Robert J. Bentley
Robert J. Bentley
|53rd Governor of Alabama|
January 17, 2011 – April 10, 2017
|Preceded by||Bob Riley|
|Succeeded by||Kay Ivey|
|Member of the Alabama House of Representatives|
from the 63rd district
January 3, 2003 – November 3, 2010
|Preceded by||Tim Parker|
|Succeeded by||Bill Poole|
Robert Julian Bentley
February 3, 1943
Columbiana, Alabama, U.S.
(m. 1965; div. 2015)
|Education||University of Alabama (BS)|
University of Alabama, Birmingham (MD)
|Branch/service||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1969–1975|
Robert Julian Bentley (born February 3, 1943) is an American former politician and physician who served as the 53rd Governor of Alabama from 2011 until 2017 upon his resignation after a political scandal and subsequent arrest. A member of the Republican Party, Bentley was elected governor in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. A sex scandal involving a political aide forced Bentley to resign from office on April 10, 2017.
Born in Columbiana, Alabama, Bentley earned his M.D. from the University of Alabama School of Medicine in 1968 and then served in the United States Air Force as a medical officer at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina from 1969 to 1975 until leaving the service as a captain. He entered private medical practice and opened a series of dermatology clinics throughout the southern United States.
Bentley was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2002 and served a total of two four-year terms from 2003 to 2010. In 2010, Bentley announced his intentions to run for the Republican nomination for governor. Bentley won in a seven-candidate primary and faced Democrat Ron Sparks, the outgoing Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture, in the general election. Bentley received just over 58% of the statewide vote and won by a margin of over 230,000 votes—the largest margin recorded for a Republican in an open-seat race in Alabama history. In 2014, Bentley won re-election, winning the largest percentage of the vote that any Republican gubernatorial candidate had received in modern Alabama history, 63.6%.
On April 5, 2016, Republican State Representative Ed Henry filed an impeachment resolution against Bentley in the State Legislature, in connection with allegations that Bentley engaged in an extramarital affair with a female political adviser. Bentley has admitted to making inappropriate remarks toward the woman, but denied having a physical affair. On July 7, 2016, the House Judiciary Committee named a special counsel to lead the investigation into the impeachment charges against the governor. On April 5, 2017, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley violated both ethics and campaign finance laws.
Bentley resigned as Governor of Alabama on April 10, 2017, effective immediately, after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges related to campaign finance law. Bentley allegedly used state resources to facilitate and conceal an extramarital affair with a former staffer. As part of the plea deal, he accepted a lifetime ban from ever seeking public office in Alabama again. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey.
Early life, education, and Air Force service
Bentley is a native of Columbiana, Alabama, in Shelby County. His parents, Mattie Boyd (née Vick) and David Harford Bentley, did not complete school past junior high. Bentley's father was a sawmill worker who voted with the Populist Republicans, a splinter branch of the Republican Party formed by people who had been part of the state's defunct populist movement. At one point, Bentley lived in a house with no electricity or running water.
After graduating from Shelby County High School at the top of his class, Bentley enrolled at the University of Alabama. While at Alabama, Bentley majored in Chemistry and Biology and graduated with his Bachelor of Science degree in three years.
After graduating from UA, he began his studies at The University of Alabama School of Medicine. During his first year of medical school, he met Martha Dianne Jones of Montgomery. They were married on July 24, 1965. He graduated with his M.D. in 1968 and began his one-year internship at Carraway Methodist Hospital in Birmingham.
Bentley joined the United States Air Force in 1969 as a captain. He served as a general medical officer at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While there, he served as an interim hospital commander for a time.
Following his military service, Bentley began a three-year residency at the University of Alabama in dermatology. He then opened his dermatology practice in Tuscaloosa in 2019. He founded a number of small businesses, the most successful of which is Alabama Dermatology Associates. As President of Alabama Dermatology Associates, Bentley managed the practice's growth into one of the largest dermatology practices in the Southeastern United States. Bentley is a board certified dermatologist, and he served two terms as President of the Alabama Dermatology Society. He has also been named to "Best Doctors in America," selected by his peers. Bentley is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology and the Medical Association of Alabama.
Alabama House of Representatives
In the Alabama House of Representatives, Bentley made it a priority to train primary care health care providers and to increase organ donation. He is responsible for two major revisions of Alabama's organ donor laws: one specific to corneas and the other reinforcing the rights of organ donors by making it difficult to challenge their decisions.
Bentley helped establish the Alabama Medical Educational Consortium. His efforts included work on legislation to expand scholarships for medical training. Questions were raised by Sparks camp during the gubernatorial campaign as to whether Bentley's son, while in medical school, benefited from his father's involvement with the consortium.
In 2008, Bentley was elected as a Republican Presidential Delegate for Mike Huckabee. At the Republican National Convention he represented Alabama on the Republican Platform Committee. For the United States presidential election in 2016, Bentley endorsed fellow Republican John Kasich.
During his time in Montgomery he served on the Education Appropriations Committee, the Boards and Commissions Committee, the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, and was a member of the Tuscaloosa County Legislative Delegation. He also served as the Vice-Chairman of the Internal Affairs Committee.
Governor of Alabama (2011–2017)
2010 gubernatorial election
In the June 1, 2010 primary race, Bentley surprised political analysts by finishing second ahead of Tim James to reach a runoff election with Bradley Byrne. One of James' supporters, former U.S. Representative Sonny Callahan, endorsed Bentley in the runoff.
In the July 13 run-off election, Bentley defeated Byrne by a 56%-44% margin to claim the Republican nomination for governor.
In the general election, Bentley defeated Democrat Ron Sparks, 57.9% to 42.1%.
Bentley has stated he does not approve of gambling in the State of Alabama, but supports a referendum for its citizens to vote on whether to approve its legality.
2014 gubernatorial election
In the general election held on November 4, 2014, Bentley won re-election easily against Democratic candidate Parker Griffith, gathering almost twice the votes of his rival at 63% to 36%. In the process, Bentley won the largest percentage of the vote of any Republican gubernatorial candidate in modern Alabama history.
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In a June 2013 analysis by The Business Journal looking at 45 of the country's 50 governors by their job creation record, Bentley was ranked at number 36 (tied). The five governors omitted from the analysis all assumed office in 2013. The ranking was based on a comparison of the annual private sector growth rate in all 50 states using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to his official website, in Bentley's first three years in office, Alabama gained nearly 60,000 jobs, and in addition, Governor Bentley had recruited over 55,000 new, future jobs.
In June 2011, Bentley signed into law Alabama HB 56, an anti-illegal immigration law which was considered to be the toughest of such in the United States. On August 20, 2012, the Eleventh Circuit invalidated portions of the law, declaring them to be unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court later denied certiorari, refusing to review the Eleventh Circuit's decision.
On March 22, 2016, Bentley fired Alabama Law Enforcement Agency secretary Spencer Collier, citing misuse of state funds under Collier. An independent state audit found no issues with the agency. Following his firing, Collier alleged that Bentley had engaged in an extramarital affair with his senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Collier stated in a press conference the following day that he had seen sexually-charged texts between Bentley and Mason and heard audio recordings of conversations between the two. On March 23, AL.com released an audio recording purportedly created by the Bentley family in order to determine whether Gov. Bentley was engaged in an inappropriate relationship. In the recording, Bentley stated to a woman he called "Rebekah" that he "worr[ied] about loving you so much" and that "[w]hen I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts [...] and just pull you real close. I love that, too." At a press conference that day, Bentley apologized for the comments but denied having an affair and stated that his relationship with Mason had not been sexual. Bentley admitted that he had made a mistake by saying "inappropriate things" to Mason, and apologized to Mason and her family and to the people of Alabama.
Ethics violations and impeachment
Jim Zeigler, the State Auditor of Alabama, filed an ethics complaint against Bentley for allegedly using state property in the course of his relationship with Mason. State Representative David Standridge and Alabama Republican Party committee member Terry L. Dunn called on Bentley to resign.
On March 30, 2016, Mason resigned, stating she would no longer serve as the governor's senior political adviser, and would no longer be paid by his campaign fund. The same day, State Representative Ed Henry said that he would file a resolution calling for Bentley's impeachment. On April 5, 2016, Henry announced that he had filed an impeachment resolution against Bentley. At the time of Henry's announcement, it was reported that the resolution would be referred to the legislature's House Rules Committee for review and further action.
At the time the impeachment resolution was filed against Bentley, the Alabama Constitution authorized impeachment proceedings against the governor, but the state legislature had no impeachment procedures in place. On April 26, 2016, the state House of Representatives adopted a rule setting up impeachment procedures; the rule requires the signatures of at least 21 legislators to start impeachment proceedings in the legislature's House Judiciary Committee. While Henry originally had 10 co-sponsors for his impeachment resolution, on April 28 he announced that he had obtained a total of 23 signatures on his impeachment resolution, which was sufficient to file impeachment articles under the new procedures. On March 20, 2017, Henry said that he expected "that the governor either will have resigned or the impeachment committee will be moving at a very rapid pace" by mid-April.
On April 5, 2017, the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Bentley had committed four Class B felonies; the Commission determining in four separate votes that "there was probable cause that Bentley violated one count of state ethics law and three counts of the Fair Campaign Practices Act (state campaign finance law). Two of the votes were decided 4–0, while two others were 3–1.
Bentley sought to block impeachment, arguing in state courts that he was not given due process. On April 7, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Greg Griffin  granted a temporary restraining order in Bentley's favor, but in a unanimous ruling the next day, the Alabama Supreme Court stayed that decision and allowed impeachment hearings to go forward while the case was pending.
On April 7, the special counsel appointed by the Alabama House of Representatives released a 131-page report on the impeachment investigation. The report concluded that Bentley had "encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation" as governor. The report also "alleged that the governor's critics had been subjected to coercion, including harassing messages and the threat of criminal prosecution" and "described how Mr. Bentley tried to use a member of his security detail to break up with Ms. Mason on his behalf and how the governor demanded that Ms. Mason be allowed to travel in official vehicles after she left the state's payroll."
Resignation and guilty plea
On April 10, 2017, on the same day that the state legislature began impeachment proceedings Bentley resigned as governor of Alabama. On the same day, Bentley pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges: one for failing to file a major contribution report and the other for knowingly converting campaign contributions for personal use. Both charges related to Bentley's concealment of the alleged affair. He was booked at the Montgomery County Jail and on the same day was sentenced by Montgomery County Judge Troy Massey to a suspended sentence of 30 days in jail (allowing him to avoid jail time), as well as one year of probation and 100 hours of community service, to be performed under Bentley's role as a physician. The judge said that Bentley's probation could be terminated early "if he meets conditions of the plea deal, including refunding his campaign account nearly $9,000 and surrendering his account -- worth $37,000 --- to the state within a week." The guilty plea was part of a plea agreement with the Alabama attorney general's office, under which Bentley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges "in an effort to avoid felony charges and potential jail time." As part of the plea agreement, Bentley accepted a lifetime ban from ever holding public office in Alabama again.
Bentley and his former wife Dianne have four sons and six granddaughters and one grandson. He was an active member of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa where he served as a deacon and a Sunday School teacher. At FBC Tuscaloosa, he has been the chairman of the board of deacons four times and a member of the Youth for Christ advisory board as well as the Family Counseling advisory board. In 2016, during the sex scandal involving Bentley, First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa's senior pastor, Gil McKee, issued a statement saying, "While church discipline is a church family matter, both Governor Robert Bentley and Mrs. Rebekah Mason are no longer members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa. I continue to pray for each of them".
As governor, he served on the board of trustees for the colleges and universities of Alabama. He is also on the board of trustees of the Alabama Medical Education Consortium, which he helped to found. Bentley was the 2009 recipient of the Christian Coalition of Alabama's Statesmanship Award.
In August 2015, Dianne Bentley filed to divorce Bentley, saying there had been an "irretrievable breakdown" in their marriage and that further attempts at reconciliation were impossible. Records of the divorce case were sealed, per a ruling on August 31, 2015, by County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hamner. Governor Bentley had appointed Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hamner to the bench and her current position in 2011. The divorce was finalized on September 29, 2015.
|Alabama House of Representative 63rd district election, 2002|
|Alabama House of Representatives 63rd district election, 2006|
|Republican||Robert Bentley (inc.)||9,061||97.72|
|Alabama gubernatorial Republican primary election, 2010|
|Alabama gubernatorial Republican primary runoff election, 2010|
|Alabama gubernatorial election, 2010|
|Alabama gubernatorial Republican primary election, 2014|
|Republican||Robert Bentley (inc.)||388,247||89.35|
|Republican||Stacey Lee George||25,134||5.78|
|Alabama gubernatorial election, 2014|
|Republican||Robert Bentley (inc.)||750,231||63.56|
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Bentley grew up the son of a sawmill worker, living at one point in a house with no electricity or running water. His father voted with the Populist Republicans, a splinter branch of the Republican Party formed by refugees of the state's defunct populist movement, which once tried to organize farmers and industrial workers around their own interests.
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- Robert Bentley at Curlie
- Blinder, Alan, "Alabama Governor’s Use of Oil Spill Funds for Mansion Draws Criticism", New York Times, January 11, 2016.
- Appearances on C-SPAN