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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.