|Gov. Robert Bentley and|
Rebekah Caldwell Mason
That is the question of political intrigue that now envelops "The Heart of Dixie," which has been ranked as the sixth most corrupt state in country--and, with Bentley's help, is making a strong push for No. 1. Experience with Alabama politics tells us that a straightforward answer to our question probably is not forthcoming. So what's the real reason for Bentley's action last week, what is--to borrow a phrase from the late Paul Harvey--"the rest of the story"?
Here are a few issues to ponder:
* Is Bentley's action driven, in part, by his extramarital affair with "adviser" Rebekah Caldwell Mason, which led First Lady Dianne Bentley to divorce the governor after 50 years of marriage? Are problems connected to Mason percolating beneath the surface of the Strange decision? (Our guess? Yes.)
* Did former Strange campaign manager Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who had an extramarital affair with her one-time boss, launch a public-relations assault on Legal Schnauzer, in part, because she knew the Bentley decision was coming, and it somehow spelled bad news for the attorney general and his dreams of procuring higher office? (Our guess? Yes. After all, our blog broke both the Strange/Garrison and Bentley/Mason affair stories. And a basic rule of Alabama politics seems to be, when in distress, with no defense, attack the messenger.)
* Did Bentley's action cause consternation among those tied to the political machine of former governor Bob Riley? The answer to that one clearly is yes. And that might be the most interesting development of all.
John Tyson, former head of Riley's anti-gambling task force, expressed dismay about Bentley's decision. Reports al.com:
Tyson said he and Riley encountered what he termed "stiff resistance" by local law enforcement in a number of counties when they moved to enforce the laws against electronic bingo.
"It was stiff, very stiff," said Tyson. "Places like VictoryLand in Macon (County) and GreeneTrack in Greene (County) and a casino in Lowndes County, local law enforcement wasn't generally enforcing the laws against gambling in those places then. And I've been gone a few years now but I suspect it will be a problematic thing to get them to enforce the law now."
News flash for John Tyson: Maybe local law-enforcement officials presented stiff resistance because they knew electronic bingo was legal in their jurisdictions? Tyson conveniently fails to mention that voters in Macon County, for example, approved a constitutional amendment that allows bingo at VictoryLand--and an Alabama circuit judge recently found that included electronic versions of the game. In a fashion that is standard for "Riley Robots," Tyson proves to be a flagrant liar--saying something is unlawful, when it actually has been found to be lawful.
Former state senator Bryan Taylor, another Riley Robot of longstanding, was equally deceitful. Reports al.com:
Former state Senator Bryan Taylor was a key adviser to Riley in the days leading up to the formation of the task force and during the bingo wars of 2009-10.
He said Riley had no choice but to form a task force and appoint a commander once he believed that then-attorney general Troy King was not enforcing the laws against gambling and after local sheriffs and DAs in some counties refused to act.
When King challenged what Riley had done in forming the task force, the state Supreme Court ruled that Riley had the legal power to act to enforce any law he believed that was not "faithfully" being enforced.
Since signing his latest executive order placing local sheriffs and district attorneys as the primary enforcers of gambling laws some have speculated that Bentley has tied Strange's hands and his authority to enforce gambling laws. That's a move pro gaming forces would hope is true since Strange has been strongly opposed to gambling.
But Taylor said Bentley has not tied the hands of the AG nor could he. And he said anyone using the task force decision by the high court to argue the governor can do such is just wrong.
"What the case does not say, no matter how vehemently the gambling interests will argue it, is that the governor may cut off or diminish the attorney general's jurisdiction to enforce the law," said Taylor. "The case simply upholds a proper balance of power where both constitutional officials — the attorney general and the governor — are accountable under the law. Under this case, the court quite clearly recognizes that both officials may assert a position in court."
Is Taylor a solid source of legal analysis on gambling in Alabama? Not exactly. We have shown that Taylor's knowledge of gambling-related issues tends to spring leaks. We've also shown that Taylor, like former "First Son" Rob Riley (and Jessica Garrison, for that matter), tends to resort to dubious defamation lawsuits against those who report uncomfortable truths.
|AG Luther Strange and Jessica|
That means Bentley could have neutered Strange at any time over the past five years. So why is he doing it now?
Our view is that Bentley has major problems brewing over the Rebekah Caldwell Mason affair, and the Strange decision was designed to somehow limit the fallout. How serious could the fallout be? Birmingham attorney Donald Watkins has reported that Mason was paid via a "slush fund." If that is proven, members of Team Bentley could be facing dire consequences. From Donald Watkins:
For over a year, the governor seemed oblivious to the hurt and pain he had caused to Mrs. Bentley and his children by his love affair with Rebekah. Since he was re-elected last year, Bentley’s primary concern has been figuring out how best to use the financial resources of the state, along with leftover campaign funds and the financial resources of friendly political groups, to support his romantic lifestyle with Rebekah.
In February, Governor Bentley established the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, a 501(c)(4) non-profit corporation. Bentley’s former legal advisor Cooper Shattuck formed the Council at Bentley’s request. The stated purpose of the organization is to “support Governor Bentley in his efforts to solve real problems and to make Alabama greater, stronger and more excellent for all the hardworking men and women who call this great state our home.” In reality, the Council is a slush fund that was set up to (a) fund Bentley’s love affair with Rebekah while concealing payments to her from the view of public oversight and accountability, and (b) stash money for life with Rebekah after the governor’s divorce from Mrs. Bentley.
Bentley funded the Council with excess campaign funds left over from his 2014 gubernatorial campaign. The Council has also received a $25,000 contribution this year from AEA and $20,000 from the Alabama Hospital Association.
As usual, something ugly is going on among Alabama's ruling conservative elites. It might get even uglier very soon.