MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley’s political troubles mounted Thursday as lawmakers vowed to move forward with impeachment hearings and one influential Republican urged him to step down.
The developments came a day after the state Ethics Commission found probable cause that the Republican governor broke state ethics and campaign finance laws, accusations that Bentley denies.
“I hope the governor does what is best for the state and seriously considers stepping down,” state Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh said Thursday. “I don’t think it does us any good to have the House go through these impeachment proceedings.”
Bentley said Thursday that he does not intend to resign.
“I have no intentions of resigning and I am looking forward to continuing to work on important issues facing the state,” he said.
Bentley has been engulfed in scandal since recordings surfaced in 2016 of him making suggestive remarks to a female aide before his divorce. Bentley has acknowledged making personal mistakes but maintained he did nothing illegal or to merit his removal from office.
Efforts to impeach Bentley have gathered steam for months, and the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold its first hearing on the matter Monday. Committee Chairman Mike Jones said Thursday that lawmakers should prepare for a long week.
“We’re at the point where it’s time to put this in front of us. Let’s address it and let’s get it behind us,” said the Republican from Andalusia.
The Alabama Ethics Commission’s probable cause findings were referred to the local district attorney, who will decide whether to prosecute. The ethics complaints filed against him have accused Bentley of misusing campaign funds and state resources, partly to pursue a relationship with the aide.
The commission did not give much further detail in its Wednesday announcement, but said it found probable cause that he used public resources, including “subordinate personnel, equipment and time all under his discretion or control to further his personal interests.”
Bentley Legal Adviser David Byrne argued Thursday there was important context and explanation for the findings of the Alabama Ethics Commission.
For example, Bentley is accused of improperly accepting a loan when he was not a candidate. Byrne said Bentley loaned money to his campaign last year so he could pay legal bills and hire a lawyer to represent him in the matter.
The scandal has tarnished the reputation of the 74-year-old dermatologist and former Baptist deacon who attracted voters to his longshot Republican primary campaign in 2010 with his nice-guy image and promises not to accept a gubernatorial salary. While Bentley won re-election in 2014 by an overwhelming margin, his popularity has plummeted after the accusations.
“We’ve got a black eye all over the state of Alabama because of him,” said Stacy George, who filed one of the ethics complaints against Bentley. George is a prison guard and former county commissioner who ran against Bentley in 2014.
The Ethics Commission’s findings could also give political ammunition to lawmakers who want to impeach him. Twenty-three lawmakers last year filed impeachment articles against Bentley accusing him of corruption and neglect of duty. The effort started with lawmakers who clashed with Bentley on matters such as the governor’s push to raise taxes, but has gained more support in recent weeks.
The top lawyer in the impeachment investigation said last month that he would release a report of his findings to the House Judiciary Committee and the public on Friday.
“What I’m hearing is the report is going to be extremely embarrassing for us as a state,” said Rep. Ed Henry, the lawmaker who spearheaded the impeachment articles.
Ross Garber, the lawyer representing Bentley in the impeachment investigation, has urged lawmakers to be cautious. Garber said that since 1929 only two governors have been removed by impeachment and both were under criminal indictment.
“What you saw yesterday, and the consequences of it, are not the kinds of things that result in impeachment of a governor,” Garber said. “It’s not.”
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