Some politicians are dogged by reputations as womanizers or prone to corruption for much of their careers. But the story of how Bentley, an unassuming, awkward, and devout Christian doctor with an undistinguished legislative career, became Alabama’s most notorious governor since George Wallace remains difficult to believe, more than a year after the scandal first emerged.
The roots go back further than that. Bentley was a surprise governor, winning office in 2011 despite the skepticism of the state’s political establishment. During his campaign, Bentley hired Rebekah Mason, a former TV newscaster, to work in his communications office. She remained with the governor after his victory, and though she was a political rookie, Mason soon accrued vast influence with the governor. Her husband also got a job on Bentley’s staff.
Some of Bentley’s friends became alarmed at Mason’s sway over the governor. Meanwhile, Bentley’s wife of nearly a half century thought she noticed him behaving strangely. In 2014, as Jason Zengerle reported in GQ, Dianne Bentley sprung a trap on her husband while on a trip to the beach, leaving her cell phone behind and recording as she went for a walk. The recording captured Bentley calling Mason. He told her he loved her, and indulged in some awkward almost-dirty talk: “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 on you and pull you in real close, hey, I love that, too.”
Despite family confrontations on both the Bentley and Mason sides of the family, the apparent affair—Bentley denied there was ever a physical relationship—stayed a secret. In August 2014, Spencer Collier, the head of the state law enforcement agency, and the head of Bentley’s security detail confronted him and told him he had to break off the relationship. Bentley agreed, but then changed his mind and decided to continue. With the secret open in his office and family, Bentley seemed more empowered to just continue things, Zengerle wrote. That fall, Bentley was reelected. In 2015, Dianne Bentley filed for and was granted divorce.
In March 2016, however, Bentley fired Spencer Collier, saying he’d misused state funds. Collier responded by pulling the curtain back on the whole affair, accusing the governor of an inappropriate relationship and mentioning the existence of Dianne Bentley’s secret tape. Days later, the tape itself leaked.
Incredibly, Bentley held on for more than a year. He wasn’t the only big scandal going on in the Yellowhammer state—the speaker of the state house was under investigation, and the chief justice of the state supreme court, the controversial Roy Moore, was on his way to his second removal from office. The Alabama House Judiciary Committee began an impeachment inquiry, but the investigation was put on hold in November when Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange requested that they halt it while he looked into the matter, but he never confirmed he was investigating Bentley.