The Rebekah Mason scandal has rocked the state of Alabama and Governor Robert Bentley (R-Al) has gone from limping to crawling just two years into his second term. After revelations that the governor apparently lied about having a physical affair with Mrs. Mason, many of his colleagues are now calling for him to resign.
But — right, wrong, or indifferent — Governor Bentley is probably not going anywhere.
Generally speaking, there are three ways to remove a public official from office: resignation, recall, and conviction after impeachment. In Governor Bentley’s case, each of these options has major roadblocks.
Option one: “Voluntary” resignation
The man who made this option most famous is President Richard Nixon, who stepped down in the face of impending impeachment due to the infamous Watergate Scandal. Bentley says he has not even considered stepping aside.
After all, why would he?
He has no political capital. Most of the alliances he had in the state government were burned to the ground last summer when he went back on a campaign pledge and proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes. His wife filed for divorce after 50 years. And he’s been publicly humiliated by the affair scandal.
But he still has the office he holds.
Why voluntarily give that up, too?
Option two: recall
The second way to get rid of a public official is via recall. Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) dominated headlines the past few years as liberal teachers unions tried numerous times to throw him out this way.
Recall is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended. Recalls, which are initiated when enough voters sign a petition, have a history dating back to the ancient Athenian democracy and it picked up steam in the United States in the early 20th century.
19 States have constitutional provisions allowing for the recall of public officials. Alabama is not one of them. However, some representatives have expressed a desire to see that changed.
State Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said, “I will be researching and introducing legislation dealing with recalling politicians in Alabama. This is an embarrassment to the entire State. Very disappointing.”
When asked if Gov. Bentley would be grandfathered in from the recall bill, Ainsworth replied, “He will not be grandfathered in.”
While it is possible (though not probable) that recall could be a solution to gubernatorial scandals in the future, it does not provide an answer to the current dilemma.
Option three: impeachment and conviction
Bringing forth articles of impeachment would be very difficult, but it probably offers the only real shot at pushing Bentley out.
The articles of impeachment, which function as the charges against the accused, must be passed by a simple majority in the Alabama House of Representatives. Once the house impeaches the governor, he stands trial before the Alabama Senate in a trial presided over by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court.
If the Governor is convicted, he would be removed from office and replaced by the current Lieutenant Governor, Kay Ivey.
While a handful of Republican House members have called for Bentley’s resignation, the impeachment route is complicated by the governor’s involvement in the criminal case against sitting House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). Hubbard is accused of improperly lobbying the governor’s office for a consulting client of his. With the possibility of Bentley being called on to testify in the case, it is hard to imagine Hubbard supporting impeachment proceedings.
Bonus Option: Declaring the governor “to be of unsound mind.”
Ridding the state government of Bentley this way is so off-the-wall that it was not included in the probable three. But in a “House of Cards”-like scenario, someone with twisted ambition could find a way to make it work.
Section 128 of the Alabama Code provides for the means to relieve a top state official from his or her post if he or she is not of “sound mind.”
To do so, two of Alabama’s Constitutional officers (not next in succession to the office of governor) would need to sign statements and present them to the State Supreme Court. The court would then determine if the claims are true and the Lieutenant Governor would take over the duties of her superior until it is judged to be of sound mind.
Frank Underwood would be proud.