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Alabama governor resigns after being booked on 2 criminal counts

Posted at 4:41 PM, Apr 10, 2017

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley called it quits Monday night even as the state legislature prepared to impeach him over allegations that he had misused state resources to cover up an alleged affair with a former staffer.

"I've not always made the right choices," Bentley said in announcing his resignation. "Though I sometimes failed I've always tried to live up to the high expectations the people place on the person who hold this esteemed office."

It's the latest in a series of political scandals that have rocked Alabama over the past few years. The former speaker of the state House, Mike Hubbard, was ousted from that job last year after being convicted on a series of public corruption charges. Roy Moore, the controversial chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, is currently suspended because he encouraged lower court judges to ignore the Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Even amid those scandals, Bentley's stood out -- for both the salacious allegations involved and for the fact that until Monday night, he simply refused to acknowledge political reality and resign.

At the heart of the matter is Bentley's relationship with a former staffer named Rebekah Mason. He has acknowledged making sexually suggestive remarks about fondling her breasts but -- wait for it -- insists there was no "physical" affair between the two.

But a 130-page report commissioned by the state's House Judiciary Committee, released Friday, suggests otherwise; it's filled with texts and taped phone calls between Bentley, Mason and Bentley's now ex-wife. In the report, Bentley is cast as cajoling and threatening those around him to keep the affair -- and the tapes of his comments about Mason -- a secret. Bentley reportedly threatened to arrest people in possession of the secretly-recorded phone calls.

While the Alabama Ethics Commission suggested that Bentley committed several felonies tied to the misuse of public resources in his attempts to cover up the alleged affair, Bentley pleaded guilty only to misdemeanors as part of his resignation deal.

Bentley was elected in 2010 and re-elected easily in 2014. The Republican lieutenant governor, Kay Ivey, will become the governor immediately and likely stand for a full term in 2018.

Brian Lyman, a state government reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser, was skeptical that Bentley's problems -- however high-profile -- would impact the Republican death grip on the state's politics.

"The Alabama Democratic Party faces its own internal disputes and is not in a position to challenge GOP supremacy in the state," Lyman told me Monday before Bentley resigned.

Republicans control both U.S. Senate seats as well as six of the seven House districts in the state. The GOP also holds large margins in the state's House and Senate.

In the end, the blast radius of the Bentley scandal is likely to be relatively limited. A politician behaving inappropriately with a woman who is not his wife is a political story as old as time.