Bentley’s apology and accountability remain incomplete

Governor Robert Bentley is behaving like a child who, upon being caught with his hand in the cookie jar, reluctantly apologizes for reaching into the container but acts indignant when asked how many he took.

“I didn’t actually eat any cookies,” the child insists, with crumbs covering his mouth and hands.

That’s essentially what Bentley is asking us to believe after someone released audio recordings of the governor having sexually explicit telephone conversations with his senior political advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a married mother of three whose husband also works for the governor. The audio is the next thing to being caught red-handed, and it’s more than enough to convince many that Bentley and Mason carried on an affair in the governor’s office.

If you can stand listening to the recordings, you’ll hear what Bentley said to a woman he called “Rebekah” on the telephone:

“I worry about loving you so much.”

“When I stand behind you, and I put my arms around you, and I put my hands on your breasts, and I put my hands (unintelligible) and just pull you real close. I love that, too.”

“Let me kiss your ear. Oh shoot. Let me kiss that left ear, OK? Can I whisper something in that sweet ear?”

“If we are going to do what we did the other day, we are going to have to start locking the door. “

But never mind all that. Bentley wants you to focus on what he said during a recent news conference: “I’m apologizing for the things that I said,” Bentley told reporters, emphasizing how the recordings don’t actually prove anything sexual happened. “That is not a physical relationship, making those statements.”

So what are we supposed to believe: what we heard or what the governor says we heard? It’s an easy choice for anyone with a basic understanding of the English language and who doesn’t constantly think like a criminal defense attorney.

While we should certainly forgive and help penitent people regain their integrity, Bentley’s incomplete apology, half-truths, and silly parsing of words insults both our faith and intelligence, and raises doubts about everything else his says on the matter.

But is this any of our business?

If this were only about a private citizen named Robert Bentley, then no.

But it’s about the Governor of the State of Alabama so, unfortunately, this disgraceful mess is very much our business because of three important reasons.

First and foremost, Bentley has broken the bond of trust that must exist between a governor and the governed. It isn’t just an ordinary job. We give our governor the authority to implement laws, tax our income, regulate our commerce, appoint people to powerful offices, and much more. Someone with that amount of authority must be trustworthy and wise enough to admit and correct his faults. Bentley isn’t, and hasn’t.

Second, the affair may be influencing his official decisions. I hate to mention this tawdry point, but the recordings show a governor swooning over a woman who he placed in an influential position, who holds sway over policies and people due to her role as his advisor, and whose relationship may be disrupting necessary debates within his cabinet. How can anyone be expected to successfully challenge Mason’s view on an issue, or expect Bentley to remain impartial or even think clearly when considering her advice?

Things are a mess in the Capitol. Spencer Collier appears to have lost his job as the state’s top cop because he learned of the affair, asked Bentley to end it, and then got cross with Mason about something else entirely. Collier explained the situation in a news conference last week, and he appeared completely credible to this observer. Others state employees have been fired, as well. People’s lives, and the workings of state government, are clearly being impacted.

And thirdly, as Collier warned the governor, Bentley would have committed a felony if state resources were used to carry out a relationship with Mason.

Investigations will surely be launched. Meanwhile, Bentley is sticking to his story and slyly parsing his words, treating the scandal as if he weren’t in the court of public opinion, but only in a court of law.

And he isn’t … yet.

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