Home » Alabama
Category Archives: Alabama
Governor Robert Bentley appoints Strange amid investigation into purported affair
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitcs.com editor
MONTGOMERY (CFP) — A day after U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed to be U.S. attorney general on a mostly party-line vote, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was picked to fill Sessions’s vacant Senate seat.
However, Strange’s elevation to the Senate post by Governor Robert Bentley on February 9 is already generating controversy because of the outgoing attorney general’s involvement in an investigation into Bentley’s relationship with a former staffer.
Strange has not confirmed if his office has been investigating Bentley’s conduct with Rebekah Mason, who served as one of the governor’s top aides and to whom he has been linked romantically. However, the attorney general had asked a state House committee considering Bentley’s impeachment to suspend its proceedings while his office conducted “necessary related work.”
By sending Strange to Washington, Bentley will now get to pick his replacement as attorney general.
State law also calls for a temporary appointment to fill a Senate vacancy, followed by a special election. But the law leaves the specific timetable for the special election in hand of the governor, and Bentley decided to hold it during the general election in 2018 to avoid the costs of a special election in 2017.
Strange had already announced that he would run in 2018 for the final two years of Session’s current term.
Sessions, who had represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, was confirmed as attorney general after a contentious debate during which Democrats questioned his commitment to upholding civil rights. In the end, only one Democrat–Joe Manchin of West Virginia–voted for his confirmation.
Strange, 63, is in his second term as attorney general. He is known in Alabama as “Big Luther,” a reference to the new senator’s height of 6-feet 9-inches. He was a basketball standout at Tulane University in the 1970s.
In a statement, Strange said he was “greatly honored and humbled” by his appointment to the Senate.
“I pledge to the people of Alabama to continue the same level of leadership as Jeff Sessions in consistently fighting to protect and advance the conservative values we all care about,” he said.
As attorney general, he developed a reputation for rooting out official corruption, including his office’s successful prosecution of Mike Hubbard, the Republican speaker of the Alabama House who was sentenced to four years in prison.
The extent of his investigation of Bentley remains unclear, although his request to stop impeachment proceedings has been widely interpreted as an indication that such an investigation is underway.
In March 2016, an audio tape surfaced in which the governor expresses “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talks about how much he enjoys touching her breasts. Bentley denied having an affair, although he apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments to Mason, who resigned from his staff a short time later.
The controversy escalated when Bentley fired Spencer Collier, the head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, who said he warned the governor that using state resources to carry on an affair would violate state law.
Collier claimed Mason exhibited so much influence over Bentley that she was “the de facto governor.” He said he had received complaints about Mason from other law enforcement officials, as well as members of Bentley’s cabinet and members of his family.
Bentley has resisted calls for his resignation, despite an ethics complaint and a federal grand jury investigation into his relationship with Mason.
Bentley. now in his second term, is barred from seeking re-election in 2018.
Appointment could trigger a special election for Session’s Senate seat
♦By Rich Shumate, Chicken Fried Politics.com editor
If Sessions is confirmed by the Senate, where he has served for the past 20 years, his vacant seat will be filled temporarily by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley. State law then requires that a special election be called for voters to select a permanent replacement for the remainder of Session’s term, which ends in 2020.
As Bentley and Sessions are both Republicans, the seat will remain in GOP hands.
In a November 18 statement announcing the pick, Trump called Sessions “a world-class legal mind” who is “greatly admired by legal scholars and virtually everyone who knows him.”
Sessions, who was a federal prosecutor in Alabama from 1975 to 1983, said he was looking forward to returning to the Justice Department.
“I love the department, its people and its mission. I can think of no greater honor than to lead them,” he said in a statement. “With the support of my Senate colleagues, I will give all my strength to advance the department’s highest ideals.
Sessions, 69, who was first elected to the Senate in 1996, was the first senator to endorse Trump and has become a close adviser. He shares with Trump a hard-line stance on immigration, opposing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Session to serve as a federal judge in Alabama. But his nomination was killed in the Senate Judiciary Committee after several lawyers who worked with Sessions claimed he had made racist statements, which Sessions denied.
That controversy is likely to be resurrected during Session’s confirmation because the Justice Department is the key enforcement agency for civil rights.
Sessions was elected Alabama’s attorney general in 1994 and went to the Senate two years later, becoming only the second Republican elected from the Yellowhammer State since Reconstruction.
Rubio and Burr beat back challenges in Florida, North Carolina; Kennedy and Campbell will contest runoff in Louisiana
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
Meanwhile, in Louisiana’s all-party “jungle” primary, State Treasurer John Kennedy and Democratic Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell will advance to a December 10 runoff for the open seat being vacated by Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter.
Kennedy led with 25 percent, with Campbell at 18 percent, edging out Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany at 15 percent.
Because Republicans already secured their 51-seat Senate majority, the Louisiana runoff will not affect the balance of power.
In addition to Rubio and Burr, Republican incumbents also won re-election in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
With the wins on November 8, Republicans will hold 23 of the 28 Southern Senate seats, with Louisiana still to be decided.
In Florida, Rubio had initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after losing the White House contest, he changed course and filed to run for a second term, improving the GOP ‘s prospects for keeping the seat.
Rubio took 52 percent, defeating Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who took 44 percent.
Alluding to his withdrawal from the presidential race in March, he told election night supporters in Miami, “This is a lot better than the last time I did one of these.”
Rubio, who had been a critic of Trump before reluctantly endorsing him, did not mention his party’s victorious presidential standard-bearer in his speech, but he did make a plea for civility in politics.
“While we can disagree on issues, we cannot share a country where people hate each other because of their political affiliations,” Rubio said.
In North Carolina, Burr, seeking a third term, took 51 percent of the vote, defeating Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor, who took 45 percent.
“I am truly humbled by the support I’ve received from people across this state,” Burr said at a victory celebration in Winston-Salem. “This is a victory for all of those who have believed in me.”
In a state notorious for exchanging Senate seats between parties, Burr becomes the first senator to win three consecutive terms since Jesse Helms in 1984.
Here are the other Southern Senate results:
Alabama: Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby won a seventh term by defeating Democrat Ron Crumpton, a marijuana rights activist. by a margin of 64-36 percent. At the end of his new term, Shelby will be 88 and will have served in Congress for 44 years.
Arkansas: Republican U.S. Senator John Boozman won a second term by taking 60-36 percent for Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville. Boozman suffered an aortic aneurysm in 2014 that kept him away from Washington for two months.
Georgia: Republican U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson won a third term in the Senate by defeating Democrat Jim Barkdale, a wealthy Atlanta businessman, by a 55-41 percent margin. Isakson ran for re-election to a third term despite announcing in 2015 that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Kentucky: Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul defeated Lexington Mayor Jim Gray by a margin of 57-43 percent. Paul had pursued re-election simultaneously with a presidential campaign until he dropped out of the White House race in February.
Oklahoma: Republican U.S. Senator James Lankford easily won his first full six-year term by defeating Democrat Mike Workman, a Tulsa political consultant, by a margin of 68-25 percent. In 2014, Lankford was elected to finish out the final two years of Tom Coburn’s term after he resigned.
South Carolina: Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, easily won a full six-year term by defeating Democrat Thomas Dixon, a Charleston pastor, by a margin of 61-36 percent. In 2014, Scott was elected to serve out the remaining two years of Jim DeMint’s term, after he resigned.
Florida and North Carolina are Senate battlegrounds; Louisiana holds all-party primary for Vitter’s seat
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Nine GOP-held Southern U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs in the November 8 election, with Republican incumbents heavily favored in six races.
The exceptions are Florida, where Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio is facing off against Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, and in North Carolina, where the GOP incumbent, U.S. Senator Richard Burr, is facing Deborah Ross, a former state legislator and Duke University law professor.
And in Louisiana, 24 candidates are running in an all-party “jungle” primary, with the top two vote-getters advancing to a December 10 runoff, which could potentially decide the balance of power in the Senate.
Pre-election polls have shown Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy in the lead, followed by Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, a Democrat; Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette; and Democrat Caroline Fayard, a New Orleans lawyer.
If Kennedy and Boustany can both clear the runoff, the GOP would be guaranteed of keeping the seat, now held by U.S. Senator David Vitter. But if Campbell or Fayard can come through, the December 10 runoff will be the last word on Senate races this year — and, if the Senate is closely divided, decide which party controls the chamber.
In addition to Rubio and Burr, Republican incumbents are seeking re-election in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
In Alabama, Richard Shelby faces Democrat Ron Crumpton, a marijuana rights activist; in Arkansas John Boozman is seeking a second term against Democrat Conner Eldridge, a former federal prosecutor from Fayetteville; and in Kentucky, Rand Paul is running against Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
In Oklahoma, James Lankford faces Mike Workman, a Tulsa political consultant, and in South Carolina, Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, faces Democrat Thomas Dixon, a Charleston pastor.
Three Alabama politicos flee from Trump; Rubio, Burr and McCrory are non-committal
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
(CFP) — Donald Trump’s support among Southern elected officials has begun to crack after the release of an audiotape in which he made offensive comments about women, but, so far, there has been no wholesale deterioration of his Southern support heading into the second presidential debate.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is the only Southern senator to distance herself from Trump, calling on him to “reexamine his candidacy” in light of remarks that surfaced on October 9 in which he bragged about being able to sexually assault women because of his celebrity.
“As a woman, a mother and a grandmother to three young girls, I am deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s remarks, and there is no excuse for the disgusting and demeaning language,” Capito said in a statement.
Two U.S. House incumbents in tough re-election battles, Reps. Barbara Comstock in Virginia and William Hurd in Texas, both announced they would not vote for Trump and want him to step aside as the Republican nominee.
But three other incumbent Republican politicians locked in tight re-election fights – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Richard Burr of North Carolina and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory – did not retract their support for Trump, although all three condemned his remarks.
Rubio, who offered Trump a tepid endorsement after losing to him in the GOP presidential primaries, went on Twitter to call Trump’s remarks “vulgar, egregious & impossible to justify.” But his opponent in the Senate race, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, said Rubio’s refusal to unendorse Trump amounted to “political cowardice.”
“Donald Trump is a threat to every value this country holds dear,” Murphy said in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper. “If Marco Rubio cannot withdraw his endorsement after this latest sickening news, then he should withdraw from the race.”
The most significant erosion of Trump’s support has come in conservative Alabama, where Republican Governor Robert Bentley has announced he won’t vote for Trump, and two GOP members of the U.S. House delegation, Reps. Martha Roby and Bradley Byrne, have called on him to step aside as their party’s presidential nominee.
“As disappointed as I’ve been with his antics throughout the campaign, I thought supporting the nominee was the best thing for our country and our party,” Roby said in a statement “Now, it is abundantly clear that the best thing for our country and our party is for Trump to step aside and allow a responsible, respectable Republican to lead the ticket.”
Byrne called Trump’s comments “disgraceful and appalling.”
“It is now clear Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States and cannot defeat Hillary Clinton,” he said in a statement. “I believe he should step aside and allow Governor Pence to lead the Republican ticket.”
Roby represents parts of metro Montgomery and southeast Alabama. Byrne represents metro Mobile and southwestern parts of the state. Both are seeking re-election, and neither race is expected to be competitive in November.
Bentley, who has been mired in his own scandal over a purported affair with a former aide, issued a short statement in which he said, “I certainly won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but I cannot and will not vote for Donald Trump.”
Notably absent from the list of Alabama politicos distancing themselves from Trump is U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, one of his staunchest supporters in Congress. Trump announced Sessions would be in New York to help him prepare for his October 9 debate with Hillary Clinton, although Sessions’s office has not confirmed that information.
In Virginia, Comstock, who had not previously endorsed Trump, is in a tough re-election battle in the 10th District, based in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, against Democrat Democrat LuAnn Bennett, a real estate developer who is the ex-wife of former U.S. Rep. Jim Moran.
Comstock called Trump’s comments “disgusting, vile and disqualifying.”
“No woman should ever be subjected to this type of obscene behavior, and it is unbecoming of anybody seeking high office,” she said in a statement. “Donald Trump should step aside and allow our party to replace him with Mike Pence or another appropriate nominee from the Republican Party. I cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump, and I would never vote for Hillary Clinton.”
In Texas, Hurd, who had also not endorsed Trump, is battling to keep his 23rd District seat, which stretches from the suburbs of San Antonio across a wide swath of West Texas to the edge of El Paso.
As a black Republican running in a majority Latino district, Trump’s incendiary comments about Latinos had already put Hurd on the defensive in the race against the man he beat in 2014, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego.
Hurd issued a statement saying he could not vote for a candidate who degrades women and insults minorities. He said Trump should step aside in favor of “a true conservative to beat Hillary Clinton.”
Burr, who polls show is neck-and-neck with Democrat Deborah Ross in his re-election race in North Carolina, told Politico that he was “going to watch (Trump’s) level of contrition over the next few days to determine my level of support.”
McCrory, who trails Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper in recent polls, issued a statement in which he said, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the comments made by Donald Trump regarding women. I find them disgusting,” But he stopped short of retracting his support for Trump or announcing that he would not vote for him.
Governor Robert Bentley apologizes after recording surfaces of an “inappropriate” conversation with a top aide
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
MONTGOMERY, Alabama (CFP) — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is denying explosive allegations from the state’s former top cop that he is having an affair with a female aide who exerts svengali-like influence over the governor.
However, Bentley has apologized to the people of Alabama for making “inappropriate” comments to the aide, Rebekah Mason. The apology came after an audio recording surfaced in which the governor expresses “love” to an unidentified party in a telephone conversation and talks about how much he enjoys touching her breasts.
Just who made that recording isn’t clear, but an unidentified member of Bentley’s own family provided it to officials at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency in August 2014, according to Spencer Collier, the former head of ALEA who was fired by Bentley on March 22.
Collier also claims that he was removed by the governor because he refused to mislead the state attorney general’s office about an investigation related to a political ally, a charge Bentley denies.
In the wake of the salacious revelations, the Democratic leader of the state legislature has called on Bentley to resign, and one of governor’s fellow Republicans, State Auditor Jim Ziegler, has filed an ethics complaint alleging that Bentley used state resources to carry on an affair with Mason.
Collier went public with the affair allegations a day after learning on social media that he had been fired. He told reporters that he first confronted the governor about his relationship with Mason in August 2014, after a member of the governor’s security detail accidentally saw an inappropriate text message from Mason on Bentley’s cell phone.
Several days later, Collier said his agency received audio of the governor “participating in an inappropriate sexual conversation,” which was provided by a member of Bentley’s family that he didn’t identify.
Collier said he informed the governor that he would be committing a crime if he used state resources or campaign funds to facilitate the affair. The governor told Collier he would break off the affair but never did, Collier said.
“Less than a month ago, the governor told me that he was still madly in love with Rebekah Mason,” Collier said.
He said Mason exhibited so much influence over Bentley that she was “the de facto governor.” Collier said he had received complaints about Mason from other law enforcement officials, as well as members of Bentley’s cabinet and members of his family.
“(He) is not the same man that I knew and served in the legislature with and considered one of the best friends I ever had, and for that I am saddened,” said Collier, who said he had been a friend and political ally of Bentley for 15 years.
Collier also denied the allegations of mismanagement in his agency that led to his ouster: “I have not mismanaged a dime.”
A short time after Collier spoke, Bentley called his own news conference to flatly deny he was having an affair with Mason, while admitting he had “inappropriate” conversations with her that he described as a “mistake.”
“I am truly sorry, and I accept full responsibility,” he said. “I want everyone to know, though, that I have never had a physical affair with Mrs. Mason.”
“I can assure the people of Alabama that as their governor, I have never done anything illegal,” he said. “At no time have I ever used the resources of my office to facilitate a relationship of any type.”
But when asked if his inappropriate conduct with Mason played a role in his 2015 divorce from his wife of 50 years, Dianne, the 73-year-old governor declined to comment. Asked if he loved Mason, he said, “I love many members of my staff.”
Bentley, a dermatologist, was elected to his second term in 2014. Shortly after his first inauguration in 2011, he made national headlines by telling a church audience that “anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister.” He later apologized.
Bentley, who is term limited in 2018, said he will not resign over Collier’s allegations. And although he apologized for the conversation captured on audio, the governor said he had not listened to it, although he had known of its existence for nearly two years.
On the audio, a voice that appears to be Bentley’s can be be heard in a telephone conversation with an unknown party, in which he talks about putting his arms around the other party and putting his hands on her breasts.
“I love you. I love to talk to you,” Bentley says.
Later on the tape, he says, “Baby, let me tell you what we’re gonna to have to do tonight–start locking the door. If we’re going to do what we did the other day, we’re gonna have to start locking the door.”
One question raised by the audio is where it was recorded. Zeigler’s complaint alleges that a reference in the audio about needing to move a secretary’s desk indicates sexual activity was taking place on state property.
After Bentley denied an affair, Mason fired off her own statement in which she accused Collier of sexism for his insinuation that she exerts undue influence over Bentley.
“He only said what he said about my professional abilities because I am a woman. His comments were clear, demonstrated gender bias,” Mason said.
“Unfortunately, there are still some people who are set on hindering the ability of women to work in the political arena. I am proud of what I have accomplished in the political arena. And I’m grateful for the opportunity God has given me to serve our state.”
Mason’s husband, Jon, who also works for the Bentley administration, took to Facebook to defend his “amazing” wife.
“I wanted to share that I long ago resolved the personal issue playing out now for everyone this week,” he said. “Please continue to support families, the governor and our state with prayers as we all move forward.”
Jon Mason did not elaborate on the nature of the personal issue. But he said his wife “is not a fictional character from a TV show or caricature created by assumptions and imagination.”
While Mason is, by Bentley’s own description, one of his top aides, she is not a state employee. Instead, her salary is being paid by the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a 501 (c)(4) group with ties to Bentley.
Zeigler’s complaint alleges accepting money from an outside group would make Mason a lobbyist, but she has failed to register as such.
“Either Mrs. Mason is a lobbyist, or she is a government official,” Zeigler said.”If she is (a) lobbyist, she has violated the law by failing to register and file reports. If she is a government official, she has violated the law by improperly receiving private funds.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, called on Bentley to step down, saying “it is time for the circus to stop.”
“Public service is about doing what is best for the people of Alabama, and it is clear these countless distractions–whether criminal or ethical–are affecting our legislature and now our governor,” Ford said in a statement.
In his news conference, Collier said his relationship with Bentley began to deteriorate earlier this year when, over the governor’s objections, he complied with a request from Attorney General Luther Strange for an affidavit saying that his agency had cleared a deputy attorney general of allegations of leaking grand jury testimony to a witness.
That deputy, Matt Hart, was the lead investigator in a corruption case that eventually led to a 23-count indictment against Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, an ally of Bentley.
Hubbard has denied the charges, characterizing the investigation as a political attack on him by Strange. Hubbard’s attorneys have raised prosecutorial misconduct as part of their defense.
Collier said Bentley wanted him to say that his agency was continuing with the investigation of Hart’s conduct, when it, in fact, wasn’t. Both the governor and Mason were angered when he wouldn’t go along, Collier said.
“To say she was furious would be an understatement,” Collier said.
“This is not the way government should work. This is not the way law enforcement should work. Elected officials should not be able to yield this much power over a law enforcement investigation. The people of this state deserve better.”
Bentley denied Collier’s accusation, saying, “I have never asked any member of my staff or any cabinet member to lie.”
Trump carries five of seven Southern GOP primaries; Clinton takes six on Democratic side
SUPER TUESDAY SOUTHERN RESULTS
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
The only outliers were Oklahoma, which both Trump and Clinton lost, and the Republican primary in Texas, which went for homestate U.S. Senator Ted Cruz
Trump and Clinton won Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia in the March 1 vote. Clinton also won the Democratic primary in Texas
Super Tuesday was rough sledding for U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who came in second place in Virginia and Georgia but could only manage a third-place finish in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Texas.
In addition to winning Texas and Oklahoma, Cruz finished second to Trump in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee. He was third in Georgia and Virginia.
While Trump won most of the Super Tuesday primaries on the Republican side, he cleared 40 percent only one Southern state, Alabama, which he swept by 18 points.
Trump also notched double-digit wins in Georgia and Tennessee. His victories in Arkansas and Virginia were narrow, 2 and 3 percent, respectively.
Buoyed by her strong support among African-Americans, Clinton rolled up huge numbers across the South. With the exception of Oklahoma, which she lost by 10 points to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Clinton’s support ranged from 64 percent in Virginia to 78 percent in Alabama.
Her margin of victory ranged from 29 points in Virginia to a staggering 59 points in Alabama.
The next Southern stops in the presidential race are:
- Saturday, March 5: Kentucky (GOP caucus), Louisiana (primary)
- Tuesday, March 8: Mississippi (primary)
- Tuesday, March 15: Florida (primary); North Carolina (primary)
- Tuesday, May 19: West Virginia (primary)
Southern Super Tuesday Results