The disappointing story of Robert Bentley’s two terms as governor might as well already be chiseled in stone.
The highlights — or better, lowlights — include a deficit of fiscal leadership, resulting in borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to balance the books, a lack of vision in funding essential services and mostly avoiding the rotted foundation at the base of Alabama’s budgets.
The Bentley era also includes signing off on poorly considered legislation that appeased his Republican base of support but turned out to be a negative. We’re thinking of the immigration law that was largely undone by federal courts and a toughened voter-ID law that addressed a nonexistent problem — in-person voter fraud.
Then there’s the improper relationship with key aide Rebekah Mason, including embarrassing phone conversations captured on audio tape.
Though the particulars may vary, Bentley’s two terms of office are not all that different from those of most Alabama governors. So many were disappointments. Given a challenge and a chance to create a brighter future, they let us down by playing to populist fears instead of leading us to better days.
Steve Marshall, the state’s new attorney general, confirmed this week that his office is investigating Bentley. Marshall, who was recently appointed AG by the governor, announced Wednesday that a former Montgomery County district attorney would lead the probe.
Also this week, House Judiciary Chairman Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, said his committee is preparing to resume impeachment proceedings against the governor and that the initial process could be wrapped up by May.
Bentley contends he has done nothing unlawful. That part is unknown to us. We won’t know until the conclusion of an investigation and perhaps a jury verdict. We won’t know until the state Legislature decides to pursue impeachment of the governor, if it even takes that course.
As noted above, though, the Bentley era has been marked by his inability (thus far) to take the bold actions required to unleash Alabama’s vast potential. A conviction or removal from office in disgrace would undoubtedly make things worse, but only by degree.
It’s not too late to change, however. We challenge Bentley to take on our upside-down tax system that asks more of the poor than of the comfortable. We challenge him to go about reversing our terrible health indicators, including rates of obesity, heart disease, infant mortality and so on. We challenge him to fully fund our law-enforcers. We challenge him to not sign off on an Education Trust Fund budget until it puts every child in public schools on a path to success.
The clock on your legacy is ticking, governor.