He might look like the kind of guy who lives for the veiled nuances of a frothy actuarial table, but Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is one Republican who knows how to talk to a woman.
“You know what. When I stand behind you and I put my arms around you and I put my hands on your breasts,” Bentley said. “I love you. I love to talk to you. I do.”
No one disputes that is the governor of Alabama on a recording made by his ex-wife.
“But baby, lemme tell you what we’re gonna have to do tonight,” Bentley added. “Start locking the door. If we’re gonna do what we did the other day, we’re gonna have to start locking the door.”
His former wife Dianne Bentley, who filed for divorce in August 2015, purposely left her cell phone on and set it down near the governor while she went for a walk on the beach. She recorded the governor’s end of a phone conversation, which could prove to be his undoing.
Everyone including the governor agrees the person with whom he is speaking is a longtime employee and senior political advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason.
And as if the recording wasn’t bad enough, now Bentley has to contend with an ethics investigation conducted by Alabama’s state auditor, Jim Zeigler.
Zeigler is looking into the alleged “misuse of state property” by Bentley and the legality of Mason’s employment as a state official while she also might have been classified as a lobbyist.
Bentley went public with the affair, which had been the subject of gossip in Alabama political circles for years, during a March 23 press conference.
During the session with reporters, in which he was described as “nervous” and “awkward,” Bentley said he felt he had to “apologize to the people of the state of Alabama” for his relationship with Mason.
Bentley’s public confession came just two hours after the former head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who along with several others in ALEA leadership positions were all fired by the governor, accused him of having an affair with Mason.
While Bentley admitted the phone conversations were probably real —he said he had never heard the recordings—Bentley also contended his relationship with Mason never got physical.
“At times in the past, I have said things that I shouldn’t have said,” Bentley said. “And that is what I am saying today.”
Mason also issued a statement saying she had never had sex with that man, maintaining her relationship with Bentley was “never physical.”
Complicating this affair, which at least on the phone was as steamy as a July night in Montgomery, Mason’s husband worked in Bentley’s office while Rebekah was the governor’s communications director. Jon Mason runs the Alabama Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, known as Serve Alabama.
Mason assured AL.com in an email that his work as a state official has nothing to do with his wife’s relationship with Bentley.
“The qualifications that led to my selection as director of Serve Alabama included my 12-year career as a meteorologist with local television stations in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa,” Mason wrote.
“Today is a difficult day for me. Today I want to apologize to the people of the state of Alabama,” said Bentley. “I am sorry and accept full responsibility.”
Standing beside Bentley during his confessional press conference was newly appointed Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Chief Stan Stabler, who replaced Spencer Collier.
Collier turned the private affair into a public scandal after Bentley fired him. Collier called reporters together and accused the governor of sending sexy text messages to Mason. Collier also told reporters he had heard audio recordings of conversations between Bentley and his senior political advisor.
Collier said he was fired for refusing to follow Bentley’s orders in an unrelated corruption case. Bentley said he dismissed Collier because of an internal review involving the alleged misuse of money.
“After placing Spencer on medical leave a few weeks ago to allow him to recover from back surgery, Acting ALEA Secretary Stan Stabler identified several areas of concern in the operations, policies and procedures at ALEA,” Bentley said in a statement released by his office.
“After an internal review, the ALEA Integrity Unit found a number of issues, including possible misuse of state funds,” Bentley added.
Auditor Jim Zeigler said a few days after Bentley fired Collier that he too was concerned with the alleged misuse of state funds, not by the former ALEA chief but by the current governor of Alabama.
Zeigler said he wanted to make sure no state money was spent in the “furtherance” of Bentley’s relationship with Mason.
And while Zeigler said he was more interested in the legal than the sexual nature of Gov. Robert Bentley’s conduct — “this is not about personal peccadillos” — he did call the governor “a disgrace.”
“It is clear that he is misleading the people of the state about the nature of his relationship, but it is also clear that Ms. Mason is required to either be classified as a public official, or file as a lobbyist, in her capacity as an advisor who is paid by an outside source.”
Mason has not been paid a dime by the state of Alabama since 2013. But AL.com reported Mason did work on Bentley’s 2014 re-election campaign, for which she was paid $426,978.
Bentley released a statement in which he maintained he has nothing to hide from Zeigler.
“I have always complied with the ethics laws of the State. In fact, I voluntarily release my tax returns to the public every year in a spirit of openness and transparency,” Bentley said. “I have always and will continue to cooperate with the Alabama Ethics Commission.”