Alabama Governor Kay Ivey was sworn into office earlier this week after the arrest and resignation of former Governor Robert Bentley due to various campaign finance and ethics issues relating to the covering up of his affair with senior political advisor Rebekah Mason. Ivey is only the second woman to ever serve in the state’s highest post, is the first Republican woman to do so, and is the first Alabama Governor to be sworn in by a female judge.
After the drama of the last few weeks, the Alabama state government was in desperate need of a shakeup, and that appears to be exactly what Governor Ivey is doing. As one of her first acts as Governor, she requested the resignation letters of all cabinet members, and informed them that each of them would have to re-apply for their positions as if they were doing so for the first time. This is a somewhat routine measure for new administrations after an election, but comes as a bit of a political statement in light of the fact that she is simply filling the seat until the 2018 election cycle. She is not speculated to be running for a full term.
Her next action, besides beginning to work her way through the mountain of paperwork and bills that need to be signed that piled up while Bentley was busy fighting for his career’s survival, was to immediately and unceremoniously fire two people. The first of these was Jon Mason, the husband of the senior staffer with which Governor Bentley had an affair. While this may seem like an odd decision, transcripts of interviews that were made public during the impeachment process indicated that Mr. Mason was complicit in the affair and was using it for his financial benefit. Ironically, his position in the state government was as the head of SERVE, the Governor’s office of faith-based and volunteer initiatives. Mr. Mason had come under criticism for being given this post due to the fact that he had no previous experience that would qualify him for it and his relation to Rebekah Mason.
Today, Ivey made her second major firing decision – Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Stan Stabler, the top law enforcement officer in the state. All state law enforcement agencies were recently consolidated under the ALEA. This action is significant because one of the biggest scandals of Governor Bentley’s administration was when he fired the previous Secretary, Spencer Collier. Collier is the one that exposed the Governor’s affair and began the process of removing him from office by filing a wrongful termination lawsuit that made public the accusations of corruption and abuse of power for the first time. Collier claimed that he was fired because he refused to illegally cover up the Governor’s affair and punish any staffer or family member that threatened to do so. After being appointed to the post, Stabler repeatedly ran interference for the Governor by insisting that no impropriety existed and that he was unaware of any inappropriate texts. However, during the impeachment process, it was discovered that Stabler’s statements on the matter were actually written and/or edited by Rebekah Mason, the Governor’s paramour. Governor Ivey has appointed Hal Taylor as the Acting ALEA Secretary. He previously served as Chief of Staff for the same organization.
In related news today, State Auditor Jim Zeigler is testifying in a case against U.S. Senator Luther Strange, who was appointed by Governor Bentley to replace Jeff Sessions. Senator Strange, who previously served as Alabama’s Attorney General, has generated significant controversy surrounding the circumstances of his appointment. His replacement to his previous post almost immediately revealed that the office was conducting an ongoing criminal investigation into the Governor, implying a major conflict of interest in Strange’s application to the appointment process, especially since Strange unilaterally suspended the impeachment process against the Governor for months with no explanation while he was still AG. In an explosive interview with US News that came out yesterday, State Representative Ed Henry, who initially filed the impeachment against Bentley, said that he met privately with the former Governor on the day that Strange was appointed:
“I met with Gov. Bentley the day he appointed Strange and told him, ‘If you do this, you will be impeached’,” Henry recalls. “Gov. Bentley’s reply to me was, ‘Ed, we have to get rid of him. He’s corrupt.’ And I said, ‘You’re going to appoint someone who you believe to be corrupt to the U.S. Senate?’ He said, ‘We have to.’ I said, ‘Even if that means you most likely will be indicted or impeached?’ He said, ‘I’m not going to be indicted, I get to appoint his successor.’”
In a recent interview with WBRC, Senator Strange blamed the criticism on a “small group of disgruntled legislators” still bitter over his office’s prosecution of House Speaker Mike Hubbard. However, Strange recused himself from that investigation early on, and most of the criticism directed towards him has come from groups that also opposed Mike Hubbard. Ed Henry, for instance, was a vocal critic of Mike Hubbard and helped lead unsuccessful efforts at the time to remove Hubbard from House leadership before he was convicted on 12 felony ethics charges. Representative Henry, a staunch conservative and avid Trump supporter, is known for his no-holds-barred approach to Alabama politics, frequently calling out members of his own party on corruption issues and for violating their campaign pledges. Henry resigned from the Republican House Caucus back in Febuary after Majority Leader Micky Hammon was re-elected by one vote despite various ethical and potential criminal investigations into his political and business life. After Ed Henry took the events that occurred in the GOP Caucus’ private meeting public, Micky Hammon resigned from his post. Hammon is widely rumored to not be running for re-election to his House seat, which has seen a powerful early contender in Tom Fredricks, an outspoken anti-establishment business owner and Trump supporter. Ed Henry has announced that he will not be seeking re-election to his seat either.
Needless to say, it is a tumultuous time in Alabama politics for sure. The drama could pick up again quickly though, as the Senator’s appointment comes under increased scrutiny and the issue of holding a special election for the seat is brought back up. Governor Bentley refused to do so despite the strong insistence of many election officials that the law said otherwise. If a special election is held this year, Luther Strange will have to run for his seat while these scandals are all fresh in the minds of Alabama voters. This is the case that State Auditor Jim Zeigler is testifying on today.
As for Governor Ivey, we will just have to wait and watch. Hopefully, she will continue to drain the Alabama political swamp and work to restore the public’s faith in their leaders. Much is uncertain about Ivey, the former Lt. Governor and State Treasurer, since she’s rarely had to publicly address any specific or controversial issues while serving. If you want to know more about her background, check out the NY Times’ recent profile and her Wikipedia page.
Note: All persons discussed in this article are Republicans, which is why no partisan identification was made of each person.
About the author: Trey Edwards is a strategy and digital media consultant that works with conservative and Republican candidates in Alabama. He boasts an 87% win record against incumbents and has led multiple successful anti-tax referendum campaigns. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.