2014, when she noticed her husband treated her differently, as reported by Al.com.

Staffers began approaching Mrs. Bentley with their concerns. One of those staffers was the Chief of Alabama Law Enforcement, Spencer Collier, who was the first person to make the affair public.

According to Al.com, Bentley removed Collier from office in 2016 after Collier refused an order not to produce an affidavit in a Federal case against Bentley’s friend and coworker, then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who is now in jail for fraud.

Collier had recordings of Bentley saying explicitly sexual things to Mason. Despite the release of the recordings, Bentley denied the affair and continued to hold office for nearly a year until his forced resignation last Monday.

As his communication’s manager, Mason was responsible for many of Bentley’s public statements. After Mrs. Bentley divorced her husband, when rumors started to emerge, Mason herself drafted a statement for Mrs. Bentley, who had been married to the governor for over 50 years.

“The erroneous and unsubstantiated media reports of the last few weeks have been very hurtful to our family,” the statement prepared by Mason read. “We ask for your continued prayers in the days and weeks to come. It has been an honor to serve this great state as your First Lady.”

Mrs. Bentley did not release the statement. Instead, she sent hundreds of text messages she had captured from her husband’s phone to the media.

However, as Alabamians, we should take into account how prevalent government scandal in our own state has been over the past few decades. We must ask ourselves moving forward how we can change a culture that has produced so many legislative wrongdoers in the first place.

Don Siegelman served as the governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003. According to The Washington Post, upon leaving office Siegelman was convicted of “bribery, conspiracy, and mail fraud for actions that took place during his time as governor.”

Siegelman was sentenced to 78 months in prison in August 2012.

Before Siegelman, Harold Guy Hunt served as governor from 1987 to 1993, becoming “the first Alabama governor to be removed from office [due to] a criminal conviction,” as reported by the Post.

Among other charges, Hunt was accused of stealing $200,000 from the inaugural state fund.

While governor, Hunt appointed Roy Moore as the Chief Justice of Alabama, a position from which Moore was removed twice, according to CNN.

The first case was in 2002, when Moore erected a statue of the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.

Moore’s most recent removal came in 2016, when five years after his reappointment he directed state courts to ignore a Federal order mandating that gay marriage licenses be permitted.

Both of Moore’s removals stemmed from policies he enforced due to religious convictions, not dissimilar to Islamic countries that enforce sharia law.  

As mentioned already, now-former House Speaker Mike Hubbard was removed and arrested on charges that he solicited and accepted bribes from corporations. Bentley defended him throughout the case.

Bentley began his career by saying that “those who are not Christian are not my brothers and sisters,” according to Al.com. Nevertheless, Christian convictions did not stop Bentley from stealing tax dollars and pursuing an extramarital affair.

As students, many of whom can vote for the first time, we can look at this pattern in one of two ways: as inherent to the world of business and politics, or as a systemic problem that can be rooted out.

What links all of the politicians detailed here are their indebtedness to religious and private interests.

Bentley distinguished himself as a Christian; Moore enforced explicitly Christian policies; and Hubbard promised pro-business legislation to corporations that gave him substantial donations.

Bentley’s religious connections matter, because they are what he used to gain the trust of his constituency. When elected officials tout spiritual beliefs, a willingness to exploit the sacred for political gain is exposed.

The constitution frames our country as a secular nation which operates in the public interest. Therefore, when elected officials campaign on the backs of religiosity and corporate subsidies, something fundamentally wrong is happening.

Eradicating corruption is not an easy task with a clear solution, but if we can recognize patterns in our own state, then we may be able to direct our votes towards officials who actually hold the people’s interests at heart.

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The student news site of The University of South Alabama
Governor’s resignation brings Alabama politics into question