Robert Julian Bentley (born February 3, 1943 in Columbiana) is a dermatologist who served as the 53rd Governor of Alabama, from January 17, 2011 until he pleaded guilty to various crimes related to covering up a sexual affair with a staff member on April 10, 2017. He formerly represented District 63 in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Bentley is the son of David Harford Bentley, who owned a sawmill in Columbiana, and Mattie Boyd Vick Bentley. He graduated from Shelby County High School in 1961 and then entered the University of Alabama. After completing a bachelor of science he continued at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, receiving his M.D. in 1968 and interning at Carraway Methodist Hospital in Birmingham. He married the former Martha Dianne Jones on July 24, 1965.
Bentley was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a general medical officer at Pope Air Force Base (Fort Bragg) during the Vietnam War. After his service, he served a three-year residency in dermatology. He went on to become a founding partner of Alabama Dermatology Associates in Tuscaloosa, the largest dermatology practice in the Southeast. He currently operates Dermatology Care of Alabama, also in Tuscaloosa.
Bentley and his wife, the former Martha Dianne Jones of Montgomery, were married July 24, 1965 and separated in January 2015. The couple raised four sons and have five granddaughters. Mrs Bentley filed for divorce in August 2015. They are members of First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa where he has served as a Sunday School teacher and Deacon.
A Republican, Bentley was elected to the Alabama House in November 2002 and ran unopposed for re-election in 2006. He served on the Agriculture, Education Appropriations and Internal Affairs Committees in the House. During the 2010 legislative session, Bentley sponsored a constitutional amendment to allow individuals and businesses in Alabama to refuse to participate in any national health care system.
On May 13, 2009 Bentley announced that he would run for governor in the 2010 Republican primary. From March 30 to April 5, 2010, he had his name legally changed to "Dr. Robert Bentley" in a failed attempt to allow his title to appear on the primary ballots. In the June 1 primary advanced to a runoff with attorney Bradley Byrne. Benefitting from the Alabama Education Association's attack ads against Byrne, Bentley collected 56% of the votes in the runoff to become the Republican nominee. He faced Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Ron Sparks in the 2010 general election and won 58% of the vote to become Governor-elect
Bentley was sworn in on Martin Luther King Day, Monday January 17, 2011. In his inaugural speech he promised to defend the hard-won rights of every citizen, and warned that Alabama's leaders would represent the people of the state, and resist "federal interference". He pledged that every state department and office would work to help create private-sector jobs by encouraging existing and new businesses. He confirmed his pledge not to accept a paycheck until the state's workforce reached full employment. He compared state service to the people to the humility shown by Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples.
Bentley's first official act as Governor was to sign an executive order abolishing the "Task Force on Illegal Gambling" created by former governor Bob Riley. He is a prominent supporter of the controversial Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act (HB-56) which criminalizes many forms of assistance to undocumented immigrants in the state. He signed the bill on June 9, 2011 and has subsequently defended it in interviews. During the 2012 legislative session, Governor Bentley asked for revisions to the law.
During his first term, Bentley claimed credit for helping reduce the state's unemployment rate from 9.1% to 6.2% and for helping create more than 40,000 new jobs in the state through industrial recruitment and economic development efforts. He also worked with the Republican-led state legislature to reduce the state's budget; primarily by eliminating jobs, lowering insurance and retirement payments, and suspending merit raises. At the same time, the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program brought more than $1 billion in road and bridge improvement projects statewide. Along with his focus on job creation, Bentley hoped to pursue education and personal health initiatives during a second term.
During the 2014 campaign, Bentley requested his former legal adviser, Cooper Shattuck, incorporate a new 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, the Alabama Council for Excellent Government, to help promote his policy agenda to the public.
In August 2015 Dianne Bentley filed for divorce, citing an "irretrievable breakdown" in their marital relations. Audiotapes were later provided by former staff members confirming rumors of an ongoing romantic relationship between Governor Bentley and another employee, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Bentley apologized for using "inappropriate" language, but denied a physical relationship with Mason and sidestepped calls for independent investigation of his alleged illegal efforts to conduct and conceal the affair using state resources. Rebekah Caldwell Mason and her husband, Jon Mason, accompanied Bentley to the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January 2017. Bentley appointed Attorney General of Alabama Luther Strange to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General.
Newly-appointed Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall confirmed that an investigation was underway into the Governor's conduct, and recused himself. The Alabama Ethics Commission and Alabama House Judiciary Committee opened their own inquiries which were proceeding toward a likely impeachment vote.
After the Alabama Supreme Court overturned a lower court's restraining order against proceeding with impeachment on April 10, 2017, Bentley accepted a deal to plead guilty to misdemeanor ethics charges and resign his office. The two charges to which he pleaded related to an unreported personal loan he made to his campaign and to the use of campaign funds to pay legal fees for Mason. He was fined and ordered to surrender his campaign funds to the state treasury. He was also sentenced to perform 100 hours of community service. He agreed to waive his right to a security detail and was barred from seeking public office. Under current law he was never eligible for any retirement benefits from his public office. In return for his plea, prosecutors agreed not to pursue more serious state criminal charges that had been referred to it by various investigators, and the House Judiciary Committee closed its hearings on impeachment proceedings.
|Governor of Alabama
January 17, 2010–April 10, 2017
Kay Ivey (acting)
After leaving the state house, Bentley resumed his medical practice in 2017 by opening Dermatology Care of Alabama. He hired Rebekah Caldwell Mason as an office manager. In December 2020 Bentley was one of the first Alabamians to receive the newly-approved Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19.
- Mickens, Cassandra. (May 13, 2009) "Columbiana native enters race for governor." Shelby County Reporter
- Tomberlin, Michael (May 17, 2010) "Campaign 2010: Robert Bentley criss-crosses Alabama, focuses on meeting voters in bid to win governor's office." The Birmingham News
- Lockette, Tim (October 7, 2010) "Fact Check: Did Robert Bentley really change his name?" Anniston Star
- "Prepared text of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's inauguration speech." (January 17, 2011) Associated Press
- "Gov. Robert Bentley reflects on year, says 'job creation always number one'." (January 2, 2014) Associated Press
- Faulk, Kent (April 11, 2017) "No security detail or retirement under former Gov. Robert Bentley plea deal." The Birmingham News
- Gore, Leada (July 17, 2018) "Rebekah Mason works for Robert Bentley's medical practice, former governor confirms." The Birmingham News
- Thornton, William (December 18, 2020) "Former Gov. Robert Bentley receives COVID-19 vaccine." The Birmingham News