Amid Sex Scandal, Alabama Governor's Top Aide Resigns

by | March 31, 2016 AT 1:30 PM

By Tim Lockette

Rebekah Mason, the woman reputedly on the other end of the line in Gov. Robert Bentley's sexually-charged phone calls, resigned from her position as Bentley's top aide Wednesday.

The governor has had he has no plans to do likewise, though there are rumblings of an impeachment attempt in the House of Representatives.

"I have resigned as Senior Political Advisor to Governor Bentley and will no longer be paid from his campaign fund," Mason wrote in a prepared statement sent out by the governor's office Wednesday. "I have also ended my work with the Alabama Council for Excellent Government."

Mason's resignation is the latest fallout in a burgeoning Goat Hill scandal that erupted last week, when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, director of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.

Collier had been on leave from the state law enforcement branch since February, following a dispute over Collier's decision to provide an affidavit to prosecutors in the corruption trial of House Speaker Mike Hubbard.

State investigators later said they found evidence of misuse of funds in Collier's office, and Bentley fired Collier the next day. Then Collier dropped a bombshell, claiming that Bentley and Mason were engaged in an affair, and that Mason was the "de facto governor," making decisions for Bentley.

Mason is married, and Bentley last year was divorced by his wife 50 years. Both have denied an affair, though Bentley last week acknowledged that he had made sexually inappropriate remarks to his top aide. An audio recording, leaked to the press last week, captures one end of a telephone conversation in which Bentley tells woman he enjoys feeling her breasts. Bentley addresses the woman as "Rebekah."

The revelations redoubled the focus on Mason's unusual position with the Bentley administration. Bentley's campaign spokeswoman in the 2010 and 2014 campaigns, Mason was once a communications director on the state payroll, but switched in 2013 to a "senior political advisor" position.

Her political consulting firm has since been paid $503,000 from Bentley's campaign fund -- more than $180,000 of which was, according to Mason, a pass-through to pay for political advertising. Mason has said she also received $15,000 from the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a nonprofit that hasn't revealed his donors.

Those payments sparked an ethics complaint by State Auditor Jim Zeigler, who says Mason should have registered as a lobbyist while working with the governor while on someone else's payroll.

A small but growing number of officials in both parties have called for Bentley to step down. The Decatur Daily reported Wednesday that Rep. Ed Henry, a Hartselle Republican, plans to file articles of impeachment against the governor. Attempts to reach Henry for comment were unsuccessful.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, told The Star earlier that he would file impeachment articles if no one in the majority party did. Bentley is unable to lead, he said, with questions about the scandal still lingering.

"The governor has made a mockery of our state," Ford said Tuesday.

Attempts to reach the governor's staff for comment on the resignation and the impeachment threats were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon.

Alabama's impeachment process closely mirrors the process at the federal level. The House can vote to impeach a governor, after which an impeachment trial is held in the Senate, presided over by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

Under the Constitution of 1901, grounds for impeachment include neglect of duty, corruption, incompetence or "any offense involving moral turpitude."

So far, only a handful of House Republicans have made public calls for Bentley to step down. Jess Brown, a political science professor at Athens State University, said an impeachment effort could have a chance in the House despite that reluctance.

"If I'm a legislator, looking ahead to 2018, I'm not going to be behind the eight-ball on this," he said.

All 140 legislators are up for re-election in 2018. If articles of impeachment make it to the floor of the House, Brown said, lawmakers who vote to keep Bentley in office run the risk of being "eaten alive" by primary opponents.

Bentley has said repeatedly that he has no plan to resign. Brown said the governor may have nowhere to go if he leaves office. Bentley, a retired doctor, lost access to two private homes in his divorce settlement last year, and likely has an alimony payment to the former first lady.

He promised in 2010 not to draw a salary until Alabama reaches "full employment," and six years later he has collected only token $1 payments and some small travel reimbursements.

"In terms of cost-benefit analysis, the governor's office has cost him royally," Brown said.

Attempts to reach Mason, for comments on her plans for the future, were not successful.

"My only plans are to focus my full attention on my precious children and my husband who I love dearly," she wrote in the prepared statement released Wednesday. "They are the most important people in my life."

(c)2016 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)