A Profile in Courage: Rep. Ed Henry’s Stand for Justice Fighting Bentley’s Corruption
Representative Ed Henry was on spring break with his family a year ago when his phone began to light up with calls and texts from constituents. They’d heard the recording of Gov. Robert Bentley’s sexual overtures to his staffer Rebekah Mason and they’d had enough.
Like so many other Americans, they were fed up with the corruption in Washington, and no less fed up with ridiculous conduct in their own state capital.
Of course, I’d heard the rumors, Henry said, but when my constituents first begin to call me I hadn’t yet heard the audiotape. Like most, when I listened for the first time, I was disappointed and ashamed at what the Governor we trusted had done.
The people of Cullman, Marshall, and Morgan counties—the 9th District Henry represents—implored him to act on their behalf. They wanted him to do something to put an end to the nonsense.
As I began to dig into the story, I realized the affair was the tip of the iceberg. The Governor’s cover-up took it from a question of morality to a question of legality, and something had to be done. I knew it’d be hard, but the decision was an easy one because I’d made a promise to my district that I’d go to Montgomery and fight corruption. It was what I went down there to do. I had to keep my word to everyone back home.
Early on, representative Henry realized he’d have to harness the power of the media to succeed, but he also knew he had to set his own political career aside for that to work.
Two things result in action in Montgomery: fear and favor. I knew the only way I could affect change was to harness the power of media. What makes that difficult is that when you go to the media, most people assume you’re doing so to promote yourself. For this reason, in an earlier battle, I’d already given up my position as Vice Chair of the Caucus and promised not seek future leadership positions. Looking back today, I firmly believed if I’d been unwilling to make this promise to step away from leadership, we would’ve never had the credibility to be successful in the impeachment effort.
At his first press conference, Henry noted that Representatives Mike Ball, David Standridge, and Craig Ford “had the courage to stand with me at our original press conference, and to them, I’m forever grateful.”
Nevertheless, the path remained difficult. With rule changes requiring 21 signatures for impeachment proceedings to begin, there were days Henry believed his hope for justice was gone.
There were a number of legislators who supported me in private, but who were reluctant to take a public stand, he reflected, and this was discouraging. On one such day, when Henry thought the Bentley impeachment effort was a lost cause, Representative David Sessions from Mobile came up to me on the floor and said, Ed, we can’t let this die. We’ve got to make an effort to get the 21 signatures. I knew he was right and it reenergized me to persevere. That day, I started the process of having one-on-one conversations with 100 members of the House of Representatives. Many of them laughed, but we needed 21 signatures and got 23. That’s all we needed to proceed with impeachment efforts.
The resulting story of Robert Bentley’s resignation as Governor yesterday has had far too many twists and turns to cover in one article, but now that he’s gone, Henry is glad it’s resolved.
When asked how he felt, Henry replied: I have a definite sense of relief that it’s all behind us. It’s sad that we had to go down this path with Governor Bentley. It’s been a painful time and it hasn’t been easy for anyone. At the same time, I believe Governor Ivey’s transparency and character is exactly what we need to move forward.
The people of Alabama should be grateful for their neighbors in the 9th District and for Ed Henry, the legislator from Hartselle who kept a promise to fight corruption in Montgomery, no matter what the cost.