In the end, he went out with a whimper, not a bang...not even a slowly-crooned, sexy drawl on Facetime.
An arrest for two campaign-related charges — failure to file campaign disclosures and failure to disclose economic interests; a $600 bond; and then a resignation. In so doing, Tuscaloosa dermatologist/evangelist-turned governor Dr. Robert Bentley joined the long list of Alabama’s indicted, arrested, and ignominiously-resigning politicians.
In the past 25 years, Alabama has been a who’s who of cartoonishly crooked, hayseed Bond villains. I’m leaving the party labels off here, because frankly they’re not relevant...not even remotely. In this day and age of fierce partisan divides, thing Alabama politicians can absolutely agree upon are corrupt shenanigans (take that, beltway!)
In addition to Bentley, there was also:
- Gov. Guy Hunt, a two-term governor removed from office in 1993 after being convicted of illegally using campaign and inaugural funds. He was fined and originally sentenced to five years’ probation, before being pardoned in 1998. With a shameless chutzpah, he ran again. But he was defeated.
- Gov. Don Siegelman: Indicted for and convicted of bribery, mail fraud and obstruction of justice, and sentenced to 88 months. Some consider this one a political prosecution, including Senator Doug Jones. But the conviction is there nonetheless. And, in a repeating Alabama theme, bribery is a feature, not a bug, of the state political process.
Oh, don’t think it’s just Alabama’s governors either. Since 2000, the following Alabama lawmakers have been convicted (not just accused) of crimes:
- State Sen. Edward McClain — 48 counts of money laundering, mail fraud, bribery and conspiracy.
- State Rep. Suzanne Schmitz — 7 counts of federal fraud
- Mayor Larry Langford — 15 years in the pen for conspiracy, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and filing false tax returns
- State Reps. Ed Henry and Micky Hammon — Fraud
- State Reps. Terry Spicer and Oliver Robinson — Bribery
- State Rep. Greg Wren — Ethics violations, suspended sentence
- State Speaker Mike Hubbard — 12 counts of felony campaign fund violations and conversion (Like Siegelman, many consider this one to be a political prosecution too. That’s certainly the case Sen. Luther Strange made, anyway.)
The Alabama legislature’s solution to its crooked politician problem. Was it demand accountability, transparency, or foster good government — nah, they just rewrote the law to downgrade bribery to a simple misdemeanor and make it harder to prosecute.
Reading that could overwhelm a person with frustration. But, then you realize that it’s okay to laugh. Sometimes that’s all you can do — and it’s not only okay, but is the correct reaction.
Because nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, was able to liven up the usually-depressingly crooked politician news quite like the tale of Robert “The Luv Guv” Bentley.
How to describe it to an outsider? It’s almost impossible. But, here goes:
Put House of Cards in Cullman, make the protagonist 73-years old in the throes of a sex scandal. Then toss in hints of knowing cuckoldry, some burner phones, a Vegas roadie, state-paid helicopter trips to see the mistress at the beach, a local news anchor, good ole’ fashioned fraud and cronyism, really icky texts, impeachment proceedings, retaliatory firings, really dumb coverups, allegations of a bribed Senate seat, and a poor old church lady getting wronged, and you begin to get a flavor of this sordid, often-hilarious mess.
Despite entire reams of paper being written on this story, in the end we were left with far more questions than seem to be answered.
But the best part (or saddest?), is that it was all caught on tape by a geriatric woman because she didn’t know how to unlock an iPad. Though not quite a constitutional amendment yet, being wiretapped by a 68-year-old woman should disqualify you from further elected office.
To call Bentley’s tale a laughingstock — as in an embarrassment, would do disservice to true laughingstocks. A lot of it was objectively funny, in the darkest, most uncomfortable, cringey sort of way.
There was nothing quite like watching a clown car of bumpkin keystone cops and a septuagenarian bad-sexter try to master modern technology to enact a hamfisted coverup. Every day, was a new tongue-in-cheek Kyle Whitmire or John Archibald story on AL.com.
The comment sections were amazing; Twitter, even more so. Facebook was a thunderdome of grammatical atrocities. Snark was the state’s number one export; the futures market on gallows humor soared through the roof.
And, hey, why not?
Sometimes a man has swam out too far to get back to shore, and then he quietly surrenders and slips beneath the ways. This was us with the Luv Guv — what could have been a giant smear on the psyche of Alabamians became instead an object lesson on the adaptive surrender of humor; a state-wide campaign of inside jokes as palliative.
So, is this something to be proud of? Bentley? Absolutely not.
But, how we handled it? Absolutely.
And, since this is a countdown about things to love about Alabama, love yourself and this weirdness that only Alabama can produce. Because, frankly, few other states could have given you both the Meth Attack Squirrel and the Luv Guv — and our reactions to both.
Hey, at least he apologized?
There is a post-script: It turns out that we may very well need to fire up those jokes again soon — Rebekah Mason not only works with Dr. Bentley to this day, but the 53rd Governor of Alabama hasn’t ruled out a return to politics either.
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