Alabama's 'Luv Guv' is on the verge of impeachment

Story highlights

  • Bob Bentley could be impeached by week's end
  • State Treasurer Kay Ivey would take over as the Yellowhammer State's next governor

(CNN)Alabama Gov. Bob Bentley -- dubbed the "Luv Guv" after a high-profile affair with a former staffer -- faces impeachment hearings this week. It's possible that he could be gone from the governor's office before even Friday. To help explain what brought Bentley to this point and where things might go next, I reached out to Montgomery Advertiser state government reporter Brian Lyman. Our conversation, conducted via email and lightly edited for flow, is below.

Cillizza: Explain how we got here. How long has this been going on?
Lyman: The Bentley ordeal has gone on since March of last year. But Alabama's leadership crisis has gone on far longer.
    We're now two and a half years into what has to be an unprecedented series of scandals, controversies and legal actions against the leadership of an American state. Before the Bentley scandal erupted, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was indicted (and later convicted on) felony ethics charges that led to his removal from office. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore was suspended and removed from office in September after directing probate judges to disobey a US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
    Bentley's controversy has fed into that. The governor fired Alabama Law Enforcement Secretary Spencer Collier last March. The next day, Collier called a press conference where he accused Bentley of having an affair with senior political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason and of using state resources to pursue it. That led to an ethics complaint and, a few days later, the first impeachment charges filed against an Alabama governor in history.
    Cillizza: The impeachment proceedings are this week. How long do we expect them to go and is there any doubt about the outcome?
    Lyman: The established schedule calls for hearings to go through the week. If we still have a governor at the end of all that, the committee would likely vote in early May to send articles of impeachment to the full House, which would vote on May 9. That schedule seemed vulnerable to legal challenges, but the Alabama Supreme Court intervened Saturday and put an end to that.
    Cillizza: What is Bentley's argument here? And why hasn't he just resigned?
    Lyman: Bentley insists he has done nothing illegal or meriting impeachment, but his office (as of Monday morning) had not denied the contents of an impeachment report released Friday that contained intimate text messages between the governor and Mason, and allegations from witnesses that Bentley threatened people he knew or who he thought knew about secret recordings made between Bentley and Mason.
    So it's hard to understand why he hasn't resigned. What political support he had has vanished. Bentley could face separate charges from the Montgomery County DA, and the Alabama attorney general's office is conducting its own investigation of him. He may think being governor puts him in a stronger position to fight those charges, but that's just speculation.
    Cillizza: If Bentley is impeached, what happens next? Who becomes governor?
    Lyman: If Bentley is impeached, he's automatically suspended as governor -- even though he would not have been convicted by the Senate. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, the former State Treasurer who's served in that role since 2010, would become the state's chief executive.
    Cillizza: Finish this sentence: "The damage Bob Bentley has done to the Republican party in Alabama is ____________." Now, explain.
    Lyman: "Minimal."
    The Alabama Democratic Party faces its own internal disputes and is not in a position to challenge GOP supremacy in the state. Individual Republicans have expressed concerns about what Bentley (and Hubbard and, to a lesser extent, Moore) might mean for their own elections in 2018, but the GOP doesn't have any worries just yet.
    The other thing to keep in mind is that the power in Alabama is in the Legislature. Occasionally you have high-profile governors like George Wallace who can grab an issue and scare legislators with it, but the truth is the office is very weak. The Legislature can easily override the governor's veto and largely sets the budget and policy. Bentley's struggles haven't changed that.